I am currently enjoying a copy of J.K. Rowling’s (or Newt Scamander’s) Fantastic Creatures and Where to Find Them. I’ve combined Rowling’s imaginative world with historical legend—plus a few additions of my own—in an essay Hermione Granger might have written for one of her Hogwarts classes. This is part fiction, part research. Enjoy.
Hermione Granger — History of Magic Essay
The Basilisk in Ancient History
The basilisk is one of those dangerous creatures that can easily kill the witch or wizard who created it. Due to its venom, deadly stare and centuries-long life span, there’s almost no way to control it (unless the creator is a parselmouth). Thus, most of the recorded basilisk sightings come, not from recent times, but ancient history.
In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them, Newt Scamander writes, “The first recorded Basilisk was bred by Herpo the Foul, a Greek Dark wizard and Parselmouth, who discovered after much experimentation that a chicken egg hatched beneath a toad would produce a gigantic serpent possessed of extraordinarily dangerous powers.” The knowledge quickly spread to other areas of the ancient world, where other parselmouths (often Dark wizards) took advantage of this new creature to conquer and dominate.
In his 16th-century work Parselmouth Masters of the Ancient World, Eddard Gizzelbee states that ancient Egypt valued parselmouths as descendants of the gods, and looked upon the basilisk as their divine companion, a harbinger of both justice and revenge. This veneration filtered down into the muggle community as snake worship.
According to Sarah Lookey’s Ancient Egypt and Its Wizards, in 1530 BC, a parselmouth named Khufu became Pharaoh after he hatched a basilisk and commanded it to kill the current Pharaoh, as well as the other two parselmouths living in Egypt at the time. The only downside of this plan was the basilisk’s long lifespan. When Khufu died, the basilisk found itself without a master and rampaged through the countryside, killing and Petrifying over 5,000 Egyptians—both magical and muggle—before it was slain by a team of wizards. They used a Leviosa charm to fly a crate of roosters into the field where the basilisk was sleeping. When the creature tried to eat the roosters, their crowing killed it quite effectively.
While sightings of this creature are extremely rare, rumors of it escaped the boundaries of the wizarding world and still circulate in muggle society as legend. Long before the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy of 1692, high-brow muggles such as Pliny the Elder of ancient Greece and Leonardo de Vinci of medieval Italy have accounts of the basilisk. Luckily, both seem to have come into contact with newborn specimen, as these muggle accounts record the basilisk as a small creature.