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
as a Cockatrice, sometimes differentiated by an additional head (often a
dragon) at the end of the tail.
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.
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.
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
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
||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
Picture by Marie Smith-Vining.
Click on picture for larger image (100k)