It is proverbial that a crocodile moans and sobs like a person in great distress in order to lure a man into its reach, and then, after devouring him sheds bitter tears over the dire fate of its victim.
Thus “crocodile tears” is synonymous with hypocritical grief, make-believe deep sorrow.
Belief in the proverb is found in ancient Greek and Latin literature, so it was natural that untraveled Englishmen, to whom a crocodile was unknown, accepted the belief as a statement of fact in early days.
In the Voiage and Travaile of Sir John Maundeville, written about 1400, we read that “Cokadrilles. . . Theise Serpentes slen men, and thei eten hem wepynge.”
Other English writers repeated the fable, and we find it even in Shakespeare’s works.