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

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. (Mediaeval Lore from Bartholomew Anglicus (London, 1893/1905) Steele edition of 1905)


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