Eve's encounter didn't turn out too well, Medusa's hair was a mess, while Disney turned Mowgli's mentor into a mendacious maneater.
Yet, however much these cultural encounters might demand we recoil from the serpent, we are also left with an overriding, abstract impression of its mesmeric quality – a hypnotic essence that inspired the American photographer Mark Laita to spend a year documenting nearly 100 of the world's most venomous examples. His subjects, he has said, were "compelling, sensual and captivating. I'm not trying to show you what, say, a Mexican black kingsnake looks like. It's just a beautiful form."
Laita tracked down the snakes via zoos, breeders, private collectors and antivenom labs across the US and Central America – and had only one unfortunate encounter, when bitten by a black mamba; a poisonous nip is 100 per cent fatal – but Laita was lucky that his was either a "dry" bite, meaning it did not inject, or that the blood that gushed from the wound took the poison with it.
A timely reminder perhaps that it is not only their seductive silhouettes and flamboyant hues that are striking.
'Serpentine' by Mark Laita (Abrams, £30) is out on 5 March