Sources : Viper

Herodotus [c. 484 – c. 425 BCE] (Histories, Book 3.109) It is so too with vipers and the winged serpents of Arabia: were they born in the natural manner of serpents no life were possible for men; but as it is, when they pair, and the male is in the very act of generation, the female seizes him by the neck, nor lets go her grip till she have devoured him. Thus the male dies; but the female is punished for his death; the young avenge their father, and eat their mother while they are yet within her; nor are they dropped from her till they have devoured her womb. - [Godley translation]

Aristotle [ca. 350 BCE] (De animalibus Book 5, 28; 86.1): [Book 5, 28] The little vipers are produced in a membrane, which they rupture on the third day, and sometimes they make their escape by eating their way through the mother. They are produced one by one in the course of a day, and their number often exceeds twenty. [Book 8, 6.1] Serpents are all very fond of wine, so that they hunt the viper by placing vessels of wine in the hedge-rows, and they are captured when intoxicated. - [Cresswell translation, 1887]

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 9; 10, 82; 11, 50; 11, 63): [Book 8, 9] It is said that the viper is the only snake that hides in the ground, all the others using holes in trees or rocks. [Book 10, 82] The male viper inserts its head into the female viper's mouth, and the female is so enraptured with pleasure that she gnaws it off. The viper is the only land animal that bears eggs inside it; they are of one color and soft like fishes' roe. After two days she hatches the young inside her uterus, and then bears them at the rate of one a day, to the number of about twenty; the consequence is that the remaining ones get so tired of the delay that they burst open their mother's sides, so committing matricide. [Book 11, 50] ...vipers : these have only holes in place of ears... [Book 11, 63] The vipers' teeth are concealed in its gum. Their gum is charged with the same poison, and when squeezed by the pressure of the teeth pours out its venom into the bites inflicted. - [Rackham translation]

Aelianus [170-230 CE] (On the Characteristics of Animals, Book 1, 24; 1, 48; 2, 24): [Book 1, 24] The male viper couples with the female by wrapping himself round her. And she allows her mate to do this without resenting it at all. When however they have finished their act of love, the bride in reward for his embraces repays her husband with a treacherous show of affection, for she fastens on his neck and bites it off, head and all. So he dies, while she conceives and becomes pregnant. But she produces not eggs but live young ones, which immediately act in accordance with their nature at its worst. At any rate they gnaw through their mother's belly and forthwith emerge and avenge their father. [Book 1, 48] Whenever the Moray is filled with amorous impulses it comes out of the sea on to land seeking eagerly for a mate, and a very evil mate. For it goes to a viper's den and the pair embrace. And they do say that the male viper also in its frenzied desire for copulation goes down to the sea, and just as a reveler with his flute knocks at the door, so the viper also with his hissing summons his loved one, and she emerges. Thus does Nature bring those that dwell far apart together in a mutual desire and to a common bed. [Book 2, 24] If you capture a viper and grasp its neck very firmly and with a strong hand, and then open its mouth and spit into it, the spittle slides down into its belly and has so disastrous an effect upon it as to cause the viper to rot away. From this you see how foul can be the bite of one man to another and as dangerous as the bite of any beast. - [Scholfield translation]

Gaius Julius Solinus [3rd century CE] (De mirabilibus mundi / Polyhistor, Chapter 2.32): There are numerous vipers with incurable bites in Italy. They are shorter than those which are found in other parts of the world; they harm all the more easily when, for this reason, they are deemed contemptible. - [Arwen Apps translation, 2011]

Physiologus [ca. 4th century CE] (Chapter 12): Physiologus says of the viper that the male has the face of a man, while the female has the form of a woman down to her navel, but from her navel down to her tail she has the form of a crocodile. Indeed, the woman has no secret place, that is, genitals for giving birth, but has only a pinhole. If the male lies with the female and spills his seed into her mouth, and if she drinks his seed. she will cut off the male's necessaries (that is, his male organs) and he will die. When, however, the young have grown within the womb of their mother who has no genitals for giving birth, they pierce through her side, killing her in their escape. - [Curley translation]

Saint Ambrose [4th century CE] (Hexameron, Book 5, 4.13; 5, 7.18-19): [Book 5, 4.13] Blindness converted Paul to grace when he was struck by a viper. [Book 5, 7.18] When the viper, the deadliest kind of animal and the most cunning of the whole species of serpents, evinces a desire for copulation, he searches for a sea-murena [eel] already known to him or he seeks for a new mate. Proceeding toward the shore, he makes his presence known by a hissing sound, whereby he invites conjugal embrace. The sea-murena does not repulse the appeal and yields to the poisonous serpent the desired enjoyment of their conjugal bond. ... What is the purpose of such a discussion as this, if it does not mean that we should put up with our married partner and, if he is away from home, that we should await his return to his family? ... The viper searches for his absent mate, calls to her with a hiss of invitation. When he feels his mate approaching, he spits forth the poison with due regard for his consort and the nuptial rite. Why do you repel your husband coming back from a far country? The viper gazes upon the sea in an endeavor to find his consort. You put obstacles in the path of your husband. You stir up the poison of litigation. You reject him and in the conjugal embrace emit dread poison, scorning your husband and putting to shame your nuptial bond. [Book 6, 7.19] You are not a master, but a husband. You have not acquired perchance a handmaid, but a wife. God designed you to be a guide to the weaker sex, not a dictator. Be a sharer in her activities. Be a sharer in her love. The viper pours forth his poison; can you not get rid of your hardness of heart? ... It is a lesson which is taught us by the willing union of sea-murena and viper, a union not grounded on similarity of species, but on ardent desire. Give ear, men! He who desires association with such a serpent may be likened to one who seeks occasion to have adulterous relations with another man's wife. It can be said that he has the very traits of a serpent. He hastens to the viper who embraces him in the devious ways of lubricity, not in the righteous ways of love. He hastens to one who takes up again his poison like the viper and who is said to consume again the poison, once the act of copulation has been completed. The adulterer is like a viper. - [Savage translation, 1961]

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 4:10-11): [Book 12, 4:10] The viper [vipera] is so named because it is born through force [vi parere], for when their mother’s womb is groaning to deliver, the offspring, not waiting for nature’s suitable time, gnaw at and forcibly tear open their mother’s sides, causing her death. [Book 12, 4:11] It is said that the male spits his seed into the mouth of the female viper, and she, turned from the passion of lust to rage, bites off the head of the male that is in her mouth. Thus it happens that each parent dies; the male when they mate and the female when she gives birth. - [Barney, Lewis, et. al. translation]

Thomas of Cantimpré [circa 1200-1272 CE] (Liber de natura rerum, Serpents 8.44): Vypera, as Jacobus and Isidore say, is a serpent so called because it gives birth by force [vi pariat]. The nature of which by tradition, is that the father dies in conception, but the mother is killed in childbirth; for the female, driven as it were into madness by the pleasure of her lust, seizes (and splits) the head of the male. When her belly swells at birth, the young, not waiting for a natural release, break out by force, tearing through her sides and killing their mother. They only have cavities instead of ears and only three teeth. Its bite is said to be incurable. It also causes swelling and inflammation. Those who escaped to the sea with Paul, and saw the viper attacking Paul's hand, believed that he would swell up and suddenly fall and die. The great Basil and Ambrose report that, if someone carelessly steps on a dead viper's kidneys, it is said to injure more seriously than its venom and to cause an incurable wound. As Pliny says, this creature is strong against the blows of all serpents. The Experimentator says that the viper's coat - that is the skin it sheds when it is renewed - cooked in wine heals the teeth and eyes. But its fat removes the darkness of the eyes. [Physiologus] says that the viper has a human face up to the navel, but from the navel to the tail it has the shape of a crocodile. The genitals are said to be like the eye of a needle, and therefore it is not possible to conceive in the manner of other animals, but only through the mouth. This serpent, although it is almost the most cruel of all kinds of serpents, yet it is kind to its female, as Basil and Ambrose say. For the viper seeks the missing female, calls her, and announces itself with a gentle hiss: and when he sees that his mate is approaching, he vomits his poison out of respect for his wife and the nuptial rite. But you, O man capable of reason, divorce your spouse and think to change often, and if one day she is absent, you suspect adultery and immediately, for unknown reasons, commit wrong as if you knew it. Husband, you have not been allotted a handmaid but a wife. - [Badke translation/paraphrase]

Albertus Magnus [ca. 1200-1280 CE] (De animalibus, Book 25, 61): Jorach makes some claims about this snake that deserve comment. He says the female viper, driven insane with sexual fervor, catches the frothing head of the male, grasps it firmly in her mouth and amputates it. Then, from the male’s spittle she conceives an offspring which gnaws its way out of the mother’s body. Since the mother’s internal organs are ripped to pieces in the process, she dies while giving birth. The reason Jorach gives for this preposterous event is that her orifice for the discharge of digestive wastes is like the point of a needle; hence, she cannot conceive nor bear young like other animals. This whole matter is by nature impossible and altogether absurd, as we have proved elsewhere. Judging by his statements, Pliny evidently wants to carry this misconception a step further. Starting with the story of the female conceiving by decapitation of the male, he adds that since she conceives many offspring and her body is narrow, only one newborn snake can force its way out of her womb at a time. Because there are many waiting to be born, viz., more than twenty, the last ones in line tire of the delay before they can see the light of day and therefore eat their way through the mother’s viscera to get to the outside. This too is an utter falsehood and impossible to boot. For, nature never mandates a function without providing a capacity and the means for achieving it; otherwise, nature would be lacking in the necessary essentials to perform its ends. On this account, all species of snakes that initially fertilize their eggs internally and later give birth to live young due to the dual construction of their womb are called vipers, indicating that they bear their offspring by an intrinsic power [vi], while other egg-laying animals depend on exterior aids to hatch their young. Even among the ancient Greeks these snakes were called vipers [viperae].... Some authors claim the viper in the foreportion of its body is like a human, and its posterior section degenerates into a serpent. But this is sheer nonsense and can only be taken as the fabulous imaginings of poets who cloak their meaning in metaphors. Some other allegations are made about the kidneys of a viper to the effect that anyone who treads on them will be poisoned just as surely as if he had been bitten by the snake. Further, they claim that wine in which a viper’s skin has been boiled is good for the eyes, and the fat rendered from the snake’s meat cures weak eyesight. These claims are not denied. Furthermore, the bile of a viper counteracts the white film that forms on the eye [oculi ungulam]. The claim made by some writers that the male spews forth his venom out of consideration for the female and then lures her with a soft hissing sound, only to have his head amputated by her vicious behavior during mating, is an inane proposition completely lacking in factual support. - [Scanlan]

Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century CE] (Liber de proprietatibus rerum, Book18.116): Vipera is a manner kinde of serpents that is full venemous. Of this serpent Isid[ore] speaketh lib. 12. and saith, that Vipera hath that name, for she bringeth forth broode by strength: for when hir wombe draweth to the time of whelping, the whelpes abideth not covenable time nor kinde passing, but gnaweth and fretteth the sides of their dam, and they come so into this world with strength, & with the death of the bréeder. It is said, that the male doeth his mouth into the mouth of the female, and spetreth the semen, and she wexeth woode in lyking of increase, biteth off the head of ye male, & so both male and female are slaine, for the male dieth in gendring, & the female dyeth in whelping. Of this serpent Vipera be made pastees which are called, Trocisci Tiriaci, of the which is made Triacle, that is remedie against venim. Li. 8. ca. 40. Plin[ius] speaketh of this Adder Vipera and saith, that he hideth himself only in chins and dens of the earth, and other Adders and Serpents hide themselves in hollow stones and trées: and this Adder Vipera sustaineth and may beare hunger long time in a strong winter, and commeth to the den under earth, and casteth first away his venime, and doth sléepe there untill Springing time come againe. And when the pores of the earth open, then by heate of the Sunne, this Serpent Vipera awaketh and commeth out of his den, and for his sight is apppaired by the long abiding under the earth, he séeketh the roote of fenell, or the hearbe of it, and washeth his dim eyen with the juyce thereof, and taketh of the hearb to recover his sight which he hath lost. And Tyrus is a maner serpent that is called Vipera also. Of him Aristotle speaketh lib. 8. and saith, That Tirus right as the Crocodile, hideth him in winter, and doth afterward off his skin that is betwéene his eyen, and they that know not the doing, wéene that hée is blinde, and then he doth off the skin of his head all in one day: and his flaieng and passing out of his skin, is as the passing out of a childe of the mothers wombe, and he is by that manner renued, and putteth away, and is so delivered of his age. Moreover, in the same booke, in the ende thereof it is found, that it is sayd in this wise: Great Serpents flye this serpent Tirus though he be little, and all his body is rough, and when he biteth anye thing, all that is about the thing, rotteth anone. And one little serpent called Tirus is found in Inde, and his biting is so strong, that against it no medicine can be found. Ambrose in Exameron saith, that among all Serpents, the kinde of Vipera is worst, and when he would gender, he wooeth a Lampray that is called Murena, and commeth to the brinke of the water that he thinketh Murena is in, & calleth hir to him with hissing, and exciteth and wooeth hir to be clipping, and this Lampray commeth anone: and anone as the Adder Vipera séeth that she is ready, he casteth awaye all his venime, and goeth then and beclippeth the Lamprya: and when the déede is done, then he drinketh and taketh again the venim which he had cast away, and so tourneth againe to his den with his venim. Also lib. 39 cap. 1. Pli[nius]. sayth, that this Adder Vipera swaloweth a certain stone, and some men knoweth that, and openeth slyly the serpent, and taketh out that stone, and useth it against venim. Also if the Dragon or the Adder, which is called Aspis, biteth a man or a beast, the head of the Adder Vipera healeth him and saveth him if it be layd to the wounde. And againeward, the flesh of the Adder Aspis ofte times heleth and saveth him, that ye Adder Vipera stingeth, & draweth out the venim, which the Adder Vipera did shed in the wounds. - [Batman]