The Crown of the Queen of Serpents July 21, 2012Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
A curious little episode from a very obscure English autobiography. The individual being described here is August de Haxthausen (obit 1866), friend of the brothers Grimm. De Haxthausen ended up in Britain in the 1840s in the house of a little girl, Janet Ross, who would become one of Beach’s favourite cookery book writers: but that’s another story. The following is taken from Janet’s autobiography:
Another visitor at Weybridge who impressed me deeply was M. de Haxthausen. Not because he was, as Mrs. Austin said, ‘one of the most remarkable and interesting men I ever met with, whose knowledge of Russia and the East is unequalled in extent and depth,’ but because he told me wild fairy tales, and declared his life and fortune were intimately connected with a little red silk bag he wore suspended round his neck by a gold chain.
Now wild fairy tales are frankly par for the course if a little girl or boy is involved and Janet was young at this date. But the story has a curious intensity and some of the statements of the de Haxthausen suggest that he took the whole thing rather seriously: or at least that he was a very good actor.
This [bag] contained the crown of the Queen of the Serpents, and he gave me a thrilling description of his fight in a burning Eastern gully, with the Serpent Queen. ‘She called her subjects to aid her, with shrill hissing, and the earth became alive with snakes. But I killed, and I killed, and then I ran away with my treasure, followed by a mass of gliding, wriggling creatures. Whoever possesses this crown becomes ruler of all the serpents.’ My mother, with considerable difficulty, persuaded M. de Haxthausen to show his treasure, which was enclosed in a small gold box inside the silk bag. It looked like a miniature crown made of dark amber ; and a doctor who happened to be present declared, after careful examination, that it undoubtedly was a bony excrescence from a reptile, and very probably off the head. M. de Haxthausen was evidently uneasy until his queer necklace was restored to him, and said the serpent’s crown had not been taken out of its box for over twenty years.’
This suggests that de Haxthausen had had this unusual treasure since the 1820s when he was in his twenties or thirties. Did he get it on one of his visits to Russia? Or was he further afield? What is the crown of the queen of serpents in mythology and in fact, (‘a bony excrescence’?): drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
30 July 2012: RR writes in I’d be willing to wager a small sum that the queen’s crown in the article is one segment of a rattler’s rattle. Very similar to a crown’s shape. Howard meanwhile writes: Pure speculation, but I think the text may be describing a sclerotic ring, a ring of bones that supports the eye within the orbit, found in birds, reptiles, dinosaurs, etc. (but oddly not crocodiles). The doctor may indeed have said as much, as the sclerotic ring is indeed a bony “excrescence” from the skull of a reptile. Compare this image of a gecko’s skull from wikimedia. A large, well-preserved sclerotic ring, or perhaps a fossilized sclerotic ring, would be exceedingly rare and fragile, which might help explain de Haxthausen’s reluctance to let people handle it. Thanks to Howard and RR!!