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.
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.
King of Serpents
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.
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."
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.
This snake, which may reach gigantic size and live hundreds of years, is born from a chicken's egg, hatched beneath a toad. Its methods of killing are most wondrous, for aside from its deadly stare and venomous fangs, the Basilisk has a murderous stare, and all who are fixed with the beam of its eye shall suffer instant death. Spiders flee before the Basilisk, for it is their mortal enemy, and the Basilisk flees only from the crowing of the rooster, which is fatal to it.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
by J. K. Rowling
The Basilisk is a brilliant green serpent that may reach up to fifty feet in length. The male has a scarlet plume upon its head. It has exceptionally venomous fangs but its most dangerous means of attack is the gaze of its large yellow eyes. Anyone looking directly into these will suffer instant death.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
, again by J.K. Rowling
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