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Description Early Basilisks were described as small snakes with a crest on the head like a crown (from the Greek "basilieus" meaning king, as in "king of snakes".)   The basilisk was extremely poisonous and even its breath or glare could be fatal.In Heraldry, it is mostly the same as a Cockatrice, sometimes differentiated by an additional head (often a dragon) at the end of the tail. 


Features Very poisonous.  Its appearance is so dreadful, that if it could see itself in a mirror it would burst apart with horror and fear. Can be killed by weasels, or by a rooster crowing.

Wise travelers would bring a rooster or a weasel with them, if traveling into unknown lands.


Also Called King of Serpents

Amphysian Cockatrice

The cockatrice was originally described as taking the form of the basilisk, but by the 1400's the name had morphed from basilisk to basilicok to cockatrice, helped by a mention in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.  This is probably where it picked up the partial attributes of a Cock, and became a different creature.  In the same manner, the Basilisk originally referred to a small snake with a crest on its head (like a crown, hence the title "king")  Of course, as time went on and the stories got more exaggerated, the snake got bigger and deadlier. In the Middle Ages, legends told that the basilisk could only be killed by a weasel or a cockerel, and many travelers carried these other animals in case they encountered a basilisk.


Described By: Aldrovandus- portrays the basilisk as having 8 legs.

Topsell- "The King of Serpents, not for his magnitude or greatnesse: For there are many Serpents bigger than he, as there are many foure-footed Beastes bigger than the Lyon, but, because of his stately pace, and magnanimous mind: for he creepeth not on the earth like other Serpents, but goeth half upright, for which all other serpents avoyde his sight."

Pliny- "The Serpents called basilisks... It is produced in the province of Cyrene (ancient Greek city of Cyrenaica), being not more than twelve fingers (inches) in length.  It has a white spot on the head, strongly resembling a sort of diadem.  When it hisses, all the other serpents fly from it...It destroys all shrubs, not only by contact, but even those it has bresthed 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." 


Symbolizes In Christian art, it is the emblem of sin and the spirit of evil. The image above is often used in heraldry, even though it is different than many of the descriptions. 


Might actually be There is a lot of confusion in the literature about what a basilisk is; Some descriptions of the basilisk sound like a Cobra, and some sound more like scorpions.


Another Picture

Picture by Marie Smith-Vining.
Click on picture for larger image (100k)



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