Snake Friend/Enemy in Egypt September 14, 2015Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
There are many stories of snakes from world folklore becoming parts of human households and being fed by grateful family members. In some parts of the globe, in the early modern Baltic for instance, this practice seems to have had cultic associations. In most of the world there are folk stories about snakes saved by humans who repay their kindness. In other places the pet snake stood in that uneasy territory between folklore and the monotonous patter of daily of life: toothache, taxes and tea with mother-in-law. Here in any case, is a particularly fascinating story from Egypt. The tale appeared in a British newspaper curiosity column in 1905.
In many of the houses in the villages in Egypt snakes are kept as guardian of the dwelling. These creatures are fed on milk and eggs, and are well taken care of. At night they may be seen coming out of their holes for food, and though they often have to crawl over the bodies of the sleeping inmates, they never think of harming them. Should a stranger snake appear, it is war to the death between it and the house protector.
So much for the background but now a story about how not to annoy your house protector: kill its wife.
A guardian snake once missed its female mate, and, thinking it had been slain someone in the house, determined to be revenged. Accordingly, it slipped unseen into the water jar and poisoned the water.
Snakes were, in antiquity and the Middle Ages (and in nineteenth-century Egypt apparently), forever leaving poison behind in uncovered containers. In any case it is all a terrible, terrible misunderstanding: note other accounts of spouse loyalty among snakes.
By and by the female came in quite lively, and her mate discovered he had made a mistake. What was to be done now? If the family drank the water they would poisoned. Creeping into its bowl of milk it afterwards crawled about among the dust on the ground until its body was covered with dirt clotted by the milk. Then it went into the water jar. Of course, the dust dirtied the water, and the people saw that the snake had been in the jar, and, knew that the water was therefore dangerous.
Other examples of household snakes: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com It makes a nice change from the ‘dog that saved a family’, though here is the added pungent detail that the snake saved the family from itself.