Hunting the Basilisk: The Historical Record of a Mythical Beast

There’s an interesting story at The Smithsonian’s Past Imperfect blog regarding the peculiar history of the mythological basilisk. Those of you who spent your teenage years playing Dungeons & Dragons in your basement might already know what a basilisk is. However, for the rest of you, here’s a description:

The basilisk remained an object of terror long after the collapse of the Roman empire and was popular in medieval bestiaries. It was in this period that a great deal of additional myth grew up around it. It became less a serpent than a mix of snake and rooster; it was almost literally hellish. Jan Bondeson notes that the monster was “the subject of a lengthy discourse in the early-13th-century bestiary of Pierre de Beauvais. An aged cock, which had lost its virility, would sometimes lay a small, abnormal egg. If this egg is laid in a dunghill and hatched by a toad, a misshapen creature, with the upper body of a rooster, bat-like wings, and the tail of a snake will come forth. Once hatched, the young basilisk creeps down to a cellar or a deep well to wait for some unsuspecting man to come by, and be overcome by its noxious vapours.”

The basilisk, like many mythic creatures, has a storied historical record. In all likelihood, though, this was based on second-hand accounts of misidentified animals. Many people believe the cobra to be a likely candidate.

Search your nearest dunghill for rooster eggs and keep reading at Future Imperfect.

, , ,

  • Golchab
    • http://twitter.com/mattstaggs Matt Staggs

      Thanks – Fixed. 

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    to me it looks like a Garuda
    a mythical bird being that has been in Asia for a long time

    if you’re a Jungian
    it came from the collective unconscious
    and entered Europe that way
    but more likely
    the ancient image entered Europe through trade with Asia

21
More in basilisks, cobras, Cryptozoology
Thirty-Five Years of (T)error: Revisiting the Dover Demon

Via Cryptomundo: Blogger Tony Morrill has written a comprehensive overview of the Massachusetts cryptid known only as the "Dover Demon". The first sighting of the pallid, melon-shaped humanoid creature took...

Close