The cockcrow heralds the dawn and Apollo’s light. In Greece cocks were symbols of virility and were often used in cockfighting and as sacrifices. Associated with Greek deities, and sacred to them, were various animals. Aphrodite, for example, the fertility goddess of sexual desire, was associated with lustful animals – rabbit, ram, goat and partridge. Athens was devoted to Athene, the great goddess of war and wisdom, whose chief attribute was the Little Owl (Athene noctua), but who also had a cock and a snake. Her gigantic gold and ivory statue by Pheidias in the Parthenon showed a snake at her feet. Cocks and snakes were also sacred to Apollo and Asklepios. At Epidauros the Asklepieion was sited below a temple of Apollo, and Athene, too, was worshipped there.

At Olympia the museum holds a bronze shield-band of about 600 BC showing a cock upon an altar. It also has an ancient terra-cotta figure of Zeus abducting Ganymede to be his beloved cup-bearer: the boy carries a rooster. Cocks appear on Attic pottery of the mid-sixth century BC. They are still symbolic in Greece, as we are reminded by Lawrence Durrell’s account of the poet Katsimbalis arousing them at night from the Acropolis by uttering a wild ‘cock-crow’:

‘From the distance silvery clear in the darkness a cock drowsily answered – then another, then another … until all over Athens like bugles they were calling and calling … the whole night was alive with cock-crows – all Athens, all Attica, all Greece.’

Plato, in the Phaedo, relates the dying words of Socrates to Kriton who looked after his affairs: ‘We owe a cock to Asklepios. Be sure to pay the debt, and do not neglect to do so.’ Perhaps the payment was for the hemlock that cured Socrates of ‘life’s fitful fever’.

Cocks are charges on the arms of the Institute of Hospital Engineering. They also are also abundant in the symbolism of this College. Perched on the four lamp standards outside the main entrance, cocks alert visitors to what they will find inside, where four bronze hanging lamps each supports a cock. Cocks are engraved on the glass vestibule doors and carved on the lectern and ceremonial chairs in the Great Hall. The College Officer’s staff carries a silver cock, and it is a cock that crowns the great golden College mace.