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An attribute of St. Cecilia, St. Eupheʹmia, and many other saints, either because they trampled on Satan, or because they miraculously cleared some country of such reptiles. (See Dagon.)

Serpent, in Christian art, figures in Paradise as the tempter.

The brazen serpent gave newness of life to those who were bitten by the fiery dragons and raised their eyes to this symbol. (Numb. xxi. 8.)

It is generally placed under the feet of the Virgin, in allusion to the promise made to Eve after the fall. (Gen. iii. 15.)

Satan is called the great serpent because under the form of a serpent he tempted Eve. (Rev. xii. 9.)

⁂ It is rather strange that, in Hindu mythology, hell is called Narac (the region of serpents). (Sir W. Jones.)

Serpent metamorphoses. Cadmos and his wife Harmoʹnia were by Zeus converted into serpents and removed to Elysium. Esculaʹpius, god of Epidauʹros, assumed the form of a serpent when he appeared at Rome during a pestilence. Therefore is it that the goddess of Health bears in her hand a serpent.

“O wave, Hygeia, oʹer Britannia’s throne

Thy serpent-want, and mark it for thine own.”

Darwin: Economy of Vegetation, iv.

Jupiter Ammon appeared to Olymʹpia in the form of a serpent, and became the father of Alexander the Great.

“When glides a silver serpent, treacherous guest!

And fair Olympia folds him to her breast.”

Darwin: Economy of Vegetation, i. 2.

Jupiter Capitoliʹnus, in a similar form, became the father of Scipio Africanus.

The serpent is emblematical

(1) Of wisdom. “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt. x. 16).

(2) Of subtilty. “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field” (Gen. iii. 1).

It is said that the cerasʹtēs hides in sand that it may bite the horse’s foot and get the rider thrown. In allusion to this belief, Jacob says, “Dan shall be … an adder in the path, that biteth the horse’s heels, so that his rider shall fall backward” (Gen. xlix. 17).

It is said that serpents, when attacked, swallow their young, and eject them again on reaching a place of safety.

Thomas Lodge says that people called Sauveurs have St. Catherine’s wheel in the palate of their mouths, and therefore can heal the sting of serpents.

The Bible also tells us that it stops up its ears that it may not be charmed by the charmer. (Ps. lviii. 4.)

The serpent is symbolical

(1) Of deity, because, says Plutarch, “it feeds upon its own body; even so all things spring from God, and will be resolved into deity again.” (De Iside et Osiride, i. 2, p. 5; and Philo Byblius.)

(2) Of eternity, as a corollary of the former. It is represented as forming a circle and holding its tail in its mouth.

(3) Of renovation. It is said that the serpent, when it is old, has the power of growing young again like the eagle,” by casting its slough, which is done by squeezing itself between two rocks.

(4) Of guardian spirits. It was thus employed by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and not unfrequently the figure of a serpent was depicted on their altars.

In the temple of Athenʹa at Athens, a serpent was kept in a cage, and called “the Guardian Spirit of the Temple.” This serpent was supposed to be animated by the soul of Ericthoʹnius.

To cherish a serpent in your bosom. To show kindness to one who proves ungrateful. The Greeks say that a husbandman found a serpent’s egg, which he put into his bosom. The egg was hatched by the warmth, and the young serpent stung its benefactor.

“Therefore think him as a serpent’s egg

Which, hatched, would (as his kind) grow dangerous.”

Shakespeare: Julius Cœsar, ii. 1.

Their ears have been serpent-licked. They have the gift of foreseeing events, the power of seeing into futurity. This is a Greek superstition. It is said that Cassandra and Helʹenus were gifted with the power of prophecy, because serpents licked their ears while sleeping in the temple of Apollo.

The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head (Gen. iii. 15). The serpent bruised the heel of man; but Christ, the “seed of the woman,” bruised the serpent’s head.

Serpent’s food. Fennel is said to be the favourite food of serpents, with the juice of which it restores its sight when dim.

Serpents. Brazilian wood is a panacea against the bite of serpents. The Countess of Salisbury, in the reign of James I., had a bedstead made of this wood, and on it is the legend of “Honi soit qui mal y pense.”


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Entry taken from Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, edited by the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D. and revised in 1895.

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Serat (Al)
Serbonian Bog or Serbonis
Serif and Sanserif
Sermon Lane (Doctors Commons, London)
Serpentine Verses
Servant (Faithful)
Servus Servorum (Latin)
Set Off (A)
Set Scene
Set-to (A)

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