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Cage see Bird

Castle see Siege

Caterpillar The caterpillar appears in the Old Testament as a pest that devours crops; it is

included with ‘‘pestilence, blasting, mildew, locust’’ (1 Kgs 8.37, 2 Chr. 6.28)

and associated with the locust as one of the plagues of Egypt (Pss. 78.46,

105.34). Jeremiah prophesies that Babylon will be filled with men ‘‘as with

caterpillers’’ (51.14, 27).

The English name for them probably derives from Old French catepelose

(‘‘hairy cat’’), but it was taken to be a compound with ‘‘piller,’’ meaning

‘‘pillager’’: the larvae pillage fields and gardens. As parasites they became

symbols of social hangers-on and dependents. Shakespeares Bolingbroke has it

in for King Richards friends, ‘‘Bushy, Bagot, and their complices, / The caterpillars

of the commonwealth, / Which I have sworn to weed and pluck away’’

(2.3.164--66). Jack Cade and his rebels are more radical: ‘‘All scholars, lawyers,

courtiers, gentlemen, / They call false caterpillars and intend their death’’ (2H6

4.4.36--37). Blake continues this populist imagery in his attack against

priestcraft. ‘‘As the catterpiller chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so

the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys’’ (Marriage of Heaven and Hell 9); in

his story of the tree of religion or Mystery Blake means priests when he writes,

‘‘And the Catterpiller and Fly, / Feed on the Mystery’’ (‘‘Human Abstract’’).

In English poetic diction ‘‘worm’’ sometimes serves for ‘‘caterpillar.’’ The

cankerworm (sometimes simply ‘‘canker’’) is really a caterpillar, for instance.

The loss of Lycidas, says Milton, is ‘‘As killing as the Canker to the Rose’’

(‘‘Lycidas’’ 45). Blakes ‘‘invisible worm’’ that destroys the rose is the same

creature (‘‘Sick Rose’’). Some sort of metamorphosis-capable insect must be

‘‘the worm’’ that Byron says ‘‘at last disdains her shatterd cell’’ (Childe Harold


See Butterfly, Worm.

Cave Caves in the Bible are burial sites: Abraham buries Sarah in a cave (Gen. 23.19)

and Lazarus is buried in one when Christ comes to him (John 11.38). They are

also refuges or hiding places: Lot dwells in a cave with his daughters after

Sodom is destroyed (Gen. 19.30), the five kings flee to one (Josh. 10.16), the

Israelites hide in them to avoid the Philistines (1 Sam. 13.6), and Isaiah prophesies

that on the day of the Lord ‘‘they shall go into the holes of the rocks,

and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord’’ (Isa. 2.19). In these caves

there seems to be little symbolic resonance. The cave that David flees to, ‘‘the

cave Adullam’’ (1 Sam. 22.1), is sometimes alluded to; a character in Scotts

Old Mortality (chap. 43) says, ‘‘I like my place of refuge, my cave of Adullam.’’

In classical epic, however, caves are so common as to be a defining feature

of the epic and romance landscape ever since. Calypso and the Cyclopes live in

them, for instance, and Odysseus stores his gifts in the cave of the Naiads

(Odyssey 5.57, 9.400, 13.357). In the Aeneid there are caves of Aeolus, Scylla, the

Cyclops, the Sibyl, Vulcan, Cacus, and others, as well as the cave where

Aeneas and Dido consummate their love (4.124, 165). There are a dozen caves

in The Faerie Queene, including several that are entirely allegorical, such as the

caves of Error (1.1.11), Despair (1.9.33--35), Mammon (2.7.28ff.), and Guile

(5.9.8ff.). In Milton Death has a ‘‘grim cave’’ (PL 11.469). Caves are where

things go when they are not visible or active. In Spenser, Night has a cave

where she hides during the day (FQ 1.5.20--21); when the moon is absent,

according to Milton, she hides ‘‘in her vacant interlunar cave’’ (Samson

Agonistes 89). Personified abstractions also withdraw to caves. So in Shelleys

poetry Famine, Pity, and Poesy all have caves, in Keatss poetry Quietude has

one, and so on.

Probably the most important symbolic cave is Platos in Republic 7.514ff. In

this cave sit shackled prisoners with their backs to the opening; they have

never seen the sun or even sunlight. Behind them in the caves mouth is a fire

that casts the shadows of passing people and objects against the caves inner

wall, which is all the prisoners can see. It is an allegory about the knowledge

most people possess; only a few escape to see the sun and real objects. This

image of epistemological darkness seems to contribute to Blakes image of the

human skull as a cave. In the modern age ‘‘Man has closed himself up, till he

sees all things thro narrow chinks of his cavern’’ (Marriage of Heaven and Hell

14). Yet caves might also suggest the depth and not just the opacity of thought

or perception. Byron says ‘‘thought seeks refuge in lone caves’’ or ‘‘in the

souls haunted cell’’ (Childe Harold 3.43--45); Tennyson speaks of ‘‘the Templecave

of thine own self’’ (‘‘Ancient Sage’’ 32). What Shelley calls ‘‘the dim caves

of human thought’’ (PU 1.659) are also ‘‘prophetic caves’’ (1.252) from which

our bright future shall come (see ‘‘Ode to Liberty’’ 49--50). In both Blake and

Shelley these caves are dormant volcanoes. Behind this image too is the

Romantic notion of the poet as retreating to a cave. Wordsworth remembers

‘‘poets who attuned their harps / In wood or echoing cave’’ (1850 Prelude

11.456--57); the prototype was the legendary Ossian, the Gaelic bard who took

refuge in ‘‘Fingals mystic Grot’’ or ‘‘tuneful Cave,’’ to quote from two of

Wordsworths three sonnets entitled ‘‘Cave of Staffa.’’ A cave is a refuge for

Julien Sorel in Stendhals novel The Red and the Black, and a site of primitive

mystery and unconscious fears in Forsters A Passage to India.

Cedar Because the cedar, especially the cedar of Lebanon, is very tall but with wide

branches, in the Bible it is sometimes an emblem of pride or arrogance. ‘‘For

the day of the Lord of hosts,’’ says Isaiah, ‘‘shall be upon every one that is

proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought

low: / And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up’’

(2.12--13). Ezekiel warns Egypt by telling of Assyria: ‘‘Behold, the Assyrian was

a cedar in Lebanon with fair branches’’ whose ‘‘height was exalted above all

the trees of the field,’’ but God delivered him to the heathen and he was

ruined; the nations shook at the sound of his fall (chap. 31).

So Spenser calls the cedar ‘‘proud and tall’’ (FQ 1.1.8) and makes it one of

the emblems of vanity in ‘‘Visions of the Worlds Vanitie’’ (7). Sidneys

character Dorus, after pondering the symbolic meaning of many other trees,

turns at last to ‘‘the Cedar, Queene of woods,’’ as most resembling his

disdainful mistress, and prays to her (First Eclogues 13.141--54). Jonsons Sejanus

boasts that he ‘‘did help / To fell the lofty cedar of the world, / Germanicus’’

(Sejanus 5.241--43). A cryptic oracle in Shakespeares Cymbeline claims, ‘‘when

from a stately cedar shall be lopped branches which, being dead many years,

shall after revive, be jointed to the old stock, and freshly grow,’’ then shall

Britain flourish (5.4.140--43); a soothsayer explains that the ‘‘lofty’’ and

‘‘majestic’’ cedar is Cymbeline (5.5.452--57).

Chaff see Wind

Chariot see Moon, Night, Sun

Chess Chess is the game of kings in two senses: it was for centuries a royal and

aristocratic game, and its object is to ‘‘check’’ the opposing king. The name,

moreover, is really the plural of ‘‘check,’’ from Old French eschecs, from Persian

(via Arabic) shah, ‘‘king.’’ ‘‘Checkmate’’ means ‘‘the king is dead,’’ from shah

plus Arabic mat, ‘‘dead.’’ One of the pieces, the rook, also has a Persian name

(rukh, of uncertain meaning). We are reminded of the Persian origin of chess

in Fitzgeralds translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: ‘‘But helpless Pieces

of the Game He plays / Upon this Checker-board of Nights and Days; / Hither

and thither moves, and checks, and slays, / And one by one back in the Closet

lays’’ (st. 69).

The symbolic resonance of chess depends, of course, on whether people are

taken to be players of the game or, as in the Omar Khayyam passage, pieces on

the board. As it is the royal game, it is appropriate that Ferdinand and

Miranda are discovered playing chess in the final act of Shakespeares The

Tempest (5.1.171); there they are the happy master and mistress of the game.

The black knight of Chaucers Book of the Duchess bewails the fact that he lost

his beloved queen at a game of chess against ‘‘fals Fortune,’’ who played with

‘‘false draughtes [moves] dyvers’’ (618, 653); it is surprising that Fortune, who

ought to be playing roulette or another game of chance, should be playing a

game entirely based on skill.

The Old French Romance of the Rose describes a battle in chessboard terms

(6620ff.). Sancho Panza seems to have been reading Omar Khayyam, for he

describes life as a game of chess: ‘‘so long as the game lasts, each piece has its

special office, and when the game is finished, they are all mixed, shuffled, and

jumbled together and stored away in the bag, which is much like ending life

in the grave’’ (Cervantes, Don Quixote 2.12, trans. Starkie). Middleton bases a

whole play, A Game at Chess, on the pieces, gambits, and goals of chess; it is

‘‘the noblest game of all’’ (Ind. 42), but it is the vehicle of a very current

political satire, involving foreign Catholic plots against the English royal

house. The ‘‘White Queens Pawn,’’ for example, may stand for Princess

Elizabeth, daughter of James I. Some of the characters seem to be both pieces

manipulated by others and players themselves. Two later works based on the

game are Lewis Carrolls Through the Looking-Glass and Nabokovs The Defence.

T. S. Eliot names the second part of The Waste Land ‘‘A Game of Chess,’’

where the game represents a way to kill time -- ‘‘And we shall play a game of

chess, / Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door’’ (137--38) --

while the queenly figure whose ‘‘nerves are bad’’ dominates a man who thinks

he is, or wishes he were, dead. Allusions to The Tempest evoke the ideal young

couple at their game.

Becketts play Endgame (French Fin de partie), named for the final moves of

chess, might be taken as a working out of Omar Khayyams fatalistic stanza,

only there is no God to make the moves. The first words of the ‘‘king’’ character,

Hamm, are ‘‘Me -- (he yawns) -- to play,’’ for he is both player and the least

mobile of the pieces, but there are few moves left, and they only bring closer

the inevitable checkmate.

Choler see Bile

Chough see Raven

Cicada The insect that the Greeks called tettix and the Romans called cicada is not

always distinguished from the cricket, grasshopper, or locust, which have

various symbolic connotations in English. In classical literature, however, the

‘‘cicada’’ has quite distinct and consistent associations.

However it may strike our ears, to the ancients the shrill stridulation of the

cicada was a pleasant sound. Though there were specialized verbs for its

sound in both Greek and Latin, the cicada was often said to ‘‘sing’’ like any

bird. A hymn to Apollo by Alcaeus, according to Himerius, tells that when

Apollo returned to Delphi in the middle of summer he was greeted by the

songs of the nightingale, swallow, and cicada. Socrates in the Phaedrus praises

the setting of his conversation for its fresh air and ‘‘the shrill summery music

of the cicada choir’’ (230c). He later warns that he and Phaedrus must beware

of ‘‘their bewitching siren song’’ and tells the legend that cicadas were once

human: they are descendants of humans who were so enchanted with music

when they first heard it that they sang continually, without stopping to eat

and drink, until they died. So cicadas need no sustenance, and when they die

they report to the Muses on which mortals honored the Muses gifts (259a--d).

Theocritus goatherd in Idyll 1 praises Thyrsis by saying ‘‘you outsing the

cicada’’ (1.146), and Meleager addresses the cricket (akris) as ‘‘the Muse of the

grainfields’’ (Anthology 7.195).

The cicadas first appearance in literature comes in a simile in Homers Iliad,

where the old men of Troy are said to be fine speakers ‘‘like cicadas, who

through the woods / settle on trees and send forth their lily-like voice’’

(3.150--52). Just what ‘‘lily-like’’ might mean here is unclear, but Hesiod uses

the same epithet for the voice of the Muses (Theogony 41); perhaps it means

‘‘delicate.’’ Hesiod establishes the cicadas link to summer in The Shield of

Heracles: ‘‘When the dark-winged whirring cicada, perched on a green shoot,

begins to sing of summer to men’’ (393--94; see also Works and Days 582--85).

Virgils Eclogues (2.12) and Georgics (3.328) both tie the cicada to summers heat.

Indeed its link to summer was so obvious that it could be used as a

synecdoche for summer: Juvenal writes, if youre cold in the winter, then

durate atque expectate cicadas, ‘‘hold on and wait for the cicadas’’ (9.69).

Hesiod says that cicadas eat dew (Shield 395), and that too became a

commonplace. About an underfed calf one of Theocritus herdsmen asks, ‘‘She

doesnt feed on dew like the cicada?’’ (4.16). Cicadas were also thought to be

dry and bloodless; that characteristic may lie behind Homers simile, for old

age was taken to be a kind of drying out of the body. The modern Greek poet

Sepheris likens an old man to ‘‘an empty sheath of a cicada on a hollow tree’’

(‘‘The Old Man’’ 12).

Cicada lore comes to a culmination in a charming poem among the

Anacreontea (34), called eis tettiga, ‘‘To the Cicada’’: ‘‘drinking a little dew / you

sing like a king / . . . sweet prophet of summer, / the Muses love you, / Apollo

himself loves you, / and gave you clear song.’’ Among others Goethe translated

it into German (‘‘An die Zikade’’) and Abraham Cowley and Thomas Moore

into English. Richard Lovelaces ‘‘The Grasse-Hopper’’ is based on it.

Several recent poets have taken up Socrates identification of the cicada

with the singer or bard. Dario describes a moment when ‘‘The old cicada /

tries out its hoarse, senile guitar, / and the cricket begins a monotonous solo /

on the only string of its fiddle’’ (‘‘Symphony in Gray Major’’ 28--32, trans.

Kemp). In an early poem Lorca envies the insects poetic death: ‘‘But you,

cicada, / die enchanted, spilling music, / transfigured in sound / and heavenly

light’’ (‘‘Cicada!’’ 30--33, trans. Brown). Montale in several poems feels at one

with a lone cicada, fragile and short-lived, chirring on a treetop.

In English literature one may find ‘‘cicala’’ and ‘‘cigale’’ as variant forms,

derived from Italian and French.

See Dew.

Clay The main symbolic sense of clay is human flesh, what Spenser calls ‘‘living

clay’’ (FQ 3.4.26) or Blake calls ‘‘mortal clay’’ (Jerusalem 27.59).

In Genesis ‘‘the Lord God formed man [Hebrew adam] of the dust of the

ground [adamah]’’ (2.7); the Hebrew pun may be duplicated in English with

‘‘human’’ and ‘‘humus’’ (from the same Latin root): man is an ‘‘earthling,’’ a

creature of earth or clay. A phrase in Job, ‘‘them that dwell in houses of clay’’

(4.19), means ‘‘mortals.’’ Isaiah prays, ‘‘O Lord, thou art our father; we are the

clay, and thou our potter’’ (64.8). Paul asks, ‘‘Nay but, O man, who art thou

that repliest against God? . . . / Hath not the potter power over the clay . . . ?’’

 (Rom. 9.20--21). In some versions of the Prometheus myth the Titan also made

men out of earth (cf. Ovid, Met. 1.82--84).

‘‘Mould’’ is sometimes used in a similar way, as in Shakespeares Pistols

plea, ‘‘Be merciful, great duke, to men of mould,’’ meaning ‘‘mortal men’’ (H5

3.2.22). In the coming age of gold, according to Milton, ‘‘leprous sin will melt

from earthly mould’’ (‘‘Nativity’’ 138). Emerson refers to ‘‘the Creator of our

human mould’’ (‘‘Naples’’ 2).

Echoing Job, Cowper believes that ‘‘An heavnly mind / May be indifferent to

her house of clay’’ (Task 2.457--58). Writing of broken hearts, Byron varies the

potter image: ‘‘happy they! / Thrice fortunate! who of that fragile mould, / The

precious porcelain of human clay, / Break with the first fall’’ (Don Juan 4.81--84).

Remembering those who have died, the mind, says Dickens, can recall ‘‘the

beaming of the soul through its mask of clay’’ (Oliver Twist chap. 11). When in

the body, in Tennysons phrase, the spirit is ‘‘claspt in clay’’ (In Memoriam 93.4).

Blake invokes the root sense of Hebrew adamah, ‘‘red,’’ in his image of

reviving life: ‘‘And on the bleached bones / Red clay brought forth’’ (Marriage of

Heaven and Hell 2.12--13). For him a ‘‘clod of clay’’ is both death and life; a clod

happily sacrifices itself under the cattles feet (‘‘Clod and Pebble’’), while

another is a mother to an infant worm (Book of Thel 4.7ff.). The title ‘‘Clay’’ to

one of Joyces Dubliners stories makes one incident resonate: Maria, blindfolded

in a game, touches ‘‘a soft wet substance’’ and provokes an embarrassed

silence and whispering, as if she has revealed death in the midst of the game

of life.

Clod see Clay

Cloud A cloud can be anything that prevents vision. Since in Greek terms life is

seeing the light, as well as being seen in the light, death comes as a cloud:

‘‘the black cloud of death concealed him’’ (Homer, Iliad 16.350); Statius

imitates the phase in Thebaid 9.851. So Spenser writes, ‘‘on those guilefull

dazed eyes of his / The cloude of death did sit’’ (FQ 1.3.39), and Shakespeare,

‘‘Dark cloudy death oershades his beams of life’’ (3H6 2.6.62). As sleep resembles

death, it also comes in a cloud: a Stygian sleep escapes from the box

Psyche carries and ‘‘pervades all her limbs in a thick cloud’’ (Apuleius, Met.

6.21), and Spenser has ‘‘cloudes of deadly night / A while his heavy eyelids

coverd have’’ (FQ 2.8.24). Perhaps because one is blinded by griefs or sorrows

they come in clouds as well: ‘‘the dark cloud of sorrow closed over Hektor’’

(Iliad 17.591 trans. Lattimore); a cloud fills Ovids mind as he must leave his

wife (Tristia 1.3.13); Chaucer elaborates: ‘‘right as when the sonne shyneth

brighte / In March, that chaungeth ofte tyme his face, / And that a cloude is

put with wynd to flighte, / Which oversprat the sonne as for a space, / A

cloudy thought gan thorugh hire soule pace, / That overspread her brighte

thoughtes alle’’ (Troilus 2.764--69).

Homer also has the phrase ‘‘cloud of war’’ (Iliad 17.243), as do Pindar (Nem.

9.38), Statius (Thebaid 4.840), and other ancient writers; one can imagine the

literal dustcloud stirred up by battle or the almost literal cloud of flying

weapons, but perhaps this phrase is an extension of ‘‘cloud of death.’’ It too

has become a modern commonplace (‘‘warclouds’’). Blake makes good use of

the image in America, where Orc, the spirit of revolution, rises in red clouds

and is surrounded by ‘‘myriads of cloudy terrors’’ (4.10), Albion sends a cloud

of plagues (war) (14.4), and Urizen conceals Orc from English eyes by sending

down clouds and mists (16.13).

The sky gods of the Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews dwell among clouds.

Zeus is called ‘‘cloud-gatherer’’ in Homer, and Jehovah has a ‘‘secret place,’’ a

‘‘pavilion’’ of clouds; ‘‘clouds and darkness are round about him’’ (Pss. 18.11,

97.2). As Zeus comes down in disguise lest his naked glory annihilate the

mortal that beholds him (Semeles fate), Jehovah ‘‘came down in a cloud, and

spake unto him [Moses]’’ (Num. 11.25; cf. Exod. 19.9, 34.5), while at Christs

Transfiguration ‘‘there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came

out of the cloud’’ (Mark 9.7). One might think that the glory of the Lord would

be revealed by a parting of the clouds, as if the Lord were the sun shining with

‘‘all-cloudless glory’’ (in Byrons phrase, DJ 9.61), but in this life, at least, we

need the clouds, which are glorious enough. It is in a pillar of cloud that the

Lord leads the Israelites out of Egypt (Exod. 13.21) and at the Second Coming

we shall see ‘‘the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and

great glory’’ (Matt. 24.30). According to Milton, God dwells in ‘‘his secret

cloud’’ (PL 10.32); as Mammon elaborates, ‘‘How oft amidst / Thick clouds and

dark doth heavens all-ruling sire / Choose to reside, his glory unobscured, /

And with the majesty of darkness round / Covers his throne’’ (2.263--67). Even

to the Seraphim God appears only through a cloud (3.378); his only cloudless

manifestation is through his Son, ‘‘In whose conspicuous countenance,

without cloud / Made visible, the almighty Father shines’’ (3.385--86).

It is an ancient trope that the face is like the sky over which clouds may

pass and from which tears may rain. Sophocles Ismene has ‘‘a cloud on her

brow’’ (Antigone 528), and so does Euripides Phaedra (Hippolytus 173). Horace

advises a friend, ‘‘Lift the cloud from your brow’’ (Epistles 1.18.94). ‘‘Clear up,’’

one of Shakespeares characters echoes, ‘‘that cloudy countenance’’ (Titus

1.1.266). ‘‘Let clouds bedimme my face,’’ Sidney asks, ‘‘breake in mine eye’’

(Astrophil 64). Spenser likens his ladys smile to ‘‘sunshine when cloudy looks

are cleared’’ (Amoretti 40). And so on, as late as Frost: ‘‘A cloud shadow crossed

her face’’ (‘‘Cloud Shadow’’).

In 1803 Luke Howard established the modern nomenclature of clouds and

inspired a great deal of interest in them: Constable, Turner, Friedrich, and

other painters studied them carefully, and among other writers Goethe and

Shelley took note of Howards terms. One of them, ‘‘cirrus,’’ Latin for ‘‘lock’’ or

‘‘curl,’’ may have led to Shelleys description of ‘‘The locks of the approaching

storm’’ as ‘‘the bright hair uplifted from the head / Of some fierce Maenad’’

(‘‘Ode to the West Wind’’ 20--23); see also his poem ‘‘The Cloud.’’

See Rain, Sun.

Cock The cock, or rooster (Greek alectruon, Latin gallus), is the herald of dawn.

Theognis speaks of ‘‘dawn, at the sound of the rousing roosters’’ (864);

Simonides calls them ‘‘day-sounding’’ (frag. 80B). Theocritus concludes his

epithalamion to Helen by promising to return when ‘‘the first singer’’ crows,

perhaps a decorative phrase for cock (18.56). ‘‘Before the cocks sing’’ means

‘‘early’’ in Plautus Miles 689. The cock is not found in epic -- it may have been

thought too homely, or out of place in a military camp; the birds whose

‘‘morning songs’’ awaken Evander in Virgils Aeneid may be martins (8.455--56).

Chaucer charmingly lists ‘‘The kok, that orloge is of thorpes lyte’’ (‘‘the clock

of little villages’’) (Parliament of Fowls 350). In Spenser, ‘‘chearefull Chaunticlere

with his note shrill’’ warns of dawn (FQ 1.2.1). Horatio explains that ‘‘The cock,

that is the trumpet to the morn, / Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding

throat / Awake the god of day,’’ and repeats the ancient belief that ghosts

withdraw at his crowing (Hamlet 1.1.155--61); moreover at Christmas ‘‘This bird

of dawning singeth all night long,’’ as if heralding the divine Sun (1.1.165). (See


Aristophanes has the phrase, ‘‘the second cock sounded’’ (Ecclesiazusae 390).

Chaucer writes, ‘‘When that the first cok hath crowe’’ (Miller’s Tale 3687) and

‘‘Til that the thridde [third] cok bigan to synge’’ (Reeve’s Tale 4233). Macbeths

Porter explains, ‘‘we were carousing till the second cock’’ (2.3.24), while Edgar

explains the Flibbertigibbet ‘‘walks till the first cock’’ (Lear 3.4.113). It hardly

seems possible that these numbers mean anything precise, but conventionally

the three crowings take place at midnight, three, and an hour before dawn.

So Tolstoy writes, ‘‘The cocks were crowing for the third time and the dawn

was breaking’’ (‘‘Family Happiness’’ sec. 3).

The most famous cock-crow in the Bible is the one Jesus predicts will end

the night in which Peter betrays him: ‘‘this night, before the cock crow, thou

shalt deny me thrice’’ (Matt 26.34); just when Peter denies for the third time

that he knew Jesus, ‘‘immediately the cock crew’’ and Peter ‘‘wept bitterly’’


Cock-fighting was common in ancient Athens, Rome, and most European

cities until quite recently. In Aristophanes ‘‘the Persian bird’’ (cock) is the

‘‘nestling of Ares’’ (Birds 833--35). Cocks were noted for their pugnacity and


A ‘‘coxcomb’’ (cocks comb or crest) is a fools cap and then a foolish, conceited

person (who struts vainly). Shakespeares Kate and Petruchio pun on

‘‘crest’’ as well as ‘‘cock’’ in their badinage: ‘‘What is your crest, a coxcomb?’’

‘‘A combless cock, so Kate will be my hen.’’ ‘‘No cock of mine, you crow too

like a craven’’ (TS 2.1.225--27).

Cockatrice see Basilisk

Color see Black, Blue, Green, Purple, Red, Scarlet, White, Yellow

Comet The first comet in western literature may be the plunging star found in

Homers simile for Athenas flashing descent from Olympus: ‘‘As when the son

of devious Cronus [Zeus] throws down a star, / a portent to sailors or to large

armies of men, / blazing and sending out many sparks, / in such a likeness

Pallas Athena sped to the earth’’ (Iliad 4.75--78). Homer does not use the word

‘‘comet,’’ and what he describes sounds more like a meteor or what we call a

shooting star or falling star. Later translators have taken it to be a comet,

however, as we see in this expansive version by Chapman: ‘‘as Jove, brandishing

a starre (which men a Comet call), / Hurls out his curled haire abrode,

that from his brand exhale / A thousand sparkes (to fleets at sea and everie

mightie host / Of all presages and ill haps a signe mistrusted most): / So Pallas

fell twixt both the Camps’’ (4.85--89). The ‘‘hair’’ of Chapmans comet is

implicit in the word ‘‘comet’’ itself, Greek kometes, which literally means

 ‘‘hairy’’ or ‘‘long-haired’’ and is understood to modify ‘‘star’’ (aster). (Less

frequent Greek terms included ‘‘bearded star’’ and ‘‘sword-shaped star.’’) The

Romans translated (aster) kometes as (sidus) crinitum or (stella) crinita, occasionally

(stella) cincinnata.

The Romans took comets, especially red ones, as signs of impending war or

civil commotion. As the stars in their orderly motions represented the normal

course of government, a new and striking ‘‘star’’ with a tail or beard must

portend disorder or disaster. Cicero writes of ‘‘what are called by the Greeks

comets and in our language long-haired stars, such as recently during the

Octavian War [87 bc] appeared as harbingers of great calamities’’ (De Natura

Deorum 2.14). During the Civil War between Caesar and Pompey (49--45 bc),

according to Lucan, there were many celestial portents, including ‘‘the hair of

the baleful / star, the comet that portends a change of reign (mutantem regna)

on earth’’ (1.528--29).

A particularly famous comet was the Star of July (or Julius), the sidus Iulium,

which appeared four months after the death of Julius Caesar and during the

month named after him; it was taken as a sign that he had been deified as

well as an apocalyptic portent. Ovid tells how Venus took up the soul of

Caesar, which glowed as it rose, leaving a fiery train (Met. 15.849--50). It

remains a star, protector of Caesars adopted son Augustus, who wears it,

according to Virgil, on his crest (Aeneid 8.681); see also Horace, Odes 1.12.46--47.

Shakespeares Calphurnia tells her husband Caesar, ‘‘When beggars die there

are no comets seen; / The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes’’

(JC 2.2.30--31), and Horatio tells Barnardo that just before Julius fell there were

such portents as ‘‘stars with trains of fire’’ (Hamlet 1.1.120). At the time of

Nero, according to Tacitus, ‘‘a comet blazed, of which vulgar opinion is that it

portends a change in reigns (mutationem regnis)’’ (Annals 14.22).

Tasso echoes Lucans and Tacitus phrases: ‘‘with its bloody streaming locks

a comet shines through the parching air, which changes reigns (i regni muta)

and brings fierce pestilence, an ill-omened light for princes of the purple’’

(Jerusalem Delivered 7.52). Shakespeares Bedford opens the Henry VI plays by

calling on ‘‘Comets, importing change of times and states, / [To] Brandish your

crystal tresses in the sky’’ (1H6 1.1.2--3). Milton, following Tasso, likens Satan to

a comet that ‘‘from his horrid hair / Shakes pestilence and war’’ (PL 2.710--11);

behind that simile also lies Virgils simile for Aeneas, whose shield spouts

flames ‘‘as when bloody mournful comets shine red in the clear night’’ (Aeneid


Copper see Bronze

Cricket see Cicada

Crocodile ‘‘Crocodile tears’’ (French larmes de crocodile, German Krokodils Trдnen, etc.) are

false or hypocritical tears. In a simile Spenser shows where this odd phrase

comes from: ‘‘As when a wearie traveiler, that strayes / By muddy shore of

broad seven-mouthed Nile, / Unweeting of the perillous wandring wayes, /

Doth meete a cruell craftie Crocodile, / Which, in false griefe hyding his

harmefull guile, / Doth weepe full sore, and sheddeth tender teares . . . ’’ (FQ

1.5.28). Travellers in the Middle Ages had reported ‘‘tears’’ on crocodiles, and

since they could not project human pity onto so ferocious a beast they

projected human hypocrisy instead. In a terrible moment Othello, having

struck the innocent Desdemona, scorns her tears: ‘‘If that the earth could

teem with womens tears, / Each drop she falls would prove a crocodile’’

(4.1.240--41). Drydens Ventidius foretells that Caesar, when he learns his rival

Antony is dead, ‘‘will weep, the crocodile will weep’’ (All for Love 1.224).

Hypocrisy, looking like Viscount Sidmouth, rides a crocodile in Shelleys The

Mask of Anarchy (24--25).

Crocus see Saffron

Crow see Raven

Cuckoo The cuckoo, like the swallow and the nightingale, is a harbinger of spring.

‘‘When the cuckoo first calls in the leaves of the oak,’’ Hesiod tells us, we

know it is March (Works and Days 486). The medieval ‘‘Cuckoo Song’’ is famous:

‘‘Sumer is ycomen in, / Loude sing cuckou!’’ (‘‘summer’’ referring here to what

we call spring and summer together). Spenser calls it ‘‘The merry cuckow,

messenger of Spring’’ (Amoretti 19); Wordsworth the ‘‘Darling of the Spring’’

(‘‘To the Cuckoo’’). ‘‘I should learn spring by the cuckooing,’’ according to

Dylan Thomas (‘‘Here in this Spring’’).

Its call is so distinctive that its name in every European language is

imitative: Greek kokkux or koukkos, Latin cucullus, French coucou, etc. Germanic

forms such as Old English geac and German Gauch, as they deviated from an

original ‘‘gook-’’ sound, yielded to ‘‘cuckoo’’ and ‘‘Kuckuck,’’ as if the bird itself

gave lessons in pronunciation (though ‘‘gowk’’ survives in northern England

and Scotland). In Greek kokku! meant ‘‘Go!’’ or ‘‘Quick!’’ perhaps because the

sound of the bird in spring meant ‘‘back to work’’ to farmers. In a comment

on his ‘‘Cuckoo’’ poem, Wordsworth speaks of ‘‘the seeming ubiquity of the

voice of the Cuckoo’’ which ‘‘is almost perpetually heard throughout the

season of Spring’’ but ‘‘seldom becomes an object of sight’’ (1815 Preface).

But the bird has another distinctive feature: as Aristotle and other ancients

noted, it lays its eggs in other birds nests, and its hatchlings push the other

eggs out. As Shakespeare writes, ‘‘hateful cuckoos hatch in sparrows nests’’

(Lucrece 849). (This is not true of the American variety.) Such behavior seemed

unnatural; as Chaucer puts it, ‘‘the cukkow [is] ever unkynde’’ (Parliament of

Fowls 358). It also seemed symbolic of adultery, especially by a married woman

who deceives her husband. The word ‘‘cuckold’’ comes from ‘‘cuckoo’’ and

refers only to the husband; its equivalent in German and sometimes in French

refers, more logically, to the adulterous man. So the famous sound of the

cuckoo became a source of fear in husbands, and of merriment in onlookers.

Clanvowe calls the bird ‘‘the lewde cukkow’’ (‘‘The Cuckoo and the

Nightingale’’) and Milton ‘‘the rude Bird of Hate’’ (‘‘O Nightingale!’’). A

character in Machiavellis Mandragola explains that Saint cuckoo is ‘‘the most

honored saint in France’’ (4.9). The song with which Shakespeare ends Love’s

Labour’s Lost celebrates the delights of spring, but adds: ‘‘The cuckoo then, on

every tree, / Mocks married men; for thus sings he, / Cuckoo; / Cuckoo,

cuckoo: O, word of fear, / Unpleasing to a married ear!’’ (5.2.898--902).

Cup The most frequent symbolic sense of cup, ones portion or lot in life, is

biblical; it is usually God who fills the cup. ‘‘Upon the wicked he shall rain

snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion

of their cup’’ (Ps. 11.6), but ‘‘Thou preparest a table before me in the presence

of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over’’

(23.5). The prophets often speak of the cup of fury, of consolation, of

astonishment and desolation. The Lord tells Jeremiah, for instance, ‘‘Take

the wine cup of this fury at my hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I

send thee, to drink it’’ (25.15). The cup might be a source of good or ill to

others. ‘‘Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lords hands, that made all

the earth drunken’’ (51.7); ‘‘And the woman [Babylon] . . . [had] a golden cup

in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication’’

(Rev. 17.4).

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prays, ‘‘O my Father, if it be possible, let

this cup pass from me’’ (Matt. 26.39).

In modern literature, except for direct allusions to the overflowing cup of

Psalm 23, the ‘‘cup’’ is most often bitter. Shakespeares Albany promises, ‘‘All

friends shall taste / The wages of their virtue, and all foes / The cup of their

deservings’’ (Lear 5.3.303--05; but see Pericles 1.4.52). ‘‘How many drink the Cup /

Of baleful Grief,’’ Thomson asks, ‘‘or eat the bitter Bread / Of misery’’

(‘‘Winter’’ 334--36). As he meditates on an autumn scene, Lamartine, feels,

‘‘Now I would drain to the lees / This chalice mixed with nectar and gall: / At

the bottom of this cup where I drank my life / Perhaps there would remain a

drop of honey’’ (‘‘Autumn’’ 21--24). ‘‘Lifes enchanted cup but sparkles near the

brim,’’ says Byron; ‘‘His [Childe Harolds] had been quaff d too quickly, and he

found / The dregs were wormwood’’ (Childe Harold 3.72--74). In this spirit is

Pushkin, in the final stanza of Eugene Onegin: ‘‘Blest is he who left lifes feast

early, / not having drained to the bottom / the goblet full of wine’’ (8.51).

See Wine.

Cypress A distinctive feature of the Greek and Italian landscape, the tall, cone-shaped

cypress is mentioned only once in Homer, as one of the trees in Calypsos

grove. But it early became associated with funerals and tombs, in part because

it is evergreen and thus naturally suggests eternal life, and perhaps because,

as Byron fancies, ‘‘’tis / A gloomy tree, which looks as if it mournd / Oer what

it shadows’’ (Cain 3.1.3--5). It became, as Spenser puts it, ‘‘the sign of all sorrow

and heaviness’’ and ‘‘signe of deadly bale’’ (note to ‘‘November’’ of Shepheardes

Calendar, and Virgils Gnat 216). Virgil mentions altars to the dead with black

cypress on them (Aeneid 3.64); see also Ovid, Tristia 3.13.21; Claudian, Rape of

Proserpine 2.108; Spenser, FQ 2.1.60). Lucan gives the cypress social status when

he writes that it is ‘‘witness to no plebeian grief’’ (3.442--43). Horace reminds

us that, when we die, none of the trees we have cultivated on our estate will

follow us to the grave, ‘‘except the hated cypress’’ (Odes 2.14.23). That may have

inspired Byrons cynical line that the cypress is ‘‘the only constant mourner

oer the dead’’ (The Giaour 287). When Feste in Shakespeares Twelfth Night sings,

‘‘Come away, come away death, / And in sad cypress let me be laid’’ (2.4.51--52),

he may be referring to a coffin of cypress wood rather than a bier strewn with

cypress branches.

Corneilles Chimene vows, ‘‘with my cypress I will overwhelm his laurels’’ (Le

Cid 4.2.1196). Tennyson, imagining that if his friend Hallam had not died he

would have married Tennysons sister, remembers: ‘‘But that remorseless iron

hour / Made cypress of her orange flower, / Despair of hope, and earth of thee’’

(In Memorium 84.14--16). (A bouquet of orange blossoms was often carried by

brides in Victorian England.)

In his Metamorphoses (book 10), Ovid tells the story of the boy Cyparissus

who loved a sacred deer but accidentally killed it, and who in his grief was

transformed into a cypress, to stand wherever there are mourners.