The Role of Cockfighting in Literature and Art

The blood sport of cockfighting has been around for hundreds of years. Deeply rooted in many cultures, this activity has been a source of inspiration and used as a symbol in paintings, poems, stories, novels, and more. Learn about cockfighting in literature and art here.

Cockfighting in Literature and Art

With cockfighting’s long history, it is no surprise that this activity has spawned numerous works of art and literature, going back to ancient times. The first written proof of cockfighting came from India, about 1500 BC.

When the Persians introduced chickens and cockfighting to Greece around 500 BC, the Greeks embraced the activity wholeheartedly, including it in their culture. Later on, the Romans adopted many Greek habits and customs, including cockfighting.

The fighting cock, a subject of religious worship during that time, could be seen etched on various ancient Greek and Roman pottery. Archaeologists also unearthed a mosaic of a cockfight from Pompeii, Italy.

Classic Roman authors such as Varro and Columella wrote about cockfighting, noting that the best fighting cocks came from Rhodes, echoing Greek writers. Julius Caesar, who had a fondness for cockfighting, noticed that Britons kept gamefowls for cockfighting and wrote about how the gamefowls of Britons were better than those of the Romans.

During King Henry II’s reign in England, the earliest written references to cockfighting were found. Many English Kings such as James I, William III, and Charles II loved cockfighting.

When King Henry VIII became King in the Renaissance period, cockfighting events were held at the Whitehall Palace and exclusive schools were required to teach students about aspects of the blood sport. Shakespeare referred to the sport in many of his plays, most notably in Macbeth and King Lear.

In 1607, George Wilson wrote the earliest known book on the sport of cockfighting, titling it “The Commendation of Cocks and Cock Fighting.” It was also Wilson who first used the term “cock of the game” to describe gamecocks. Lithographs and prints from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries can be found in art shops and museums.

As cockfighting became more controversial in modern times, its inclusion in literature and depiction in art has lessened compared to before. Still, there are references to it in some modern art and literature.

A most recent example is an oil painting depicting cockfighting created by Eduardo Joaquin, an alumnus of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, which was purchased by the Hawai’i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts and will be exhibited at various state government sites in Hawai’i.

Cockfighting has also found its way into video games, most notably in Sleeping Dogs and Far Cry 6.

Final Note

Cockfighting is an activity that has a very lengthy history. As it’s been around since ancient times, it has made its way into a great number of artworks and literature. Greeks and Romans illustrated the might of the fighting cock and the art of cockfighting in written works and pottery.

The earliest written works on cockfighting in England were found in 1154, and in the Renaissance Period, Shakespeare himself referenced the blood sport in his works.

In modern times, however, cockfighting in art and literature has lessened, with more and more people finding the activity to be an act of cruelty towards animals. Still, references to it exist, with video games being the most recent example of a modern depiction of cockfighting.