THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA

A DICTIONARY OF ARTS, SCIENCES, LITERATURE AND GENERAL INFORMATION

ELEVENTH EDITION 1911

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ASP (Vipera aspis), a species of venomous snake, closely allied to the common adder of Great Britain, which it represents throughout the southern parts of Europe, being specially abundant in the region of the Alps. It differs from the adder in having the head entirely covered with scales, shields being absent, and in having the snout somewhat turned up. The term “Asp” ἀσπίς seems to have been employed by Greek and Roman writers, and by writers generally down to comparatively recent times, to designate more than one species of serpent; thus the asp, by means of which Cleopatra is said to have ended her life, and so avoided the disgrace of entering Rome a captive, is now generally supposed to have been the cerastes, or horned viper (Cerastes cornutus), of northern Africa and Arabia, a snake about 15 in. long, exceedingly venomous, and provided with curious horn-like protuberances over each eye, which give it a decidedly sinister appearance. The snake, however, to which the word “asp” has been most commonly applied is undoubtedly the haje of Egypt, the spy-slange or spitting snake of the Boers (Naja haje), one of the very poisonous Elarinae, from 3 to 4 ft. long, with the skin of its neck loose, so as to render it dilatable at the will of the animal, as in the cobra of India, a species from which it differs only in the absence of the spectacle-like mark on the back of the neck. Like the cobra, also, the haje has its fangs extracted by the jugglers of the country, who afterwards train it to perform various tricks. The asp (Pethen, פתן) is mentioned in various parts of the Old Testament. This name is twice translated “adder,” but as nothing is told of it beyond its poisonous character and the intractability of its disposition, it is impossible accurately to determine the species.
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