Herodotus, the father of history, records how he had journeyed to the Middle East to inquire about reported “winged serpents.” There, Herodotus saw “the bones and backbones of serpents past all telling for numbers.” Each spring, the winged serpents used to fly from Arabia into Egypt. But the deadly enemy of these flying serpents was the Ibis bird, which would kill the snakes. (Herodotus, Book II, section 75)
Flavius Josephus, in Antiquities of the Jews, relates how Moses used the Ibis bird as an ally in his war against the Ethiopians. The Ethiopians had invaded Egypt. The pharaoh ordered Moses to lead Egypt’s army against the invaders. The Ethiopians believed Moses would have to attack them from the river; to approach on the ground would mean the Egyptian army would be troubled by serpents “such as are worse than others in power and mischief, and an unusual fierceness of sight, some of which ascend out of the ground unseen, and also fly in the air…” (Antiquities of the Jews, 2.10.2)
But Moses outsmarted the Ethiopians. He “made baskets like unto arks, of sedge, and filled them with ibises, and carried them along with them; which animal is the greatest enemy to serpents imaginable, for they fly from them when they come near them; and as they fly they are caught and devoured by them, as if it were done by the stags; but the ibises are tame creatures, and only enemies to the serpentine kind.” (Ibid. See also my book, Melchizedek Communique, available as an e-book from Lulu.com)
Pliny, in Book VIII of his Natural History, records how in India in ancient times snakes grew so large “as to be able to swallow stags and bulls whole…” There was also “the well-known case of the snake 120 ft. long that was killed during the Punic Wars on the River Bagradas by General Regulus, using ordnance and catapults just as if storming a town; its skin and jaw-bones remained in a temple at Rome down to the Numantine War.” (Section XIV)
Indeed, many strange creatures once existed, though by now they have mostly vanished. In the Introduction to the Loeb Library edition of Pliny’s Natural History, this is summed up by the remark, “…anecdotes that used to be rejected by critics as erroneous and even absurd have now in not a few cases been corroborated by modern research.”
So there may be at least a germ of truth in stories about the strange roc bird of the Middle East. Tales of the Arabian Nights describes the roc bird as “a white bird, of enormous size. Its strength is such, that it can lift up elephants from the ground and carry them to the top of mountains, where it devours them.” In “The History of the Third Calendar, The Son of a King”, Agib is sewn up inside a sheepskin and carried off to the summit of a mountain by a roc bird.
A similar tale involving what seems to have been a roc bird is related in Book II of the Cambridge Latin Course. A Middle Eastern merchant on caravan was attacked by robbers and left for dead. Lying in the desert weak and without water, all hope seemed lost for the merchant. Suddenly a strange bird appeared in the sky. Its wings were as long as oars. Its claws were longer than spears. This terrifying bird carried the merchant away, up to a mountain top, and deposited him in its nest. But in this nest, the merchant found a great pile of precious stones. He took many of these gems and placed them in a bag. He then concealed himself. The strange bird later returned, carrying more jewels.
When night came, and the monstrous bird was asleep, the merchant dared to climb up onto its back. In the morning, with the merchant still clinging to the back of the bird, it took to the air and flew out over the sea. When the merchant saw some ships below, he jumped off and fell into the waves. Rescued by the ships, and still possessing his bag of jewels, the merchant who had been left for dead in the desert was now a wealthy man.