Peafowl Through History

Peacocks have made many appearances in history, mythology, and culture. Here are some of the examples I have been able to find. If you know of another occurrence that I could add on this page, email it to me at

  • The Phoenicians are believed to be the first to have imported peafowl, and they transported them to Egypt.

  • The peacock is mentioned in Greek mythology. It was the bird of Hera, queen of the Gods. One myth told of Argus, Hera's hundred eyed giant whose job it was to spy on Zeus and discover his trysting places. When he discovered Zeus with the maiden Io, Zeus changed Io into a cow to escape Hera's wrath. Hera saw through the disguise and requested the cow as a gift, and Zeus could not refuse her. She entrusted Argus to watch Io day and night so she could not be changed back to her true form. Zeus then sent Hermes, messenger of the gods and god of thieves and trickery, to recover Io. Knowing that he could not escape detection from Argus' 100 eyes, Hermes began to play sleepy tunes on his flute and one by one Argus' eyes closed and he fell asleep. Hermes then cut off his head. When Hera found Argus, she removed his one-hundred eyes and placed them on the tail of her favorite bird, the peacock.

  • Peacocks are mentioned in the ancient Greek play "The Birds" by Aristophanes.

  • Back in Biblical times, peafowl were exported all over the known world as treasure, and King Solomon brought many of them to Israel.

  • In the ancient Roman civilization, peacocks were served with their own feathers as a delicacy and were prepared in many different ways.

  • The peacock is also mentioned in one of Aesop's fables. In the story, the peacock goes to Juno (the Roman name for the goddess Hera) and complains that the nightingale has a sweet song and he does not. Juno replied that he has beauty and size. The peacock then asked what good was his beauty without a great voice. Juno wisely replied that every creature has its gifts and faults, and they should be content with them and who they are.

  • By the 14th century, peafowl were spread throughout Europe, however they were not common and were only owned by the rich and powerful.

  • The early European church looked upon the peacock as a religious symbol.

  • The peacock has been and still is held sacred by certain Indian groups. It became the official national bird of India in 1963 and is protected by law in its native habitat.

  • Although held in high honor in many societies, in certain cultures peacocks have been associated with evil. Their "tail" feathers have been called evil eyes. In these cultures it is considered bad luck to keep these feathers in the home, however they can be safely kept outside.

  • In folk art, peacocks are often painted looking backwards at their tails. Because these feathers are renewed each year, this is considered a symbol for renewal. Cultures around the world often pair parrots, peacocks, and doves as focal points in Tree of Life designs.

  • Although I feel that peafowl in general are often overlooked and under appreciated in today's society, you can just turn on the television to NBC and watch the "peacock network" to find one example of them in modern culture.
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This page last modified on Thursday, June 6th, 2002
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