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The Medico-Chirurgical Society of Edinburgh

Founded 1821


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The Med Chi cockerel

I am often asked about the significance of the cockerel portrayed on the president’s medal and our notepaper. Tired of inventing cock and bull stories I thought I should try to explore its meaning. The most likely explanation may be found in an article entitled “Apollo and the College Cocks”; by Dr J.M. Dunlop, (Hull Health Authority) published in Proceedings of the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh, 1993:23:6872. It states:

“The cock in classical mythology was dedicated to Apollo because of its crowing: it gave notice of the rising sun.  It was dedicated to Mercury, the Messenger of the Gods, because it summoned men to business by its crowing and to Aesculapius , the God of Medicine, because by following the cock’s example of going early to bed and early to rise it reputedly makes the man healthy.  Cockerels therefore were frequently sacrificed in olden times as a form of votive offering to the gods.  Socrates (470-404BC), the greatest of the Greek philosophers, was condemned to death for corruption of the young and neglect of the gods, and the story of his last days told in Phaedo of Plato.  Socrates’ last recorded utterance as the hemlock took hold on him was to remind his friend Crito that he owed a cock to Aesculapius, the Greek God of Medicine and Healing, who was the son of Apollo renamed Aesculapius by the Romans.”

Our cockerel may therefore be seen as a votive offering of thanks to the traditions and standards of medicine.

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh contains numerous emblems of cockerels for instance on the Mace carried before the President. This is the most credible explanation of our cock and I have no record of how or when it was chosen. Further enlightenment from other members would be most welcome.

Bruce Ritson.