Welcome back to Muggles and Mocha!
After a week off, I’ve done a lot of thinking about this week’s chapter, “The Dueling Club.” At this point, we’re really getting into the thick of it (I think I say that every week because I’m so excited), and honestly, this chapter is huge for Harry.
However, I want to focus a little bit on some history today, some history that took a lot of digging. And researching. And YouTube video watching.
I found a lot of stuff I didn’t know or had never even heard of, and it was a BLAST. And today, it’s a topic I hope you’ll learn a lot about as well! We’re going to discuss the history and origins of Parseltongue and what it represents in the Wizarding world. At this point, we already know Parseltongue is associated with the Dark Arts. But why is that the case? And where did it even come from?
Believe it or not, by the end of this article, you’ll discover that Parseltongue, Basilisks, and Horcruxes are all connected in a major way.
So without further ado… let’s dive into the Dark Arts!
As usual, there are *SPOILERS* (for the Harry Potter series and the play The Cursed Child) in both the article and video. Check out the video for more on this chapter as well as some killer dance moves.
First, we need to talk about how Parseltongue affects this chapter. Chapter 11 is technically the first time we’re introduced to this language, or at least, it’s the first time we learn what it’s called and that it’s a special ability Harry possesses. However, we have seen it in action before—in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
In the first book, Harry speaks to the snake at the zoo before accidentally helping it escape. He casually talks with this snake, and the snake understands him. For us as the audience, we simply believe this is an example of Harry’s wizard powers manifesting… but there’s something much darker going on here.
In this second book, we learn a Parselmouth—someone who speaks Parseltongue—is a witch or wizard who can talk to snakes. After the incident at the dueling club, Ron explains to Harry this isn’t something that’s considered to be normal or good at all. Hermione goes on to tell him it’s what Salazar Slytherin was known for. Not only that, but almost everyone in the Wizarding world associates this skill with Slytherin, as it was his main source of pride (as we can see by Slytherin’s chosen mascot). But what’s truly important about this is something we’re going to break down later—Parseltongue has only ever been a hereditary trait.
This is a truth that really stinks for Harry in this book, especially with the entire school turning their backs on him.
But let’s leave Harry for now. He discovers this terrible fact and stews on it for the rest of the chapter until the attack on Justin Finch-Fletchley.
ALL THE PARSELMOUTHS IN THE
Let’s discuss the Parselmouths we meet in the Harry Potter series. As we learn in this book and the rest of the tale, this gift is extremely rare, another reason everyone freaks out when Harry can do it. Besides Voldemort, we technically don’t meet another person with this gift in the series. However, we do hear about other Parselmouths in the books and outside source material. Here’s a list of the ones we know of:
- Herpo the Foul – Keep an eye out… This dude is extremely important. He’s the key to all of this and will be talked about later. Suspected to be a part of Slytherin’s bloodline.
- Salazar Slytherin – One of the first famous Parselmouths. It is believed he inherited this ability from his ancestor.
- Corvinus Gaunt – A descendant of Salazar Slytherin. Corvinus protected the Chamber of Secrets when indoor plumbing was installed at Hogwarts, ensuring the chamber was still reachable even with this technology. He was the one who made sure it could be reached through the sink in the girls’ bathroom.
- Gormlaith Gaunt – Another member of the Slytherin bloodline. Her niece (Isolt Sayre) founded Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in North America.
- Members of the Gaunt family we meet in Half-blood Prince (Marvolo, Morfin, and Merope Gaunt) – Descendants of Slytherin. Also, Voldemort’s grandfather, uncle, and mother.
- Tom Marvolo Riddle (a.k.a., Voldemort) – Voldemort inherited this ability from Salazar Slytherin.
- Harry Potter (formerly) – Harry is able to speak Parseltongue due to Voldemort’s Horcrux dwelling inside him. After this Horcrux is destroyed, he’s unable to speak or understand this language.
- Delphini (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) – This is a person some may be unfamiliar with, but in order not to unnecessarily spoil anything here, just know she’s present in the Cursed Child play. She is also a member of Slytherin’s bloodline.
- Perhaps some wizards in Africa, according to the original Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them textbook.
Some honorable mentions are two people we know of who could understand Parseltongue but not speak it:
- Isolt Sayre – Founder of Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Her mother was a member of the Gaunt family, but Isolt was only ever able to understand Parseltongue, not speak it. It is rumored (but not confirmed) that Isolt’s daughter, Rionach Steward, inherited this gift in full. The story goes that she decided not to marry and have children so she wouldn’t pass on this ability. Which is pretty tragic.
- Albus Dumbledore – I mean… are we surprised about this? Dumbledore was extremely gifted with languages, and through some extreme study, he was able to learn to understand Parseltongue. However, he was never able to speak it himself.
Here’s something you probably noticed from this list: Almost every single person who innately had the gift to speak Parseltongue was related to Salazar Slytherin. Everyone except Harry. As mentioned, we know Harry has this ability because of the Horcrux he carries. This Horcrux gave him abilities Voldemort possessed since he was literally carrying a piece of this monster around with him wherever he went.
So when Harry, Ron, and Hermione find out he’s a Parseltongue, they have a right to be disturbed—every other person with this innate power had it because they were related to Slytherin!
BUT, where did Parseltongue actually come from? Was Salazar Slytherin the first Parselmouth?
The person who discovered Parseltongue, researched it, and reported it to the Wizarding world was Paracelsus, otherwise known as Phillipus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (some of you Fullmetal Alchemist fans might get a kick out of this). Rowling incorporated this real-life alchemist into Harry Potter lore. Unfortunately, not much is known about him in the Harry Potter world. All we learn is that he is on a Chocolate Frog card and there’s a bust of him within Hogwarts. Also, the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone PlayStation game is the source that revealed Paracelsus is the one who discovered Parseltongue… so take that for what it’s worth.
However, Paracelsus wasn’t a Parselmouth himself. The first Parselmouth was, in one word, evil.
PARSELTONGUE AND HERPO THE FOUL
The first Parselmouth was a man named Herpo the Foul. He was quite a character and was by far the most interesting person I’ve found in my Harry Potter research. Period. And believe it or not, this man’s history explains why Parsletongue is viewed in a bad light, just as much as Salazar Slytherin himself.
Herpo the Foul was an Ancient Greek wizard who was steeped in the Dark Arts. He was born a Parselmouth and was the first person to ever hatch a Basilisk. No joke. So Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has connections to this guy in more ways than one.
Now, I unfortunately don’t know how Herpo the Foul received his Parseltongue abilities, but it’s almost as if this guy was born with an affinity for snakes. I mean, his name is “Herpo,” for goodness’ sake—like herpetology, the study of reptiles. This word is also connected to “serpo,” the root of our word “serpent.”
Did Herpo give himself this name? Maybe. But yes, it’s evident this dude had a strange connection to snakes. It’s stated that he was born with this ability.
Herpo’s exploration into the Dark Arts didn’t stop with Basilisks, though. This wizard was also the person who discovered, researched, and created Horcruxes! From what I understand, this means he’s responsible for creating the entire process/curse for making Horcruxes, which is something we don’t learn the details of in the Harry Potter series. So not only was this guy talking to snakes and hatching monsters, but he was also the first to split his soul as well as pave the way for others to do this.
Did I know when I started this research that Parseltongue, Basilisks, and Horcruxes would all be directly related in their origins? Absolutely not.
Salazar Slytherin was a descendant of Herpo the Foul, which is where he would have gotten his Parseltongue abilities. I believe Slytherin was the first “famous” descendant of Herpo, so he would be one of the first Parselmouths we’d know of since this ability wasn’t widespread at that point in Wizarding history. However, I think this makes Slytherin’s obsession with keeping his bloodline pure even clearer with this Parseltongue ability in mind. He treasured his bloodline and the abilities that came with it.
Doesn’t make him any less of a scumbag, but… there’s that.
PARSELTONGUE’S EFFECT ON HARRY
Now that we have the history of Parseltongue under our belt, we can get back to Harry. With what we’ve learned about this ability, there’s no surprise that Parseltongue is automatically connected to dark magic. Not only is it related to Slytherin and Voldemort, which is bad enough already—it originated from the dark wizard who also created Basilisks and Horcruxes.
This ability is somehow even worse than we thought.
Now, does this mean being a Parselmouth makes you evil? Absolutely not. Inheriting something from an ancestor or having it “given” to you (as with Harry’s situation) doesn’t make you evil as well. However, it doesn’t help that Harry discovers this ability at this particular point in the series. From the moment he utters Parseltongue, the entire school is immediately afraid of him and suspects him of being the Heir of Slytherin. Which, based on what we’ve learned about Parseltongue and its connection to Slytherin, is kind of understandable.
Even though Harry isn’t Slytherin’s heir, we do know this ability affects him more than he knows, directly connecting him to Voldemort. And right now, in the eyes of Hogwarts, it has him connected to a monster who’s currently on a murderous rampage. While this ability can come in handy for him, it ultimately represents evil, dark magic to the rest of the Wizarding world—a truth Harry will have to grow to face and accept as the books continue.
So there you have it—the history of Parseltongue! Hopefully, you learned a lot of interesting facts from this article, and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I loved writing it. The Harry Potter universe is a fascinating place, and I’m always looking to learn more. Personally, I need to know more about this Herpo the Foul guy!
Thanks for joining us today, and don’t forget to check out the video above. This was a huge topic, so if you have any questions or anything you’d like to add, feel free to comment. Follow me on social media through the links below to keep up with any updates.
See you next week with Chapter 12!
Disclaimer: I do not own any part of the Harry Potter series.