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The basilisk is usually described as a crested snake, and sometimes as a cock with a snake's tail. It is called the king (regulus) of the serpents because its Greek name basiliscus means "little king"; its odor is said to kill snakes. Fire coming from the basilisk's mouth kills birds, and its glance will kill a man. It can kill by hissing, which is why it is also called the sibilus. Like the scorpion it likes dry places; its bite causes the victim to become hydrophobic. A basilisk is hatched from a cock's egg, a rare occurence. Only the weasel can kill a basilisk.
Some manuscripts have separate entries and/or illustrations for the basilisk and the regulus, possibly because the basilisk account in Isidore has three sections, one each for the basilisk, the "kinglet" (reguli), and the sibilus. Where the regulus is treated separately, the bite of the basilisk causing hydrophobia is generally ascribed to the regul
Here are two descriptions to the image of the basilisk: a snake or a three-foot high half-dragon half-bird with a snake's tail and teeth, known as the cockatrice. It is called "king" because it is reputed to have on its head a mitre- or crown-shaped crest. Stories of the basilisk place it in the same general family as the cockatrice. The basilisk is alleged to be hatched by a cockerel from the egg of a serpent or toad (the reverse of the cockatrice, which was hatched from a cockerel's "egg" incubated by a serpent or toad). In Medieval Europe, the description of the creature began taking on features from cockerels.
One of the earliest accounts of the basilisk comes from Pliny the Elder's Natural History, written in roughly 79 AD. He describes the catoblepas, a monstrous cow-like creature to whom "all who behold its eyes, fall dead upon the spot", and then goes on to say,
There is the same power also in the serpent called the basilisk. It is produced in the province of Cyrene, being not more than twelve fingers in length. It has a white spot on the head, strongly resembling a sort of a diadem. When it hisses, all the other serpents fly from it: and it does not advance its body, like the others, by a succession of folds, but moves along upright and erect upon the middle. It destroys all shrubs, not only by its contact, but those even that it has breathed upon; it burns up all the grass too, and breaks the stones, so tremendous is its noxious influence. It was formerly a general belief that if a man on horseback killed one of these animals with a spear, the poison would run up the weapon and kill, not only the rider, but the horse as well. To this dreadful monster the effluvium of the weasel is fatal, a thing that has been tried with success, for kings have often desired to see its body when killed; so true is it that it has pleased Nature that there should be nothing without its antidote. The animal is thrown into the hole of the basilisk, which is easily known from the soil around it being infected. The weasel destroys the basilisk by its odour, but dies itself in this struggle of nature against its own self.
by Gene R. Hampton
A basilisk (English pronunciation: /ˈbæzɪlɪsk/, from the Greek βασιλίσκος basilískos, "little king"; Latin Regulus) is a legendary reptile reputed to be king of serpents and said to have the power to cause death with a single glance. According to the Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder, the basilisk of Cyrene is a small snake, "being not more than twelve fingers in length", that is so venomous that it leaves a wide trail of deadly venom in its wake, and its gaze is likewise lethal; its weakness is in the odour of the weasel, which according to Pliny, was thrown into the basilisk's hole, recognisable because all the surrounding shrubs and grass had been scorched by its presence. Basilisk is also the name of a genus of small lizards, (family Corytophanidae). The Green Basilisk, also called plumed basilisk, is a lizard that can run across the surface of water.
The Venerable Bede was the first to attest to the legend of the birth of a basilisk from an egg by an old cockerel, then other authors added the condition of Sirius being ascendant. Isidore of Seville defined the basilisk as the king of snakes, due to its killing glare and its poisonous breath. Alexander Neckam was the first to say that not the glare but the "air corruption" was the killing tool of the basilisk, a theory developed one century later by Pietro d'Abano.
Theophilus Presbyter gives a long recipe in his book for creating a basilisk in order to convert copper into "Spanish gold" (De auro hyspanico).
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 6838B, Folio 31r - The basilisk is half cock and half serpent.
he cockatrice was first described in the late twelfth century based on a hint in Pliny's Natural History, as a duplicate of the basilisk or regulus, though, unlike the basilisk, the cockatrice has wings.
According to Alexander Neckam's De naturis rerum (ca 1180), it was supposed to be born from an egg laid by a cock and incubated by a toad; a snake might be substituted in re-tellings. The translation from basiliscus to cockatrice was effected when the basiliscus in Bartholomeus Anglicus' De proprietatibus rerum (ca 1260) was translated by John Trevisa as cockatrice (1397).
Attempts to identify it with any particular biological species have proved generally futile.
Other legends report a dragon's form, but with a rooster's head. Sometimes described as having dark red or pitch black eyes. Its look or breath is said to be poison, but can be killed by a weasel or by the sound of a rooster crowing.
Its reputed a cocatrice has magical abilities, these include turning people to stone or killing them by either looking at them "the evil death- eye of Cockatrice" touching them, or sometimes breathing on them.
It was repeated in the late-medieval bestiaries that the weasel is the only animal that is immune to the glance of a cockatrice. It was also thought that a cockatrice would die instantly upon hearing a rooster crow. According to legend, having a cockatrice look itself in a mirror is one of the few sure-fire ways to kill it. The cockatrice was also able to fly.
Like the head of Medusa, the cockatrice's powers of petrification were thought still effective after death.
Albertus Magnus in the De animalibus wrote about the killing gaze of the basilisk, but he denied other legends, such as the rooster hatching the egg. He gave as source of those legends Hermes Trismegistus, who is credited also as the creator of the story about the basilisk's ashes being able to convert silver into gold: the attribution is absolutely incorrect, but it shows how the legends of the basilisk were already linked to alchemy in XIII century.
Geoffrey Chaucer featured a basilicok (as he called it) in his Canterbury Tales. According to some legends, basilisks can be killed by hearing the crow of a rooster or gazing at itself through a mirror. The latter method of killing the beast is featured in the legend of the basilisk living in Warsaw, killed by a man carrying a set of mirrors (the most famous version of the legend was written by Artur Oppman).
Stories gradually added to the basilisk's deadly capabilities, such as describing it as a larger beast, capable of breathing fire and killing with the sound of its voice. Some writers even claimed that it could kill not only by touch, but also by touching something that is touching the victim, like a sword held in their hand. Also, some stories claim their breath is highly toxic and will cause death, usually immediately. The basilisk is also the guardian creature of the Swiss city Basel.
The basilisk was, however, believed to be vulnerable to roosters; therefore travellers in the Middle Ages sometimes carried roosters with them as protection.
Leonardo da Vinci included a basilisk in his Bestiary, saying it is so utterly cruel that when it cannot kill animals by its baleful gaze, it turns upon herbs and plants, and fixing its gaze on them withers them up.
In his Notebooks, he describes the basilisk (an account clearly dependent directly or indirectly on Pliny's (above)):
This is found in the province of Cyrenaica and is not more than 12 fingers long. It has on its head a white spot after the fashion of a diadem. It scares all serpents with its whistling. It resembles a snake, but does not move by wriggling but from the centre forwards to the right. It is said that one of these, being killed with a spear by one who was on horse-back, and its venom flowing on the spear, not only the man but the horse also died. It spoils the wheat and not only that which it touches, but where it breathes the grass dries and the stones are split.
Then Leonardo says the following on the weasel: "This beast finding the lair of the basilisk kills it with the smell of its urine, and this smell, indeed, often kills the weasel itself".
"Basilisk" in science refers to the genus Basiliscus of South American "lizard", containing four species. It is also the only type of lizard that can run across water on its hind legs. Also known as the Jesus christ Lizard.
Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century CE] (De proprietatibus rerum, book 18): The cockatrice hight Basiliscus in Greek, and Regulus in Latin; and hath that name Regulus of a little king, for he is king of serpents, and they be afraid, and flee when they see him. For he slayeth them with his smell and with his breath: and slayeth also anything that hath life with breath and with sight. In his sight no fowl nor bird passeth harmless, and though he be far from the fowl, yet it is burned and devoured by his mouth. But he is overcome of the weasel; and men bring the weasel to the cockatrice's den, where he lurketh and is hid. For the father and maker of everything left nothing without remedy. ... and the serpent that is bred in the province of Sirena; and hath a body in length and in breadth as the cockatrice, and a tail of twelve inches long, and hath a speck in his head as a precious stone, and feareth away all serpents with hissing. And he presseth not his body with much bowing, but his course of way is forthright, and goeth in mean. He drieth and burneth leaves and herbs, not only with touch but also by hissing and blast he rotteth and corrupteth all things about him. And he is of so great venom and perilous, that he slayeth and wasteth him that nigheth him by the length of a spear, without tarrying; and yet the weasel taketh and overcometh him, for the biting of the weasel is death to the cockatrice. And nevertheless the biting of the cockatrice is death to the weasel. And that is sooth, but if the weasel eat rue before. And though the cockatrice be venomous without remedy, while he is alive, yet he loseth all the malice when he is burnt to ashes. His ashes be accounted good and profitable in working of Alchemy, and namely in turning and changing of metals.
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