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The Little King of Serpents: A Basilisk in the Archives

An essay towards a natural history of serpents : London :Printed for the author, sold by John Gray ...,1742.

I stumbled upon these plates from a gorgeous book entitled An Essay Towards a Natural History of Serpents (1742) and had to share them on the blog. I love it when the boundaries of science and folklore begin to blur. The book is available via the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Fellow muggleborns should pay close attention to pages 78 and 79 which may be of use should a certain chamber be opened once more. The pages bear more than a passing resemblance to a passage found by one Hermione Granger on a fateful day in 1993.

An abridged excerpt is as follows …

The Basilisk or Cockatrice, is a Serpent of the Draconick Line: in shape [it] resembles a Cock, the Tail excepted. Authors differ about its Extraction; the Egyptians say, it springs  from the Egg of the Bird Ibis; and others, from the Eggs of a Cock: other conjectures about its descent, being as ridiculous, I forbear to mention them. It is gross in Body, of fiery Eyes, and sharp Head, on which it wears a Creft, like a Cock’s Comb. It has the Honour to be known by the latins as the Little King of Serpents. … Tradition adds, that its eyes and breath are killing.


Several dreadful things are attributed to its venomous qualities. The Venom of the Basilisk is said to be so exalted, that … it will kill the person that makes use of it.


The reason why this Serpent is dubbed King is not because it is larger in bulk, or because it wears a Crown, … But ’tis most probable, that the royal title is given to this Serpent, because of its majestic pace, which seems to be attended with an Air of Grandeur and Authority. It does not, like other Serpents, creep on the Earth … but moving about, in a sort of an erect Posture, it looks like a Creature of another Species, therefore [other serpents] conclude ’tis an Enemy.

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