Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Characters/Salazar Slytherin

Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Character
Salazar Slytherin
Gender Male
Hair color Unknown
Eye color Unknown
Related Family Slytherin
Loyalty Belief in pureblood wizardry



Salazar Slytherin was one of the four founders of Hogwarts and the creator of Slytherin House. He preferred to teach the most ambitious students, and the members of this house have often come to be the most powerful witches and wizards. He also required that his students have "pure-blood" Wizard-only ancestry and did not take any Muggle-borns in his house. He was famous for being a Parseltongue, someone who can talk to snakes.

Role in the Books

Beginner warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

When the Chamber of Secrets is first opened, a message is written on the wall: Enemies of the Heir, beware! It somehow becomes common knowledge that the Heir is supposed to be the Heir of Slytherin.

When Professor Binns is telling Harry's class about the myth of the Chamber of Secrets, he mentions the four Founders of Hogwarts: Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Helga Hufflepuff. He mentions that when the argument between the Founders, as to whether to accept those who could not prove magical forbears, broke out, it was Salazar Slytherin standing alone against the other three. As a result of the argument, Slytherin left the school, supposedly leaving behind him a Chamber of Secrets containing a monster. Binns notes that in the centuries since, nobody at Hogwarts has found so much as a broom-closet of secrets.

In the Dueling Club, Harry sees that a snake is about to attack Justin Finch-Fletchley. Harry instructs the snake to back off. Great consternation ensues, and Ron and Hermione take Harry aside to ask him about this ability. It seems that being a Parselmouth, being able to talk to snakes, is linked to Salazar Slytherin and his heirs. Harry wonders if he could be Slytherin's heir, given how little he knows of his background.

In the Chamber itself, we see a large statue of a wizard, which Harry presumes is Salazar Slytherin. We also meet Tom Riddle, who is, as it turns out, the heir of Slytherin. Present only in spirit, he has all the same been controlling Ginny, and having her act as Slytherin's heir. We also meet the Monster of the Chamber, a basilisk.

In support of his apparent belief that he is above the common lot of wizardry, and thus to an extent above the law, Marvolo Gaunt displays two artifacts that are meant to prove his heritage. One, a locket with a snake forming the letter S, Marvolo claims was Salazar Slytherin's own. The locket is later sold to Caractacus Burke for a pittance, though he says, in Professor Dumbledore's memory, that its origin was plain enough to him.

Apart from the efforts to reclaim and destroy Slytherin's locket, Voldemort speaking of his claim to be the heir of Slytherin, and Voldemort's attempt to abolish all school houses other than Slytherin house, we hear little of Slytherin in this book.



Slytherin was one of the Four Founders of Hogwarts, and thus must have been a very powerful and accomplished wizard. While it is uncertain if he was the first wizard to be able to speak to snakes, it is certain that he not only had that ability but was able to pass it down to his descendants. We believe Dumbledore has learned Parseltongue, but he is an exception; otherwise, Parseltongue is considered a mark of descent from Slytherin.



Slytherin's inability to accept that Muggle-born wizards, and those who consort with Muggles, can in fact do powerful magic, will have blinded him to the abilities of a large part of the Wizarding world.

Relationships with Other Characters


As his life ended possibly a thousand years before the story opens, we can have no real idea how he related to other characters. It is a safe assumption that he was initially cordial enough with the other Founders to join with them in the initial setting up of Hogwarts; it is similarly a safe assumption that those relationships soured or were broken off completely after a few years when Slytherin failed to convince the other three that admission to a Wizarding school should be restricted on the basis of ancestry. It is possible that he would share broad personality outlines with Lucius Malfoy, using personal power, persuasiveness, and wealth to achieve his own ends. Finally and completely thwarted by Gryffindor, Slytherin childishly "took his marbles and went home", leaving a trap behind for future generations.



While we don't ever see Slytherin directly, his views have obviously come down to us through the type of student that he selected, and that the Sorting Hat, as his indirect deputy, has selected for the House named after him throughout the years. Apparently a scion of an old Wizarding family, even a thousand years ago, Slytherin is clearly portrayed as one who feels that ancestry is all important. From the Sorting Hat and its selections, we also learn that Slytherin chose students who were ambitious. Nowhere do we find a student who more clearly matches this combination of traits than in Tom Riddle, who becomes Lord Voldemort.

It is perhaps important to note that Slytherin, and residents of Slytherin house, are not inherently evil. It is certainly incorrect to assume that only wizards can have wizard children; in fact, we can see from the examples of Hermione Granger and Lily Evans that wizards, even quite strong ones, can spring from Muggle roots. However, this is more short-sighted than particularly evil. Ambition, in itself, is not evil, either. It is the way these two traits are expressed which can make them wrong.

A classic example of these traits being expressed in a manner that makes them seem evil is, as mentioned, Tom Riddle, also known as Lord Voldemort. Slytherin, losing his argument (it is unknown whether this was merely an argument or if dueling was involved), left, possibly to set up an alternate school, possibly to simply sulk, but in any event apart from the one trap he left behind him, has no further role to play. Voldemort, in a similar situation, apparently kills those who stand in his way. Slytherin would merely refuse to educate the Muggle-born; Voldemort deprives them of the education they already have and incarcerates them.



Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Greater Picture

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

As far as the intent of Salazar Slytherin, Rowling never said he was not evil; in fact his ideas about pure-blood ideology, particularly as mirrored and enhanced by Voldemort, were similar to Hitler's. We as the readers of the series and viewers of the movies are told that most Dark wizards are trained in Slytherin house, from which we get the perhaps erroneous belief that most of the wizards and witches from Slytherin are Dark. Voldemort was Salazar's heir, and as far as it is explained, he is taking up the mission in the way he believes Salazar had intended, with the Chamber and the Basilisk. Through the books everything need not be explained to understand what the character's perspective is or was. It is well defined through the series that, whether or not Salazar was evil, his position very easily can be perverted to something very evil indeed, and this was done by Voldemort.

As the actual events happened, we are told, over a thousand years ago, they are by now shrouded in the mists of time, and it is unsure whether Slytherin, losing the battle, chose to leave the school or was forced to leave. Given what little we know of his character, it seems more likely that having been overruled, he would gather his dignity about himself and stalk off into the night. Knowing as little as we do about the other three Founders, though, it must remain uncertain as to whether they chose to dismiss him or whether he made the decision on his own.

It is perhaps of interest that Portugal, where the author lived from 1990 to 1994, was ruled by a dictator named António de Oliveira Salazar from 1932 to 1968. Salazar's "Estado Novo" was a rigidly authoritarian, right-wing dictatorship. As the first book in the Potter series was completed in 1995, it is possible that Salazar Slytherin's name is retrieved from recent Portuguese history.