The Basilisk And Cockatrice

Aldrovandus portrays the Basilisk with eight legs. Topsell says it is

the same as the Cockatrice, depicts it as a crowned serpent, and

says:--"This Beast is called by the Graecian Baziliscos, and by the

Latine, Regulus, because he seemeth to be the King of Serpents, not

for his magnitude or greatnesse: For there are many Serpents bigger than

he, as there be many foure-footed Beastes bigger than the Lyon, but,

because o
his stately pace, and magnanimious mind: for hee creepeth not

on the earth like other Serpents, but goeth halfe upright, for which

occasion all other Serpentes avoyde his sight. And it seemeth nature

hath ordayned him for that purpose; for, besides the strength of his

poyson, which is uncurable, he hath a certain combe or Corronet uppon

his head, as shall be shewed in due place."

Pliny thus describes "The Serpents called Basilisks. There is the same

power[40] also in the serpent called the Basilisk. It is produced in

the province of Cyrene, being not more than twelve fingers 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: and it does not advance

its body, like the others, by a succession of folds, but moves along

upright and erect upon the middle. It destroys all shrubs, not only by

its contact, but even those 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. To this

dreadful monster the effluvium of the weasel is fatal, a thing which has

been tried with success, for kings have often desired to see its body

when killed; so true is it that it has pleased Nature that there should

be nothing without its antidote. The animal is thrown into the hole of

the basilisk, which is easily known from the soil around it being

infected. The weasel destroys the basilisk by its odour, but dies itself

in this struggle of nature against its own self."

Du Bartas says:--

"What shield of Ajax could avoid their death

By th' Basilisk whose pestilentiall breath

Doth pearce firm Marble, and whose banefull eye

Wounds with a glance, so that the wounded dye."

The origin of the Cockatrice is, to say the least, peculiar:--"There is

some question amongest Writers, about the generation of this Serpent:

for some, (and those very many and learned,) affirme him to be brought

forth of a Cockes egge. For they say that when a Cocke groweth old, he

layeth a certaine egge without any shell, instead whereof it is covered

with a very thicke skinne, which is able to withstand the greatest force

of an easie blow or fall. They say, moreover, that this Egge is layd

onely in the Summer time, about the beginning of the Dogge-dayes, being

not so long as a Hens Egge, but round and orbiculer: Sometimes of a

Foxie, sometimes of a yellowish muddy colour, which Egge is generated of

the putrified seed of the Cocke, and afterward sat upon by a Snake or a

Toad, bringeth forth the Cockatrice, being halfe a foot in length, the

hinder part like a Snake, the former part like a Cocke, because of a

treble combe on his forehead.

"But the vulger opinion of Europe is, that the Egge is nourished by a

Toad, and not by a Snake; howbeit, in better experience it is found that

the Cocke doth sit on that egge himselfe: whereof Levinus Lemnius in

his twelfth booke of the hidden miracles of nature, hath this discourse,

in the fourth chapter thereof. There happened (saith he) within our

memory in the Citty Pirizaea, that there were two old Cockes which had

layd Egges, but they could not, with clubs and staves drive them from

the Egges, untill they were forced to breake the egges in sunder, and

strangle the Cockes....

"There be many grave humaine Writers, whose authority is irrefragable,

affirming not onely that there be cockatrices, but also that they infect

the ayre, and kill with their sight. And Mercuriall affirmeth, that

when he was with Maximilian the Emperour, hee saw the carkase of a

cockatrice, reserved in his treasury among his undoubted monuments....

Wee doe read that in Rome, in the dayes of Pope Leo the fourth (847 to

855), there was a cockatrice found in a Vault of a Church or Chappell,

dedicated to Saint Lucea, whose pestiferous breath hadde infected the

Ayre round about, whereby great mortality followed in Rome: but how the

said Cockatrice came thither, it was never knowne. It is most probable

that it was created, and sent of God for the punnishment of the Citty,

which I do the more easily beleeve, because Segonius and Julius

Scaliger do affirme, that the sayd pestiferous beast was killed by the

prayers of the said Leo the fourth....

"The eyes of the Cockatrice are redde, or somewhat inclyning to

blacknesse; the skin and carkase of this beast have beene accounted

precious, for wee doe read that the Pergameni did buy but certaine

peeces of a Cockatrice, and gave for it two pound and a halfe of Sylver:

and because there is an opinion that no Byrd, Spyder, or venomous Beast

will endure the sight of this Serpent, they did hang uppe the skinne

thereof stuffed, in the Temples of Apollo and Diana, in a certaine

thinne Net made of Gold; and therefore it is sayde, that never any

Swallow, Spider, or other Serpent durst come within those Temples; And

not onely the skinne or the sight of the Cockatrice worketh this effect,

but also the flesh thereof, being rubbed uppon the pavement, postes, or

Walles of any House. And moreover, if Silver bee rubbed over with the

powder of the Cockatrices flesh, it is likewise sayde that it giveth it

a tincture like unto Golde: and, besides these qualities, I remember not

any other in the flesh or skinne of this serpent....

"We read also that many times in Affrica, the Mules fall downe dead

for thirst, or else lye dead on the ground for some other causes, unto

whose Carkase innumerable troupes of Serpentes gather themselves to

feede there uppon; but when the Bazeliske windeth the sayd dead body,

he giveth forth his voyce: at the first hearing whereof, all the

Serpents hide themselves in the neare adjoyning sandes, or else runne

into theyr holes, not daring to come forth againe, untill the Cockatrice

have well dyned and satisfied himselfe. At which time he giveth another

signall by his voyce of his departure: then come they forth, but never

dare meddle with the remnants of the dead beast, but go away to seeke

some other prey. And if it happen that any other pestiferous beast

cometh unto the waters to drinke neare the place wherein the Cockatrice

is lodged, so soone as he perceiveth the presence thereof, although it

be not heard nor seene, yet it departeth back againe, without drinking,

neglecting his owne nutriment, to save itselfe from further danger:

whereupon Lucanus saith,

----Late sibi submovet omne

Vulgus, et in vacua regnat Basiliscus arena.

Which may be thus englished;

He makes the vulgar farre from him to stand,

While Cockatrice alone raignes on the sand.

"Now we are to intreate of the poyson of this serpent, for it is a hot

and a venemous poyson, infecting the Ayre round about, so as no other

Creature can live neare him, for it killeth, not onely by his hissing,

and by his sight, (as is sayd of the Gorgons) but also by his touching,

both immediately, and mediately; that is to say, not onely when a man

toucheth the body it selfe, but also by touching a Weapon wherewith the

body was slayne, or any other dead beast slaine by it, and there is a

common fame, that a Horseman taking a Speare in his hand, which had

beene thrust through a Cockatrice, did not onely draw the poyson of it

unto his owne body, and so dyed, but also killed his horse thereby."