Wednesday, September 28, 2011

S Is For Sensual, And Snake


The letter S is the most sensual of the alphabet.  First, there is that small descending curve:  sen-, then the big downward swoop and that little flick at the end:  -sual.

In my mind's eye, S is always a rich golden yellow.

The plant world abounds in S's--ferns unfurling, leaves curling, tendrils twining.  Our most basic ideas of beauty are entangled with the S shape, from the capitols of ionic columns, to cabriole legs, to the whiplash curves of Art Nouveau.

What makes a swan more beautiful than a duck?  That S-shaped neck. Horses are full of S's:  the line that begins at the top of the arched neck, goes through the shoulders and ends at the bottom of the rib cage;  the line that starts at the belly, goes through the loins and over the croup;  the tail.  The ideal female body is also a collection of S curves, even if in contemporary Western culture those curves more and more approximate a straight line.

Snakes, which mimic the letter S with their bodies, possess a number of other S qualities:  they are sinuous, sibilant, secretive.  They are also serene, having 100%  sang froid.  Except for vipers, they are solitary, and the ones that haunt our gardens are salutary, preying on pests from slugs to (small) moles.

Looked at objectively, snakes are beautiful, so it's unfortunate that they get such bad press.  Sure, some snakes can kill you, but most neither can nor want to.  I believe that because snakes look so sensual our culture has cast these graceful creatures as evil (see the book of Genesis).  But not all peoples have reviled the snake.  From the charming little statues that have come down to us, it looks like the snake priestesses of ancient Crete regarded live snakes both as semi-divine pets and as wardrobe accessories. 




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