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Harry Potter: Magical Beasts

Phoenix

In Harry Potter Fawkes is Dumbledore's phoenix and he is incredibly loyal to Dumbledore. 

Herodotus, Pliny the Elder and Dante have contributed to the telling and retelling of the phoenix legend. There is no consensus on its appearance except that it is bright and colourful. A phoenix is a remarkable creature:

  • it regenerates itself through bursting into flames and rising from the ashes as a newborn chick
  • it's immune to the gaze of a basilisk
  • its tears heal, indeed phoenix tears are the only known antidote to basilisk venom.

Image of a phoenix.This phoenix appears on the title page of Commentariorum fratris Dominici Soto Segoviensis as the printer's device. A printer's device was a symbol used by printers as a trademark from the fifteenth century onwards.

Credit: Soto, Domingo de. Commentariorum fratris Dominici Soto Segoviensis, theologi, Ordinis Praedicatorum, Caesareae Maiestati à sacris confessionibus, publici apud Salmanticenses professoris, in Quartum Sententiarum. Salmanticae [Salamanca]: Apud Ioannem Mariam à Terranoua, expensis Benedicti Boyerii bibliopolae, 1566-1569.

Basilisk

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets students at Hogwarts are petrified by a basilisk. How does this happen? A basilisk is a reptile and is known as 'king of the serpents.' It is created when hatched by a cockerel from the egg of a serpent or toad. In the medieval period it acquired some of the characteristics of a cockerel such as feathers. Basilisks have the power to cause death at a single glance. It is fortunate that Hermione Granger, Colin Creevey and Justin Finch-Fletchley all saw a basilisk indirectly. However it was by looking at a basilisk directly that Myrtle died and became the ghost known as 'Moaning Myrtle.' In Harry Potter basilisk poison is one of the few things that can destroy horcruxes.

Image of a basilisk.This basilisk is featured in Ambrose Pare's Works. The image on the reverse side of the page can also be seen: it's another serpent!

Ambrose Pare (1510-1590) was a French surgeon to a number of French kings. He is considered the father of surgery and modern forensic pathology. He was a pioneer in surgical techniques not least battlefield wounds. Pare published throughout his lifetime and his collected works were first published in 1575. The first translation into English was in 1634 by Thomas Johnson (d.1644), he of Gerard's Herball.

Credit: The Works of that famous chirurgeon Ambrose Parey. Trans. Th. Johnson. London: Printed by Mary Clark and to be sold by John Clark, 1678.

Owl

Harry Potter has an owl 'Hedwig' which is bought for him by Hagrid before he starts at Hogwarts. Hedwig is a Snowy Owl which isn't native to Great Britain.

Image of a man reading a book with an owl over his head.The illustrated engraved title page in Noctes Atticae (Attic Nights) shows the author with an owl.

Aulus Gellius (125 - c.180) was a Latin writer. Noctes Atticae takes its name from the winter nights Aulus Gellius spent in Attica (now part of modern Athens). Noctes Atticae is a compliation of grammar, philosophy, history and antiquarianism.

Credit: Gellius, Aulus. Auli Gellii Noctes atticæ / Editio nova et prioribus omnibus docti hominis cura multo castigatior. Amstelodami: apud Danielem Elzevirium, 1665.