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The two most familiar interpretations of dragons are European dragons, derived from various European folk traditions, and the unrelated Oriental dragons, such as the Chinese dragon (Traditional: 龍; Simplified: 龙; Pinyin: lóng). The English word "dragon" derives from Greek δράκων (drákōn), "dragon, serpent of huge size, water-snake", which probably comes from the verb δρακεῖν (drakeîn) "to see clearly".
|This section contains weasel words, vague phrasing that often accompanies biased or unverifiable information. Such statements should be clarified or removed. (July 2009)|
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 has bat-type wings growing from its back. A dragon-like creature with no front legs is known as a wyvern. Following discovery of how pterosaurs 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. They are commonly portrayed as serpentine or reptilian, hatching from eggs 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 dragons are more often winged, while Oriental versions of the dragon resemble large snakes. Dragons can have a variable number of legs: none, two, four, or more when it comes to early European literature.
Dragons are often held to have major spiritual significance in various religions and cultures around the world. In many Asian cultures dragons were, and in some cultures still are, revered as representative of the primal forces of nature, religion and the universe. They are associated with wisdom—often said to be wiser than humans—and longevity. They are commonly said to possess some form of magic 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.
The term dragoon, for infantry that moved around on horseback yet still fought as foot soldiers, is derived from their early firearm, the "dragon", a wide-bore musket that spat flame when it fired, and was thus named for the mythical creature.
Origin and etymologyEdit
Further information: Chaoskampf Dragon on the Ishtar Gate, ca. 600 BCThe word dragon derives from Greek δρακω, via Latin draco. It is attested in Middle English from the 13th century, in the context of medieval bestiaries and legends.
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. Today the great komodo lizard Varanus komodoensis is also known in English as the Komodo dragon. The King James Bible uses the words "serpent", "dragon" and "Devil" in a fairly interchangeable manner.
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, Ugaritic), Hittite and Mesopotamian. The Chaoskampf motif entered Greek mythology and ultimately Christian mythology, although the serpent motif may already be part of prehistoric Indo-European mythology as well, based on comparative evidence of Indic and Germanic material.
Dinosaur and mammalian fossils were occasionally mistaken for the bones of dragons and other mythological creature; for example, a discovery in 300 BC in Wucheng, Sichuan, China, was labeled as such by Chang Qu.Adrienne Mayor 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 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 to account for fossils of animals they had never seen alive."
In the book An Instinct for Dragonsanthropologist 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. Our 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 raise 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 raise to similar speculations all over the world.
Main article: Dragons in Greek mythologyIn Ancient Greece the first mention of a "dragon" is derived from the Iliad where Agamemnon is described as having a blue dragon motif on his sword belt and a three-headed dragon emblem 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 participle 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's Theogony, 322.)
In 217 A.D., Philostratus discussed dragons (δράκων, drákōn) in India in The Life of Apollonius of Tyana (II,17 and III,6-8). The Loeb Classical Library 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 Aelian's 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.
Main articles: European dragon and Saint George and the DragonEuropean dragons exist in folklore and mythology among the overlapping cultures of Europe. Despite having wings, the dragon is generally depicted as having an underground lair or cave, making it an ancient creature of the earth element.
Main article: Chinese dragonChinese dragons (simplified Chinese: 龙; traditional Chinese: 龍; pinyin: lóng), and Oriental dragons generally, can take on human form and are usually seen as benevolent, whereas European dragons are usually malevolent though there are exceptions (one exception being Y Ddraig Goch, the Red Dragon of Wales). Malevolent dragons also occur in the mythology of Persia (see Azhi Dahaka) and Russia, among other places.
Dragons are particularly popular in China and the five-clawed dragon was a symbol of the Chinese emperors, with the phoenix or fenghuang the symbol of the Chinese empress. Dragon costumes manipulated by several people are a common sight at Chinese festivals.
Main article: Japanese dragonJapanese 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 associated with rainfall and bodies of water, 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".
In the early Vedic religion, Vritra (Sanskrit: वृत्र (Devanāgarī) or Vṛtra (IAST)) "the enveloper", was an Asura and also a "naga" (serpent) or possibly dragon-like creature, the personification of drought and enemy of Indra. Vritra was also known in the Vedas as Ahi ("snake"), and he is said to have had three heads.
The following detailed account comes from The Life of Apollonius of Tyana by Flavius Philostratus:
|“||The whole of India is girt with dragons of enormous size; for not only the marshes are full of them, but the mountains as well, and there is not a single ridge without one. Now the marsh kind are sluggish in their habits and are thirty cubits long, and they have no crest standing up on their heads, but in this respect resemble the she-dragons. Their backs however are very black, with fewer scales on them than the other kinds; and Homer has described them with deeper insight than have most poets, for he says that the dragon that lived hard by the spring in Aulis had a tawny back; but other poets declare that the congener of this one in the grove of Nemea also had a crest, a feature which we could not verify in regard to the marsh dragons.And the dragons along the foothills and the mountain crests make their way into the plains after their quarry, and prey upon all the creatures in the marshes; for indeed they reach an extreme length, and move faster than the swiftest rivers, so that nothing escapes them. These actually have a crest, of moderate extent and height when they are young; but as they reach their full size, it grows with them and extends to a considerable height, at which time also they turn red and get serrated backs. This kind also have beards, and lift their necks on high, while their scales glitter like silver; and the pupils of their eves consist of a fiery stone, and they say that this has an uncanny power for many secret purposes. The plain specimen falls the prize of the hunters whenever it draws upon itself an elephant; for the destruction of both creatures is the result, and those who capture the dragons are rewarded by getting the eyes and skin and teeth. In most respects they resemble the largest swine, but they are slighter in build and flexible, and they have teeth as sharp and indestructible as those of the largest fishes. Now the dragons of the mountains have scales of a golden colour, and in length excel those of the plain, and they have bushy beards, which also are of a golden hue; and their eyebrows are more prominent than those of the plain, and their eye is sunk deep under the eyebrow, and emits a terrible and ruthless glance. And they give off a noise like the clashing of brass whenever they are burrowing under the earth, and from their crests, which are all fiery red, there flashes a fire brighter than a torch. They also can catch the elephants, though they are themselves caught by the Indians in the following manner. They embroider golden runes on a scarlet cloak, which they lay in front of the animal's burrow after charming them to sleep with the runes; for this is the only way to overcome the eyes of the dragon, which are otherwise inflexible, and much mysterious lore is sung by them to overcome him. These runes induce the dragon to stretch his neck out of his burrow and fall asleep over them : then the Indians fall upon him as he lies there, and despatch him with blows of their axes, and having cut off the head they despoil it of its gems. And they say that in the heads of the mountain dragons there are stored away stones of flowery colour, which flash out all kinds of hues, and possess a mystical power if set in a ring, like that which they say belonged to Gyges. But often the Indian, in spite of his axe and his cunning, is caught by the dragon, who carries him off into his burrow, and almost shakes the mountains as he' disappears. These are also said to inhabit the mountains in the neighbourhood of the Red Sea, and they say that they heard them hissing terribly and that they saw them go down to the shore and swim far out into the sea.||”|
Aži Dahāka is the source of the modern Persian word azhdahā or ezhdehā اژدها (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 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).
In Jewish religious texts, the first mention of a dragon-like creature is in the Biblical works of Job (26:13), and Isaiah (27:1) where it is called Nachash Bare'ach, or a "Pole Serpent". This is identified in the Midrash Rabba to Genesis 1:21 as Leviathan from the word Taninim (תנינים) "and God created the great sea-monsters." In modern Hebrew the word Taninim is used for Crocodiles - however, this is a 20th Century usage unconnected with the original Biblical meaning.
In Jewish astronomy this is also identified with the North Pole, the star Thuban which, around 4,500 years ago, was the star in the Draco constellation's "tail". However this can also have been either the celestial pole or the ecliptic pole. 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".
Toy dragons, on sale in a California gift shop, 2005In the early 20th Century sculpture of the Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland, inspired by Medieval art, dragons are a frequent theme - as symbol of sin but also as a nature force, fighting against man.
There are numerous examples of dragons in modern literature, especially the fantasy genre.
In the 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, the major antagonist is a dragon named Smaug. Smaug hoards a great treasure but is ultimately shot down with an arrow by an archer who was told about a soft patch in Smaug's underbelly armor. Other dragons appearing in Tolkien's works include Glaurung, the ""father of dragons" created by Morgoth, along with Ancalagon the Black and Scatha. Also, in Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham, a dragon named Chrysophylax Dives is encountered.
Dragonriders of Pern is an extensive fantasy/science fiction series of novels and short stories primarily written by Anne McCaffrey. Since 2004, McCaffrey's son Todd McCaffrey has also published Pern novels, both in collaboration with Anne and on his own. The Pernese use intelligent firebreathing dragons who have a telepathic bond with their riders, formed by mental impressions which the dragons receive when they hatch from their eggs.
There is a widespread belief that earlier cartographers used the Latin phrase hic sunt dracones, i.e., "the dragons are here", or "there are dragons here", to denote dangerous or unexplored territories, in imitation of the infrequent medieval practice of putting sea serpents and other mythological creatures in blank areas of maps. However the only known use of this phrase is in the Latin form "HC SVNT DRACONES" on the Lenox Globe (ca. 1503-07).
- Bat (heraldry)
- Ichneumon (In medieval zoology)
- Komodo Dragon
- List of dragons in mythology and folklore
- List of dragons in literature
- Saint George and the Dragon
- ^ Wiktionary.org
- ^ "Dinosaurs And Cave People". Abc.net.au. 2005-04-14. http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2005/04/14/1334145.htm. Retrieved 2010-02-11.
- ^ Adrienne Mayor in Encyclopedia of Geology, ed. Richard Selley, Robin Cocks, and Ian Palmer. Elsevier:2004
- ^ David E. Jones (2000). An Instinct for Dragons. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-92721-8. http://books.google.com/books?id=P1uBUZupE9gC&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=&f=false.
- ^ p.79, Drury, Nevill, The Dictionary of the Esoteric, books.google.com
- ^ Theoi.com
- ^ Gould, Charles. 1896. Mythical Monsters". W. H. Allen & Co.
- ^ Flavius Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, translated by F. C. Conybeare, volume I, book III. chapters VI, VII, VIII, 1921, pp. 243- 247..
- ^ a b p.233, Kaplan
- ^ p.51, Freedman
- ^ p.1670, Jastrow ref to Genesis 38:14, Y.Sot.I 16d (bot.)
- ^ p.235, Kaplan
- ^ Bill Cooper, BA (1995). After The Flood, The Early Post-Flood History of Europe. New Wine Press.
- ^ Erin C. Blake (1999). "Where Be "Here be Dragons"?". MapHist Discussion Group. Maphist.nl. http://www.maphist.nl/extra/herebedragons.html. Retrieved February 10, 2006.
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- 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
- Littleton, C. Scott. Mythology: The Illustrated Anthology of World Myth and Storytelling. Thunder Bay Press (CA). ISBN 1571458271.
- Rosanna M. Giammanco Frongia; Giorgi, Rosa; Giammanco Frongia, Rosanna M.; Zuffi, Stefano (2005). Angels and demons in art. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. ISBN 0892368306.
- Knight, Peter. "Sacred Dorset - On the Path of the Dragon", 1998.
- Manning-Sanders, Ruth (1977). A Book of Dragons. London: Methuen. ISBN 0416581102.
- Mayor, Adrienne (2000). The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-08977-9.
- Shuker, Karl (1995). Dragons: a natural history. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0684814439.
|||Look up dragon in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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- Chinese Dragons in the news, BBC
- The Evolution of the Dragon, by G. Elliot Smith, 1919, from Project Gutenberg
- From Many Imaginations, One Fearsome Creature, New York Times, April 29, 2003
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