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Weasel attacking a cockatrice
Source: The Medieval Bestiary

The cockatrice or basilisk is a mythical heraldic beast described in bestiaries as being hatched from a rooster’s egg by a toad, with a serpent’s head and tail.[1] The basilisk always has the body of a snake, but the cockatrice has the feet and wings of a cockerel.[2][a]The cockatrice is sometimes depicted as having the wings of a dragon.[2] The creature’s most distinctive characteristic is its ability to kill with a stare; there are several tales in British folklore of cunning heroes overcoming a cockatrice by tricking it into looking at its own reflection.[3]

Late-medieval bestiaries claimed that the weasel is the only animal immune to the gaze of a cockatrice.[4] It was also said that a cockatrice would die instantly upon hearing a rooster crow.[5]

The Oxford English Dictionary gives a derivation from the Anglo-Norman word cocatrice, itself derived from the medieval Latin calcatrix, a translation of the Greek word ichneumon, meaning tracker, the name given to an animal revered by the Ancient Egyptians for destroying the eggs of the Nile crocodile.[6]

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Citations



Bibliography


Allen, Judy. Fantasy Encyclopedia. Kingfisher Books, 2005.
Bane, Theresa. Encyclopedia of Beasts and Monsters in Myth, Legend and Folklore. McFarland & Co, 2016.
Cresswell, Julia. Legendary Beasts of Britain. Shire Publications, 2013.
Heller, Louis G., et al. The Private Lives of English Words. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984.
OED. “Cockatrice, n.” Oxford English Dictionary, Online, Oxford  University Press, 2019, https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/35366.