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The Chaldean snake-blaster (1)

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Topics (move over topic to see place in topic list)

05 Scientific knowledge and scholarly lore

05 Scientific knowledge and scholarly lore

05 Scientific knowledge and scholarly lore

02 Religious and ideological symbols and iconographic motifs

2nd century CE
Roman Empire
Helleno-Roman philosophers and scholars

Lucian, Philopseudes sive Incredulus 11-13:
(Ion:) “I’ll tell you an amazing story. It took place when I was a lad, just about fourteen years old. Someone came with news for my father that Midas the vine-dresser, a generally strong and hard-working slave, had been bitten by a viper at around noon, and was lying there with his leg already going rotten. For as he had been tying up the vine tendrils and winding them around the props, the creature had crept up on him and bitten him in his big toe. Then it had slipped off again and shot down its hole, whilst he was left to wail, dying from the pain. This was the news, and then we saw Midas himself being carried in on a stretcher by his fellow slaves, his whole body swollen and livid. He was clammy all over, and he was only just still breathing. My father was upset, but a friend who happened to be present said, “Don’t worry. For I’ll go after a Babylonian fellow, one of the Chaldeans, as they say, right away, and he will cure your man.” To make a long story short, the Babylonian came and set Midas back on his feet by driving the poison out of his body with an incantation. Also, he tied a stone he had chipped off a virgin’s tombstone to his foot. You may think this a rather ordinary achievement. Even so, Midas himself picked up the stretcher on which he had been brought and went off straight back to the farm. That was the power of the incantation and the piece of tombstone.

And the Babylonian did other things too that were truly marvellous. He went out to the farm at dawn, recited seven sacred names from an old book and purified the place with sulphur and a torch, encircling it three times. He called out all the reptiles within its boundaries. There came as if drawn to the incantation many common snakes, asps, vipers, horned snakes, darting snakes, common toads and puff toads. Only one old dragon-snake was left behind, unable to crawl out or deaf to the command. The mage said someone was missing, and chose out the youngest snake and sent it with a message, and shortly that snake too arrived. When they were all assembled, the Babylonian blew upon them. At once they were all burned up by the blast, and we looked on in amazement.”

Source (list of abbreviations) (source links will open in a new browser window)
Lucian, Philopseudes sive Incredulus 11-13


Ogden 2007Ogden, Daniel. In Search of the Sorcerer's Apprentice. The Traditional Tales of Lucian's Lover of Lies. Swansea: The Classical Press of Wales 2007.

Amar Annus

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