The Argosy of Pure Delight.

On the Basilisk

By George Gaspard Kirchmayer

This Latin treatise from 1691 was translated by Edmund Goldsmid as part of his collection of “curious tracts” published in very limited editions. It is a treasury of wrong science, and full of delightful misinformation.

The footnotes are added by Mr. Goldsmid; they are themselves a treasury of neo-Latin learning.

Chapter First.


I. The frequent mention of the basilisk in sacred as well as in profane writings.

II. The etymology of the word. The kings of the brute creation—their names.

III. A list of similar words with different meanings.

IV. Different names of the basilisk.

An Account of the Term “Basilisk.”

I. The very frequent mention of the basilisk in sacred as well as profane writings demands some account of the word. Thus Isaiah, chap. xi. v. 8, has “The sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.” Megalotheander’s Bible has, “He shall put his hand on the hole of the basilisk.” In the same prophet, chap. xiv. 29, we read, “Out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a cockatrice.” Similarly, Luther’s Bible has the words, “From the root of the serpent shall a basilisk come.” Again, chap. lix. 5, “They hatch cockatrice’ eggs.” In Theander, again, we find, “They hatch basilisk’s eggs.” Compare Jeremiah, chap. viii. 17, and Proverbs, chap, xxiii. 32. The term basilisk was not unknown to the most ancient writers of heathendom, a fact which becomes clear from an inspection of the works of Pliny, Solinus, Lucan, Dioscoris, Galen, and others.

II. We have first of all to touch on the etymology of the word. The term basilisk arose in Greece, came into constant use in Latium, and remained among the Teutonic peoples. “Basilisk” is a diminutive from “basileus” (king), which is so termed from the king being the “basis” of the nation. We know, at least, that the king is the foundation of his people. This extremely poisonous serpent, therefore, gets its name of basilisk, or regulus, either from its virulence or through some fancied analogy from the diadem which it is said to carry on its head. The former derivation is probable from the fact that the basilisk is the most virulent of all the lesser kinds of reptiles, while it has, as a further characteristic, the extremely rapid action of its venom. For this reason it is thought to be shunned and feared by many of the animal creation. Among the greater kinds of reptiles we give the foremost place to the dragon, while we call the lordly eagle king of birds, the lusty lion, or rather, perhaps, the elephant, king of quadrupeds, and the dolphin prince among fishes. The fancied analogy between its crest and a crown, alluded to above, arises from three whitish excrescences, with which its head is so distinctly marked as to give the creature the appearance of carrying a cockscomb before it. John Eusebius says: “Its length is three hand’s breadths, its body yellow, its head narrow and pointed, on which it has three excrescences, with whitish spots and in the shape of a crown, by reason of which it has been called the king of reptiles.”1

III. We proceed to give a list of different meanings of the word. The term basilisk is hampered by many disadvantages arising from ambiguity. To such an extent is this the case, that we can neither place any reliance on the word itself nor on the thing denoted by it. In the first place, the term is applied to a little bird which we commonly call the trochilus, or golden-crested wren. The trochilus or regulus (in Greek βασιλισκος), is that timid bird which breeds in thorny copses, and is ornamented with a bunch of small reddish upright feathers on its head. It is half the size of the common sparrow, the harbinger, especially in May, of an unseasonable change of temperature, and is considered a cure for stone.

Secondly, the term is given to a certain kind of crowned or crested fish, which is called alaudse or galeritge by ornithologists. The first of zoologists, Ulysses Aldrovandus,2 philosopher and doctor of Bologna, in his work on Fishes, bk. i, chap. 25, p. 42, has the following words: “Any one who wishes to refer the crowned or crested fishes, or any one of them, to the basilisks of Oppian, which he describes as living round the rocky coast; he, in my opinion, would make no absurd mistake. Just as Rondeletius called his fish the galeritæ from its crest, and just as others have called the reptile which is marked by a white spot on its head, the basilisk, so also is a fish called the basilisk on account of a similar mark on its head.”

Thirdly, the word is also applied, as Nurembergius3 somewhere points out, to a kind of shrub. On this point botanists must be consulted.

Fourthly, as a proper name, the word basilisk belongs to a certain famous family in Spain, which gets the name of Basilisk or Blaskus, by reason of the bravery of its members, the meaning of the name being that, by a mere look, they can throw their enemies into confusion. The learned Nurem­bergius is our authority on this point.

IV. We subjoin a brief list of synonyms of the word. In Hebrew it is called Tzeph’a and Tziph’oni. These words are translated by Buxtorfius, in his lexicon, into regulus, basiliskus, and hœmorrhois, the most venomous of all the serpent tribe. In ancient Greek, it is called the basilisk, as we have mentioned above. In Latin it bears the names of regulus, gallo-bufo, crested asp, death-glancer, deadly reptile, &c.4



I. The basilisk is assigned a place in the (animal) creation.

II. Passages in Scaliger and Cardanus referred to.

III. A basilisk seen in Marcia. The existence to this day of monuments at Halle, in Saxony, at Basle and Zwicca, witnessing to basilisks having been seen. The basilisk most common in warmer countries.

IV. A basilisk seen at Warsaw, in Poland, by more than two thousand persons.

V. The story taken from D. Mosanus and John Pinclerus.

VI. An enquiry into the opinion of Sperlingius.

VII. The same continued. Matthiolus noted. Sebizius praised.

On the Existence of the Basilisk.

I. To deny the existence of the basilisk is to carp at the evidence of men’s eyes and their experiences in many different places. Accordingly, we allow the basilisk a place in nature, as the most deadly and venomous creature and plague in the animal creation. We would have it understood we are not here maintaining that ridiculous and more than monstrous story of the manner of its birth, nor the deadly effect of its look, nor those other points which are more like old wives’ stories than anything else. It is for the existence of this most venomous reptile that we are now contending.5 Many, unless I am mistaken, will oppose us, but surely such men contradict the evidence of their own senses. To gainsay our senses and seek reasons for our position is surely nothing but folly and ignorance. We shall produce evidence not merely of a hearsay, but also of an ocular character; the evidence of men who have seen the basilisk themselves.

II. Julius Caesar Scaliger6 in order to remove the suspicion of its being a myth, writes the following words:—“Since some have suspected that the stories told of the basilisk are fabulous, I shall write down what I have read in modern authors. When Leo was Pontifex Maximus, there was found lodged under the arch near the Temple of Lucia a basilisk, by the breath of which Rome was afflicted with a terrible plague, &c.” Again, Hieronymus Cardanus7 has the following passage:—“A certain pedlar had a serpent, which he had found in the ruins of a house that had been pulled down at Mediolanum.8 Its head was the size of an egg, and very large in proportion to its body. I have preserved one of its bones. The teeth in each jaw are those of a viper. Its body is the size of a lizard, and of a similar shape, but it has only two feet, and its legs are too small for its size, which gives it a somewhat odd appearance.”

III. Christopher Encelius, a man, in the opinion of Ulysses Aldrovandus, of the highest excellence in general culture, in his book on Metals (bk. iii. chap. 54) writes: “In the Marches9 and in the jurisdiction of The Abbot of Zinnia, near the town of Luckenvald,10 I had the good fortune to see such a serpent, which had been killed by a shepherd. The creature had a pointed head, was of a yellow and almost saffron colour, and had a length of three hand-breadths or more.” Similarly, George Agricola11 mentions that at Vienna, in Austria, there was once such a serpent, and that a picture of it could still be seen in the wall of a certain house. He says somewhat the same of the towns of Basle and Zwickau.12 At Halle, in Saxony, there still stands a monument of unimpeachable authenticity, to commemorate the fact of a basilisk having been seen there. It is in warmer climates, especially where the most poisonous kinds of serpents find a home, that this deadly crested adder is most common. The Egyptians placed it among their hieroglyphics.13 When they wished to indicate a man of evil tongue, they drew the picture of a basilisk. This gave rise to Lucan’s verses: “Breathing forth its hisses, and striking out its poison, that contains every plague, the basilisk drives all the people far from its path, and reigns over the desolated sands.”14 Even the Ethiopians and Moors were far from being ignorant of the creature, for Lucan says: “What boots it, ye wretched Moors, to transfix the basilisk with your spear? Swift up the blade the poison speeds, and invades the hand.”15

IV. But evidence more trustworthy and quite beyond cavil is forthcoming. At Warsaw, in Poland, in the sight of more than two thousand persons, a basilisk was seen, which had been taken from the rubbish of a fallen house, by means of an iron rake. D. Mosanus, Cassellanus, and John Pincier (Guesses, bk. iii. 23) have given a full account of this most remarkable event in all its details. The account, however, of each of these writers is extremely prolix; accordingly, not to weary the reader with a too full account, and in order not to appear to heap up a mere empty crop of words, it is our intention to adduce, with a strict regard for truth, only such particular points as bear on the present subject.

V. “In the year 1587, there lived at Warsaw, in Poland, a certain man named Machæropaeus. To pass the time, a child of this man, together with the little girl of a neighbour, as is the way with children of the tender age of five years, thought of an amusing game. They determined to enter the underground cellar of a house which had fallen into ruins 30 years before. As soon as they entered it, however, they fell to the lowest Steps, and expired. When the dinner-hour came round, their respective mothers asked if any one knew where their children were. No information could be got. The wife of Machæropaeus sent her maid to call in the children. She went out, and spied the children lying on the lowest steps of the cellar. Thinking they were overcome with sleep, she called again and again, and shouted to waken them. Her shouts, which had almost made her hoarse, produced no effect. What could be the matter? The woman took courage, and went down the steps to waken the children who were sleeping too deeply for any shaking to wake them. And, lo! at once (as was noticed) she herself sank down beside the children, and breathed her last. The mistress, who had seen her servant enter, ran to the place in astonishment, and out of her senses, not knowing what she ought to do, stood stupefied. A rumour at once got abroad, the citizens ran together, they were in a state of doubt, and deliberated what was to be done. The affair, meanwhile, was brought before the Consul and Senate. They gave orders to have the bodies drawn out with fire-hooks.16 When this had been done they were found to be swollen like drums, their tongues had swelled, and the colour of their skins was dark, while their eyes protruded from their sockets, as large as half an hen’s egg. At the request of the Consul, the Chamberlain and an old man, physician to the King, called Benedictus, came to see the tragic spectacle. The latter’s conjecture was, that a serpent of most deadly kind was living in the deserted cellar, and that the air in it was poisoned by its deadly breath, which was prevented from escaping. Seeing, moreover, that the weak nature of man could not stand against it, he concluded that it was a basilisk which had its den in the cellar.

On being asked by what means the truth of the affair could be found out, he replied that some one should be sent into the cellar, furnished with a covering of mirrors, facing in all directions. For, said he, the basilisk will at once die if it sees its own image. There were there, at that time, two men lying under sentence of death, which were to be executed within three days, one a Pole, the other a Silesian. The name of the Silesian was John Faurer. An offer was made to these men, to see if one would descend into the cellar, and hunt for the serpent, on condition of obtaining a pardon. The Silesian at once embraced the offer. Accordingly, his whole body was covered with leather, his eyelids fastened down on the pupils, one hand was armed with an iron rake, and the other with a blazing torch. In the presence of more than two thousand persons, who looked on in the highest excitement, the man descended into the cellar, a mass of mirrors from head to foot. After an hour’s examination of every chink and corner of the cellar, without any trace of the serpent being found, he asked for a fresh torch to be thrown down to him. On being asked his reason for this request, he said that there was another cellar next to the one he was in, but approach to it was barred by rubbish. Whilst endeavouring to penetrate this, he happened to move his eyes to the left, and suddenly spied the long looked for serpent, lying in a niche of the wall. On signifying the fact by shouting to those who were crowded round the entrance, the chief physician bade him take the brute up with the iron rake, and carry it out of the darkness of the cellar into the broad daylight. This was done and seen by all. The Chief Physician, as soon as he saw the creature, pronounced it a basilisk. It was the size of an ordinary fowl. In its head it had somewhat the appearance of an Indian cock. Its crest was like a crown, partly covered with a bluish colour. Its back was covered with several excrescent spots, and its eyes were those of the toad. It was covered all over with the hues of venomous animals, which gave it a general tawny tinge. Its tail was curved back, and bent over its body, of a yellowish hue beneath, and of the same colour as the toad at its extremity.” This description, though somewhat diffuse, is perhaps, gentle reader, not unwelcome.

VI. From this story some estimate of this most venomous creature may be formed. That incomparable student of Nature, Sperling,17 had too great an insight into the subject to attempt to deny absolutely the existence of the basilisk. But while he observed that by this creature was to be understood a poisonous asp, he at least had the sense to refute those old wives’ stories which are connected with the subject, and which will be found refuted in our subsequent investigations. Thus, in his public lectures on Zoology (Bk. vi., chap, iii., sect. 2), in speaking of the asp, he comes to the following conclusion:—“If there is such a thing as the basilisk, it is an asp. Now, the poison of this creature is most deadly, especially in warm climates. It is man’s nature to exaggerate everything, and to make two or three false additions to every simple fact.”

VII. Again our beloved Professor, in the year 1637, in which he first became known to the world, and in the fortieth public discussion which he held on the mysteries of nature, wished the following question to be propounded:—Is the basilisk or cockatrice able to kill men by looking at them?” The answer was made on the authority of Pliny (Bk. 8, cap. 21) and Ælian (Book vii., cap. 2), to the effect that there is a spring among the western tribes of Africa, called the Niger, and considered by some to be the source of the Nile, where these creatures are found, and that they are capable of causing death by being looked on, by reason of the bright rays of light which they emit. Bodinus gives an opinion nearer the truth in his third book of his Theatrum Naturale, when speaking of the breeding of serpents; and Neander18 is right in approving it in the following words:—“I cannot think that an animal should have been created by the Great Artificer, of such a deadly kind as to cause the death of the rest of the animal creation merely by looking at them. But we are safe in believing that the basilisk, the most deadly of all reptiles, causes death by its breath, which is of the most noxious and pestilential nature. This poisonous breath is of the most subtle kind, and may be inhaled into the body, and as soon as it penetrates the system, it rushes to the vitals and destroys the spirit of life, etc.”

We cannot but wonder what grounds Mathiolus19 has (Comment., Bk. vi., last chapter) for giving credence to the fabulous tales that have been handed down by tradition concerning this creature. Although Mathiolus has adduced three petty reasons in support of his position, yet he has been satisfactorily answered by Melchior Sebizius,20 a most learned man, in his Appendix to his Treatise on Medicine, applied to the case of diseases among young men. There, among other things, he brings forward the evidence of Hieronymus Mercurialis21 (Bk. i., chap. 21, on Poisons and Poisonous Diseases), who declares that, at the Court of the Emperor Maximilian, he saw the body of a basilisk, which was preserved among the treasures of the Palace. Having proved now that we must assign a place in creation to the basilisk, we have still to investigate its character. We shall deal briefly with the matter, in order to pass on to the discussion of other subjects. Let us set to work.



I. A description of the basilisk.

II. Falsehood of the statement that the basilisk springs from the egg of an old cock.

III. Reasons adduced.

IV. The empty contradiction of L. Lemnius on this point.

V. The position of Eucebius and Ferrantes Imperatus. We
must not believe everything we hear from any quarter without consideration and reason. The source of error.

VI. The false and fabulous story of men being killed by the mere gaze of the basilisk. This not even true of the wolf.

VII. Natural antipathy between the basilisk and the weasel and cock

The Nature and Properties of the Basilisk.

I. The basilisk is a crested asp, the most deadly of its kind, and the greatest enemy of man. It is marked by many white excrescences, has a somewhat large head, and is full of most virulent poison. By means of this (i.e., by exhalation and by vitiating the circumambient air) it impregnates the surrounding space with its deadly property. This poison, by an obscure antipathy which it bears to all created things, at once chokes and suffocates anything warmblooded. The above is not a definition, but somewhat of a description, containing more than is essential to a definition. It is an asp, as we said, by reason of its deadly, virulent, and cunning nature, though it has not the same length of body as the rest of the asp tribe. We do not believe the basilisk is a common reptile, nor, except in the deserts of warmer climates, is it largely found.

Again, we have called it “crested” not literally, as we speak of the barnyard cock, but analogically. It has, as may be seen by a comparison of authors, something analogous to a crown or crest. Hence it gets the name of regulus or basilisk. It is called a “most deadly” asp from the effect of its poison, seeing that the injury it inflicts with its terrible venom is the most deadly of all. Every serpent is an enemy of man and every living creature, but this creature takes the palm for deadliness.

The punishment of mankind, in retribution for the crime committed against the great Creator, is that the very serpents should be armed against us. Had our first parents remained in the state in which they were originally created, the power of subduing these creatures in common with the rest of creation would have remained in their hands without injury or danger. So terrible is the significance to man of a sin against his Creator. Such is the terrible bane which serpents are to us now; for it was disguised in their form that that preternatural old Dragon, the slanderer of God and man, originally made his assault upon mankind. We need not give an explanation of the other words which were used in our description of the basilisk. It is a matter of mere experience, and will become clear from the subsequent remarks. In order, however, to enable us to distinguish with safety between true metal and dross, between false and true, we must remove from our conception of this creature those traditions, whether they go under the name of dreams or serious facts, which have been handed down to us on the subject.

II. The story, which is commonly credited, of the basilisk springing from the egg of a decrepit cock, nine years old, and being hatched by a toad, is utterly false, and without foundation. We shall give the story which men of little brains tell us. They say the basilisk is born from a cock. The cock, they say, when decrepit, brings forth an egg, from which the basilisk springs. Many things, however, must conduce to this end. The egg must be placed in a warm heap of dung, which hatches the creature; another version is that the hatching is done by a repulsive toad. Then a chicken is hatched, which has a tail like a snake, but the rest of its body is that of a cock. Those who say they have witnessed the production of this creature, declare that the egg has no shell, but a skin of such extreme strength, that it can withstand the severest blows, &c. We know this much, that if this is the case, there never has been, is, or will be, anywhere, such a creature as the basilisk. Who is so bereft of reason as to allow himself to be persuaded that a real egg can come from a common cock? Real, I mean, for it cannot be denied that in some cocks there is found a small globule of whiteish excrement formed by putrefaction. “For it is quite possible” (I use the words of John Eusebius, of Nuremberg, Royal Physician at Madrid, in Spain) “that when cocks have passed the time of life when they are able to perform their functions, the excrement inclosed within their bodies is coagulated into an egg by a process of putrid concoction,” &c. (Hist. Nat., lib. 6, fo. I02.) The learned Peter Lauremberg says:—“There does indeed exist in the body of the cock a growth with a white skin, but without a shell. But the cock does not produce this as the hen its egg, nor can anything living come out of it. The hen lays eggs, not the cock.”

III. Who, in fact, can easily believe that a cock, the most wholesome of animals, can possibly produce a creature of the most loathsome and hideous kind? Who can listen for one moment to this nonsensical and most monstrous story of birth? A serpent comes from a serpent, a cock from a hen, but a basilisk from a cock, never! Can any one believe that a cock when grown old, and with its powers destroyed, when almost no further strength is left it, can possibly conceive and produce an egg? What is this hideous toad that can possibly come to the spot, led by the scent, and in the regular order of nature sit on the egg at the right moment to hatch it? Whoever you are that can tell such a barefaced falsehood without blushing, tell us, in sooth, have you ever seen such things? Have you watched them carefully? Have you studied them? No, no. Let this cock’s egg, which you have hauled in head and ears, crumble into lime or dung.

IV. Lævinus Lemnius,22 a most excellent doctor, tells us, however, that he maintains it as a fact, proved from his own experience, that the cock not only produces an egg, but itself sits on it. He says:—In the State of Ziriczee, and in the limits of this island, there are two old cocks which not only sat on their own eggs, but were with difficulty driven with sticks from the work of hatching them.” And he adds that the people of the place, having conceived the idea that the basilisk comes from such an egg, smashed the eggs and strangled the cock. The answer of Ulysses Aldrovandus to these words is, as usual, most judicious. “What this writer and others affirm I could never be persuaded to believe by any number of oaths. I am so far from being able to believe either that a cock should place its egg amongst dung to let it be fecundated by its heat, or that a basilisk is generated by toads who hatch it, that I would rather consider the whole thing a joke. At the same time, I do not deny that the cock secretes within itself, especially at the end of its life, when no longer able to perform its function, something like an egg, which is produced by a process of putrefaction. But that it brings forth an egg, complete and furnished with a shell, I cannot possibly believe. Reason tells us this can only be done in the womb. Just as no one thinks of maintaining that a complete foetus can be produced by a man, so neither can one come from a cock.”

V. The boasting, therefore, of Lævinus and Christopher Encelius, no less than of the Neapolitan physician, Ferrans Imperatus, whom they mention, is useless. They said they had not only seen, but had in their possession, such eggs, which had been laid by cocks. Surely not every one who makes a boast of the wonders of nature is to be trusted. Besides, they who believe in anything easily are easily deceived also. We must take Nature into our confidence. Her powers must be explored; their nature, efficacy, and antipathies will become clear after an intimate inquiry. I suspect the fable of Hermes gave rise to this falsehood. Hermes had said that the regulus was produced from the egg of the cock in the womb or in dung. This, however, he did not intend to be understood about the true basilisk, but about the elixir which changes metals. We may compare Eusebius (Hist. Nat., Bk. iv., chap. 29, fo. 120).

VI. But it is a false and groundless statement, that the basilisk is able by a mere look to kill either a man or any other animal which it is the first to see. Galenus, in his book on the action of antidotes, says:—“The basilisk is a yellowish creature, furnished with a threefold crown on its forehead, and is of such a nature that merely by being seen or heard when hissing it kills those who see or hear it. And any animal whatsoever touching it, even when dead, dies immediately.”

The fictions which Pliny, who in his writings is more celebrated for style than for accuracy of Statement (Nat. Hist. Bk. 8, cap. 21), and Ælian tell us of, are of the same nature. Much confusion and obscurity accordingly reign in regard to the strength and poison of the regulus, as Pliny calls it. The remark of Bodinus23 is a good one. He says, “Who has ever seen it, if it kills by merely being seen?” As if, forsooth, vision took place by emission of rays, and not rather by the reception of sensible particles. The great Scaliger asks for nothing but stripes for such collectors of falsehoods. The vulgar have some stories like these about the wolf, which Cardanus was neither tired nor ashamed of defending. This was the reason of the severe criticism he received at the hands of Scaliger. “Be wise in time,” he says, “and let this be a mark of my affection for you. I want to hear none of these many silly stories you have included in your books.” He continues, “But let us treat of the subject of sympathy, which you have touched on both coldly and in a childish manner. In this respect you require some help. For what is its nature? Why do men grow dumb when they see a wolf? Because there is a power in its eyes, you say. But is there any if I do not see its eyes? Its eyes do not penetrate a man’s back, do they? or pass through his head to his tongue? I should like these assertors of falsehood to be beaten with as many rods as the times I have been seen by a wolf without any harm to my voice. I know for certain I have been seen no less than three times by a wolf when hunting. Once by one which was crouching in the middle of a thicket, again by one on the brow of a mountain. The third occasion was when one had carried off a little child, and the wolf, while hidden in a crop of hemp, fully grown, every now and then raised its head to get a view of the hunters. One of the poor child’s companions exclaimed: ‘Oh, what a large dog!’ My companions and myself were seen by the beast, while none of us saw it. We were so far from being struck dumb, that by shouting at the top of our voices we first of all scared it away, and then, following it up, secured its victim, though unfortunately no longer in life.” Let a similar test be made in the case of the basilisk, that death-glancer, forsooth! It will be an easy thing to show what constitutes an act of vision. When looking on an object no particles of matter are made to vibrate from our eyes, but, oh the contrary, we receive the images of objects which are represented in the crystalline lens.
The chief authority to consult is Athanasius Kircher 24 on the Magnetic Art (Bk. iii., part 9, chap. I, p. 777).
VII. If the story is really true, it is a singular fact that the basilisk flees from the presence of a weasel or cock. Men are to be found who, if they enter a room in which there is a cat, though the latter be shut up in a basket, will yet begin to tremble, perspire profusely, and sometimes faint. In the same way cattle, on coming to a place at which two or three days previously one of their kind was slaughtered, begin to bellow, and are seized with fright. So mysterious is Mother Nature! Thus do the greatest curiosities lie hid in the smallest facts. On the subject of the deadly enmity between the cock and the basilisk, Ulysses Aldrovandus quotes a passage from Solinus.25 “It is said that this creature (wonderful to relate), should it happen to see a cock, begins to tremble, and on hearing it approaching, is struck with such terror as to die on the spot. Travellers through the vast tracts of Cyrenia, which are infested with this singular pest, recognising this fact, take with them as a companion a cock. The object of carrying this cock is to drive away this deadly reptile by its crowing.”

Thus there is no evil so great or serious as not to have some antidote to it. Death alone would be invincible, did not the mind despise it and look forward with eagerness to hopes of future joy, and thus triumph even over the greatest hardships destiny has in store. Of the weasel, John Eusebius, of Nuremberg, gives a definition in the following terms:—“The wisdom of Providence, in order to avoid leaving a pest of this nature without a deadly enemy, created the weasel, which is as powerful a foe to the basilisk as the latter is to man.” So much for the basilisk, that most extraordinary of all creatures.

Ten Additional Zoological Dicta.

I. The serpent by and in itself cannot possibly understand the incantation of poisoners, whether male or female, did not that old dragon, the betrayer of the world, the slanderer of mankind, the Devil, lurk disguised under the outward form of a serpent, and play off his wonderful tricks of deceit and imposture on those less cunning than himself.

II. The tales told about that unique bird, the Phoenix, if accepted literally, are quite fabulous; if otherwise, they become mere parables. Wonder should never lead to credulity, as is so truly pointed out by Julius Cæsar Scaliger in his 233rd exercitation.

III. We shall deal very shortly with the question as to whether the Griffin should have a place in the animal creation, a question which is raised by B. Franzius26 (Hist. Animalium, c. 38), who says this winged quadruped is of such strength and courage, that it can overcome eight lions and one hundred eagles, and carry an armed man up into the air. The words of Gabriel Rollenhagen27 are enough. He says, “When the Saxon and Scythian armies entered Greece, and had landed on the coast panting for spoil, they used to plunder, beyond the walls of the towns, where they could not be rescued, men of the country, who fled before them. These they pursued and followed on horseback as fast as they could, shouting ‘Greiff, greiff den Kerl!’ The term, accordingly, does not owe its origin to the form of any living creature, but to a poetic expression, and does not apply to a product of nature, but to a product of song.”

IV. The opinion of those who believe the whole race of unicorns to have perished in the flood is ridiculous.28

V. We have come to the conclusion that the song attributed to the swan (when dying) is a pure figment. Many reasons induce us to take this view, and we have the support of Scaliger and that most learned man Sperlingius.

VI. Although the renewal of moulted feathers is one thing, and the renewal of vigorous youth quite another, yet Judeus Appella believes that eagles renew their youth. (In support of this fable, consult R. Dav. Kimchi,29 ex R. Subadia, super, chap. 40, Esai.)30

VII. It would be the part of a very weak man to believe that brute beasts can naturally converse among themselves. Melampus31 and Hieronymus Fabricius,32 of Aquapendente, among modern writers have opposed this theory. (See the latter’s "Treatise on the language of animals.)

VIII. Man alone can, properly speaking, laugh, weep, or talk in a natural manner. Neither ape, crocodile, magpie or nightingale can do so in the same way.

IX. To assign a place in the animal creation to what are called the Ephemeridae, which are born in the morning and die at night, is such an absurd doctrine that we dismiss it without further words.33

X. To believe that the Pelican, a bird with a curved beak, tears its own breast, and restores its young to life by bleeding itself, is to dream.

  1. John Eusebius, a Jesuit, born at Nuremberg, and who became Professor of Physiology in the Academy of Madrid, is the author quoted. The passage occurs in the sixth book of his Historia Natur. folio 102. ↩︎

  2. Was born at Bologna in 1525. He spent his life in researches in natural history, and, assisted though he was by several sovereigns, by the Senate of Bologna, and by his nephew, Cardinal Montalba, was reduced in his old age to comparative poverty. He died in 1605. His works fill 13 volumes folio, of which six only were actually written by him, the rest being composed by sundry learned men, according to his plan, by order of the Senate of Bologna. His works contain much that is superfluous, and show little method in arrangement. It is the dunghill of Ennius, and yet, in spite of all faults, natural history owes much to Aldrovandus. ↩︎

  3. This is John Eusebius, mentioned above, called thus from the place of his birth. ↩︎

  4. For a description of the basilisk or cockatrice, taken from Topsell’s “History of Serpents,” published in 1658, see appendix. The Hebrew Tzeph’a was a monster more deadly than the Pethen (Gr. aspis, asp), which is variously translated in the authorised version of the Bible as cockatrice (Isaiah lix. 5); adder (Job xx. 14, and Proverbs xxiii. 32), and as serpent (Proverbs xxiii. 32, and Isaiah xi. 8). Shakespeare alludes to it at least twice; first in Cymbeline—

    “It is a basilisk unto mine eye
    Kills me to look on’t."

    And in Richard III:—

    Richard—Thine eyes, sweet lady, have infected mine.

    Anne—Would they were basilisk’s, to strike thee dead!

    In his note on this passage, Mr Aldis Wright suggests that the name cockatrice is a corruption of crocodile. ↩︎

  5. Of course we all know that Basilisks (a genus of Lizards) exist; they belong to the Iguana family, and are confined to America. The basilisk of ancient times was “the King of Dragons and Serpents, whose breath withered up all vegetation, and whose very look was fatal to man.” After this it is very disappointing to find that the Basilisk of modern naturalists, despite the formidable appearance of one variety, Basiliscus mitratus, is absolutely harmless! ↩︎

  6. Born near Verona in 1484, he was first page to the Emperor Maximilian, then a successful soldier, and afterwards practised medicine in Guienne. He was a learned, honorable, charitable and truthful man, but conceited and wanting in good taste. The quotation above given is from his “Exercitationes contra Cardanum, No. 246, sect, 4. He died at Agen in 1558. ↩︎

  7. Cardanus was an illegitimate child, born at Pavia in 1501. He was an extraordinary character; of a brilliant intellect, he was inconstant and obstinate, spiteful, extravagant and a lover of wine, women, and gaming. Having exhibited his wonderful knowledge and wild folly at Padua, Milan, Pavia and Bologna, he got himself locked up in the latter city; as soon as he was free, he went to Rome, obtained a pension from the pope, and starved himself to death in 1576, to accomplish his own prophecy that he would not live beyond the age of seventy-five. His principal works (collected in 10 vols, folio, 1663) are: I. De Subtilitate (folio, 1550); II. De rerum varietate, (Basle, 1557, folio); III. His autobiography; etc., etc. ↩︎

  8. Milan. ↩︎

  9. Province of Brandenburg, Prussia. ↩︎

  10. On the Nüthe, 30 miles south of Berlin. ↩︎

  11. Born at Glauchen in 1494. He acquired a wonderful knowledge of minerals and fossils, which was given to the world in a work De re metallica, Basle, 1561, folio, written in very elegant Latin. He died at Chemnitz in 1551. The allusion in the text is to a passage in a rare work of his, De ortu et causis subterraneorum, Basle, 1558, folio. ↩︎

  12. A small town in Bohemia, at the foot of the Lausitz Gebirge. There is another town of the name in Saxony, on the Mulde. ↩︎

  13. This passage would support Mr. Aldis Wright’s contention, mentioned in note 4. ↩︎

  14. Sibilaque effundem cunctasque tenentia pestes,
    Ante venena nocens, late sibi submovet omne
    Vulgus, et in vacua regnat Basiliscus arena. ↩︎

  15. Quid prodest miseri, Basiliscus cuspide, mauri,
    Transactus? Velox currit per tela venenum,
         Invaditque manum. ↩︎

  16. Long poles with iron hooks at the end, which were used by firemen on the continent in the 17th century. ↩︎

  17. Born at Zeuchfeld, in Thuringia, in 1603; became Professor of Physics at Wittemberg, where he died in 1658. ↩︎

  18. John Neander must not be confounded with either of the two Michael Neanders. John was the author of Tobacologia, a curious and very scarce work on Tobacco and its uses. It is a 4to volume, published at Leyden in 1622. The allusion in the text is to a passage in his Syntagma (folio, 1 623). He was a doctor at Bremen. Nothing else is known of him. ↩︎

  19. Peter Andrew Matthiolus, a celebrated doctor and elegant litterateur, was born at Sienna about 1500. His Commentaries on Dioscoris (Venice, 1548, 4t0) and other works show much research but considerable credulity. He died of the plague in 1577. ↩︎

  20. Sebizius, born 1578, died 1674, canon of Strasburg, was created Count Palatine by Ferdinand II. His principal works are:—I. Commentaries on Galen; II. Exercitationes Medicæ; III. Miscellaneæ questiones medicæ; IV. Speculum medicinæ practicum (2 vols. 8vo, 1661.) ↩︎

  21. Born at Forli, (ancient Forum Lirii), in the province of that name on the Adriatic, in 1530, died there in 1596. He was celebrated for his knowledge of Medicine. Unlike most men of talent, he left behind him a huge fortune for those days, 120,000 crowns. He was a good and a wise man. His principal works are:—I. De arte gymnastica, Venice, 1587, 4to, a curious book on the gymnastics of the ancients; II. De Morbis Mulierum, 4to, 1601; III. De Morbis Puerorum, 4to, 1584; IV. Medicina practica, folio, 1627. ↩︎

  22. Born at Ziriczee in Zeeland in 1505; he was the author of I. De occultis naturæ miraculis, 8vo; II. De astrologia, 8vo; III. De plantis biblicis, 12mo, 1591. — He died in 1568. ↩︎

  23. Jean Bodin, born at Anger in 1530, was a favorite of Henry III. In 1589, he followed the Duke of Alençon to England, where his great work, De Republica, became a text book at Cambridge. One of his most curious works is La Démonomanie, ou Traité des Sorciers, Paris, 1587, 4to, wherein he maintains that he had a familiar spirit that used to touch him on the right ear when he did a good action, and on the left when he did a bad one. Having convinced himself that one could not catch the plague at 60 years of age, he took no precautions, and died of that disease in 1596. The quotation is from his Theatrum Naturce, bk. 3, p. 306. (1596, 8vo). This book was suppressed, and is consequently rare. ↩︎

  24. Kircher was a Jesuit of Fulda, in Hesse Cassel. He was a good Mathematician and a very learned man, and was Professor at Witzburg, in Franconia till driven out by the Swedish armies. He retired to France, and ultimately to Rome, where he died in 1680, at the age of 70. His writings were extremely numerous, some being very curious and others very rare. To the former class belong the book mentioned in the text, Prolusiones magneticæ, Rome, 1654, folio; Arca Noë, folio; Turus Babel, folio, Amsterdam 1679. To the latter, Ædipus Ægyptiacus, Rome, 1652-3, 4 vols, folio, on Hieroglyphics. He was an enthusiastic antiquarian, and some good stories are related of him. One might be taken as the original of the famous stone story in Pickwick. Some young men, knowing his weakness, engraved a number of meaningless signs on a stone and buried it where they knew Kircher was about to build. It was of course found and carried to Kircher, who, after many days and nights of labour, produced a most interesting reading of the unknown symbols! ↩︎

  25. Solinus, a writer of the end of the first century. He has been surnamed “Pliny’s Monkey,” as he apes the style of the master. Aldrovandus quotes him, as stated in the text, in the 14th book of his Ornithologia, fol. 115. ↩︎

  26. This is an error: the Christian name of Franzius being Wolfgang. He was a Lutheran theologian, born in 1564 at Plaven, in Voigtland, and Professor at Wittemberg, where he died in 1620. The work alluded to is his “Animalium Historia sacra,” 12mo., 1665, a curious but rare book. ↩︎

  27. I cannot find the quotation. The only work of Rollenhagen I can trace, besides a few plays, is his Froschmunster, an epic in the style of Homer’s Batracho­myomachia. Rollenhagen died in 1609, aged 57. ↩︎

  28. This statement is the text of our next tract. ↩︎

  29. Rabbi David Kimchi, a Spaniard, one of the most learned Hebrew scholars of the 13th century, was the selected arbitrator between the synagogues of Spain and France in the dispute about the books of Maimonides. His principal works are Michlol (that is, Perfection), a Hebrew Grammar, printed at Venice in 1541, 8vo; Dictionarium Talmudicum, Venice, 1506, folio, and a work on Hebrew roots, 1555, 8vo. ↩︎

  30. The most curious book, on the question of the possible renewal of youth, I have met with, is “Hermippus Redivivus,” which I have reprinted in this present series. ↩︎

  31. A famous sage of ancient times, said to have lived about 1380 B.C. Many works were printed from the 15th to the 17th centuries as his. One of these is probably here alluded to. ↩︎

  32. Jerome Fabricius, better known as Aquapendente (the place of his birth), was the pupil and successor of Fallopius in the Chair of Anatomy at Padua. His anatomical works were printed at Leyden in 1738, folio, and his surgical writings were collected and published in 1723, folio. He laboured more for glory than interest, and his friends having made him various presents as a reward for his disinterestedness, he placed them in a cabinet with the inscription:

    “Lucri neglecti lucrum.”

    He died in 1603. ↩︎

  33. In spite of Kirchmayer, we know that the Ephemeridae, of which our English genus is the may-fly, only exist a few hours when they have reached this final stage of life. ↩︎