I would guess that the following image, Nastassja Kinski with a big old snake, would be pretty familiar to ErosBlog readers.

famous Nastassja Kinski with snake photo

Today’s Sunday meditation is on why the image is so striking and has so much staying power. I think it goes beyond how beautiful Nastassja Kinski is, or even the rather too-obvious phallic symbolism of the snake.

It is probably no accident one of culture’s founding myths is that of a woman who gives in to a temptation offered by a serpent. (There are, of course, too many tellings of this story to count, but I shall here prefer that of the great cartoonist J.B. Handelsman, which begins as follows. Handelsman throws in a question that shows him not just to be a great cartoonist, but an astute theologian as well.)

adam and eve and the serpent

Fear of snakes runs very deep, most likely hard-wired into us by our evolutionary past. Is it much of a wonder that a serpent should have been the guardian of knowledge? For only in overcoming the natural and learning not to fear what we have been wired to fear can we have higher knowledge.

And perhaps pleasure also: just as many forms of pleasure involve overcoming hard-wired forms of disgust (think about eating oysters, and whatever sexual analogies you wish to branch out to therefrom) there is pleasure in learning to overcome disgust.

And unsurprisingly, there are records of this in the artistic record. Bacchus has blogged about this before, but there is a remarkable tradition of eroticism involving women and snakes especially.

One of my favorites here is a sculpture by Auguste Clésinger (1814-1883), called Femme piquée par un serpent, “Woman bitten by a snake.” The original is in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The snake is absent, but his effects are not, and the subject herself is looking curiously ecstatic.

femme piquee

(Click image for larger size.) Another view of her:

femme piquee

An interesting bit of trivia on the side: this sculpture was made from actual body casts (ASFR fans, take note) of Clésinger’s model Apollonie Sabatier, an extraordinary woman reputed to be part of the inspiration for Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal.

Another example is a remarkable painting of Lilith done by the British artist John Collier (1850-1934).


What a snake! Readers are invited to suggest their own images in this theme in comments.

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