Beast

Basilisk


Latin name: Regulus
Other names: Baselicoc, Basile, Basilicot, Basiliscus, Baslilisscho, Cocatris, Cockatrice, Kokatris, Sibilus

Its odor, voice and even look can kill

General Attributes

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 by a toad from a cock's egg, a rare occurrence. 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 regulus.

Sources

Lucan [1st century CE] (Pharsalia, book 9, verse 921-926): How prospered Murrus when his lance transfixed / A basilisk ? Swift through the weapon ran / The poison to his hand : he drew his sword / And at one blow he swept the limb away : / So did he live and gazed upon the hand / Which dying paid his ransom. - [Ridley, 1919, Volume 2, Page 245]

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 33): Anyone who sees the eyes of a basilisk serpent (basilisci serpentis) dies immediately. It is no more than twelve inches long, and has white markings on its head that look like a diadem. Unlike other snakes, which flee its hiss, it moves forward with its middle raised high. Its touch and even its breath scorch grass, kill bushes and burst rocks. Its poison is so deadly that once when a man on a horse speared a basilisk, the venom travelled up the spear and killed not only the man, but also the horse. A weasel can kill a basilisk; the serpent is thrown into a hole where a weasel lives, and the stench of the weasel kills the basilisk at the same time as the basilisk kills the weasel.

Aelianus [170-230 CE] (On the Characteristics of Animals, Book 2, chapter 5): The Basilisk measures but a span, yet at the sight of it the longest snake not after an interval but on the instant, at the mere impact of its breath, shrivels. And if a man has a stick in his hand and the Basilisk bites it, the owner of the rod dies. [Book 3, chapter 31] ... the Basilisk too, they say, goes in fear of the [cock]: at the sight of one it shudders, and at the sound of its crowing it is seized with convulsions and dies. This is why travellers in Libya, which is the nurse of such monsters, in fear of the aforesaid Basilisk take with them a cock as companion and partner of their journey to protect themselves from so terrible an infliction. - [Scholfield translation]

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 4:6-9): The basilisk is six inches in length and has white spots; it is the king (regulus) of snakes. All flee from it, for it can kill a man with its smell or even by merely looking at him. Birds flying within sight of the basilisk, no matter how far away they may be, are burned up. Yet the weasel can kill it; for this purpose people put weasels into the holes where the basilisk hides. They are like scorpions in that they follow dry ground and when they come to water they make men frenzied and hydrophobic. The basilisk is also called sibilus, the hissing snake, because it kills with a hiss.

Theophilus Presbyter [c. 1070–1125] In the Schedula diversarum artium the alchemist known as Theophilus tells of how "the heathen, who are said to be skilled in this art, produce basilisks for themselves in this way. They have a structure under the ground, made above, below and all round with stones, with two tiny openings, so small that scarcely any light can be seen through them. In this they place two old fowls, twelve or fifteen years old, and they give them plenty to eat. When they have become plump, with the heat of their fatness they copulate and lay eggs. When these have been laid, the fowls are taken away and toads are introduced to sit on the eggs, and bread is given them for food. When the eggs are hatched, male chicks emerge like hens' chicks. After seven days they grow the tails of serpents. If the structure were not paved with stone they would immediately enter the ground. Careful of this, their owners have round bronze vessels of large size, perforated everywhere and with narrow mouths, and they place the chicks in these, block up the mouths with copper lids, and bury them in the ground. For six months they are nourished with the fine earth entering through the holes. After this, they uncover the vessels and place them on a large fire until the beasts within are completely burned. When this has been done and the vessels have cooled, they take them out and carefully grind them, adding a third part of the blood of a red-headed man, which has been dried and ground. These two compounds are mixed with sharp vinegar in a clean vessel. Then they take very thin sheets of pure red copper, and they smear this preparation over them on each side and put them on the fire. When they are white-hot, they take them off and quench them in the same preparation and wash them, and so they proceed for a long time until this preparation eats through the copper, which, thereupon, takes on the weight and colour of gold. This gold is suitable for all work." - C.R. Dodwell translation