THE fruitful imagination of man knows hardly any bounds. The being that bears the name of Basilisk was originally supposed to be a serpent, with a sort of comb or crown on its head: but that was not sufficiently marvellous. It was supposed also to be hatched from a cock’s egg, upon which a snake had performed the duty of incubation; and then no wonder if the animal, the result of this monstrous connexion, had the head of a cock, and the wings and tail of a dragon. Hatched near a spring of water, the common resort of serpents, it was asserted, that, frightened at his own extraordinary shape, he soon precipitated himself to the bottom, whence, by the mortal look from his fiery eyes, he had the power of killing whoever dared to gaze at him. The name of Cocatrice alludes to this heterogeneous origin; and the animal is also found among ancient armorial devices.
The Basilisk is mentioned with the asp in the 13th verse of the xcth Psalm, where, according to the Vulgate, it is said, Super aspidem at Basiliscum ambulabis, “thou shalt tread upon the asp and the Basilisk,” a proof that a venomous serpent of that name was known in most remote times.