This small drawing is a fragment cut out of an original manuscript written by the Nuremberg humanist (classical scholar), Willibald Pirckheimer (1470-1530) around 1512. The author was also a collector and close friend of Dürer's. The manuscript was a Latin translation from a Greek text, the Hieroglyphica by Horapollo (fourth century AD). Parts of the text can be read on the verso (back) of the drawing. This text was important in the Renaissance as it claimed to explain the hidden meaning of the sacred symbols of ancient Egypt. It stimulated the creation of emblems in which meaning could be hidden except from those who understood them.
This fragment with Dürer's sketches was the first illustration in the manuscript. The sun, the moon and basilisk (half-eagle and half-serpent, hatched from a cock's egg by a serpent). Together these three symbols represented Eternity.
Dürer's illustrations and interest in this strange manuscript is part of his general understanding of the theory and practice of the art and literature of the classical world. This intellectual achievement marks him as one of the leaders of Renaissance studies in the early sixteenth century.