A basilisk is a creature presented as a snake-type or other reptile. Some renditions look related to a rooster, but that would be a cockatrice. You’ve heard, if looks could kill? Well, if it’s basilisk, they do. A direct look from a basilisk and yer a goner.
It’s interesting how the fantasies go on with how dangerous this creepy-crawler is with venom and whatnot, but with looks that kill, who cares? Think Medusa. Ok, so you use a reflection for an indirect look, but unlike Medusa, you’re petrified anyway, meaning you are turned to stone. Think Lott’s wife. I can’t buy the petrified option as being any better than a direct death look. Look away if you see a basilisk coming. Oops, too late.
Some sources (Britannica) list the basilisk as the same creature as the cockatrice, but one is a snake the other a pissed-off rooster that looks related to the village dragon. In mythology there is an odd biological, half-sibling, relationship between the two. This basilisk creature comes into being because a cockerel (rooster) sits on and incubates the egg of a snake or toad. For the cockatrice, the rooster lays the egg (see the problem?) and either the snake or a toad pulls off the incubation challenge.
If a sex is assigned to a basilisk it is often female, yet, due its appearance with a mitre on its head, it is referred to as king of the serpents. The Pope wears a mitre as a kind of crown. It must have been safer to piss off a king, since there were many, than the Pope, of which there were few, if only one legitimate. Since these folks have roosters laying eggs, I suppose that is all fair enough. It’s fantasy, right?
The first writing about a basilisk dates to around 79 AD, about the same time New Testament Gospels were allegedly first written. And if you worried about one of these suckers turning up at the front door, you could simply do pop goes the weasel. Apparently, taking a cue from Asia and the King Cobra’s nemesis, the mongoose, the Europeans made the odor (effluvium) of the weasel be a deadly weakness for the basilisk. That makes sense. With more quafting weasel stink everywhere, there’ll be fewer basilisk, which explains why Europe has such a small problem with basilisks roaming the countryside. Of course, if you did see one, you’d die and be unable to tell us about it.
Literature is replete with references to the basilisk. In Shakespeare’s Richard III, Anne Neville wishes her eyes (like a basilisk) would kill her husband’s murderer, and in Cymbeline a character refers to a ring as a basilisk.
Samuel Richardson in Clarissa; or the History of a Young Lady, and John Gay in The Beggar’s Opera, have characters who refer to the basilisk in dialogue. Others include Jonathan Swift in a poem, Robert Browning in A Light Woman, and some writings of Alexander Pope.
Shelly refers to “the imperial basilisk” in Ode to Naples; and again in Queen Mab like this:
Those deserts of immeasurable sand,
Whose age-collected fervors scarce allowed
Where the shrill chirp of the green lizard’s love
Broke on the sultry silentness alone,
Now teem with countless rills and shady woods,
Cornfields and pastures and white cottages;
And where the startled wilderness beheld
A savage conqueror stained in kindred blood,
A tigress sating with the flesh of lambs
The unnatural famine of her toothless cubs,
Whilst shouts and howlings through the desert rang,—
Sloping and smooth the daisy-spangled lawn,
Offering sweet incense to the sunrise, smiles
To see a babe before his mother’s door,
Sharing his morning’s meal
with the green and golden basilisk
That comes to lick his feet. — Part VIII
The basilisk also appears in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling.
Be careful looking both ways.
You want to miss seeing the basilisk, but mind the gaps.