Basilisk (or Cockatrice)
A fabulous reptilian monster of ancient and medieval legend
believed to be generated from a cock’s egg hatched by a
serpent or a toad in a dunghill. Accounts of this monster vary,
but it was generally said to have either the face of a cock or a
distorted human face, with the wings and feet of a fowl and the
tail of a serpent. It was represented this way in heraldry.
It was reputed to be a deadly creature with a destructive
power similar to that of the fabulous Gorgons of Greek legend.
A human being could survive its deadly glare only by viewing
it in a mirror; however, if anyone saw the basilisk before it saw
that person, the creature would die. It was even believed to kill
itself if it saw its own image in a mirror. Even its breath was poisonous
to plants and animals, as well as to humans, and was believed
to have the power to split rocks. It is possible that this
fearsome creature really evolved from exaggerated travelers’
tales of the horned adder or the hooded cobra, confused with
such awesome reptiles as the Gila monster.
Basilisk has also been applied to a group of iguanalike lizards
(Basiliscus), found on the banks of rivers and streams in
Central America and Mexico.
Borges, Jorge Luis, with Margarita Guerrero. The Book of
Imaginary Beings. Translated by Norman Thomas de Giovanni.
New York E. P. Dutton, 1970.

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