Saturday, August 13, 2011
Snake in Rome
Some time ago I found this passage in a book about the Shroud of Turin by Ian Wilson.
The passage fascinated me, but I couldn't find anything more about the snake incident, searching everywhere for something more definitive.
I even had several journalists look for something thta might elucidate the episode.
Recently I submitted a query and the book excerpt to Chris Aubeck's Magonia Exchange, and got (only) this reply:
The reference from Magonia might be the incident, but the time-frame is wrong, unless Wilson's date of 846 A.D. (or CE if you prefer) is wrong.
So, I'm asking if any one of our intrepid readers knows more about the alleged panic in Rome by a snake -- any date, any place in the city?
N.B. Chris Aubeck has provided what appears to be the answer to my query above. I thank him profusely for that and offer the link HERE that clarifies.
However, a member of Chris Aubeck's Magonia Exchange provides this:
I don't think the passage above (Regulus and the snake) has any relation to the episode mentioned by the original poster, the date is way too early (3rd century BC) and I doubt such a confusion is possible.
However a quick check in all the relevant medieval chronicles I could think of, didn't bring anything either. Even though the date of 846 AD is quite eventful for Rome which suffered that year an attack by the Saracens, no chronicle mentions an incident with a snake. Should it have happened that same year, I doubt the chroniclers would have missed mentioning it, if only to put in perspective with the invasion.
Thus, unless the incident is mentioned in a single obscure source, I would tend to believe that the date mentioned by Wilson is wrong.
It might be worth mentioning though that Gregory of Tours mentions in his Historia Francorum (book X) a somewhat similar incident which happened in 589 A.D. (Source: Guadet, J. (ed.) Histoire ecclesiastique des Francs..., vol. 4, Paris, 1838, p.4):
Anno igitur quinto decimo Childeberthi regis diaconus noster ab urbe Roma sanctorum cum pigneribus veniens, sic retulit, quod anno superiore, mense nono, tanta inundatio Tiberis fluvius Romam urbem obtexerit, ut aedes antiquae deruerent, horrea etiam eclesiae subversa sint, in quibus nonnulla milia modiorum tritici periere. Multitudo etiam serpentium cum magno dracone in modo trabis validae per huius fluvii alveum in mare discendit; sed suffocatae bestiae inter salsos maris turbidi fluctus et litori eiectae sunt. Subsecuta est de vestigio cladis, quam inguinariam vocant.
In the fifteenth year of [the reign] of king Childebert [note: 590 A.D.], our deacon returning from the city Rome with relics of the saints reported that in the ninth month of the previous year the river Tiber so flooded the city of Rome that ancient buildings were destroyed and the storehouses of the church were overturned ; several thousand measures of wheat in them were lost. A multitude of snakes, and among them a great serpent [draco] like a big log, passed down into the sea carried away by the waters of the river, but these creatures, smothered among the stormy and salty waves of the sea, were rejected on the shore. Immediately after came the plague named inguinaria.
I don't know whether the two incidents are related but Gregory of Tours' story is the closest I could get to Wilson's mention. I'll keep looking though.