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Why has a snake no tail? And why do fleas suck human blood?

The Story of the Devil in Noah's Ark.

WHEN God had brought the Flood, and Noah's ark was floating on the face of the waters, the wretched good-for-nothing devil wanted to destroy Noah with all those who were with him in the ark. So he fell a-thinking for a while, and invented an iron tool called now gimlet, with which he could bore holes in the wall of the ark.

               The murderous devil started on his work, and poor Noah and those with him were in great danger of being drowned. They all worked hard to get the water out, but who can get the better of the devil? He worked much more quickly, and making many holes in the boards, the waters came in fast. They all believed themselves lost. But God, who does not desire the death of the sinner, and did not wish to see the work of his hands destroyed, gave cunning to the snake, and it is possible that since that day the snakes have remained wise, for does not Holy Writ tell us to be wise as the serpent? The snake came to Noah and said, "What wilt thou give me if I stop up the holes which the devil is making by which the water enters the ark?"

               "What dost thou want?" replied Noah in despair.

               "After the Flood thou art to give me a human being every day to be eaten by me and my seed."

               Noah, hard pressed by the imminent danger, promised to do so. No sooner did the devil bore a hole than the snake stopped it up with the tip of its tail, which it cut off, leaving it in the hole, and that is why ever since the snakes have no tails. When the devil saw that his plan had failed, he ran away and left Noah's ark in peace and all those who were in it. As soon as the Flood had passed away, Noah brought a thanksgiving sacrifice to God for having been miraculously saved. In the midst of these rejoicings the snake took courage and came up to Noah, asking for the human being of which he had promised to give her one every day to be eaten by her and her seed. When Noah heard it, he got very angry, for he said to himself, "There are so few human beings now in the world, if I give her one every day, the world will soon come to an end." So he took hold of the beast which dared to speak to him in such a manner, and threw it into the fire. God was greatly displeased with the evil smell which arose from the fire in consequence, and sent a wind which scattered the ashes all over the face of the earth. From these ashes the fleas were born. If one considers the number of fleas that are in the world, and the amount of human blood which they are sucking, then, taking them all together, they eat up without doubt as much as a human being every day. And thus the promise made by Noah is being fulfilled.


A similar tale seems to be known among the Russians, as far as the first part of this legend is concerned. According to Ralston, Russian Folk Tales, p. 330, when the devil in the form of a mouse gnawed a hole in the Ark, the snake stopped it up with its head. In the Russian tale the two tales of the mouse and the snake are thus combined.

               An Oriental legend which seems to have retained some of the incidents in the Rumanian legend is referred to in Hanauer, Folk Lore of the Holy Land, p. 283. We are told that Iblis (the devil) promises the serpent the sweetest food in the world, that is, human blood, if it helps to deceive Eve. Adam protests, as no one knew yet which is the sweetest blood. The mosquito is sent out to suck the blood of all the animals, and find out which is the sweetest. The swallow shadows the mosquito, and in the end plucks out its tongue so that it shall not be able to tell. The serpent, enraged, darts after the swallow, but only gets hold of the middle feathers of the swallow's tail, which it plucks out, hence the forked tail of the swallow. The serpent still tries to hurt man, but cannot do so in virtue of any claim.

               The flea is also called the devil's horse, for Satan rode upon a flea when he started on his rebellious fight with God.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Why has a snake no tail? And why do fleas suck human blood?
Tale Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Book Title: Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories
Book Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1915
Country of Origin: Romania
Classification: unclassified

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