A fabulous animal, usually represented as a huge fire breathing winged serpent, reptile or saurian, often red or green in color, having a crested head — sometimes several heads — that spews fire and vapors, with scaly skin, enormous claws, and a large tail, not unlike some dinosaurs.
The dragon was believed to possess enormous strength, but the ancients thought that it could be charmed by music, and the beast that guarded the Golden Fleece of Greek legend was soothed by the voice of Medea. In India, at the time of Alexander the Great, a dragon was worshiped as a god, while in occult history it is considered the manifestation of Hell.
Winged dragons made their first Western appearances in the works of ancient Greece and in the Bible, but it was medieval Europe whose imagination was most captured by the stubby-legged, fire-breathing monsters, whose apparent chief duty was to provide the hero with opportunities of valor.
As legend had it, any of those terrifying creatures, often having formidable horns, horrible fangs, and pestilential breath, might hold a town hostage and devour young virgins until it was killed — most likely being beheaded or impaled — by a virtuous knight, usually armed with a magical sword. The most famous hero to rescue a town and maiden was Saint George, whose victory was seen as an allegory for Christianity's triumph over the powers of darkness.
Other Catholic Saints are also depicted in the act of killing a dragon: for instance, in Italy, Saint Mercurialis, a zealous opponent of paganism and arianism and the first bishop of the city of Forlì, is often shown saving the city by slaying a dragon. Sir Lancelot, one of the knights of King Arthur’s Round Table, was also assumed to have slain an enormous fire-breathing dragon.
Malevolent dragons were always prominent figures in Christian myth and iconography. In the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) the word tannin, commonly rendered ‘dragon’ in older English translations, generally refers to a variety of animals such as crocodiles, jackals, and serpents, but occasionally to the dragon (Ezekiel 29:3; 32:3). In Revelation 12:3, an enormous red dragon with seven heads is described, whose tail sweeps one third of the stars from heaven down to earth (held to be symbolic of the fall of the angels). In Revelation 12:9, Satan is identified as this 'great dragon', who was overcome by the archangel Michael and cast down to earth along with his angels.
In the European Middle Ages the dragon became a symbol of great strength. In the 15th century, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire founded the Order of the Dragon to unite Christian rulers against the incursions of the Turkish Muslims into the Balkans. During the time of Henry VII (1457–1509), a coin was given to those who were cured of possession with one side featuring an angel standing with both feet on a dragon. The idea of the dragon is perhaps evolved from the concept of the earth as a living being, a notion that gained currency from earthquakes and related phenomena.
Dragons also loomed large in Chinese folklore, where they were relatively benign. In fact many oriental cultures dragons were, and still are by some, revered as representative of the primal forces of nature and the universe. But in the West they were always evil; the real-life model for the fictional vampire Dracula, the prince Vlad Tepes, was nicknamed Dracula after the Romanian word for dragon and devil. Even in death, a dragon reportedly had extraordinary powers. A drop of its blood could kill instantly, and its teeth, planted in the earth, sprang up overnight as armed men.
| || |