Boria Sax describes the various cultural representations of crow throughout historical times. From ancient Greek times, the crow has been perceived as an intelligent creature, capable of solving complex physical problems, as depicted in Aesop’s fable, “The Crow and the Pitcher.” One of the most ancient anecdotes in recorded history, Aesop’s fable describes a clever corvid who instinctively understood the natural laws of physics. Encountering a pitcher of water when thirsty but unable to reach the water with its beak, the cunning crow filled the pitcher with rocks until the water rose high enough for it to drink. Two-and-a-half thousand years later, the story continues to be told, with the ‘moral’ understood to be: “Necessity is the mother of invention” (Sax 2001:74).
The Greek historian Herodotus described two “black doves” who delivered the prophecies of Zeus, and while it is unclear whether these were meant to refer to “dark-skinned priestesses” or corvids (Sax 2001:73), the association between crows and ravens remains strong. Later Greek and Roman authors like Aristophanes, Ovid, and Pliny the Elder, also commented on the intelligence of the crow, and crow’s relationship to human, however focusing on the crow in both ominous, and lucky ways. Among the Roman authors, Plutarch drew upon the fidelity of crows as an example for marriage, with the appearance of a single crow at a wedding considered a foreboding sign of death (Sax 2001:73).
Depictions of the crow as messenger, or herald of death, have also appeared in Norse and Celtic mythologies, while early British superstitions of the Middle Ages have featured the crow and raven as a foreboding sign of bad luck. Native American religions perceive crow as messenger, seer, sage, and trickster. Meanwhile, seemingly the exception, East Asian legends associate the crow with love and fidelity.