The Silent Basilisk – Origins and Traits
A basilisk is, in European bestiaries and legends, a reptile that supposedly has the power to cause death with a single glance. The silent basilisk is, according to some sources, the King of all snakes. In Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder is says that the Basilisk is a small snake, no more than 12 fingers in length. It is so venomous that it leaves a trail of venom that kills everything in its wake. Its gaze is just as lethal. The only weakness of this creature is the odor of the weasel.
This tale is similar to accounts of what the mongoose, the natural predator of snakes, does to them in Asian countries. A basilisk is a king because it has a mitre, or a crown-shaped crest, on its head. Some stories associate the basilisk with the cockatrice. This creature allegedly hatched from the egg of a serpent or a toad. In Medieval Europe, descriptions of the basilisk started taking on features of the cockerel.
The Silent Basilisk
Leonardo da Vinci included a basilisk in his own Bestiary. He said it was so cruel that, when it does not find animals or humans to kill, it turns its upon herbs. By fixing its gaze on them, they wither up and become scorched. In his notebooks, he offers us this following description: “It spoils the wheat and not only that which it touches, but where it breathes the grass dries and the stones are split.”
It has a white spot on its head, in the fashion of a diadem and its whistling can scare away all other serpents. It resembles a snake in appearance, but it has the wings of a rooster. In other legends it has the body of a rooster and the tail of a snake.
There are some speculations that cobras may have given birth to legends of the silent basilisk. Cobras can maintain an upright posture, and they have the mongoose as their natural enemy. The king cobra can incapacitate their prey by spitting venom. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the basilisk could have taken inspiration from it.