Ambiguous Snake Manipulations: The ‘Powers’ and Entity of Health in Antiquity

Jazz Demetrioff


The aim of this paper is to divulge into the ambiguous role of the snake and its establishment as a healing agent in the ancient world through literary and material records. As the snake has acquired various roles in antiquity, it is unclear which role is predominant over others, this is why it is significant to analyze each to determine the snake’s core purpose in Greco-Roman antiquity. It was seen as a pet and protector of the household, which justifies its relationship with sustaining the well-being of the people. In addition, the snake was considered a religious symbol, such as the lares, again revealing its protective role. It was a prolonger of life with its curative knowledge and ‘powers’ but was the cause of death. It was an additive in recipes meant to heal the sick but was also the cause of some illness with its poisonous venom. Its association with Asclepius and his healing cult helps shape the snake’s function as a symbol and as a physical entity in the realm of health. Its ability to facilitate both the negative and positive allows that ambiguity to remain uninterrupted. I will argue that by examining the different faculties that the snake is associated with, the snake’s role remains, chiefly, as a manipulator of health, both beneficial and harmful.


Snake, ambiguity, health in antiquity, healing cult, symbolism, ancient medicine, snake imagery, manipulation

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Electra | ISSN: 1792-605X

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