Publication Abstracts

Stothers 2004

Stothers, R.B., 2004: Ancient scientific basis of the "Great Serpent" from historical evidence. Isis, 95, 220-238.

Zoological data and a growing mythology contributed to ancient Western knowledge about large serpents. Yet little modern attention has been paid to the sources, transmission, and receipt in the early Middle Ages of the ancients' information concerning "dragons" and "sea serpents." Real animals — primarily pythons and whales — lie behind the ancient stories. Other animals, conflations of different animals, simple misunderstandings, and willful exaggerations are found to account for the fanciful embellishments, but primitive myths played no significant role in this process during classical times. The expedition of Alexander the Great into India (327-325 B.C.) and the Bagradas River incident in North Africa (256 B.C.) had enormous repercussions on the development of serpent lore. Credible evidence is found for the presence of ancient populations of pythons living along the North African coast west of Egypt and along the coast of the Arabian Sea between the Indus River and the Strait of Hormuz — places where they no longer exist today. The maximum sizes of ancient pythons may have been greater than those of today's specimens.

  • Get PDF (692 kB)
  • PDF documents require the free Adobe Reader or compatible viewing software to be viewed.

Export citation: [ BibTeX ] [ RIS ]

BibTeX Citation

@article{st08110y,
  author={Stothers, R. B.},
  title={Ancient scientific basis of the "Great Serpent" from historical evidence},
  year={2004},
  journal={Isis},
  volume={95},
  pages={220--238},
}

[ Close ]

RIS Citation

TY  - JOUR
ID  - st08110y
AU  - Stothers, R. B.
PY  - 2004
TI  - Ancient scientific basis of the "Great Serpent" from historical evidence
JA  - Isis
VL  - 95
SP  - 220
EP  - 238
ER  -

[ Close ]

• Return to 2004 Publications

• Return to Publications Homepage