After my father's instructive anecdote, Kekule's serpent went dormant for a long while, finally re-emerging into awareness via one of Leonard Cohen's better songs, "Last Year's Man" (5), where it takes a markedly more carnal role:

"And when we fell together
all our flesh was like a veil
That I had to draw aside
to see the serpent eat its tail."

I read Cohen's usage of the symbol as representing the unity-from-duality embodied in the act of sex, with the two ostensibly discrete (if not discreet) participants revealed as complementary parts of the same serpent. A somewhat unsettling image (especially if you imagine ol' Leonard in flagrante), but one which falls into an ancient category of meanings which tie the serpent to the idea of the "androgyne": "The androgyne is the united male and female principles together. This is the prime primordial end to human endeavor, the reunion which births totality and creation. It is not unlike the idea of androgyny, which is a duality complete." (6)

Eventually I found my way to incorporating this symbol into a story of my own. In one of its episodes, a starving prisoner describes a recurrent reverie that he finds oddly satisfying:

"Oh, I am so hungry. They have been starving me. When you are this hungry you begin to think of strange things. I heard a story once of a snake that swallowed its tail, then the lower part of its body, then the upper, then its head, and it was gone. Where there had been a snake there was only space, a shape in the air. It couldn't happen, you say. Yes, but it did...

"They will be coming for me soon enough. I would like to deny them the pleasure. I would like there to be nothing left for them...That would be a trick." (7)

The satisfaction the prisoner takes in this little story is two-fold: he sees self-consumption as a means of sating his own hunger, and simultaneously as a means of escaping his captors by vanishing into thin air. While this is the most bizarre kind of autonomy imaginable, he embraces it because he has been denied any other. (This passage also presents a possible answer to one of the implicit questions posed by the symbol - what would be left if the snake got its way?)


~ back                                                             continued ~
The Ouroboros ~ A Personal Symbology
p. 3 of 4
A Literate Lemur Endeavour