The ancient legendary creature called the basilisk was feared in Europe and North Africa. It was a combination snake,rooster, bat, and sometimes other animals, that was born from an egg laid by a rooster and incubated by a toad. And it was so venomous, birds flying over it would die! Pliny the Elder wrote about it, and accounts from the Middle Ages blamed basilisks for plague outbreaks and murders. Once a rooster was caught trying to lay an egg, and was convicted and executed for his unnatural act. But the most famous incident is the Warsaw basilisk hunt of 1587, which is a the best-documented of all the basilisk hunts. It started when two children and a maid fell down dead in a cellar.
Many people thought the air felt unusually thick to breathe and suspected that a basilisk was hiding in the cellar. Confronted with this deadly threat to the city of Warsaw, the senate was called into an emergency meeting. An old man named Benedictus, a former chief physician to the king, was consulted, since he was known to possess much knowledge about various arcane subjects. The bodies were pulled out of the cellar with long poles that had iron hooks at the end, and Benedictus examined them closely. They presented a horrid appearance, being swollen like drums and with much-discoloured skin; the eyes “protruded from the sockets like the halves of hen’s eggs.” Benedictus, who had seen many things during his fifty years as a physician, at once pronounced the state of the corpses an infallible sign that they had been poisoned by a basilisk. When asked by the desperate senators how such a formidable beast could be destroyed, the knowledgeable old physician recommended that a man descend into the cellar to seize the basilisk with a rake and bring it out into the light. To protect his own life, this man had to wear a dress of leather, furnished with a covering of mirrors, facing in all directions.
Benedictus did not, however, volunteer to try out this plan himself.