No matter how differently people may live their lives, or remote the location they inhabit, humans always seem to share a familiar legend about the world they reside in. Whether it represents fear, wisdom or power, a common emblem is the dragon. Dragons may appear as a great challenge to overcome or a symbol of the knowledge that one yearn to obtain. Either way, they continue to haunt imaginations and tease the senses. Though they take on various appearances or different characteristics, the dragon has remained a constant presence in the way of life and beliefs of people throughout the world, remaining a concept as universal as the idea of a creation story. Be it Europe and Asia, Africa or the Americas, even in Australia a dragon looms at the edge of thought, inspiring as well as defying reason where a civilization of people gather. Thus throughout history, dragons have had a profound influence in near every culture.
A common example of a dragon’s involvement in societies may be viewed extensively in the western hemisphere. From there, we obtain stories of ancient Roam as well as the medieval era, and the common delinquents that roamed the land. These dragons were a common example which exhibit similar traits, such as their raids on herds and villagers a like. They are also well known for reaching great lengths in size, presenting themselves as a great force to be reckoned with. Each foot is clawed and may have anywhere from three to four toes, with a smaller toe facing inward, almost like a thumb (Johnsgard 13).
Getting into some specifics, a common dragon that is generally known in northern Europe, Greece, and Ethiopia is the Wyvern. According to Alexandria, Wyverns were typically portrayed as being considerably hostile. Their name is derived from the Saxon word wivere, or serpent. They are described as having a coiling trunk with a single pair of legs, typically tucked beneath the wings.
The second dragon that is most familiar to those who inhabited this region would be a Heraldic. Most widely known, and formidable of its kind, the Heraldic dragon is mainly spoken of in the myths and legends of medieval times. With massive fangs, four clawed legs, two wings, and a ridge of spines that stretched from its spiked nose to barbed and stinging tail, this is a dragon that appears as a great trial to any challenger.
Not as common, yet still spoken of, a Guivre may also be found in similar areas. They are rumored to live in forests and wells and would have seemed a mere serpent aside from its blatantly draconic features, including a massive head which was typically horned and bearded (Alexandria 31).
From the more southern regions of Europe, the Lindworm appears in several myths. They are described as having a serpentine body with a single pair of legs. The Italian traveler, Marco Polo, reported seeing Lindworms while crossing the steppes of Central Asia.
Even further south, coming into Africa, the most reoccurring dragons are Amphiptere. While also appearing in the Native American culture, Amphiptere are typically said to be found along banks of the Nile. Being legless, feathery winged serpents they are rumored to be guarding frankincense-bearing trees (Alexandria 31).
On another continent, the views of dragons are substantially different from that of the great Western fiends. Dragons in Asia are known for the luck they bring and wisdom that may be learned. In appearance, they are said to have similar body structures to one another, being elongated with four limbs. The only crucial difference lie in the roles each dragon is said to play to help sustain the oriental culture.
As recorded by Dr. Karl Shuker in regards to the Chinese dragons, Celestial guardians are the protectors of the heavens, supporting the mansions of the gods, and shielding them from decay. These are the only dragons to have their earthly likenesses on the imperial regalia with five claws (Shuker 86). Having five claws is significant since it represents a sign of literacy by being able to maneuver a writing implement (Rose 104).
Aside from the Celestial dragons of the empire, Treasure keepers were another crucial dragon role. These were the subterranean dragons that had charge of all precious jewels and metals buried in the earth. Each dragon of this type would carry an enormous pearl that was reputed to multiply whatever it touched. That pear symbolized another type of hidden treasure- wisdom (Shuker 86).
Since the cultures of the east relied heavily upon water, it is of no surprise that another class would be the weather makers. These dragons floated across the sky, changeable blue in color while governing the wind, clouds and rain, on which life has always depended. It is because of this that the Chinese took great care to appease them.
Working from the terrain, River lords are the earth dragons which determine the chores of rivers. They regulate the waters flow and maintaining the banks, shaping the Earth. Every river in China had its own earth dragon king to run its course and nature the land (Shuker 87).
Though they differed in location and appearance, there are similar traits shared by nearly all dragons. A frequent example would be their potent breath. Fire breathing is most common in European flightless dragons. This relationship with fire maybe due to its association with most cultures in the area that are linked to the influence of fire as a symbol of war and power (Ciruelo 43). There are several theories based on how this phenomenon might occur. One assumption depends on the ability to strike sparks while belching fourth a stored flammable gas. Methane is a common guess since it is a regular byproduct of many creatures. Using a powerful shutting of the jaw, causing the teeth to spark, a belch of gas may ignite upon leaving the mouth (Johnsgard 33). Venom is another byproduct that can be exhibited as either the main breath weapon or another means to breathe fire. This assumes venom glands, coming from two fangs and a piece of a flint type substance that is jiggled to create the spark which ignites the venom.
Ice breathing is a far fetched idea that is still considered a draconic trait in several legends. It is mostly spoken of in Russia and other colder areas in northern regions, boasting of dragons that spew forth ice. A creative explanation for how this might occur was written by Volodimir Kapusianyk, Ph.D.
Quote:An explanation for this resides in the food that a dragon ingests. The food is broken down into the stomach, primary for nutrition, but the remains bear some chemicals reactions that will give off a gas presumed to be Nitrogen. I have not yet found the exact composition of it but I continue to work hard to find the most probable natural refrigeration gas. The gas is compress by extremely strong muscles, similar to the base system of a refrigerator, so the dragon does not need to concentrate on this since the process is spontaneous and painless. When a dragon needs to freeze an opponent, the highly compressed nitrogen, that almost reaches the liquid state, is released in the lungs. When the gas comes into the air, it uncompressed at an unimaginable speed. That result in the gas absorbs all the heat in is environment, causing the temperature in the breath to drop to an average of -50 °C. Anyone caught in the path of this breath are, at least, seriously injured.
Mist breathing is most common among the eastern dragons. This may be because water, as opposed to fire, is what sustains most oriental cultures. Dragons here are capable of emitting enough gas to create clouds or fog as a manner of concealment (Johnsgard 33). This differs greatly from the final breath weapon of a dragon, along with the ability to discharge acid. An acid spitting dragon may have a special organ that produces a powerful acid. It can be brought out to be uses as a weapon against enemies and prey alike (McCaffrey 271).
Another characteristic that many dragons share are their fearsome claws. From here, the number of toes is an important tool for classifying eastern dragons. The amount of digits matters most when concerning which region they resided in. The Chinese believe that the dragon began with five toes, and as it traveled east the toes were lost, so that when it reached Japan it was only left with three. While the Japanese thought the dragon gained toes as it traveled west to China. These different views show similarities in how each culture views dragons, yet it also magnifies an unwillingness to agree upon a similar myth (Conway 57-59).
No matter the culture, dragons are constantly described as scaled creatures. Though they may have horns, barbs, or other appendages, there will always be scales covering most of their bodies. Nearly all scales are described as being shaped like pentagonal teardrop (Ciruelo 27). It is because of the fitting of these scales that it could be humanly impossible to ride a dragon barebacked. Thanks to the movement of scales overlapping one another, to ride would cause an individual’s inner legs to become shredded (McCaffrey, 62). The innermost part of the scale could be composed of a compact hairy formation firmly rooted in the epidermis. One of the only thing that varies with this skin type is the color. From here, the color scheme of dragons greatly varies. A blue dragon can be classified anywhere from a mother of pearl to dark blue. Reds can be in a range of coppery red to reddish black. Finally, greens may range from a greenish yellows to an array of browns (Ciruelo 29).
A dragon’s behavior may vary in different cultures, especially concerning food. Depending on their outlook and dietary concerns, a dragon may be a protector or destroyer. Thus diet is an important issue concerning dragons and humans. This may cause the dragon to react territorially to humans, as in competing for the same food. Another alternative is that the dragon would prey on the natives. Water dragons are partial to see food such as fish. Smaller flying dragons are more omnivorous, preferring fruits, nuts, eggs, and small mammals. The larger, flightless dragons will go after larger mammals, occasionally carrying off children (Johnsguard 27).
In many myths and legends, dragons tend to be a guardian. They are seen as an undefeatable opponent possessing unattainable wealth or the means by which to achieve such. They are either appointed to watch over sacred artifacts by the Gods or claim it as their own to protect. Hording is a characteristic that may have developed because of a dragon’s nature to protect. All dragons have a tendency to collect and gather anything that appeals to them. They will often chose treasure or knowledge for its worth and rarity (Conway 12).
In addition to collecting valuables, dragons have also been known to abduct humans, snatching children and maidens from nearby town or villages. Once in custody, the unfortunate being would either be held as a servant or eaten as a meal. From here come the stories of heroes vanquishing the evil and saving the day. Many legends are based on the concept of saving the innocent from a corrupt monster. Champions will embark on holy quests to slay the beast to obtain its treasure, reward and or new bride to be.
Threw the differences in culture, beliefs, and traditions, dragons have stood out in our minds as a human race. Weather they lurk in our imaginations or represent our greatest fears; they have always been a part of our lives since the earliest civilizations to the present. Dragons have influenced us in so many ways of the centuries that t is almost impossible to speculate upon a life without these fabulous creatures. They assisted in linking humanity in its most isolated societies to a universal idea shared among one species.
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. New York: Union Square Press, 2000
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. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982
Jones, David. An Instinct for Dragons
. New York: Union Square, 2004
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. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1997.
Rose, Carol. Giants, Monsters, & Dragons- An Encyclopedia of Folk Lore, Legend, and Myth
. New York: Norton Company, Inc., 2000.
Shuker, Karl. Dragons-A Natural History
. China: Midas Printing, 1995