Although we apply the name “basilisk” now to a South American lizard, which grows to a length of about two feet, this harmless animal only faintly resembles the fabulous reptile that terrified the people of medieval. and ancient times.
The name was originally Greek, basiliskos, little king, from basil, a crown, because the monster was said to have a spot on its head that resembled a crown.
The South American basilisk has a crest which it can erect.
The mythical basilisk came, it was believed, from an egg laid by a cock; it lived in the deserts of Africa; its hissing was so powerful that all other serpents fled from it; its breath was fatal and so fiery as to kill off all vegetation.
The very sight of it, according to some writers, was enough to kill a man. (See also COCKATRICE.)