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Here be Dragons

Subject: History

Description: Mankind’s relationship with the mythological Dragon from prehistory to the present day.

Posted by David Caldwell on 27/11/13 at 17:58

Dragons are International

Wherever humanity has settled it has retained myths and legends about dragons.

From ancient China, the Middle East, India, Europe and Native America all have tales about winged dragons in three different flavours, sea dragons, air dragons and land dragons.

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Throughout time the stone bones of mysterious giant beasts have been dug up, without paleontological knowledge of dinosaurs’ humans must have seen the horns, scales and carapaces and deduced that at one time giant lizards walked the earth.  

This is not inaccurate if a human ever saw a Pliosaur they would immediately deduce that they had witnessed a sea dragon.   It is possible that some may have survived the extinction and lived at the bottom of a lake or sea long enough to terrify some poor hapless bipedal ape. 

In London’s Crystal Palace Park Victorians tried to recreate dinosaurs in stone but without knowledge of these animals anatomy the result was lizard like if not dragon like creatures.

In Indonesia to this day lives a 3 metre long giant of a lizard called a Komodo Dragon.

Origins of the word Dragon

The word ‘drakon’ was used by the ancient greeks to describe a serpent or giant fish, the Romans used the word ‘draco’ for a giant serpent or dragon, in French this became ‘Dragon’ where we get the word ‘Dragoon’ after the musket which breathed fire like a dragon.

Leaders wanted to associate themselves with the dragon’s power and named themselves ‘Drake’, ‘Pendragon’ and ‘Draco’ which was adopted by Vlad the Impaler whose cruelty become the inspiration of Brad Stoker’s Dracula.

The Constellation Draco

The Constellation Draco has been known as the serpent since time immemorial and was associated with the Greek legend of the dragon Ladon who was killed by Hercules during one of his 12 tasks to steal the golden apples. 

The Romans associated the constellation with the dragon Draco who was slain by the goddess Minerva.  

The Serpent

Dragons and serpents were once seen as feminine which is why we sometimes call a cantankerous female a Dragon. In Ancient Greece the Gorgon’s hair was made up of living serpents. 

Earlier myths associated the serpent with Goddesses however when Christianity emerged to prominence the serpent cults and the power of the feminine deity became demonised, it was the serpent which gave original sin to the world in the bible and it was Saint Patrick who drove the serpents from Ireland and not an Ice age. 

The Chinese never demonised their Dragons and they remain a positive force for good

The Vikings believed that dragons guarded vast hoards of treasure, and carved them on monuments and on the prows of long ships.  

The populations of Middle Age Europe believed that fire breathing dragons must be destroyed by saints or by knights in shining armour.  English villages were terrified by a spate of terrifying dragon like ‘Worms’ such as the Lambton Worm.

Dragon Drop - Dragons in Modern Times

In 1974 TSR released the role playing game ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ which featured a race of Dragons.

In body art the Dragon is one of the most popular designs for tattoos in both its Western and Asian forms.

In modern computer games such as Dragon Age and Skyrim the dragon resurfaces as the ultimate boss to be fought and defeated.

Keywords: dragons, serpent, myth, origins, word, draco, legend