previous next


In addition to the above, there is another kind of egg,1 held in high renown by the people of the Gallic provinces, but totally omitted by the Greek writers. In summer2 time, numberless snakes become artificially entwined together, and form rings around their bodies with the viscous slime which exudes from their mouths, and with the foam secreted by them: the name given to this substance is "anguinum."3 The Druids tell us, that the serpents eject these eggs into the air by their hissing,4 and that a person must be ready to catch them in a cloak, so as not to let them touch the ground; they say also that he must instantly take to flight on horseback, as the serpents will be sure to pursue him, until some intervening river has placed a barrier between them. The test of its genuineness, they say, is its floating against the current of a stream, even though it be set in gold. But, as it is the way with magicians to be dexterous and cunning in casting a veil about their frauds, they pretend that these eggs can only be taken on a certain day of the moon; as though, forsooth, it depended entirely upon the human will to make the moon and the serpents accord as to the moment of this operation.

I myself, however, have seen one of these eggs: it was round, and about as large as an apple of moderate size; the shell5 of it was formed of a cartilaginous substance, and it was surrounded with numerous cupules, as it were, resembling those upon the arms of the polypus: it is held in high estimation among the Druids. The possession of it is marvellously vaunted as ensuring success6 in law-suits, and a favourable reception with princes; a notion which has been so far belied, that a Roman of equestrian rank, a native of the territory of the Vocontii,7 who, during a trial, had one of these eggs in his bosom, was slain by the late Emperor Tiberius, and for no other reason, that I know of, but because he was in possession of it. It is this entwining of serpents with one another, and the fruitful results of this unison, that seem to me to have given rise to the usage among foreign nations, of surrounding the caduceus8 with representations of serpents, as so many symbols of peace-it must be remembered, too, that on the caduceus, serpents are never9 represented as having crests.

1 Pliny alludes here to the beads or rings of glass which were used by the Druids as charms to impose on the credulity of their devotees, under the name of Glain naidr, or "the Adder gem." Mr. Luyd (in Rowland's Mona Antiqua, p. 342) says that the genuine Ovum anguinum can be no other than a shell of the kind called echinus marinus, and that Dr. Borlase observes that, instead of the natural anguinum, artificial rings of stone, glass, and sometimes baked clay, were substituted as of equal validity. The belief in these charms very recently existed in Cornwall and Wales, if indeed it does not at the present day. The subject is very fully discussed in Brand's Popular Antiquities, Vol. III. p. 286, et seq., and p. 369, et seq., Bohn's Edition. These gems and beads are not uncommonly found in tumuli of the early British period.

2 A similar belief in its origin was prevalent in Cornwall and Wales, and whoever found it was supposed to ensure success in all his undertakings.

3 "The snake's egg"–ovum being understood.

4 "The vulgar opinion in Cornwall and most parts of Wales is that these are produced through all Cornwall by snakes joining their heads together and hissing, which forms a kind of bubble like a ring about the head of one of them, which the rest, by continual hissing, blow on till it comes off at the tail, when it immediately hardens and resembles a glass ring."— Gough's Camden, Vol. II. p. 571, Ed. 1789.

5 The shell of a sea urchin most probably. See Note 81 above.

6 See Note 82 above.

7 nation of Gaul. See B. iii. cc. 5, 21.

8 The wand held by heralds, and generally represented as being carried by Mercury in his character of messenger of the gods.

9 And therefore not portentous of war.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Latin (Karl Friedrich Theodor Mayhoff, 1906)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1789 AD (1)
hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references to this page (3):
  • Cross-references in general dictionaries to this page (1):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: