Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Herps from Hell

April 11th, 2014

Herpetology is the study of amphibians and reptiles. Pictured here is the Supreme “Herp” from Hell in a manuscript that could be Heaven on Earth to a student of Old Russian. St. John Chrysostom was the most famous of the Greek fathers of the Church. His works consist of discourses illustrating passages of scripture, commentaries on the Biblical books, etc.

Saint John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople. [Extracts from the works, In Russian]. Manuscript from Russia, 16th-17th century. Call number MS C38. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Above: Image from Saint John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople (died 407).
[Extracts from the works, In Russian]. Manuscript from Russia, 16th-17th century. Call Number: MS C38.

As we all know, Evil is in the eye of the beholder; indeed, the presence of a snake in a Russian peasant household was often considered an omen for Good, and brought wealth and good health. The snake, as one of the domovye, or house spritis, lived behind the stove or wherever fires were lighted. In White Russia the domovoi was called tsmok (snake). If the master of the house treated it badly or forgot to leave out some eggs for food at night, tsmok might burn the house down. In some Slavic households the snake was a bad egg, often the embodiment of a dead man’s soul, a rough and evil character like Baba Yaga.

The Spencer Library has books in Slavic languages scattered throughout the collections, and one of the best collections of rare Pollonica in the United States.

Sally Haines
Rare Books Cataloger
Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit and catalog, Slithy Toves: Illustrated Classic Herpetological Books at the University of Kansas in Pictures and Conversations