In Ancient European Folklore Lies The Legend Of The Basilisk, A Monster That’s Said To Strike Its Victims Dead With Just One Look

S J Lievano - - illustrative purposes only

Originating in European folklore, the basilisk is a fearsome monster that can strike its victims dead with just one look.

The legend of the basilisk dates back to ancient times and has been referenced in Greek and Roman literature. Since then, it has appeared in several stories throughout history and even shows up in popular culture today.

The earliest known mention of the basilisk comes from Pliny the Elder in Natural History, an encyclopedic work that he published in 79 C.E.

He described it as a small, serpent-like creature about “twelve fingers in length.” It had the ability to kill by sight alone, but its deadly powers didn’t stop there. Pliny claimed that the basilisk could wreak havoc on the surrounding landscape just by its mere presence.

“It destroys all shrubs, not only by its contact, but those even that it has breathed 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,” Pliny wrote.

The Romans believed that basilisks transformed the once-lush Sahara into desert. The basilisk had just one weakness, which happened to be a weasel. When a weasel is thrown into the hole of a basilisk, the animal’s odor kills the serpent. However, the weasel also dies in the process.

Medieval interpretations of the monster differ slightly. During the Middle Ages, the legend of the basilisk evolved.

It was depicted as a hybrid creature called the cockatrice, part snake and part rooster. It also had a whole new set of powers. The cockatrice was thought to be born from a rooster’s egg and incubated by a serpent.

At that time, the basilisk’s toxic odor was blamed for starting a plague in Rome and spreading a fainting sickness around Vienna. Across Europe, people slaughtered roosters that were found laying eggs.

S J Lievano – – illustrative purposes only

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