HON 293
Dr. Morillo

Snakes and Words

1. The Bible, Genesis. King James version

Genesis I, Chapters 20-25

20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl [that] may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that [it was] good.

22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that [it was] good.

Genesis II, Chapters 1-5; 13-15

1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

3 But of the fruit of the tree which [is] in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.


13 And the LORD God said unto the woman, What [is] this [that] thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou [art] cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

Aesop, Fables about snakes:

The Farmer and the Snake

One winter a Farmer found a Snake stiff and frozen with cold. He had compassion on it, and taking it up, placed it in his bosom. The Snake was quickly revived by the warmth, and resuming its natural instincts, bit its benefactor, inflicting on him a mortal wound. "Oh," cried the Farmer with his last breath, "I am rightly served for pitying a scoundrel."

The greatest kindness will not bind the ungrateful.

The Laborer and the Snake

A Snake, having made his hole close to the porch of a cottage, inflicted a mortal bite on the Cottager's infant son. Grieving over his loss, the Father resolved to kill the Snake. The next day, when it came out of its hole for food, he took up his axe, but by swinging too hastily, missed its head and cut off only the end of its tail. After some time the Cottager, afraid that the Snake would bite him also, endeavored to make peace, and placed some bread and salt in the hole. The Snake, slightly hissing, said: "There can henceforth be no peace between us; for whenever I see you I shall remember the loss of my tail, and whenever you see me you will be thinking of the death of your son."

The Wasp and the Snake

A Wasp seated himself upon the head of a Snake and, striking him unceasingly with his stings, wounded him to death. The Snake, being in great torment and not knowing how to rid himself of his enemy, saw a wagon heavily laden with wood, and went and purposely placed his head under the wheels, saying, "At least my enemy and I shall perish together."

The Fowler and the Viper

A Fowler, taking his bird-lime and his twigs, went out to catch birds. Seeing a thrush sitting upon a tree, he wished to take it, and fitting his twigs to a proper length, watched intently, having his whole thoughts directed towards the sky. While thus looking upwards, he unknowingly trod upon a Viper asleep just before his feet. The Viper, turning about, stung him, and falling into a swoon, the man said to himself, "Woe is me! that while I purposed to hunt another, I am myself fallen unawares into the snares of death."

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE]
(Natural History, Book 8, 35):

Some snakes have scales and others colored markings, but all have a deadly venom. Snakes usually travel in mated pairs, and if one of the pair is killed the other will go to great lengths to take revenge on the killer, finding him even in crowds, traversing great distances and overcoming all obstacles, being stopped only by rivers. Snakes are more quickly excited by sound than sight, because they have poor eyesight and their eyes are on the side of the head. Snakes fight to the death with their enemy the ichneumon. (Book 8, 41): A snake can shed its excess winter skin through the use of fennel sap; the process starts at the head and takes 24 hours to complete, as the snake folds the skin backward so that what was inside becomes the outside. When its sight is dimmed by hibernation it restores its eyes by rubbing against a fennel plant. To cure numbness in its skin, a snake will scratch itself on a juniper. Large snakes cure their spring nausea with juice from the wild lettuce. (Book 10, 5): A certain large serpent fights with eagles; it tries to take the eagle's eggs, and in the fight wraps itself around the eagle's wings so that it falls. (Book 10, 82): Snakes embrace when they mate, twining around each other so closely that the appear to be one animal with two heads. (Book 10,90): Snakes are driven away by the smell of burnt stag's horn, and by the scent of styrax-tree gum.


Of monstrous great Serpents, and namely of those called Boæ.

Megasthenes writeth, that there be serpents among the Indians grown to that bignesse, that they are able to swallow stags or buls all whole. Metrodorus saith, That about the river Rhyndacus in Pontus, there be Serpents that catch and devour the foules of the aire, bee they never so good and flight of wings, and sore they never so high. Well knowne it is, that Attilius Regulus, Generall under the Romanes, during the warres against the Carthaginians, assailed a Serpent neere the river Bagrada, which caried in length 120 foot: and before he could conquer him, was driven to discharge upon him arrowes, quarrels, stones, bullets, and such like shot, out of brakes, slings, and other engines of artillerie, as if he had given the assault to some strong towne of warre. And the proofe of this was to be seene by the markes remaining in his skin and chaws, which, untill the warre of Numantia remained in a temple or conspicuous place of Rome. And this is the more credible, for that wee see in Italie other serpents named Boæ, so big and huge, that in the daies of the Emperour Claudius there was one of them killed in the Vaticane, within the bellie whereof there was found an infant all whole. This Serpent liveth at the first of kines milke, and thereupon taketh the name of Boæ. As for other beasts, which ordinarily of late are brought from all parts into Italie, and oftentimes have there been seene, needlesse it is for mee to describe their formes in parrticular curiously.


Medieval Bestiary, entry


General Attributes

The snake does not move by stepping, but crawls with small movements of its scales. All snakes are coiled and twisted, never straight. It is said that there are as many poisons, deaths and griefs as there are kinds of snakes.

When a snake grows old, it begins to lose its sight, which it can regain by eating fennel. To renew its youth, it fasts until its skin becomes loose, then it crawls through a narrow crack and sheds its old skin. When a snake goes to a river to drink, it spits its venom into a hole and retrieves it later. Snakes attack clothed men but flee from naked men. If a snake is attacked, it will protect its head. A snake that tastes the spit of a fasting man dies.

The snake is the enemy of the stag and the stork. The smoke from burning stag antlers is deadly to snakes.

Emily Dickinson (American poet,  c. 1860)

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him,--did you not,
His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun,--
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature's people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.