For other uses see Dragon (disambiguation).
The two most familiar interpretations of dragons are European dragons, derived from various European folk traditions, and the unrelated Oriental dragons, derived from the Chinese dragon (lóng,龍,龙). The word "dragon" derives from Greek δράκων (drakōn), "a serpent of huge size, a python, a dragon" and that from δρακεῖν (drakein) aorist infinitive active of the verb δέρκομαι (derkomai) "I see clearly".
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 its mouth. 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 drawn without front legs and using the wings as front legs pterosaur-fashion when on the ground, as in the movie Reign of Fire.
Like most mythological creatures, dragons are perceived in different ways by different cultures. Dragons are sometimes said to breathe and spit fire or poison, and ice. They are commonly portrayed as serpentine or reptilian, hatching from eggs and possessing typically feathered or scaly bodies. They are sometimes portrayed as having large yellow or red eyes, a feature that is the origin for the word for dragon in many cultures. They are sometimes portrayed with a row of dorsal spines, keeled scales, or leathery bat-like wings. Winged dragons are usually portrayed only in European dragons 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 always hate mirrors. Also, some dragons in Greek literature were known to have millions of legs at a time. Modern depictions of dragons tend to be larger than their original representations, which were often smaller than humans, but grew in the myths and tales of man over the years.
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.
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.
In 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 drakōn, genitive δράκοντοϛ drakontos) could also mean "snake". δράκων drakōn is a form of the aorist participle active of Greek δέρκομαι derkomai = "I 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, drakōn) 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.”
See main article: European dragon and Saint George. European 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.
See main article: Chinese dragon.
Chinese dragons (Traditional Chinese: 龍; Simplified Chinese: 龙; 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. Chinese dragons can also develop wings over a life span of 3,500 years.
See main article: Japanese dragon. 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 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 (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.
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
and God created the great sea-monsters.
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 the medieval astronomy they were referred to as "dragon's head" and "dragon's tail".
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.
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 the dragons receive at the time they hatch from their eggs.
The possibility that dragons and humans intershare genetic traits within certains lines of family was investigated in the novel Who is Charlie Keeper?
The concept of a dragon bonding at birth with its rider was explored more recently in the 2003 fantasy novel and subsequent motion picture, Eragon, which features a teenaged boy of that name and a young dragon named Saphira.
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.
Carl Sagan hypothesized in his 1977 book The Dragons of Eden that the myth of dragons arose from the innate fear of reptiles that we share with other mammals, a remnant of the time when mammals lived with dinosaurs.Others, such as Creationists and some cryptozoologists, believe that the dragon may have had a real counterpart from which the various legends arose - typically dinosaurs or other archosaurs are mentioned as a possibility. Author Loren Coleman argues that monitor lizards were the basis of some dragon tales and that the breath of the dragon is the fantastic imagery of the steam from the warm Montane Valley monitor lizards emerging from a body of water into the cold air of some Asian locations.
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, 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.
|Chinese dragon||Lóng (or Loong. Lung2 in Wade-Giles romanization.)||The Chinese dragon, is a mythical Chinese creature that also appears in other Asian cultures, and is sometimes called the Oriental (or Eastern) dragon. Depicted as a long, snake-like creature with four claws, it has long been a potent symbol of auspicious power in Chinese folklore and art.|
|Indian dragon||Nāga||A serpentine dragon common to all cultures influenced by Hinduism. They are often hooded like a cobra and may have several heads depending on their rank. They usually have no arms or legs but those with limbs resemble the Chinese dragon.|
|Indonesian/Malay dragon||Naga or Nogo||Derived from the Indian nāga, belief in the Indo-Malay dragon spread throughout the entire Malay Peninsula along with Hinduism. The word naga is still the common Malay term for dragons in general. Like its Indian counterpart, the naga is considered divine in nature, benevolent, and often associated with sacred mountains, forests, or certain parts of the sea|
|Japanese dragon||Ryū||Similar to Chinese dragons, with three claws instead of four. They are usually benevolent, associated with water, and may grant wishes.|
|Khmer Dragon||Neak||The Khmer dragon, or neak is derived from the Indian nāga. Like its Indian counterpart, the neak is often depicted with cobra like characteristics such as a hood. The number of heads can be as high as nine, the higher the number signifies rank. Odd-headed dragons are symbolic of male energy while even headed dragons symbolize female energy. Traditionally, a neak is distinguished from the often serpentine Makar and Tao, the former possessing crocodilian traits and the latter possessing feline traits. A dragon princess is the heroine of the creation myth of Cambodia.|
|Korean dragon||Yong (Mireu)||A sky dragon, essentially the same as the Chinese lóng. Like the lóng, yong and the other Korean dragons are associated with water and weather. In pure Korean, it is also known as 'mireu'.|
|Imoogi||A hornless ocean dragon, sometimes equated with a sea serpent. Imoogi literary means, "Great Lizard". The legend of the Imoogi says that the sun god gave the Imoogi their power through a human girl, which would be transformed into the Imoogi on her 17th birthday. Legend also told of a dragon-shaped mark would be found on the shoulder of the girl, revealing that she was the Imoogi in human form.|
|Gyo||A mountain dragon. In fact, the Chinese character for this word is also used for the imoogi.|
|Philippine Dragon||Bakunawa||The Bakunawa appears as a gigantic serpent that lives in the sea. Ancient natives believed that the Bakunawa caused the moon or the sun to disappear during an eclipse. It is said that during certain times of the year, the bakunawa arises from the ocean and proceeds to swallow the moon whole. To keep the Bakunawa from completely eating the moon, the natives would go out of their houses with pots and pans in hand and make a noise barrage in order to scare the Bakunawa into spitting out the moon back into the sky. Some say that the Bakunawa is known to kill people by imagining their death and remote in eye contact.|
|Vietnamese dragon||Rồng or Long (Ly dynasty, Daiviet X)||These dragons' bodies curve lithely, in sine shape, with 12 sections, symbolising 12 months in the year. They are able to change the weather, and are responsible for crops. On the dragon's back are little, uninterrupted, regular fins. The head has a long mane, beard, prominent eyes, crest on nose, but no horns. The jaw is large and opened, with a long, thin tongue; they always keep a châu (gem/jewel) in their mouths (a symbol of humanity, nobility and knowledge).|
|Catalan dragon||drac||Catalan dragons are serpent-like creatures with two legs (rarely four) and, sometimes, a pair of wings. Their faces can resemble that of other animals, like lions or cattle. They have a burning breath. Their breath is also poisonous, the reason by which dracs are able to rot everything with their stench. A víbria is a female dragon.|
|French dragons||Dragon||The French representation of dragons spans much of European history, and has even given its name to the dragoons, a type of cavalry.|
|Sardinian dragon||scultone||The dragon named "scultone" or "ascultone" was a legend in Sardinia, Italy for many a millennium. It had the power to kill human beings with its gaze. It was a sort of basilisk, lived in the bush and was immortal.|
|Scandinavian & Germanic dragons||Lindworm (early Vandal)||Lindworms are serpent-like dragons with either two or no legs. In Nordic and Germanic heraldry, the lindworm looks the same as a wyvern. The dragon Fafnir was a lindworm.|
|English dragons||Wyvern||Wyverns are common in medieval heraldry. Their usual blazon is statant. Wyverns are normally shown as dragons with two legs and two wings.|
|Welsh dragons||Y Ddraig Goch||In Welsh mythology, after a long battle (which the Welsh King Vortigern witnesses) a red dragon defeats a white dragon; Merlin explains to the Vortigern that the red dragon symbolizes the Welsh, and the white dragon symbolizes the Saxons — thus foretelling the ultimate defeat of the English by the Welsh. The draig goch appears on the Welsh national flag.|
|Celtic Dragons (Irish and Scottish)||Bheithir||In Celtic Mythology Ben Vair in Scotland takes its name from the Dragon that used to live in a great hollow in the face of a mountain known as Corrie Lia. The dragon was tricked into walking along a pontoon bridge with hidden spikes.|
|Hungarian dragons (Sárkányok)||zomok||A great snake living in a swamp, which regularly kills pigs or sheep. A group of shepherds can easily kill them.|
|sárkánykígyó||A giant winged snake, which is in fact a full-grown zomok. It often serves as flying mount of the garabonciás (a kind of magician). The sárkánykígyó rules over storms and bad weather.|
|sárkány||A dragon in human form. Most of them are giants with multiple heads. Their strength is held in their heads. They become gradually weaker as they lose their heads.In contemporary Hungarian the word sárkány is used to mean all kinds of dragons.|
|Slavic dragons||zmey, zmiy, żmij, змей, or zmaj, or drak, or smok||Similar to the conventional European dragon, but multi-headed. They breathe fire and/or leave fiery wakes as they fly. In Slavic and related tradition, dragons symbolize evil. Specific dragons are often given Turkic names (see Zilant, below), symbolizing the long-standing conflict between the Slavs and Turks. However, in Serbian and Bulgarian folklore, dragons are defenders of the crops in their home regions, fighting against a destructive demon Ala, whom they shoot with lightning. |
|Armenian dragon||Vishap||Related to European dragons|
|Siberian dragon||Yilbegan||Related to European Turkic and Slavic dragons|
|Romanian dragons||Balaur||Balaur are very similar to the Slavic zmey: very large, with fins and multiple heads.|
|Chuvash dragons||Vere Celen||Chuvash dragons represent the pre-Islamic mythology of the same region.|
|Asturian and Leonese dragons||Cuélebre||In Asturias and León mythology the Cuélebres are giant winged serpents, which live in caves where they guard treasures and kidnapped xanas. They can live for centuries and, when they grow really old, they use their wings to fly. Their breath is poisonous and they often kill cattle to eat. Leonese language term Cuelebre comes from Latin colŭbra, i.e. snake.|
|Albanian Dragon||Dragua||In the Albanian mythology the Draguas have four legs and two bat wings.They have a single horn in their head and they have big ears.They live in the forests and cannot be seen unless they want to be. A Dragua can live up to 100 years and cannot be killed by humans. After the Ottoman invasion,the Draguas became protectors of the highlanders.|
|Portuguese dragons||Coca||In Portuguese mythology coca is a female dragon that fights with Saint George. She loses her strength when Saint George cuts off one of her ears.|
|Greek dragons||Drakōn - δράκων||Cadmus fighting the dragon is a legendary story from the Greek lore dating to before ca. 560–550 BC.|
|Tatar dragons||Zilant||Really closer to a wyvern, the Zilant is the symbol of Kazan. Zilant itself is a Russian rendering of Tatar yılan, i.e. snake.|
|Turkish dragons||Ejderha or Evren||The Turkish dragon secretes flames from its tail, and there is no mention in any legends of its having wings, or even legs. In fact, most Turkish (and later, Islamic) sources describe dragons as gigantic snakes.|
|Lithuanian Dragons||Drakonas||This dragon is more of a hydra with multiple heads, though sometimes they do appear with one head.|
There is a widespread belief that earlier cartographers used the Latin phrase hic sunt dracones, i.e. "Here be dragons" 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) " .
. Karl Shuker. Dragons: a natural history. Simon & Schuster. New York. 1995. 0684814439.
in Enclopedia of Geology, ed Richard Selley, Robin Cocks, and Ian Palmer.
Forthcoming, Elsevier, fall 2004