The magical creatures, the fantastic beasts of the Harry Potter universe aren’t new or unique entirely. They have been inspired by either myth, or reality or a mixture of both. References of these creatures can be found in other texts as well.
In this post I will be discussing about one such interesting fantastic beast of Harry Potter Universe – the Basilisk, “King of The Serpents“, first hatched by a dark wizard Herpo the Foul.
First we encounter the mention of Basilisk in Harry Potter and Chamber of Secrets, where he is supposedly the secret weapon preserved by Salazar Slytherin to eradicate the muggle born magical folks. As mentioned in the book, Basilisks are Giant Serpents which can instantly kill anyone who looks directly into their eyes and they have deadly and venomous fangs and they are mortal enemies of spiders.
Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land, there is none more curious or more deadly than the Basilisk, known also as the King of Serpents. This snake, which may reach gigantic size, and live many hundreds of years, is born from a chicken’s egg, hatched beneath a toad. Its methods of killing are most wondrous, for aside from its deadly and venomous fangs, the Basilisk has a murderous stare, and all who are fixed with the beam of its eye shall suffer instant death. Spiders flee before the Basilisk, for it is their mortal enemy, and the Basilisk flees only from the crowing of the rooster, which is fatal to it.
This is how the Basilisk has been portrayed in the Harry Potter Universe, however, fans
might be interested to know that Basilisk does actually exist in real world as well. In European bestiaries and legends, a basilisk is a legendary reptile reputed to be King of Serpents and said to have the power to cause death with a single glance. According to the Naturalis
Historia of Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian, the Basilisk is a small snake, “being not more than twelve fingers in length”, that is so venomous, it leaves a wide trail of deadly venom in its wake, and its gaze is likewise lethal.
The basilisk is called “king” because it is reputed to have on its head a crown-shaped crest. The basilisk is alleged to be hatched by a cockerel from the egg of a serpent or toad (the reverse of the cockatrice, which was hatched from a cockerel’s “egg” incubated by a serpent or toad). An earliest account of Basilisk from Natural History states-
There is the same power 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 a 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 those even 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 that 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.
Isidore of Seville defined the basilisk as the king of snakes, due to its killing glare and its poisonous breath. The Venerable Bede was the first to attest to the legend of the birth of a basilisk from an egg by an old cockerel. Alexander Neckam (died 1217) was the first to say that not the glare but the “air corruption” was the killing tool of the basilisk, a theory developed one century later by Pietro d’Abano.
Theophilus Presbyter gives a long recipe in his book for creating a basilisk to convert copper into “Spanish gold” (De auro hyspanico). The compound was formed by combining powdered basilisk blood, powdered human blood, red copper, and a special kind of vinegar. According to some legends, basilisks can be killed by hearing the crow of a rooster or gazing at itself through a mirror.
According to the tradition of the Cantabrian mythology, the ancient Basiliscu (as they called it) has disappeared in most of the Earth but still lives in Cantabria, although it is rare to see it. This animal is born from an egg laid by an old cock just before his death a clear night and full moon exactly at midnight. Within a few days, the egg shell, which is not hard, but rather soft and leathery, is opened by the strange creature that already has all the features of an adult: legs, beak, cockscomb, and reptilian body. Apparently, this strange creature has an intense and penetrating fire in its eyes that at the animal that or person who gazes directly upon it would die. The weasel is the only animal that can face and even attack it. It can only be killed with the crowing of a rooster, so, until very recent times, travelers were carrying a rooster when they ventured into areas where it was said that the basilisks lived.
Apart from Harry Potter Series, the Basilisk has been referenced in several other writings as well. The basilisk appears in the English Revised Version of the Bible in Isaiah 14:29 in the prophet’s exhortation to the Philistines reading,
“Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of thee, because the rod that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a basilisk, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.”
Other literary works that carry references of Basilisk are – William Shakespeare’s “Richard III”, Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline”, Samuel Richardson’s famous novel “Clarissa; or the history of a young lady,” John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera”, Robert Browning’s ” A Light Woman”, Charles Dickens ” Barnaby Rudge”, and Cornelia Funke’s “Dragonrider”.
So Rowling we got to know from where and how u got the inspiration of Basilisk, however its ingenious and beautiful the way you have modified the creature and have amazed your fans still again.