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Alternatively known as Basilicock and Cockatrice.
A fabulous reptilian monster of ancient and medieval legend, sometimes used in heraldry.
This fabled king of the reptiles (from Greek basileus 'little king') was said to be hatched — from an odd looking cock's egg — by a serpent or a toad in a dunghill. Of all the legendary monsters, none was deadlier. It was also believed to be the incarnation of the Death God.
Accounts of this monster differ, but it was commonly said to have either the face of a cock or a distorted human face, with the wings and feet of a fowl and the tail of a serpent. It was represented this way in heraldry. The Basilisk was also reputed to be a deadly creature with a destructive power similar to that of the fabulous Gorgon of Greek legend.
In medieval lore the Basilisk was part serpent, part rooster — it had the wings of a bird, the tail of a dragon or serpent and the head of a cock — and it came from an egg laid in a dunghill by a seven-year-old (some say nine-year-old) cock during the time that Sirius was high in the heavens. The egg was spherical and covered by a thick membrane, and sometimes it was hatched by a toad or serpent, who sat on it for nine years (another fallacy involving the nine years span).
This elaborate gestation produced a creature whose breath could scorch the earth and kill plants, animals and people alike — it was even believed to have the power to split rocks; whose skin was covered with a slimy deadly poison with the horrible property of spreading rapidly over anything it touched; and whose power of its eyes was so terrible that its glance was lethal — even to itself. Accordingly, anyone who sought to slay the basilisk was wise to carry a mirror, so that it would kill itself with its own look. The other method was to set a weasel on the monster, since it was thought to be the only creature capable of withstanding the cockatrice's deadly stare.
The foremost description we have for this beast is found in Pliny’s Natural History, a compilation of ancient (and mostly Greek) sources written in Rome in 77 AD. In it Pliny lists over 60 sources, most of which have been lost. After discussing the 'catoblepas' (another mythical creature) and its ability to kill people with its vision, Pliny describes the basilisk:
"The basilisk serpent also has the same power. It is a native of the province of Cyrenaica, not more than 12 inches long, and adorned with a bright white marking on the head like a sort of diadem. It routs all snakes with its hiss, and does not move its body forward in manifold coils like the other snakes but advancing with its middle raised high. It kills bushes not only by its touch but also by its breath, scorches up grass and bursts rocks. Its effect on other animals is disastrous: it is believed that once one was killed with a spear by a man on horseback and the infection rising through the spear rising not only the rider but also the horse. Yet to a creature so marvelous as this — indeed kings have often wished to see a specimen when safely dead — the venom of weasels is fatal: so fixed is the decree of nature that nothing shall be without its match."
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