The etymological element basil- comes from the Greek βασιλεύς (basileus, which means 'chieftain', 'prince' and possibly 'warlord', or - in later times - 'hereditary king'). In present-day English several derivatives occur; and others are less frequently found in certain areas where HE students might be expected to do some reading.
- There is a forename Basil, 'the king' or 'kingly one'. (See basil (pronunciation) for an observation on how it is pronounced.) Its form in Russian is Vassily. Famous Basils include:
- two Byzantine emperors, Basil I 'the Macedonian' (867-886) and Basil II 'Bulgaroktonus' (= 'Bulgar-slayer') (976-1025).
- Various saints and bishops, including Basil the Great (Basil of Caesarea) (330-379), bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (modern Turkey); Basil the Confessor (died 750); and Saint Basil or Vasily (a 'holy fool' in Russia in the time of Ivan the Terrible) known also as Blessed Basil of Moscow: born c.1468, died 1552 or 1557. The cathedral dedicated to him, Saint Basil's, or Saint Vasily's, is the best-known religious building in Moscow.
- There is a common noun with the same form, basil (and the same problem over pronunciation). This is a culinary herb, used in such dishes as the Italian pesto, made with Common or Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum), and many other dishes, including those from east Asia. Different varieties can be used: Bush or Lesser Basil (Ocimum minimum), Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) and various varieties of these, such as Thai Basil and Lemon basil.
- A basilica is now most often used to mean 'a cathedral'. This is a loose usage.
- Originally, it was 'a royal palace'.
- In Rome, from the republic onwards, basilica was used to mean a public building, specifically for the administration of justice. This is still a useful term in archaeology of the Roman period.
- This took the specifically architectural meaning of 'an open hall consisting of a nave and two (lower) aisles, divided by columns, and a semi-cirular apse at one end, which presented the authorities on a raised floor, higher than the lower orders that they ruled.
- When Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, these gave their form to - and in several cases were actually handed over to be consecrated as - the new churches that were needed. Basilica then came to be used as a word in Christian administration meaning 'important church' - among which, specifically four basilicas founded by Constantine in Rome, now recognized as major basilicas:
- [Basilica of] St. John Lateran, also called the Lateran Basilica
- St. Peter's [Basilica], also called the Vatican Basilica
- [Basilica of] Saint Paul Outside the Walls
- [Basilica of] St. Mary Major, also called the Liberian Basilica or Saint Mary Major
- A basilisk was a fabulous beast, hatched by a serpent from a cock's egg. It was said to be extremely poisonous. It was called basilisk, or 'little king', as it had, according to Pliny the Elder, a spot 'like a crown' on its head. Some medieval texts say it had a comb or coronet on its head. It is sometimes confused with a cockatrice. They also said that to look upon the eyes of a basilisk was to be killed - hence the modern use of 'a basilisk stare' to mean 'a killing look'. There is a modern reptile ("a small American lizard of the family Iguanidæ, having on the top of its head a hollow crest which can be inflated at will" (OED)) called after it. In the 16th century, the name basilisk was applied to large cannon, throwing shot of around 160-200 lb. in weight.