Dragon

Dragon

Overview


A dragon is a legendary creature
Legendary creature
A legendary creature is a mythological or folkloric creature.-Origin:Some mythical creatures have their origin in traditional mythology and have been believed to be real creatures, for example the dragon, the unicorn, and griffin...

, typically with serpentine
Serpentine shape
Serpentine refers to the curved shape of an object or design which resembles the letter s, a sine wave or a snake; the latter is the derivation of the term.- Examples :* The Serpentine River...

 or reptilian
Reptile
Reptiles are members of a class of air-breathing, ectothermic vertebrates which are characterized by laying shelled eggs , and having skin covered in scales and/or scutes. They are tetrapods, either having four limbs or being descended from four-limbed ancestors...

 traits, that feature in the myths
Mythology
The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

 of many cultures. There are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon
European dragon
European dragons are legendary creatures in folklore and mythology among the overlapping cultures of Europe.In European folklore, a dragon is a serpentine legendary creature. The Latin word draco, as in constellation Draco, comes directly from Greek δράκων,...

, derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern mythologies, and the Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon
Chinese dragons are legendary creatures in Chinese mythology and folklore, with mythic counterparts among Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Bhutanese, Western and Turkic dragons. In Chinese art, dragons are typically portrayed as long, scaled, serpentine creatures with four legs...

, with counterparts in Japan, Korea and other East Asian countries.

The two traditions may have evolved separately, but have influenced each to a certain extent, particularly with the cross-cultural contact of recent centuries.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Dragon'
Start a new discussion about 'Dragon'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Recent Discussions
Encyclopedia


A dragon is a legendary creature
Legendary creature
A legendary creature is a mythological or folkloric creature.-Origin:Some mythical creatures have their origin in traditional mythology and have been believed to be real creatures, for example the dragon, the unicorn, and griffin...

, typically with serpentine
Serpentine shape
Serpentine refers to the curved shape of an object or design which resembles the letter s, a sine wave or a snake; the latter is the derivation of the term.- Examples :* The Serpentine River...

 or reptilian
Reptile
Reptiles are members of a class of air-breathing, ectothermic vertebrates which are characterized by laying shelled eggs , and having skin covered in scales and/or scutes. They are tetrapods, either having four limbs or being descended from four-limbed ancestors...

 traits, that feature in the myths
Mythology
The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

 of many cultures. There are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon
European dragon
European dragons are legendary creatures in folklore and mythology among the overlapping cultures of Europe.In European folklore, a dragon is a serpentine legendary creature. The Latin word draco, as in constellation Draco, comes directly from Greek δράκων,...

, derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern mythologies, and the Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon
Chinese dragons are legendary creatures in Chinese mythology and folklore, with mythic counterparts among Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Bhutanese, Western and Turkic dragons. In Chinese art, dragons are typically portrayed as long, scaled, serpentine creatures with four legs...

, with counterparts in Japan, Korea and other East Asian countries.

The two traditions may have evolved separately, but have influenced each to a certain extent, particularly with the cross-cultural contact of recent centuries. The English word "dragon" derives from Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 δράκων (drákōn), "dragon, serpent of huge size, water-snake", which probably comes from the verb δρακεῖν (drakeîn) "to see clearly". In the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

, the Devil
Devil
The Devil is believed in many religions and cultures to be a powerful, supernatural entity that is the personification of evil and the enemy of God and humankind. The nature of the role varies greatly...

 takes the form of a red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, in his battle against Archangel Michael.

Overview



Dragons are usually shown in modern times with a body like a huge lizard, or a snake with two pairs of lizard-type legs, and able to emit fire from their mouths. The European dragon
European dragon
European dragons are legendary creatures in folklore and mythology among the overlapping cultures of Europe.In European folklore, a dragon is a serpentine legendary creature. The Latin word draco, as in constellation Draco, comes directly from Greek δράκων,...

 has bat-type wings growing from its back. A dragon-like creature with no front legs is known as a wyvern
Wyvern
A wyvern or wivern is a legendary winged reptilian creature with a dragon's head, two legs , and a barbed tail. The wyvern is found in heraldry. There exists a purely sea-dwelling variant, termed the Sea-Wyvern which has a fish tail in place of a barbed dragon's tail...

. Following discovery of how pterosaur
Pterosaur
Pterosaurs were flying reptiles of the clade or order Pterosauria. They existed from the late Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous Period . Pterosaurs are the earliest vertebrates known to have evolved powered flight...

s walked on the ground, some dragons have been portrayed without front legs and using the wings as front legs pterosaur-fashion when on the ground.

Although dragons occur in many legends around the world, different cultures have varying stories about monsters that have been grouped together under the dragon label. Some dragons are said to breathe fire or to be poisonous, such as in the Old English poem Beowulf
Beowulf
Beowulf , but modern scholars agree in naming it after the hero whose life is its subject." of an Old English heroic epic poem consisting of 3182 alliterative long lines, set in Scandinavia, commonly cited as one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature.It survives in a single...

. They are commonly portrayed as serpentine or reptilian, hatching from eggs
Egg (biology)
An egg is an organic vessel in which an embryo first begins to develop. In most birds, reptiles, insects, molluscs, fish, and monotremes, an egg is the zygote, resulting from fertilization of the ovum, which is expelled from the body and permitted to develop outside the body until the developing...

 and possessing typically scaly or feathered bodies. They are sometimes portrayed as having especially large eyes or watching treasure very diligently, a feature that is the origin of the word dragon (Greek drakeîn meaning "to see clearly"). Some myths portray them with a row of dorsal spines. European dragon
European dragon
European dragons are legendary creatures in folklore and mythology among the overlapping cultures of Europe.In European folklore, a dragon is a serpentine legendary creature. The Latin word draco, as in constellation Draco, comes directly from Greek δράκων,...

s are more often winged, while Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon
Chinese dragons are legendary creatures in Chinese mythology and folklore, with mythic counterparts among Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Bhutanese, Western and Turkic dragons. In Chinese art, dragons are typically portrayed as long, scaled, serpentine creatures with four legs...

s resemble large snakes. Dragons can have a variable number of legs: none, two, four, or more when it comes to early European literature
European literature
European literature refers to the literature of Europe.European literature includes literature in many languages; among the most important of the modern written works are those in English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Polish, German, Italian, Modern Greek, Czech and Russian and works by the...

.

Dragons are often held to have major spiritual significance in various religions and cultures around the world. In many Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

n cultures dragons were, and in some cultures still are, revered as representative of the primal forces of nature
Nature
Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, or material world. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general...

, religion and the universe
Universe
The Universe is commonly defined as the totality of everything that exists, including all matter and energy, the planets, stars, galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space. Definitions and usage vary and similar terms include the cosmos, the world and nature...

. They are associated with wisdom
Wisdom
Wisdom is a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding. It often requires control of one's emotional reactions so that universal principles, reason and...

—often said to be wiser than humans—and longevity. They are commonly said to possess some form of magic
Magic (paranormal)
Magic is the claimed art of manipulating aspects of reality either by supernatural means or through knowledge of occult laws unknown to science. It is in contrast to science, in that science does not accept anything not subject to either direct or indirect observation, and subject to logical...

 or other supernatural power, and are often associated with wells, rain, and rivers. In some cultures, they are also said to be capable of human speech
Speech
Speech is the human faculty of speaking.It may also refer to:* Public speaking, the process of speaking to a group of people* Manner of articulation, how the body parts involved in making speech are manipulated...

. In some traditions dragons are said to have taught humans to talk.

The term dragoon
Dragoon
The word dragoon originally meant mounted infantry, who were trained in horse riding as well as infantry fighting skills. However, usage altered over time and during the 18th century, dragoons evolved into conventional light cavalry units and personnel...

, for infantry that moved around on horse
Horse
The horse is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus, or the wild horse. It is a single-hooved mammal belonging to the taxonomic family Equidae. The horse has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today...

back yet still fought as foot soldiers, is derived from their early firearm
Firearm
A firearm is a weapon that launches one, or many, projectile at high velocity through confined burning of a propellant. This subsonic burning process is technically known as deflagration, as opposed to supersonic combustion known as a detonation. In older firearms, the propellant was typically...

, the "dragon", a wide-bore musket that spat flame when it fired, and was thus named for the mythical creature.

Origin and etymology



Origin and etymology


The word dragon entered the English language in the early 13th century from Old French dragon, which in turn comes from Latin draconem (nominative draco) meaning "huge serpent, dragon," from the Greek word δράκων, drakon (genitive drakontos, δράκοντος) "serpent, giant seafish", which is believed to have come from an earlier stem drak-, a stem of derkesthai, "to see clearly," from Proto-Indo-European derk- "to see" or "the one with the (deadly) glance." The Greek and Latin term referred to any great serpent, not necessarily mythological, and this usage was also current in English up to the 18th century.

The association of the serpent with a monstrous opponent overcome by a heroic deity has its roots in the mythology of the Ancient Near East, including Canaanite (Hebrew
Jewish mythology
Jewish mythology is generally the sacred and traditional narratives that help explain and symbolize the Jewish religion, whereas Jewish folklore consists of the folk tales and legends that existed in the general Jewish culture. There is very little early folklore distinct from the aggadah literature...

, Ugaritic), Hittite
Hittite mythology
Most of the narratives embodying Hittite mythology are lost, and the elements that would give a balanced view of Hittite religion are lacking among the tablets recovered at the Hittite capital Hattusa and other Hittite sites: "there are no canonical scriptures, no theological disquisitions or...

 and Mesopotamian. The Chaoskampf motif entered Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

 and ultimately Christian
Christian mythology
Christian mythology is the body of myths associated with Christianity. In the study of mythology, the term "myth" refers to a traditional story, often one which is regarded as sacred and which explains how the world and its inhabitants came to have their present form.Classicist G.S. Kirk defines a...

 mythology, although the serpent motif may already be part of prehistoric Indo-European mythology as well, based on comparative evidence of Indic
Rigvedic deities
There are 1028 hymns in the Rigveda, most of them dedicated to specific deities.Indra, a heroic god, slayer of Vrtra and destroyer of the Vala, liberator of the cows and the rivers; Agni the sacrificial fire and messenger of the gods; and Soma the ritual drink dedicated to Indra are the most...

 and Germanic
Norse mythology
Norse mythology, a subset of Germanic mythology, is the overall term for the myths, legends and beliefs about supernatural beings of Norse pagans. It flourished prior to the Christianization of Scandinavia, during the Early Middle Ages, and passed into Nordic folklore, with some aspects surviving...

 material. It has been speculated that accounts of spitting cobra
Spitting cobra
A spitting cobra is one of several species of cobras that have the ability to eject venom from their fangs when defending themselves against predators. The sprayed venom is harmless to intact skin...

s may be the origin of the myths of fire-breathing dragons.

Oriental dragon


In China, depiction of the dragon (traditional:龍;simplified:龙) can be found in artifacts from the Shang and Zhou dynasties with examples dating back to the 16th century BC. Archaeologist Zhōu Chong-Fa believes that the Chinese word for dragon is an onomatopoeia of the sound thunder makes. The Chinese name for dragon is pronounced "lóng" in Mandarin Chinese or "lùhng" in the Cantonese
Cantonese
Cantonese is a dialect spoken primarily in south China.Cantonese may also refer to:* Yue Chinese, the Chinese language that includes Cantonese* Cantonese cuisine, the cuisine of Guangdong province...

. Sometime after the 9th century AD, Japan adopted the Chinese dragon through the spread of Buddhism. Although the indigenous name for a dragon in Japanese is , a few of the Japanese words for dragon stem from the Chinese word for dragon, namely, or (traditional
Kyujitai
Kyūjitai, literally "old character forms" , are the traditional forms of kanji, Chinese written characters used in Japanese. Their simplified counterparts are shinjitai, "new character forms". Some of the simplified characters arose centuries ago and were in everyday use in both China and Japan,...

:龍;simplified
Shinjitai
Shinjitai are the forms of kanji used in Japan since the promulgation of the Tōyō Kanji List in 1946. Some of the new forms found in shinjitai are also found in simplified Chinese, but shinjitai is generally not as extensive in the scope of its modification...

:竜). The Vietnamese
Vietnamese dragon
Vietnamese dragons are symbolic creatures in the folklore and mythology of Vietnam. According to an ancient creation myth, the Vietnamese people are descended from a dragon and a fairy....

 word for dragon is "rồng" (hán tự:龍) and the Korean
Korean dragon
Korean dragons are legendary creatures in Korean mythology and folklore.The style of the dragon was heavily influenced by the Chinese dragon. Although generally comparable with Chinese dragons in appearance and symbolic significance, Korean dragons have unique culture-specific properties that...

 word for dragon is "ryong" (hangul
Hangul
Hangul,Pronounced or ; Korean: 한글 Hangeul/Han'gŭl or 조선글 Chosŏn'gŭl/Joseongeul the Korean alphabet, is the native alphabet of the Korean language. It is a separate script from Hanja, the logographic Chinese characters which are also sometimes used to write Korean...

:용) (hanja
Hanja
Hanja is the Korean name for the Chinese characters hanzi. More specifically, it refers to those Chinese characters borrowed from Chinese and incorporated into the Korean language with Korean pronunciation...

:龍).

Animals that may have inspired dragons


Nile crocodile
Nile crocodile
The Nile crocodile or Common crocodile is an African crocodile which is common in Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Gabon, South Africa, Malawi, Sudan, Botswana, and Cameroon...

s, today very restricted in range, were in ancient times occasionally found in Southern Europe, having swum across the Mediterranean. Such wayward crocodiles may have inspired dragon myths. Skeletons of whales, as well as dinosaur and mammalian fossils were occasionally mistaken for the bones of dragons and other mythological creatures; for example, a discovery in 300 BC in Wucheng
Wucheng
Wucheng is a township located in Zhangshu, Jiangxi, China, where the Xiushui River enters Lake Poyang....

, Sichuan
Sichuan
' , known formerly in the West by its postal map spellings of Szechwan or Szechuan is a province in Southwest China with its capital in Chengdu...

, China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, was labeled as such by Chang Qu
Chang Qu
Chang Qu was a 4th century Chinese historian who wrote the Chronicles of Huayang or Records of the States South of Mount Hua, the oldest extant regional history of China.-References:...

. Adrienne Mayor
Adrienne Mayor
Adrienne Mayor is a historian of ancient science and a classical folklorist.Mayor specializes in ancient history and the study of "folk science": how pre-scientific cultures interpreted data about the natural world, and how these interpretations form the basis of many ancient myths, folklore and...

 has written on the subject of fossils as the inspiration for myths in her book The First Fossil Hunters, and in an entry in the Encyclopedia of Geology she wrote: "Fossil remains generated a variety of geomyths
Geomythology
Geomythology is the study of alleged references to geological events in mythology. The term was coined in 1968 by Dorothy Vitaliano, a geologist at Indiana University....

 speculating on the creatures' identity and cause of their destruction. Many ancient cultures, from China and India to Greece, America, and Australia, told tales of dragons, monsters, and giant heroes.." In Australia, stories of such creatures may have referred to the land crocodiles, Quinkana
Quinkana
Quinkana is an extinct genus of mekosuchine crocodile that lived in Australia from ~24 million years ago to ~40,000 years ago. By the Pleistocene Quinkana had become one of the top terrestrial predators of Australia, possessing long legs and ziphodont teeth .Ziphodont teeth tend to arise in...

sp., a terrestrial crocodile which grew to 5 to possibly 7 metres long, or the 4 tonne monitor lizard Varanus priscus (formerly Megalania prisca) a giant carnivorous goanna
Goanna
Goanna is the name used to refer to any number of Australian monitor lizards of the genus Varanus, as well as to certain species from Southeast Asia.There are around 30 species of goanna, 25 of which are found in Australia...

 that might have grown to 7 metres, and weighed up to 1,940 kilograms, or rainbow serpents (possibly Wonambi naracoortensis) that were part of the extinct megafauna
Megafauna
In terrestrial zoology, megafauna are "giant", "very large" or "large" animals. The most common thresholds used are or...

 of Australia. Today the Komodo monitor lizard Varanus komodoensis is known in English as the Komodo dragon
Komodo dragon
The Komodo dragon , also known as the Komodo monitor, is a large species of lizard found in the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang and Gili Dasami. A member of the monitor lizard family , it is the largest living species of lizard, growing to a maximum length of in rare cases...

.

In the book An Instinct for Dragons
An Instinct for Dragons
An Instinct for Dragons is a book by University of Central Florida anthropologist David E. Jones, which seeks to explain the alleged universality of dragon images in the folklore of human societies...

anthropologist David E. Jones suggests a hypothesis that humans just like monkeys have inherited instinctive reactions to snakes, large cats and birds of prey. Dragons have features that are combinations of these three. An instinctive fear for these three would explain why dragons with similar features occur in stories from independent cultures on all continents. Other authors have suggested that especially under the influence of drugs or in dreams, this instinct may give rise to fantasies about dragons, snakes, spiders, etc., which would explain why these symbols are popular in drug culture. The traditional mainstream explanation to the folklore dragons does however not rely on human instinct, but on the assumption that fossil remains of dinosaurs gave rise to similar speculations all over the world.

Greek mythology



In Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 the first mention of a "dragon" is derived from the Iliad
Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...

where Agamemnon
Agamemnon
In Greek mythology, Agamemnon was the son of King Atreus and Queen Aerope of Mycenae, the brother of Menelaus, the husband of Clytemnestra, and the father of Electra and Orestes. Mythical legends make him the king of Mycenae or Argos, thought to be different names for the same area...

 is described as having a blue dragon motif on his sword belt and an eblem of a three-headed dragon on his breast plate. However, the Greek word used (δράκων drákōn, genitive δράκοντοϛ drákontos) could also mean "snake". Δράκων drákōn is a form of the aorist
Aorist
Aorist is a philological term originally from Indo-European studies, referring to verb forms of various languages that are not necessarily related or similar in meaning...

 participle
Participle
In linguistics, a participle is a word that shares some characteristics of both verbs and adjectives. It can be used in compound verb tenses or voices , or as a modifier...

 active of Greek δέρκομαι dérkomai = "I see", derkeîn = "to see", and originally likely meant "that which sees", or "that which flashes or gleams" (perhaps referring to reflective scales). This is the origin of the word "dragon". (See also Hesiod
Hesiod
Hesiod was a Greek oral poet generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC, around the same time as Homer. His is the first European poetry in which the poet regards himself as a topic, an individual with a distinctive role to play. Ancient authors credited him and...

's Theogony
Theogony
The Theogony is a poem by Hesiod describing the origins and genealogies of the gods of the ancient Greeks, composed circa 700 BC...

, 322.)

In 217 A.D., Flavius Philostratus
Philostratus
Philostratus or Lucius Flavius Philostratus , , called "the Athenian", was a Greek sophist of the Roman imperial period. His father was a minor sophist of the same name. He was born probably around 172, and is said by the Suda to have been living in the reign of emperor Philip the Arab . His death...

  discussed dragons (δράκων, drákōn) in India in The Life of Apollonius of Tyana
Apollonius of Tyana
Apollonius of Tyana was a Greek Neopythagorean philosopher from the town of Tyana in the Roman province of Cappadocia in Asia Minor. Little is certainly known about him...

 (II,17 and III,6–8). The Loeb Classical Library
Loeb Classical Library
The Loeb Classical Library is a series of books, today published by Harvard University Press, which presents important works of ancient Greek and Latin Literature in a way designed to make the text accessible to the broadest possible audience, by presenting the original Greek or Latin text on each...

 translation (by F.C. Conybeare) mentions (III,7) that “In most respects the tusks resemble the largest swine’s, but they are slighter in build and twisted, and have a point as unabraded as sharks’ teeth.”

According to a collection of books by Claudius Aelianus
Claudius Aelianus
Claudius Aelianus , often seen as just Aelian, born at Praeneste, was a Roman author and teacher of rhetoric who flourished under Septimius Severus and probably outlived Elagabalus, who died in 222...

  called On Animals, Ethiopia was inhabited by a species of dragon that hunted elephants. It could grow to a length of 180 feet and had a lifespan rivaling that of the most enduring of animals.


European



European dragons exist in folklore and mythology among the overlapping cultures of Europe
Culture of Europe
The culture of Europe might better be described as a series of overlapping cultures. Whether it is a question of North as opposed to South; West as opposed to East; Orthodoxism as opposed to Protestantism as opposed to Catholicism as opposed to Secularism; many have claimed to identify cultural...

. Dragons are generally depicted as living in rivers or having an underground lair or cave. They are commonly described as having hard or armoured hide, and are rarely described as flying, despite often depicted with wings.

European dragons are usually depicted as malevolent though there are exceptions (such as Y Ddraig Goch
Y Ddraig Goch
The Welsh Dragon appears on the national flag of Wales . The oldest recorded use of the dragon to symbolise Wales is from the Historia Brittonum, written around 820, but it is popularly supposed to have been the battle standard of King Arthur and other ancient Celtic leaders...

, the Red Dragon of Wales).

Chinese



Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon
Chinese dragons are legendary creatures in Chinese mythology and folklore, with mythic counterparts among Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Bhutanese, Western and Turkic dragons. In Chinese art, dragons are typically portrayed as long, scaled, serpentine creatures with four legs...

s can take on human form and are usually seen as benevolent. Dragons are particularly popular in China and the five-clawed dragon was a symbol of the Chinese emperors, with the mythical bird fenghuang
Fenghuang
Fenghuang are mythological birds of East Asia that reign over all other birds. The males are called Feng and the females Huang. In modern times, however, such a distinction of gender is often no longer made and the Feng and Huang are blurred into a single feminine entity so that the bird can be...

 the symbol of the Chinese empress. Dragon costumes manipulated by several people are a common sight at Chinese festivals.

Japanese



Japanese dragon myths amalgamate native legends with imported stories about dragons from China, Korea and India. Like these other Asian dragons, most Japanese ones are water deities
Water deity
A water deity is a deity in mythology associated with water or various bodies of water. Water deities are common in mythology and were usually more important among civilizations in which the sea or ocean, or a great river was more important...

 associated with rainfall and bodies of water
Body of water
A body of water or waterbody is any significant accumulation of water, usually covering the Earth or another planet. The term body of water most often refers to large accumulations of water, such as oceans, seas, and lakes, but it may also include smaller pools of water such as ponds, puddles or...

, and are typically depicted as large, wingless, serpentine creatures with clawed feet. Gould writes (1896:248), the Japanese dragon is "invariably figured as possessing three claws".

India


In the early Vedic religion
Historical Vedic religion
The religion of the Vedic period is a historical predecessor of Hinduism. Its liturgy is reflected in the mantra portion of the four Vedas, which are compiled in Sanskrit. The religious practices centered on a clergy administering rites...

, Vritra
Vritra
In the early Vedic religion, Vritra , is an Asura and also a serpent or dragon, the personification of drought and enemy of Indra. Vritra was also known in the Vedas as Ahi...

(Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

: वृत्र (Devanāgarī
Devanagari
Devanagari |deva]]" and "nāgarī" ), also called Nagari , is an abugida alphabet of India and Nepal...

) or (IAST
IAST
The International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration is a transliteration scheme that allows a lossless romanization of Indic scripts as employed by the Sanskrit language.-Popularity:...

)) "the enveloper", was an Asura
Asura
-In Hinduism:In Hinduism, the Asuras constitute a group of power-seeking deities, sometimes considered sinful and materialistic. The Daityas and Danavas were combinedly known as Asuras. The Asura were opposed to the Devas. Both groups are children of Kasyapa...

 and also a "naga" (serpent) or possibly dragon-like creature, the personification of drought
Drought
A drought is an extended period of months or years when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply. Generally, this occurs when a region receives consistently below average precipitation. It can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region...

 and enemy of Indra
Indra
' or is the King of the demi-gods or Devas and Lord of Heaven or Svargaloka in Hindu mythology. He is also the God of War, Storms, and Rainfall.Indra is one of the chief deities in the Rigveda...

. Vritra was also known in the Vedas
Vedas
The Vedas are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism....

 as Ahi ("snake") , and he is said to have had three heads.

The Life of Apollonius of Tyana by Flavius Philostratus: contains a long detailed description of India heavily infested with dragons, but this does not correspond with modern Indian belief, and likely not with Indian belief as it was in his time, whether Apollonius invented this story, or whether he believed someone else who told him it.

Persian


Aži Dahāka is the source of the modern Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 word azhdahā or ezhdehā اژده ها (Middle Persian azdahāg) meaning "dragon", often used of a dragon depicted upon a banner of war. The Persians believed that the baby of a dragon will be the same color as the mother's eyes. In Middle Persian
Middle Persian
Middle Persian , indigenously known as "Pârsig" sometimes referred to as Pahlavi or Pehlevi, is the Middle Iranian language/ethnolect of Southwestern Iran that during Sassanid times became a prestige dialect and so came to be spoken in other regions as well. Middle Persian is classified as a...

 he is called Dahāg or Bēvar-Asp, the latter meaning "[he who has] 10,000 horses."
Several other dragons and dragon-like creatures, all of them malevolent, are mentioned in Zoroastrian scripture. (See Zahhāk
Zahhak
Zahhāk or Zohhāk is an evil figure in Iranian mythology, evident in ancient Iranian folklore as Aži Dahāka, the name by which he also appears in the texts of the Avesta...

).

Jewish


In Jewish religious texts, the first mention of a dragon-like creature is in the Biblical
Tanakh
The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

 works of Job
Book of Job
The Book of Job , commonly referred to simply as Job, is one of the books of the Hebrew Bible. It relates the story of Job, his trials at the hands of Satan, his discussions with friends on the origins and nature of his suffering, his challenge to God, and finally a response from God. The book is a...

 (26:13), and Isaiah
Book of Isaiah
The Book of Isaiah is the first of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, preceding the books of Ezekiel, Jeremiah and the Book of the Twelve...

 (27:1) where it is called Nachash Bare'ach, or a "Pole
Geographical pole
A geographical pole is either of the two points—the north pole and the south pole—on the surface of a rotating planet where the axis of rotation meets the surface of the body...

 Serpent". This is identified in the Midrash Rabba
Midrash Rabba
Midrash Rabba or Midrash Rabbah can refer to part of or the collective whole of aggadic midrashim on the books of the Tanach, generally having the term "Rabbah" , meaning "great," as part of their name...

 to Genesis 1:21 as Leviathan
Leviathan
Leviathan , is a sea monster referred to in the Bible. In Demonology, Leviathan is one of the seven princes of Hell and its gatekeeper . The word has become synonymous with any large sea monster or creature...

 from the word Taninim (תנינים) "and God created the great sea-monsters." In modern Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 the word Taninim is used for Crocodile
Crocodile
A crocodile is any species belonging to the family Crocodylidae . The term can also be used more loosely to include all extant members of the order Crocodilia: i.e...

s but this is a 20th century usage unconnected with the original Biblical meaning.

In later Biblical texts, the Book of Isaiah
Book of Isaiah
The Book of Isaiah is the first of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, preceding the books of Ezekiel, Jeremiah and the Book of the Twelve...

, the Book of Job
Book of Job
The Book of Job , commonly referred to simply as Job, is one of the books of the Hebrew Bible. It relates the story of Job, his trials at the hands of Satan, his discussions with friends on the origins and nature of his suffering, his challenge to God, and finally a response from God. The book is a...

, and Psalm 89
Psalm 89
Psalm 89 is in the Book of Psalms, part of the Hebrew Bible.The superscription of this Psalm claims that it was written by Ethan, the Ezrahite. Ethan the Ezrahite, along with Heman the Ezrahite , was a wise man from the time of Solomon...

 refer to a sea-demon called Rahab (not to be confused with Rahab
Rahab
Rahab, was, according to the Book of Joshua, a woman who lived in Jericho in the Promised Land and assisted the Israelites in capturing the city...

, the woman of Jericho
Jericho
Jericho ; is a city located near the Jordan River in the West Bank of the Palestinian territories. It is the capital of the Jericho Governorate and has a population of more than 20,000. Situated well below sea level on an east-west route north of the Dead Sea, Jericho is the lowest permanently...

 mentioned in the Book of Joshua
Book of Joshua
The Book of Joshua is the sixth book in the Hebrew Bible and of the Old Testament. Its 24 chapters tell of the entry of the Israelites into Canaan, their conquest and division of the land under the leadership of Joshua, and of serving God in the land....

). equates this Rahab with a dragon or monster. "Rahab" is the English transliteration of רהב (reb) with the several meanings: pride, a mythical sea-monster, or Egypt (as an emblematic name). In the Douay-Rheims version, translated via Medieval Latin
Medieval Latin
Medieval Latin was the form of Latin used in the Middle Ages, primarily as a medium of scholarly exchange and as the liturgical language of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, but also as a language of science, literature, law, and administration. Despite the clerical origin of many of its authors,...

 from the Vulgate
Vulgate
The Vulgate is a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible. It was largely the work of St. Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin translations...

, the word reb is rendered "the proud one" in and and "the power of the sea" in (Psalm 88 is equivalent to Psalm 89 in other versions due to different verse numbering in the Vulgate). The connection between the sea-monster and "Leviathan the serpent" is made in .

In Jewish astronomy this is also identified with the North Pole
North Pole
The North Pole, also known as the Geographic North Pole or Terrestrial North Pole, is, subject to the caveats explained below, defined as the point in the northern hemisphere where the Earth's axis of rotation meets its surface...

, the star Thuban
Thuban
Thuban also known by its Bayer designation Alpha Draconis is a star in the constellation of Draco. A relatively inconspicuous star in the night sky of the Northern Hemisphere, it is historically significant as having been the north pole star in ancient times...

 which, around 4,500 years ago, was the star in the Draco constellation's
Draco (constellation)
Draco is a constellation in the far northern sky. Its name is Latin for dragon. Draco is circumpolar for many observers in the northern hemisphere...

 "tail". However this can also have been either the celestial pole
Celestial pole
The north and south celestial poles are the two imaginary points in the sky where the Earth's axis of rotation, indefinitely extended, intersects the imaginary rotating sphere of stars called the celestial sphere...

 or the ecliptic pole
Ecliptic pole
The ecliptic pole is the point on the celestial sphere where the sphere meets the imaginary line perpendicular to the ecliptic plane, the path the Earth travels on its orbit around the Sun.There are two ecliptic poles:...

. The ancient observers noted that Draco was at the top of the celestial pole, giving the appearance that stars were "hanging" from it, and in Hebrew it is referred to as Teli, from talah (תלה) – to hang. Hebrew writers from Arabic-speaking locations identified the Teli as Al Jaz'har, which is a Persian word for a "knot" or a "node" because of the intersection of the inclination of the orbit of a planet from the elliptic that forms two such nodes. In modern astronomy these are called the ascending node and the descending node, but in medieval astronomy they were referred to as "dragon's head" and "dragon's tail".

The Merthyr Synagogue
Merthyr Synagogue
The former Merthyr Synagogue is located on Bryntirion Road in the Thomastown section of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. It is a Grade II listed building and thought to be the oldest purpose-built synagogue still standing in Wales.-History:...

 features a dragon on the front gable.

Vietnam


Vietnamese dragons (Vietnamese: rồng or long 龍) are symbolic creatures in the folklore and mythology of Vietnam. According to an ancient creation myth, the Vietnamese people are descended from a dragon and a fairy.
To Vietnamese people, the dragon brings rain, essential for agriculture. It represents the emperor, the prosperity and power of the nation. Like the Chinese dragon, the Vietnamese dragon is the symbol of yang, representing the universe, life, existence, and growth.
Extant references to the Vietnamese Dragon are rare now, due to the fierce changes in history that accompanied the sinicization of the Nguyễn Dynasty.

Modern depictions



In the early 20th century sculpture of the Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland
Gustav Vigeland
Gustav Vigeland was a Norwegian sculptor. Gustav Vigeland occupies a special position among Norwegian sculptors, both in the power of his creative imagination and in his productivity. He is most associated with Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo...

, inspired by Medieval art
Medieval art
The medieval art of the Western world covers a vast scope of time and place, over 1000 years of art history in Europe, and at times the Middle East and North Africa...

, dragons are a frequent theme—as symbols of sin
Sin
In religion, sin is the violation or deviation of an eternal divine law or standard. The term sin may also refer to the state of having committed such a violation. Christians believe the moral code of conduct is decreed by God In religion, sin (also called peccancy) is the violation or deviation...

 but also as a nature force, fighting against man.

There are numerous examples of dragons in modern media, especially the fantasy
Fantasy
Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic is common...

 genre. In the 1937 fantasy novel
Fantasy
Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic is common...

 The Hobbit
The Hobbit
The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, better known by its abbreviated title The Hobbit, is a fantasy novel and children's book by J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published on 21 September 1937 to wide critical acclaim, being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald...

by J.R.R. Tolkien, the major antagonist
Antagonist
An antagonist is a character, group of characters, or institution, that represents the opposition against which the protagonist must contend...

 is a dragon
Dragon (Middle-earth)
J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium features dragons closely based on those of European legend.Besides dragon , Tolkien variously used the terms drake and worm .-History:The dragons were created by Morgoth...

 named Smaug
Smaug
Smaug is a fictional character in the novel The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. He is a dragon, and the main antagonist within the story.-The Hobbit:...

. Other dragons appearing in Tolkien's works include Glaurung
Glaurung
Glaurung is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's fictional Middle-earth legendarium. He is introduced in The Silmarillion as the first of the Dragons. He is also a major antagonist in The Children of Húrin. He was known as The Deceiver, The Golden, The Great Worm and the Worm of...

, the "father of dragons" created by Morgoth
Morgoth
Morgoth Bauglir is a fictional character from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth legendarium. He is the main antagonist of The Silmarillion, figures in The Children of Húrin, and is mentioned briefly in The Lord of the Rings.Melkor was the most powerful of the Ainur, but turned to darkness and became...

, along with Ancalagon the Black and Scatha. Also, in Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham
Farmer Giles of Ham
"Farmer Giles of Ham" is a Medieval fable written by J. R. R. Tolkien in 1937 and published in 1949. The story describes the encounters between Farmer Giles and a wily dragon named Chrysophylax, and how Giles manages to use these to rise from humble beginnings to rival the king of the land...

, a dragon named Chrysophylax Dives is encountered.

The popular role playing game system Dungeons & Dragons
Dungeons & Dragons
Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy role-playing game originally designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, and first published in 1974 by Tactical Studies Rules, Inc. . The game has been published by Wizards of the Coast since 1997...

(D&D) makes heavy use of dragons, and has served as inspiration for many other games' dragons. Though dragons usually serve as adversaries, they can be either good or evil, with their alignment
Alignment (role-playing games)
In some role-playing games, alignment is a categorisation of the moral and ethical perspective of the player characters, non-player characters, monsters, and societies in the game....

 being determined by their color (species). For example, a red dragon is evil and breathes fire.

Dragons also appear frequently in the Harry Potter novels
Harry Potter
Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy novels written by the British author J. K. Rowling. The books chronicle the adventures of the adolescent wizard Harry Potter and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, all of whom are students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry...

 by J. K. Rowling
J. K. Rowling
Joanne "Jo" Rowling, OBE , better known as J. K. Rowling, is the British author of the Harry Potter fantasy series...

, and are described in the related book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a 2001 book written by British author J. K. Rowling about the magical creatures in the Harry Potter universe...

by the same author.

Dragonriders of Pern
Dragonriders of Pern
Dragonriders of Pern is a science fiction series written primarily by the late American-Irish author Anne McCaffrey, who initiated it in 1967. Beginning 2003, her middle child Todd McCaffrey has written Pern novels, both solo and jointly with Anne. The series comprises 22 novels and several short...

is an extensive science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 series of novels and short stories created and primarily written by Anne McCaffrey
Anne McCaffrey
Anne Inez McCaffrey was an American-born Irish writer, best known for her Dragonriders of Pern series. Over the course of her 46 year career she won a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award...

. Since 2004, McCaffrey's son, Todd McCaffrey
Todd McCaffrey
Todd J. McCaffrey is an Irish American author of science fiction best known for continuing the Dragonriders of Pern series in collaboration with his mother Anne McCaffrey.-Life:...

, has also published Pern novels, both in collaboration with Anne and on his own. The Pernese use intelligent firebreathing creatures called dragons, who have a telepathic
Telepathy
Telepathy , is the induction of mental states from one mind to another. The term was coined in 1882 by the classical scholar Fredric W. H. Myers, a founder of the Society for Psychical Research, and has remained more popular than the more-correct expression thought-transference...

 bond with their riders, formed by mental impressions which the dragons receive when they hatch from their eggs.

Some modern pseudo-biological accounts of dragons give them the generic name Draco, although the generic name Draco is used in real-world biology for a genus of small gliding agamid lizard. An infectious disease called Dracunculiasis
Dracunculiasis
Dracunculiasis , also called guinea worm disease , is a parasitic infection caused by Dracunculus medinensis, a long and very thin nematode . The infection begins when a person drinks stagnant water contaminated with copepods infested by the larvae of the guinea worm...

, caused by infection with the Guinea worm which grows up to 3 foot (0.9144 m) long before emerging from its host, also derives its name from dragons (literally "infestation with little dragons"), based on the burning pain experienced by sufferers.

Some creationists believe that dragons of mythology were actually dinosaur
Dinosaur
Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals of the clade and superorder Dinosauria. They were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for over 160 million years, from the late Triassic period until the end of the Cretaceous , when the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event led to the extinction of...

s, and that they died out with other creatures around the end of the ice age
Ice age
An ice age or, more precisely, glacial age, is a generic geological period of long-term reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental ice sheets, polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers...

.

Cartography


There is a widespread belief that earlier cartographers used the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 phrase hic sunt dracones, i.e., "the dragons are here", or "here be dragons", to denote dangerous or unexplored territories, in imitation of the infrequent medieval practice of putting sea serpent
Sea serpent
A sea serpent or sea dragon is a type of sea monster either wholly or partly serpentine.Sightings of sea serpents have been reported for hundreds of years, and continue to be claimed today. Cryptozoologist Bruce Champagne identified more than 1,200 purported sea serpent sightings...

s and other mythological creatures in blank areas of maps. However the only known use of this phrase is in the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 form "HC SVNT DRACONES" on the Lenox Globe (ca. 1503–07).

See also



  • Balaur
    Balaur
    A balaur is a creature in Romanian folklore, similar to a European dragon. A bălaur is quite large, has fins, feet, and is polycephalous...

  • Bat (heraldry)
    Bat (heraldry)
    The bat as a heraldic symbol is primarily represented in the coats of arms of certain important towns of the former Crown of Aragon. It appears mostly at the top, above the crown over the shield.-Origins:...

  • Dragonology
  • Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real (TV series)
  • Ethereal creature
  • Feilong (mythology)
    Feilong (mythology)
    Feilong is a winged legendary creature that flies among clouds in Chinese mythology. The proper name Feilong applies to people, fictional characters, places, martial art techniques, military weapons, and a pterosaur.-Word:...

  • Guivre
    Guivre
    A guivre is a mythical creature similar to a dragon. In legend they were portrayed as serpentine creatures who possessed venomous breath and prowled the countryside of Medieval France. The words "guivre" and "givre" are spelling variations of the more common word "vouivre"...

  • Ichneumon (medieval zoology)
  • Komodo Dragon
    Komodo dragon
    The Komodo dragon , also known as the Komodo monitor, is a large species of lizard found in the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang and Gili Dasami. A member of the monitor lizard family , it is the largest living species of lizard, growing to a maximum length of in rare cases...

  • List of dragons in literature
  • List of dragons in mythology and folklore
  • Saint George and the Dragon
    Saint George and the Dragon
    The episode of Saint George and the Dragon appended to the hagiography of Saint George was Eastern in origin, brought back with the Crusaders and retold with the courtly appurtenances belonging to the genre of Romance...



Sources


  • Drury, Nevill, The Dictionary of the Esoteric, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 2003 ISBN 8120819896
  • Freedman, Rabbi Dr. H. (translation), Simon M., editor, Midrash Rabbah: Genesis, Volume one, The Soncino Press, London, 1983

External links