Here we are again telling the story of a fascinating monster that has been part of European mythologies since Ancient Greece. The name Basilisk derived from the Greek word Basiliskos, which meant little king. In Latin, it translated into Regulus that now gives the name of an entire class of composite monsters. Most of them are reptile or lizard-looking figments of imagination. However, the basilisk snake is an entirely new creation belonging to the famous author J.K. Rowling. Since there is a Romanian version of this mythical beast and many similarities with the basilisk from the Harry Potter book series, we invite you to discover them here. Besides, Dracula might not have been the only Romanian fictional inspiration. Vampires, werewolves and other mythical monsters could not have originated in popular culture without the monster legends already existing in European mythologies.

The Basilisk Snake and Harry Potter

The Slytherin Common Room in Harry Potter

Who hasn’t heard yet about Harry Potter and the magical world created by J.K. Rowling in her books? Probably very few people have not. In as much as the Harry Potter books and movies cover many mythological themes, the basilisk has its own place in the story. The most memorable scene from the movie Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets is when though fatally poisoned by the basilisk snake, Harry manages to use the basilisk fang to stab Tom Riddle’s diary. Also called the Serpent of Slytherin, the female basilisk the young magician encounters, offers her devotion to the Heir of Slytherin. That means the basilisk snake is the symbol of the House of Slytherin magicians. Thus, all their bedrooms at Hogwarts have green decor, the snakes’ color.

Harry Potter aficionados already know about the abilities and weakness of this basilisk snake. That is a literally petrifying look and venom fangs, nerves of steel and a goal-oriented bloodthirsty will. Yet, few people came to know where the inspiration for the character came from. As a mythological composite animal, the basilisk’s representation since the Middle Ages was of a reptile with a rooster head wearing a crown.

What Does the Medieval Basilisk Snake Have in Common With the King of Serpents?

harry potter lego

The basilisk snake Lego

Nonetheless, the two basilisk characters appearing or mentioned in the Harry Potter books: The Basilisk of Salazar Slytherin and Herpo the Foul’s basilisk, have a few things in common with the fantastic European animal. According to the Most Macabre Monstrosities book from the Hogwarts Library, a chicken’s egg hatched beneath a toad can result into a basilisk. So it is said about the ancient Greek dark wizard Herpo. Being able to breed such a magical creature and to speak its language (Parseltongue) was Herpo’s greatest wizard quality.

So great that it was worth a mention in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Rooster crowing can kill both Harry Potter basilisks: the one from the Greek mythology and the Slytherin snake. The original medieval basilisk is the result of a hatched serpent or toad by a cockerel, and the reverse is true for a cockatrice. That is another composite animal with which the basilisk snake gets confused. In any case, adding up mythological and folkloric monsters to children’s fantasy literature had a marvelous impact on all-ages audiences.

Vasilisc or The Romanian Version

the basilisk snake cockatrice

Cockatrice illustration

The serpentine basilisk, or the King of serpents, is not the only version of this type of monster. The cockatrice became synonymous with the basilisk due to a translation of Bartholomeus Anglicus’ De Proprietatibus Rerum written in 1260. The 1397 adaptation by John Trevis replaced the medieval word Basiliscus with Cockatrice. It is depicted as a lizard with wings and a rooster head, while the basilisk appears in etchings without wings. The Romanian vasilisc takes the first form. As a Romanian folklore creature, the vasilisc comes into being in a famous 1970s poem. The legendary Phoenix folk rock band later transformed it into a song.

As opposed to other basilisk monster legends the Romanian ones mention only one way to combat its deadly appearance: by placing a mirror in front of it. Also, the vasilisc posses a toxic breathe that can kill instantly. The Romanian mythological bestiary focuses on domesticated animals. Sometimes strange exotic animals like the giraffe or the lion are associated with fantastic creatures. The Inorog (the unicorn), the Calandrion bird (the bird of destiny), and the Dulf (a mythical water creature from the Danube Delta) are all whimsical characters depicted in Romanian legends and folklore. Although originating in Ancient Greece and revived during the Early Middle Ages, the vasilisc still is an exotic monstrosity in the Romanian folklore. For the rest of Europe, especially Western Europe, the basilisk is just a traditional aberrant monster.

Other Hybrid Creatures and Romanian Villains

the basilisk snake chimera

Another kind of composite monster – Una Quimera – by Jacopo Ligozzi – (1590-1610)

The world of hybrid monsters is fascinating if one has the time to explore old mythologies. They seem to be far less fear triggering than the new kind of monsters like artificial intelligence or extraterrestrial presences. Want to read more about mythical beasts and monster legends? The Adventures of Kiara Yew has a special section for that. Moreover, the  Romanian Bogeyman legend or the “Bau Bau” legend is probably as old as the Basilisk snake (“Vasilisc “) legend. You might want to read that one as well.

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basilisk snake

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