Attraction beyond the Grave and the Snake as Guardian of Virginity

Reflections about the Erotic Imagery in the Morrheus and Chalcomedeia Episode from Nonnos’ Dionysiaca


  • Blaž Božič University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts, Slovenia



Nonnos of Panopolis, Dionysiaca, Proleptic Poetics, Serpent Symbolism, Necrophilia


The paper attempts to summarise reflections about the elements characterising the erotic imagery of the Morrheus and Chalcomedeia episode from Nonnos’ epic Dionysiaca. The elements under discussion are the motif of the snake as guardian of virginity and the motif of necrophilia. The beginning outlines the structure of the two motifs in the light of Nonnos’ proleptic poetics. The snake motif is to be interpreted as tripartite (prefiguration in Book 15, prophecy in Book 33 and the key scene in Book 35) and the necrophilia motif as bipartite (prefiguration and the key scene in Book 35). According to an assumption formed in earlier research, even the necrophilia scene is in fact a prefiguration (of Morrheus). This assumption is rendered credible by the similarity of the characters (an anonymous warrior, anonymity as a feature of the type) and by the structure of the poem. In order to read the scene as a prefiguration, however, it is pragmatically necessary to presuppose the reader’s familiarity with the Callimachus and Drusiana episode from the Acts of John, a text which – as revealed in earlier research – certainly forms an intertext to the Nonnos episode. I read the snake motif in terms of content and symbol as a typical example of Nonnos’ literary synthesis of classical and Christian elements: the role of the snake as guardian at the entrance into the holy precinct is part of the classical tradition, while the idealisation of virginity and purity stems from the Christian context. The metaphors implied in this reading are the perception of the female body as (a) holy (precinct) and of the genitals as an entrance guarded by a snake, and on the other hand – considering the chthonic nature of the snake – the perception of the human body as an earthy element in contrast to the soul, which is associated with the celestial element.


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How to Cite

Božič, Blaž. 2022. “Attraction Beyond the Grave and the Snake As Guardian of Virginity: Reflections about the Erotic Imagery in the Morrheus and Chalcomedeia Episode from Nonnos’ Dionysiaca”. Keria: Studia Latina Et Graeca 24 (1): 109-25.