(wwl) stories of dragons, part 1

March 4, 2012 § 1 Comment

You might have seen or guessed that one month ago, we Chinese people were celebrating the Dragon year. I’ve taken this as an opportunity to explore the figure of the dragon so I thought sharing these investigations would be interesting here on T&D. The dragon figure is ambivalent for several reasons. Creatures called dragons have been existing in various civilizations.

Let’s start with the depiction of dragons in the western world:

In Europe, the Middle-Ages portrayed it as a malevolent beast, a creature of the devil. Mouth full of blood and cruelty in the eyes, the dragon used to be the target of knights and Christian heroes. The Arthurian Legend has shown the legendary animal as the ultimate monster to face. Each knight had to fight a dragon at least once. In the Christian tales, the dragon was lurking in its lair, waiting for some nice princess to take as a prisoner. Several saints fought dragons, starting from St-George, patron saint of England. The story says he killed the devil and saved the village by doing so. He also set a dame free – as in every tale of amour courtois, a lady has to be set free by her knight.

Paolo Uccello, Saint George and the Dragon, c. 15th cent.

First representation of dragons in Europe date back from the Babylonian period. On the gates of Ishtar, a dog-like figure with a snake tail was assimilated to a dragon. Later on, the dragon as we know it (winged and snake-like) appeared in Beowulf, a Saxon from the 6th century text you probably all know.

But the dragon can also be a figure of pure power, loosing its evil aspect. It is used as such in heraldry: let’s see the Welsh flag, isn’t there any better representation of a magnificent dragon? Doesn’t it give you the feeling of a powerful nation? Well, this is what dragons are about. The red dragon figuring on the Welsh flag refers to one of the founding tales in the Arthurian legend. Before Arthur was born, the land of what is now Brittany had been unduly taken over by force by Vortigern. He wanted to build a castle, but the castle would not hold and would collapse constantly. Merlin predicted that this was a sign of the coming defeat of Vortigern: two dragons were fighting under the land, a white one and a red one. The red one would stand for the rightful king – Arthur Pendragon means Dragon-Head – and would defeat the white one. And so it was…

Next dragon chronicle will be on the Asian dragon figure.

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§ One Response to (wwl) stories of dragons, part 1

  • Bertha says:

    “Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” (G.K. Chesterton)

    :’)

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