American Egyptomania Search

The Serpent Charmer

Earl Shinn ["Edward Strahan'], Gerome: A Collection of the Works of J.L. Gerome in One Hundred Photogravures. Multiple Volumes. New York: Samuel L Hall, 1881

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will tighten, and the forked red lightning of the tongue turn on the younger wizard. The turbaned old sheik, seated against the wall, watches with knit brows and a pipe extinguished and forgotten, and his armed and inky-hued attendants await the denouement with shin- ing eyeballs and parted lips of smothered excitement. Before this crouching and watching troop of blackness, words of description fail us, and the Thousand and One Nights are beggared—Aladdin's palace, falling to ruin and guarded by the descendants of the descendants of the Slave of the Lamp, might possibly furnish a simile for this walled corridor and this buzz of black Afrites waiting. How the charming itself is really done the doctors are not agreed, even set- ting aside the juggler's trick of using only serpents of which the poison-fangs have been removed, with a portion of the maxillary bone to prevent new ones from growing, or the destruction of the poison- glands themselves by excision and cautery. That these desiccated old flute-players and these smooth-limbed young acolytes have some occult power over this representative of the enemy of mankind, seems to be beyond doubt ; and as their profession is nearly always hereditary, it is all the more difficult to discover the origin of this mastery. The genuineness of the constitutional peculiarity which they claim for themselves, and which renders them secure from any injury, may be doubted ; but they seem to possess a power beyond that of other men in knowing when a serpent is anywhere concealed. Possibly long practice enables them to distinguish the faint musky smell of the animal, even at a considerable distance ; and the voice, the whis- tling, and the sound of the musical instrument of the man, certainly have a great power over the beast. Still more strange is the very remarkable influence of the eye, " for even before any musical sound has been employed, he governs and commands the reptiles by merely fixing his gaze upon them." In India, the terrible cobra-de-capellos even execute a sort of obedient dance before their masters, raising a large part of their bodies from the ground and swaying from side to side in time to the sounds of a wind instrument.

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