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The deadly venom of a snake's stare

In Greek and European bestiaries and legends, a basilisk (from the Greek basileus, a king) is a legendary reptile reputed to be king of serpents and said to have the power of causing death by a single glance. According to the Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder, the basilisk is a small snake that is so poisonous that it leaves a wide trail of deadly venom in its wake, and its gaze is likewise lethal.

It is called "king" because it is reputed to have on its head a mitre- haped crest Stories of the basilisk place it in the same general family as the cockatrice The basilisk is fabulously alleged to be hatched by a serpent or reptile from a cock's egg (in some legends specifically an egg laid by a seven-year-old cock during a full moon, or under various other astrological portents). In Medieval Europe the description of the creature began taking on features from cockerels.

Stories gradually added to the basilisk's deadly capabilities, such as describing it as a larger beast, capable of breathing fire and killing with the sound of its voice. Some writers even claimed that it could kill not only by touch, but also by touching something that is touching it, like a sword. The Basilisk is also the guardian creature of the Swiss city Basel.

Eventually the basilisk's image settled as a small animal with the head, clawed wings, and talons of a rooster, and the sinuous body of a snake. A single glance from it could kill, and it could spit its venom at long distance to fry birds out of the air. Basilisks lived in the desert - in fact they were the desert, as no plants could live around them. Basilisks were supposedly born out of a rooster's egg that was hatched by a viper or toad. Although seemingly invulnerable, basilisks had two great enemies: the weasel and the rooster. Weasels are immune to a basilisk's glare and venom, and kill the reptiles mercilessly. In addition, merely hearing a rooster's crow kills a basilisk.

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