The day before yesterday, Edwin wrote about the Psylloi, and mentioned, at the end of his article, that several ancient authors attribute to the Libyan tribe a remarkable resilience to snake-venoms. That would be one of those countless ancient ethnographic stories which, back then, sounded plausible and were repeated by even the most intelligent writers, but fail to convince us. We wonder what on earth made a talented man like the elder Pliny believe that it was the custom of the Psylloi “to expose children at birth to extremely fiery snakes, and to use these snakes to test to faithfulness of their wives, since snakes do not flee people born of adulterous blood” (Natural History 7.12).
We will never understand the reality behind these stories, even though we know an archaeological site that may somehow support the stories about the Psylloi and the snakes: Slonta. It is hard to date precisely, but a Ionian column base proves that the site was in use in Antiquity. The main relief represents a big snake.
[Read more – and the other pars of this series – on the blog of Ancient History Magazine]