The god Hermes descends from Olympus to the island of Crete in search of an invisible nymph as John Keats's narrative poem "Lamia" begins. He comes upon a beautiful snake who speaks with the voice of a woman named Lamia, claiming her spirit to be trapped in this ophidian guise. She offers to help Hermes find the elusive nymph if only he will use his divine powers to restore her to human form. Hermes agrees to these terms, and presently the nymph of his desires appears. As the pair of immortals depart, the multi-hued snake reappears as a strikingly beautiful woman.
Lamia now goes in search of Lycius, an attractive young man she had spotted on the road to Corinth. Returning to that region, one day she sees him approaching on the road, and calls out in anguish when he passes her: "And will you leave me on the hills alone? Lycius, look back! and be some pity shown." When Lycius looks back he is instantly mesmerized by her beauty, expressing a wish never to be parted from her: "For pity do not this said heart belie--even as thou vanishest so I shall die."
The two become lovers, and as time passes, Lycius decides it would be best if they were to marry. As mysteriously frightened as she is by this idea, Lamia consents. Employing the power of divine spirits, she creates a wedding banquet so spectacular as to provoke amazement among the guests. But when one uninvited guest, Lycius' philosophy tutor Apollonius, begins staring intently at Lamia, her face turns a deathly white. Lycius is shocked by her transformation. Suddenly the sage shrieks, "serpent," and Lamia instantly vanishes. That night, Lycius dies.