The peacock is not included in most versions of the Physiologus. Its general attributes in the bestiaries (deriving at least in part from Pliny the Elder), are that the flesh of the peacock is so hard that it does not rot, and can hardly be cooked in fire or digested. Its head is like a serpent, and it has a long green tail adorned with eyes. If it receives praise for its beauty, it raises its tail, leaving its rear parts bare. When it suddenly awakes it cries out, because it thinks its beauty has been lost. Its feet are very ugly, so the peacock refuses to fly high in order to keep its feet hidden.

The Epiphanius Physiologus says that the peacock is of all birds the most proud, and indeed his body and wings are beautiful. When he walks about he admires himself greatly, but when he looks down and sees his feet he gives a loud cry, for they are very ugly. The interpretation relates the peacock's enjoyment of his physical beauty to that of a man of his worldly goods; just as the peacock cries out when it sees his ugly feet, so the worldly man will cry out to God when he sees the ugliness of his sin.

The van der Borcht copperplate engraving below is a standard depiction of the peacock. It is more naturalistic and lifelike than the earlier woodcut.

  |   View in context

The woodcut below (from the Rome, 1577 edition) also shows the peacock in a standard pose. The artist seems to have made an effort to illustrate the ugliness of the peacock's feet.


Properties of the Peacock