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What is an Asp? You'll Be Surprised to Find Out

What is an Asp?
Asp is a term that is used to refer to venomous snakes. AnimalSake provides some useful information on the same.
Praseeda Shirodkar
Last Updated: Jul 31, 2017
Asps in Literature
The term 'asp' has been used by William Shakespeare in his tragedy Antony and Cleopatra. In the story, Cleopatra commits suicide using the poison of an asp.
Asp is a term, which was once used to refer to any one of the various species of poisonous snakes. Moreover, this term is an anglicized form of apsis. It is not generally used in the modern world.
Some believe and state that during ancient times, the reference of this term was mainly to the poisonous snake species found in the Nile Region. Moreover, it is believed that during the classical era and in Egyptian mythology, the asp referred to, was probably the modern-day Egyptian cobra (Naja haje).
In Egypt, asps were considered to be a symbol of divine royalty. These snakes were greatly honored and their bites were used for executing the favored criminals (which was meant to be a dignified death).
The death of Cleopatra is often linked with the Egyptian asp. Some state that Cleopatra believed that the death from an asp (bite of an Egyptian cobra) was the least dreadful, when compared to the other deadly poisonous deaths.
It is believed that she committed suicide in this way. However, some others believe that the asp that killed her was a horned viper. It is due to these beliefs that the Egyptian asp became quite known. Later, after an extensive research done by a German historian and a toxicologist, it was stated that the cause of Cleopatra's death was the use of drugs, and not a snakebite.
The word 'asp' was also referred to by some others as any of the venomous snakes belonging to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Furthermore, not only Egyptians, but even the Greeks and Romans profoundly honored and also feared the asp. Even in Greece, its venom was used for the execution of favored criminals.
Furthermore, they were fully aware of the snake's power in religious statues, artworks, etc., and archeological studies that have proven this. One such ancient and famous image that was excavated on Crete was of the Minoan Snake goddess. In this image, the goddess holds snakes in both her hands, which are believed to be asps. It is also believed that people worshiped asps in temples and this practice is still followed in various parts of Southeast Asia.
In the olden times, the term 'asp' was mostly used to refer to the cobra and the vipers. Here are some facts about these snakes.
▸ Most species of Cobras belong to the family Elapidae. These venomous snakes are characterized by the large flat hood, which they spread on feeling angry or threatened. This hood when spread, gives the snake a scary look.

▸ There are 270 types of cobras, and they are mainly found in Asia, Africa, and Australia.

▸ Among these, the Egyptian cobra (Naja haje) was most commonly referred to as the asp. It is among the largest cobra species native to Africa.
▸ Most species of Vipers belong to the family Viperidae. These venomous snakes are characterized by their long, hinged fangs that may cause deep poisonous punctures on attack.

▸ It is a family that consists of over 200 species of poisonous snakes. These snakes are found in many parts of the world. However, they are not found in Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, Ireland, Madagascar, and Hawaii.
▸ Among these, the European aspic viper or the Vipera aspis was most commonly referred as the asp. These snakes are found in France, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland.
Thus, we see that the term asp is largely used to refer to all venomous snakes, more prominently, the Egyptian cobra, but the first use of this term can be traced back to Egyptian mythology.