Basilisk
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Source: Kongelige Bibliotek (Bestiarius - Bestiary of Anne Walsh (Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4º)) Copyright 2003 Kongelige Bibliotek / Used by permission Manuscript description Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4º, Folio 51r


 

Basilisk

Latin name: Regulus

Other names: Baselicoc, Basiliscus, 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 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 regulus.


Sources (chronological order)

Lucan [1st century CE] (Pharsalia, book 9, verse 849-853): "...there upreared / His regal head, and frighted from his track / With sibilant terror all the subject swam, / Baneful ere darts his poison, Basilisk / In sands deserted king". (verse 968-975): "What availed, / Murrus, the lance by which thou didst transfix / A Basilisk? Swift through the weapon ran / The poison to his hand: he draws his sword / And severs arm and shoulder at a blow: / Then gazed secure upon his severed hand / Which perished as he looked. So had'st thou died, / And such had been thy fate!"

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.

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.


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