From the evil serpent who tempted Eve into eating the apple of knowledge to dreaded Nagini — Voldermort’s Horcrux in the Harry Potter series, or the friendly python in Kipling’s Jungle Book, snakes have been represented a number of times in literature over the years. From John Milton to William Shakespeare and JK Rowling, authors, dramatists and poets have time and again gone back to the ancient serpent to represent good and evil.
As wildlife enthusiasts around the world celebrate World Snake Day, we take a look at 5 times authors turned snakes into memorable literary characters.
The asp in Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare: Though not a central character, the importance of the serpent in the Shakesperean tragedy is unquestionable for the mere fact that the entire climax of the play is based on the snake. A prisoner of the Romans by then, Cleopatra has an asp smuggled to her in a basket of fruit. She famously sticks it on her breast and utters the lines, “With thy sharp teeth this knot intrinsic / Of life at once untie: poor venomous fool / Be angry, and dispatch.”
Nagini in Harry Potter by JK Rowling: One of the more intricate characters in Rowling’s best series, Nagini was Voldermort’s giant python-viper hybrid. Voldemort made Nagini his final Horcrux when he was hiding in the forests of Albania by murdering Bertha Jorkins. It is Neville who finally pulls Godric Gryffindor’s sword from the Hat, as Harry had done in Chamber of Secrets and beheads Nagini during the great battle at Hogwarts.
Satan as the snake in John Milton’s Paradise Lost: Satan enters the first snake to tempt Eve, “Fold above fold a surging Maze his Head / Crested aloft, and Carbuncle his Eyes; / With burnish Neck of verdant Gold, erect / Amidst his circling Spires.” God punishes him by making him crawl for the sin.
Kaa in The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling: One of Kipling’s most endearing creations, the 100-foot python was one Mowgli’s closest friend who rescues him by hypnotising the monkeys when they had captured him. Later in the story The Red Dogs, Kaa goes into a trance so that he can search his century-long memory for a stratagem to defeat the dogs.
Nag and Nagini in Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kipling: Unlike Kaa, the King Cobra couple in Kipling’s book about a pet mongoose who battles king cobras to save his family and residents of the garden.