Basilisk – the History of the Legend

Łukasz Krzyszczuk, Krzysztof Morta


The article traces the development of the legendary features of one of the most menacing creatures of Graeco-Roman antiquity, i.e., the basilisk. The authors refer to the earliest description (Nicander of Colophon), where the basilisk’s extraordinary features are “limited” (it cannot yet kill with its sight, breath or hiss). Later depictions, however, do endow the creature with these abilities. The authors aim to demonstrate that various corruptions of the source texts have occurred in the transmission of the content. Later the creature’s characteristics were exaggerated and dramatized. The pre-existing topoi depicting other dangerous creatures and their venomousness – after their import and adaptation – have further embellished the basilisk’s description. Some mutually exclusive qualities have even been combined. Due to textual errors some features (ill-fitting to the convention of this creature’s characterisation) have appeared, i.e., the power to crack rocks. The authors try to establish how such mistakes might have happened.

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