Dragons are among the many hottest and enduring of the world’s mythological creatures, believed to have been actual for hundreds of years.
Dragon tales are identified in lots of cultures, from the Americas to Europe, and from India to China. They’ve an extended and wealthy historical past in lots of varieties and proceed to populate our books, movies and tv reveals, as courageous heroes routinely struggle to slay the beasts..
It is not clear when or the place tales of dragons first emerged, however the enormous, flying serpents have been described at the least as early because the age of the traditional Greeks and Sumerians. In line with Scott G Bruce in his introduction to “The Penguin Guide of Dragons” (Penguin Classics, 2021), “Within the historic world they took the type of huge serpents, able to crush with their coils and kill with their venomous breath”. For a lot of historical past dragons have been considered being like every other legendary animal: typically helpful and protecting, different instances dangerous and harmful.
That modified when Christianity unfold internationally; dragons took on a decidedly sinister interpretation and got here to characterize Devil. In medieval instances, most individuals who heard something about dragons knew them from the Bible, and it is probably that almost all Christians on the time believed within the literal existence of dragons. In spite of everything, Leviathan — the large monster described intimately within the Guide of Job, chapter 41 — seems like a dragon:
“Its again has rows of shields tightly sealed collectively; every is so near the following that no air can move between. They’re joined quick to at least one one other; they cling collectively and can’t be parted. Its snorting throws out flashes of sunshine; its eyes are just like the rays of daybreak. Flames stream from its mouth; sparks of fireside shoot out. Smoke pours from its nostrils as from a boiling pot over burning reeds. Its breath units coals ablaze, and flames dart from its mouth.”
The assumption in dragons was primarily based not simply in legend but additionally in arduous proof, or at the least that is what folks thought, way back. For millennia nobody knew what to make of the large bones that have been often unearthed across the globe, and dragons appeared a logical alternative for individuals who had no information of dinosaurs.
Various kinds of dragons
Although most individuals can simply image a dragon, folks’s concepts and descriptions of dragons range dramatically, in accordance with Grunge. Some dragons have wings; others do not. Some dragons can converse or breathe hearth; others cannot. Some are just a few toes lengthy; others span miles. Some dragons dwell in palaces below the ocean, whereas others can solely be present in caves and inside mountains, akin to Smaug in JRR Tolkein’s “The Hobbit”.
As folklorist Carol Rose’s ebook “Giants, Monsters, & Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Delusion” (Norton, 2001), dragons “have composite options from many different beasts, akin to the top of an elephant in India, that of a lion or hen of prey within the Center East, or quite a few heads of reptiles akin to serpents. Their physique colour could vary from inexperienced, pink, and black to unusually yellow, blue or white dragons.”
Zoologist Karl Shuker describes all kinds of dragons in his ebook “Dragons: A Pure Historical past” (Simon & Schuster, 1995), together with large snakes, hydras, gargoyles and dragon-gods, and the extra obscure variants akin to basilisks, wyverns and cockatrices. At its root, the is a chameleon — its options adapting to the cultural and literary expectations of the period.
Dragons proceed to seize the general public’s creativeness in fantasy books and movies, showing in every thing from the kid-friendly 2010 movie “Learn how to Practice Your Dragon,” to the extra adult-oriented “Recreation of Thrones” books and TV collection and “The Hobbit” ebook and flicks. The favored role-playing recreation Superior Dungeons and Dragons describes greater than a dozen sorts of dragons, every with distinctive personalities, powers and different traits (Black dragons, for instance, are keen on eels — who knew?).
Origins of dragons
The phrase “dragon” comes from the traditional Greek phrase “draconta,” that means “to look at,” suggesting that the beast guards treasure, akin to mountains of gold cash or gems, in accordance with Dean Miller in “Legendary Creatures and Monsters” (Cavendish Sq. Publishing, 2014). However this does not actually make sense as a result of a creature as highly effective as a dragon certainly would not have to pay for something, proper? It is in all probability extra of a symbolic treasure, not for the hoarding dragon however as an alternative a reward for the courageous warriors, such because the Knights of Camelot who would vanquish the evil beast.
Dragons are one of many few monsters forged in mythology primarily as a robust and fearsome opponent to be slain. They do not merely exist for their very own sake; they exist largely as a foil for daring adventurers. Different legendary beasts akin to trolls, elves and fairies work together with folks (typically mischievously, typically helpfully) however their most important function isn’t as a combatant.
The Christian church created legends of righteous and godly saints battling and vanquishing Devil within the type of dragons. Essentially the most celebrated of those was St. George the Dragon Slayer, who in legend comes upon a city threatened by a horrible dragon, in accordance with English Heritage. He rescues a good maiden, protects himself with the signal of the cross, and slays the beast. The city’s residents, impressed by St. George’s feat of religion and bravado, instantly convert to Christianity.
Vanquishing a dragon was not solely an vital profession alternative for any formidable saint, knight or hobbit, however in accordance with legend it was additionally a technique to increase armies. As Michael Web page and Robert Ingpen observe of their ebook “Encyclopedia of Issues That By no means Have been“ (Viking Penguin, 1987), “Using dragon’s enamel gives a easy technique of increasing the armed forces of any nation. It was first practiced by Cadmus, King of Thebes. First, put together a bit of floor as if for sowing grain. Subsequent, catch and kill any handy dragon and draw all its enamel. Sow these within the furrows you might have ready, cowl calmly, and stand properly away.” Straightforward, peasy, proper?
Subsequent, veteran warriors “clad in bronze armor and armed with swords and shields … emerge quickly from the earth and stand in ranks in accordance with the best way during which the dragon’s enamel have been sown.” Apparently these draconis dentata troopers are a quarrelsome lot and can activate one another missing a prepared enemy, so for those who plan to do that, be certain your adversaries are close by.
Students imagine that the fire-breathing component of dragons got here from medieval depictions of the mouth of hell; for instance, artwork by Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, amongst others. The doorway to hell was typically depicted as a monster’s literal mouth, with the flames and smoke attribute of Hades belching out. If one believes not solely within the literal existence of hell, but additionally the literal existence of dragons as Satanic, the affiliation is sort of logical.
Are dragons actual?
Medieval theology apart, few folks in the present day imagine within the literal existence of dragons in the best way they could imagine within the existence of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster, for instance. The dragon (or at the least the dragon model most acquainted to Westerners) is just too large and too implausible to take significantly or actually. Within the trendy age of satellite tv for pc imagery and good cellphone pictures and movies, it is merely implausible that any large, winged fire-breathers inhabit Earth’s lands or skies unseen.
Nonetheless, just a few centuries in the past rumours of dragons appeared to have been confirmed by eyewitness accounts from sailors coming back from Indonesia who reported encountering dragons — Komodo dragons, a kind of monitor lizard — which might be aggressive, lethal, and attain 10 toes (3 meters) in size.
In a attainable parallel to dragons, it was beforehand believed that the chunk of a Komodo dragon was particularly lethal due to poisonous micro organism in its mouth, although that delusion was debunked in 2013 by a staff of researchers from the College of Queensland who found that the Komodo dragon’s mouths are not any dirtier than these of different carnivores.) Western scientists solely verified the existence of the Komodo dragon round 1910 following the investigation of Lieutenant Jacques Karel Henri van Steyn van Hensbroek and Pieter Ouwens, in accordance with The Guardian, however rumours and tales of those fearsome beasts circulated lengthy earlier than that.
Dragons, in a single type or one other, have been round for millennia. By way of epic fantasy fiction by J.R.R. Tolkien and others, dragons have continued to spark our collective creativeness and present no signal of dying out.
To seek out out extra about Komodo Dragons, this text from the College of Queensland, has a bunch of researchers discussing the fascinating element of their mouths. To find extra concerning the story of St. George, learn this entry from the Catholic Encyclopedia.
- Scott G Bruce, “The Penguin Guide of Dragons”, (Penguin, 2021)
- Guide of Job, https://www.biblestudytools.com/job/41-1.html
- Joseph A Williams, What Dragons Look Like Round The World, Grunge 2021, https://www.grunge.com/462238/what-dragons-look-like-around-the-world/
- Carol Rose, Giants, Monsters, & Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Delusion” (Norton, 2001)
- 9 Issues You Didn’t Know About St George, English Heritage, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/go to/whats-on/st-georges-day/9-things-you-didnt-know-about-st-george/
- Michael Web page and Robert Ingpen, “Encyclopedia of Issues That By no means Have been” (Viking Penguin, 1987)
- Hannake Meijer, Right here Be Dragons: The Million 12 months Journey of the Komodo Dragon, The Guardian, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/could/17/here-be-dragons-the-million-year-journey-of-the-komodo-dragon