The snake in popular culture

In this blog entry I am going to talk about the two kinds of snakes that inhabit the Iberian Peninsula, snakes and vipers, but focusing more on the myths and beliefs that have been woven over the centuries than on their biology, because a certain reptilian mythology of deep Spain still persists in the subconscious of many people, and it is our duty to dismantle these absurd superstitions, deny these totally unfounded hoaxes that have done them so much damage and for what they have been and continue to be unfairly persecuted by the men.

Another rooster would sing to our Iberian snakes, if already in the early stages of schooling children were instructed in the knowledge of this species, indicating that, for example, in our latitudes almost all snakes are harmless, and only the only ones snakes that represent a certain danger to our integrity is the snout viper (Vipera latasti), also called escurzón, where its bite can be a bitter experience, but only in very specific cases, it can pose a certain risk to health, such as in very sensitive people, with some type of allergy, young children or weak elderly.

“Si la alicantara1 viera y el escurzón oyera, no habría hombre que al campo saliera”.

1 Name given to a snake that, according to some shepherds and mountaineers, is very dangerous, attributing wonderful stories to it: they believed in the existence of extraordinary alicantaras possessing tiny legs and a pair of bat-like wings. Imagined as Lilliputian dragons.

And let no one think that snakes deliberately attack or persecute man, rather the opposite, they flee in the presence of people. Only if they feel harassed or bothered can they react aggressively. The stories of people who say they have been attacked or chased by snakes are the result of fear or the desire for prominence.

So let’s go on to describe some of these legends that are still valid in the 21st century, which shows the tremendous ignorance that the general population has about these reptiles.

Most stories about encounters between a large snake and man refer to the bastard snake (Malpolon monspesulanus), a large snake (it can reach up to 2.20 m in length), it is thick and strong, with a eyebrow that gives him a menacing look, but his bite, although painful, does not have enough poison to kill a person. However, in the tradition of popular culture it is described as a ferocious monster that runs through the forest, with a very large head and body, in some cases even with hair on its mane, cat fangs, dark brown stained skin , very fast, with an enormous force capable of tearing a man to pieces and deadly poisonous (as we have said before, not even the Iberian viper has such terrible poisonous power).

“Si te pica el alicante, llama al cura que te cante”

On the snake, following the fantastic line, we have the so-called sucker snakes, which tend to suck the breast of distracted nursing mothers, while offering their tail to the infant, leaving a black circle in the mouth.

Other fantastic attributes that are attributed to snakes is the power to hypnotize through song and gaze paralyzing the victim, as well as the ability to make great jumps and to fly or the ability to jump like an arrow from a tree. tree: …once it reached the top of the branches, done with its hunting or food business, it shrank back on itself, like a spring, and like an arrow shot by an arrow, it crossed the air, as if propelled by a spring, until it reached the branches of the nearest tree. Here it must be said that although the flight capacity of an snake may seem fantastic, a jump through the air at a short distance, by impulse or by swinging, is perfectly feasible, but from there to having the ability to fly there is a world. The snakes that are closest to this type of characteristics are those that have climbing ability, such as the bastard, horseshoe and ladder snakes, but also the snout viper.

Another peculiarity attributed, especially to the bastard snake but also to the horseshoe and ladder snake, is that of sinking its head and whipping it to defend itself and wound its enemies.

“Si te pica el saetón2, prepara la pala y el azadón”

2″Saetón”, referring to a snake that from the trees attacks its prey, getting stuck in them and hence “saetón”, in the sense of dart or arrow.

“The saeton is a mythical reptile that inhabits barren lands. Its attack is highly lethal: it sinks its head into the ground a few meters from the victim and with its steely tail it mercilessly punishes the calves of the unfortunate passerby until it causes death if the latter does not quickly get down to business. It moves jumping like an arrow (hence its name) from tree to tree, and its forked tongue overflows with evil.

“The yaculo is thrown from the branches of a tree, so it is not only dangerous on the ground, but it flies through the air like the projectile of a catapult.” Plinio el Viejo [1st century] (Natural History, Book 8, 35).

“The yaculo is a flying serpent. They jump from the trees and launch themselves at passing animals, to which they owe their name, loopholes (iaculi)”. Isidoro de Sevilla [7th century] (Etymologies, Book 12, 4:29).

“When they are clinging to the trees, the tail joins the head, so that they form the figure of a bow, and in the manner of javelins or arrows, with the noise that can be perceived from these, they launch and bite ”.

The reality is that snakes are flesh and blood animals, without supernatural powers or evil intentions, that play an important role in the balance of our ecosystems, acting as predators of small animals, such as rodents, and in turn being prey to many other animals, which are currently suffering from the transformation of the environment and the consequent loss of favorable habitats, massive road accidents and people’s misunderstanding. If we see a snake, all we have to do is leave it alone. Even snakes are completely harmless if we don’t bother them (there is always the possibility of not seeing it, but then it is an accident, similar to stepping on a nail, and not an intrinsic evil of the animal)3.


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