Asp (reptile)

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Insects, Reptiles and Fish

Vipera aspis
Vipera aspis

Asp is the modern/anglicized form of aspis. In antiquity the name refers to a venomous snake of Egypt from the Nile delta region and generally assumed to refer to the Egyptian cobra, but a wide array of other snakes were called asps. Today the European asp, Vipera aspis, is the only snake correctly referred to as an asp.

The asp was a symbol of royalty in dynastic and Roman Egypt. Extremely poisonous, the asp was often used as a means of execution for criminals who had attained a favoured status and were thought deserving of a death more dignified than typical executions. The Greeks also used them for executions.

According to Plutarch (quoted by Ussher), Cleopatra tested various deadly poisons on condemned persons and animals for daily entertainment. She concluded that the bite of the asp was the best way to die. It brought a sleepiness and heaviness without spasms of pain. Later she may have used this method to kill herself. Yet some people think that Cleopatra was bitten by a horned viper.

In Shakespeare's play, Cleopatra kills herself by the bite of an asp after the death of her lover, Mark Antony.

With thy sharp teeth this knot intrinsicate
Of life at once untie: poor venomous fool
Be angry, and dispatch.

—Cleopatra, Act V, scene II, Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare
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