21

Was Salazar Slytherin the first Parselmouth, or did somebody else use it before him?

I’ve read the books, but I can’t find any examples.

33

Yes, Herpo the Foul is a Parselmouth who pre-dates Slytherin.

From Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (emphasis mine):

The first recorded Basilisk was bred by Herpo the Foul, a Greek Dark wizard and Parselmouth, who discovered after much experimentation that a chicken egg hatched beneath a toad would produce a gigantic serpent of extraordinarily dangerous powers.

According to Professor Binns in Chamber of Secrets:

You all know, of course, that Hogwarts was founded over a thousand years ago - the precise date is uncertain - by the four greatest witches and wizards of the age.

The books are set in the 1990s, which means Slytherin would be active around the tenth century. This means he almost certainly didn’t overlap Herpo the Foul, and so Foul is a Parselmouth who pre-dates Slytherin.

Edit: As Anthony Grist points out in the comments, this only says Greek, not Ancient Greek. I read Ancient Greek in the HP Wikia entry, and conflated the two. This is confirmed in his chocolate frog card on Pottermore:

Herpo the Foul was an Ancient Greek wizard and the first known creator of the Basilisk.


Note that most known Parselmouths in the HP universe are connected to Slytherin. (The Gaunts, Voldemort, Harry by proxy to Voldemort.) Indeed, JKR confirmed in a 2007 interview that the ability has come down via Slytherin (emphasis mine):

Q: Since Ron is able to speak Parseltongue in the last book, does that mean that parseltongue is a language that most witches and wizards can learn or must a person be born with some ability to speak Parseltongue.

JKR: I don't see it really as a language you can learn. So few people speak it that who would teach you? This is a weird ability passed down through the Slytherin blood line.

  • 2
    Are there any actual dates mentioned anywhere for Herpo the Foul, or are we just assuming that "Greek Dark Wizard" actually means "Ancient Greek Dark Wizard"? – Anthony Grist Apr 16 '14 at 8:55
  • @alexchan But then are all slytherins related?...**the Slytherin blood line** – Hashir Omer Apr 16 '14 at 8:55
  • If what JKR said is true, what does she make of Dumbledore in the 6th book? He must have "learned" it somehow, and I count self-learning as "learning". – trysis Apr 16 '14 at 18:54
  • @trysis: There was another question about how much Dumbledore really knows Parseltongue, obliquely related to your question: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/15271/… – alexwlchan Apr 16 '14 at 19:18
  • Yes, but that doesn't really answer the question, and her saying those 2 things seems contradictory. Meh, I guess I'll create a question later if I feel like it. – trysis Apr 16 '14 at 20:52
10

According to the Famous Wizard Cards seen in the video game "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets", Paracelsus (1493-1541) is...

"Credited with discovering Parseltongue"

Obviously this conflicts heavily with later canon mentions of Salazar Slytherin and Herpo the Foul but it is worth noting that JKR did write the cards seen in the EA games, even if the cards themselves aren't strictly considered canonical:

Q: Did you actually write the information that ended up on the Famous Wizard cards? For that matter, what about the spells in the films? Did you invent those or did Steve Kloves? And why were new incantations created for the movie in the first place? (Example: "Incendio" to "Lacarnum Inflamari"?

JKR: Yes, I wrote the information on the original Famous Wizard cards. As you have notices, a few of them have now popped up on the 'Wizard of the Month' cards on my website desk.

enter image description here

  • 4
    Interesting. According to scifi.stackexchange.com/q/18550/4918 , Hogwarts was founded before 992 AD. Thus, if Paracelsus was born in 1493, then Salazar Slytherin predates him. Maybe Slytherin kept his ability secret in his time, and it was only found out later in some way that he was a Parselmouth. – b_jonas Sep 14 '15 at 9:24
  • Btw this card is completely different each time that pops up. I got the feeling that EA lost the text and just made this one up. (The Da Vinci reference sounds off to me.) – ibid Mar 5 '17 at 22:10
  • @ibid - No argument from me. A lot of the earlier stuff is a canon mess. – Valorum Mar 5 '17 at 22:27
  • I don't think that contradicts anything. Discovering a language doesn't mean he could speak it. You might argue then how did he hear it and I don't have an answer to that other than perhaps a snake said something to him and he heard the hissing? Maybe 'discovering Parseltongue' implies discovering that snakes have their own language and not more. It doesn't require a human to be able to speak with a snake in order for the snake to have its own language any more than how other animals communicate with each other. Runes might be a language and new runes might be discovered though not understood. – Pryftan Aug 3 '17 at 20:26

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