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conveyed the idea of a crowned and imperial snake, the Bao Xiakos. Naturalists have recognised this origin of the name by giving the same (Basiliscus mitratus) to a genus of Inguanidae, remarkable for a membranous crest not only on the occiput but also along the back, which this lizard can raise and depress at pleasure. But folklore, the science of the ignorant, had established the same connection by alleging that the basilisk is hatched from the egg of a black cock,--which was the peasant's explanation of the word cockatrice. De Plancy traces one part of the belief to a disease which causes the cock to produce a small egg-like substance; but the resemblance between its comb and the crests of serpent and frog" was the probable link between them ; while the ancient eminence of the cock as the bird of dawn relegated the origin of the basilisk to a very exceptional member of the family—a black cock in its seventh year. The useful fowl would seem, however, to have suffered even so slightly mainly through a phonetic misconception. The word “cockatrice’ is “crocodile’ transformed. We have it in the Old French “cocatrix, which again is from the Spanish ‘cocotriz, meaning “crocodile,'—kpokočevXos; which Herodotus, by the way, uses to denote a kind of lizard, and whose sanctity has extended from the Nile to the Danube, where folklore declares that the skeleton of the lizard presents an image of the passion of Christ, and it must never be harmed. Thus “cockatrice' has nothing to do with “cock’ or ‘coq, though possibly the coincidence of the sound has marred the ancient fame of the “Bird of Dawn.' Indeed black cocks have been so generally slain on this account that they were for a long time rare, and so the basilisks had a chance of
* I have in my possession a specimen of the horned frog of America, and it is sufficiently curious.
becoming extinct. There were fabulous creatures enough, however, to perpetuate the basilisk's imaginary powers, some of which will be hereafter considered. We may devote the remainder of this chapter to the consideration of a variant of dragon-mythology, which must be cleared out of our way in apprehending the Dragon. This is the agathodémonic or heraldic Dragon, which has inherited the euphemistic characters of the treasure-guarding and crowned serpent. In Slavonic legend the king-serpent plays a large part, and innumerable stories relate the glories of some peasant child that, managing to secure a tiny gem from his crown, while the reptilian monarch was bathing, found the jewel daily surrounded with new treasures. This is the same serpent which, gathering up the myths of lightning and of comets, flies through many German legends as the red Drake, Kolbuk, Alp, or Alberflecke, dropping gold when it is red, corn if blue, and yielding vast services and powers to those who can magically master it. The harmless serpents of Germany were universally invested with agathodemonic functions, though they still bear the name that relates them to Ahi, viz., unken. Of these householdsnakes Grimm and Simrock give much information. It is said that in fields and houses they approach solitary children and drink milk from the dish with them. On their heads they wear golden crowns, which they lay down before drinking, and sometimes forget when they retire. They watch over children in the cradle, and point out to their favourites where treasures are hidden. To kill them brings misfortune. If the parents surprise the snake with the child and kill it, the child wastes away. Once the snake crept into the mouth of a pregnant woman, and when the child was born the snake was found closely coiled around its neck, and could only be untwined by a
milk-bath; but it never left the child's side, ate and slept with it, and never did it harm. If such serpents left a house or farm, prosperity went with them. In some regions it is said a male and female snake appear whenever the master or mistress of the house is about to die, and the legends of the Unken sometimes relapse into the original fear out of which they grew. Indeed, their vengeance is everywhere much dreaded, while their gratitude, especially for milk, is as imperishable as might be expected from their ancestor's quarrel with Indra about the stolen cows. In the Gesta Romanorum it is related that a milkmaid was regularly approached at milking-time by a large snake to which she gave milk. The maid having left her place, her successor found on the milking-stool a golden crown, on which was inscribed “In Gratitude.” The crown was sent to the milkmaid who had gone, but from that time the snake was never seen again." In England serpents were mastered by the vows of a saintly Christian. The Knight Bran in the Isle of Wight is said to have picked up the cockatrice egg, to have been pursued by the serpents, which he escaped by vowing to build St. Lawrence Church in that island,-the egg having afterwards brought him endless wealth and uniform success in combat. With the manifold fables concerning the royal dragon would seem to blend traditions of the astrological, celestial, and lightning serpents. But these would coincide with a development arising from the terrestrial worms and their heroic slayers. The demonic dragon with his terrible eye might discern from afar the advent of his predestined destroyer. It might seek to devour him in infancy. As the comet might be deemed a portent of some powerful prince born on earth, so it might be a compliment to a royal family, on the birth of a prince, to report * Gesta Rom., cap. 68. Grimm's Myth., 650 fs. Simrock, p. 400.
that a dragon had been seen. Nor would it be a long step from this office of the dragon as the herald of greatness to placing that monster on banners. From these banners would grow sagas of dragons encountered and slain. The devices might thus multiply. Some process of this kind would account for the entirely good reputation of the dragon in China and Japan, where it is the emblem of all national grandeur. It would also appear to underlie the proud titles of the Pythian Apollo and Bellerophon, gained from the monsters they were said to have slain. The city of Worms takes its name from the serpent instead of its slayer. Pendragon, in the past—and even our dragoon of the present—are names in which the horrors of the monster become transformed in the hero's fame. The dragon, says Mr. Hardwicke, was the standard of the West Saxons, and of the English previous to the Norman Conquest. It formed one of the supporters of the royal arms borne by all the Tudor monarchs, with the exception of Queen Mary, who substituted the eagle. Several of the Plantagenet kings and princes inscribed a figure of the dragon on their banners and shields. Peter Langtoffe says, at the battle of Lewis, fought in 1264, ‘The king schewed forth his schild, his dragon full austere.' Another authority says the said king (Henry III.) ordered to be made “a dragon in the manner of a banner, of a certain red silk embroidered with gold; its tongue like a flaming fire must always seem to be moving; its eyes must be made of sapphire, or of some other -tone suitable for that purpose.” It will thus be seen that an influence has been introduced into dragon-lore which has no relation whatever to the demon itself. This will explain those variants of the
* Others derive the name from the ancient Borbetomagus. * Traditions, p. 44.
legend of Melusina—the famous woman-serpent—which invest her with romance. Melusina, whose indiscreet husband glanced at her in forbidden hours, when she was in her serpent shape, was long the glory of the Chateau de Lusignan, where her cries announced the approaching death of her descendants. There is a peasant family still dwelling in Fontainebleau Forest who claim to be descended from Melusina; and possibly some instance of this kind may have dropped like a seed into the memory of the author of ‘Elsie Venner' to reappear in one of the finest novels of our generation. The corresponding sentiment is found surrounding the dragon in the familiar British legend of the Laidley Worm. The king of Northumberland brought home a new Queen, who was also a sorceress, and being envious of the beauty of her stepdaughter, changed that poor princess into the worm which devastated all Spindleton Heugh. For seven miles every green thing was blighted by its venom, and seven cows had to yield their daily supplies of milk. Meanwhile the king and his son mourned the disappearance of the princess. The young prince fitted out a ship to go and slay the dragon. The wicked Queen tries unsuccessfully to prevent the expedition. The prince leaps from his ship into the shallow sea, and wades to the rock around which the worm lay coiled. But as he drew near the monster said to him :