In European mythology, the basilisk was a small serpent that could kill any living thing with its glance or breath. It was usually shown as a creature with a dragon's body and wings and a serpent's head. The basilisk first appeared in legends from ancient Greece and Rome. In the 1100s, St. Hildegard wrote of the serpent coming out of an egg sat upon by a toad.

This German woodcut from 1510 represents a mythological creature, the basilisk. It was usually shown with wings, a crested head, and a dragon's body. The basilisk was known as the cockatrice to the Elizabethans.

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Early myths mentioned weasels and cocks as enemies of the basilisk. It was believed that a basilisk would die if it heard a cock crowing. Another way to destroy a basilisk was to hold a mirror up to its face. The creature would die immediately after seeing its reflection. Travelers often carried cocks, weasels, or mirrors for protection when they traveled to regions where basilisks lived.

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Called the king of serpents, the basilisk was often associated with the devil and symbolized the deadly sin of lust. Jesus is depicted fighting one in medieval art. The basilisk is also mentioned in literature by the English writers Chaucer and Spenser and is referred to in Shakespeare's plays Romeo and Juliet and Richard III.

See also Devils and Demons ; Serpents and Snakes .

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