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In European folklore, a dragon is a serpentine legendary creature. The Latin word draco, as in the constellation Draco, comes directly from Greek δράκων, drákōn or the Latin word Draco. The word for dragon in Germanic mythology and its descendants is worm (Old English: wyrm, Old High German: wurm, Old Norse: ormr), meaning snake or serpent. In Old English wyrm means "serpent", draca means "dragon". Finnish lohikäärme means directly "salmon-snake", but the word lohi- was originally louhi- meaning crags or rocks, a "mountain snake". Though a winged creature, the dragon is generally to be found in its underground lair, a cave that identifies it as an ancient creature of earth. Likely, the dragons of European and Mid Eastern mythology stem from the cult of snakes found in religions throughout the world.

The dragon of the modern period is typically depicted as a huge fire-breathing, scaly and horned dinosaur-like creature, with leathery wings, with four legs and a long muscular tail. In Western folklore, dragons are usually portrayed as evil, with exceptions mainly in modern fiction.

Many modern stories represent dragons as extremely intelligent creatures who can talk, associated with (and sometimes in control of) powerful magic. Dragon's blood often has magical properties: for example it let Siegfried understand the language of the Forest Bird. The typical dragon protects a cavern or castle filled with gold and treasure and is often associated with a great hero who tries to slay it, but dragons can be written into a story in as many ways as a human character. This includes the monster being used as a wise being whom heroes could approach for help and advice, so much so that they resembled Asian dragons rather than European dragons of myth. For example, when German author Michael Ende created a "Luckdragon" in his fantasy novel "The Neverending Story" and a movie was made based on it, many western audiences were confused as to why a "Luckdragon" had no wings and looked like a giant flying dog.

Roman dragons Edit

Roman dragons evolved from serpentine Greek ones, combined with the dragons of the Near East, in the mix that characterized the hybrid Greek/Eastern Hellenistic culture. From Babylon, the musrussu was a classic representation of a Near Eastern dragon. John's Book of Revelation — Greek literature, not Roman — describes Satan as "a great dragon, flaming red, with seven heads and ten horns". Much of John's literary inspiration is late Hebrew and Greek, but John's dragon, like his Satan, are both more likely to have come originally through the Near East. Perhaps the distinctions between dragons of western origin and Chinese dragons (q.v.) are arbitrary. A later Roman dragon was certainly of Iranian origin: in the Roman Empire, where each military cohort had a particular identifying signum, (military standard), after the Dacian Wars and Parthian War of Trajan in the east, the Draco military standard entered the Legion with the Cohors Sarmatarum and Cohors Dacorum (Sarmatian and Dacian cohort) — a large dragon fixed to the end of a lance, with large gaping jaws of silver and with the rest of the body formed of colored silk. With the jaws facing into the wind, the silken body inflated and rippled, resembling a windsock. This signum is described in Vegetius Epitoma Rei Militaris, 379 CE (book ii, ch XIII. 'De centuriis atque vexillis peditum'):

Primum signum totius legionis est aquila, quam aquilifer portat. Dracones etiam per singulas cohortes a draconariis feruntur ad proelium
(The first sign of the entire legion is the eagle, which the eagle-bearer carries. In addition, dragons are carried into battle by each cohort, by the 'dragoneers' )

and in Ammianus Marcellinus, xvi. 10, 7 (Harry Thurston Peck, Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, 1898: 'Signum'). It is hard to resist giving this Romanized Parthian dragon a distant Chinese origin.

Dragons in Slavic mythology Edit

File:Змей Горыныч.jpg

Template:Main Dragons of Slavic mythology hold mixed temperaments towards humans. For example, dragons (дракон, змей, ламя) in Bulgarian mythology are either male or female, each gender having a different view of mankind. The female dragon and male dragon, often seen as brother and sister, represent different forces of agriculture. The female dragon represents harsh weather and is the destroyer of crops, the hater of mankind, and is locked in a never ending battle with her brother. The male dragon protects the humans' crops from destruction and is generally loving to humanity. Fire and water play major roles in Bulgarian dragon lore; the female has water characteristics, whilst the male is usually a fiery creature. In Bulgarian legend, dragons are three headed, winged beings with snake's bodies.

In Russian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian lore, a dragon, or zmey (Russian), smok (Belarussian) zmiy (Ukrainian), is generally an evil, four-legged beast with few if any redeeming qualities. Zmeys are intelligent, but not very highly so; they often place tribute on villages or small towns, demanding maidens for food, or gold. Their number of heads ranges from one to seven or sometimes even more, with three- and seven-headed dragons being most common. The heads also regrow if cut off, unless the neck is "treated" with fire (similar to the hydra in Greek mythology). Dragon blood is so poisonous that Earth itself will refuse to absorb it.

The most famous Polish dragon is the Wawel Dragon or smok wawelski. It supposedly terrorized ancient Kraków and lived in caves on the Vistula river bank below the Vawel castle. According to lore based on the Book of Daniel, it was killed by a boy who offered it a sheepskin filled with sulphur and tar. After devouring it, the dragon became so thirsty that it finally exploded after drinking too much water. A metal sculpture of the Wawel Dragon is a well-known tourist sight in Kraków. It is very stylised but, to the amusement of children, noisily breathes fire every few minutes. The Wawel dragon also features on many items of Kraków tourist merchandise.

Other dragon-like creatures in Polish folklore include the basilisk, living in cellars of Warsaw, and the Snake King from folk legends.

Dragons in Germanic mythology Edit

The most famous dragons in Norse mythology and Germanic mythology, are:

  • Níðhöggr who gnawed at the roots of Yggdrasil;
  • The dragon encountered by Beowulf;
  • Fafnir, who was killed by Siegfried. Fafnir turned into a dragon because of his greed.
  • Lindworms are monstrous serpents of Germanic myth and lore, often interchangeable with dragons.

Many European stories of dragons have them guarding a treasure hoard. Both Fafnir and Beowulf's dragon guarded earthen mounds full of ancient treasure. The treasure was cursed and brought ill to those who later possessed it.

Dragons in the emblem books popular from late medieval times through the 17th century often represent the dragon as an emblem of greed. (Some quotes are needed) The prevalence of dragons in European heraldry demonstrates that there is more to the dragon than greed.

Though the Latin is draco, draconis, it has been supposed by some scholars, including John Tanke of the University of Michigan, that the word dragon comes from the Old Norse draugr, which literally means a spirit who guards the burial mound of a king. How this image of a vengeful guardian spirit is related to a fire-breathing serpent is unclear. Many others assume the word dragon comes from the ancient Greek verb derkesthai, meaning "to see", referring to the dragon's legendarily keen eyesight. In any case, the image of a dragon as a serpent-like creature was already standard at least by the 8th century when Beowulf was written down. Although today we associate dragons almost universally with fire, in medieval legend the creatures were often associated with water, guarding springs or living near or under water.

Other European legends about dragons include "Saint George and the Dragon", in which a brave knight defeats a dragon holding a princess captive. This legend may be a Christianized version of the myth of Perseus, or of the mounted Phrygian god Sabazios vanquishing the chthonic serpent, but its origins are obscure.

The tale of George and the Dragon has been modified for modern works, with Saint George portrayed in one Welsh nationalist rendering as an effete wally who faints at the sight of the dragon [1] and a poem by U. A. Fanthorpe based on Paolo Uccello's painting, which hangs in the British National Gallery. In the poem, Saint George is a thug, the Maiden considers the relative sexual merits of the dragon and saint, and the Dragon is the only sane character. Certainly, Uccello's fifteenth-century painting, in which the Maiden has the dragon on a leash, is itself not the most conventional representation of the story.

It is possible that the dragon legends of northwestern Europe are at least partly inspired by earlier stories from the Roman Empire, or from the Sarmatians and related cultures north of the Black Sea. There has also been speculation that dragon mythology might have originated from stories of large land lizards which inhabited Eurasia, or that the sight of giant fossil bones eroding from the earth may have inspired dragon myths (compare Griffin).

The Germanic tribe, the Anglo Saxons, under the warriors Hengest and Horsa broght the symbol of the White Dragon to England in the United Kingdom. Today, the White Dragon is representative of England.

Dragons in Celtic mythologyEdit

File:Welsh Flag.png

However, the dragon is now more commonly associated with Wales due to the national flag having a red dragon (Y Ddraig Goch) as its emblem and their national rugby union and rugby league teams are known as the dragons. An ancient story in Britain tells of a white dragon and a red dragon fighting to the death, with the red dragon being the resounding victor. The red dragon is linked with the Britons who are today represented by the Welsh and it is believed that the white dragon refers to the Saxons - now the English - who invaded southern Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries. Some have speculated that it originates from Arthurian Legend where Merlin had a vision of the red dragon (representing Vortigern) and the white dragon (representing the invading Saxons) in battle. That particular legend also features in the Mabinogion in the story of Llud and Llevelys.

It has also been speculated that the red dragon of Wales may have originated in the Sarmatian-influenced Draco standards carried by Late Roman cavalry, who would have been the primary defence against the Saxons. In Cymric language the word "ddraich" means also a chieftain, apparently due to the Roman draco standards.

The Welsh flag is parti per fess Argent and Vert; a dragon Gules passant.

Dragons in Basque mythologyEdit

Herensuge is the name given to the dragon in Basque mythology, meaning apparently the "third" or "last serpent". The best known legend has St. Michael descending from Heaven to kill it but only once God accepted to accompany him in person.

Sugaar, the Basque male god, is often associated with the serpent or dragon but able to take other forms as well. His name can be read as "male serpent".

A. Xaho, a romantic myth creator of the 19th century, fused these myths in his own creation of Leherensuge, the first and last serpent, that in his newly coined legend would arise again some time in the future bringing the rebirth of the Basque nation.

Dragons in Catalan mythology Edit

File:Vibria.jpg

Dragons are well-known in Catalan myths and legends, in no small part because St. George (Catalan Sant Jordi) is the patron saint of Catalonia. Like most dragons, the Catalan dragon (Catalan drac) is basically an enormous serpent with two legs, or, rarely, four, and sometimes a pair of wings. As in many other parts of the world, the dragon's face may be like that of some other animal, such as a lion or bull. As is common elsewhere, Catalan dragons are fire-breathers, and the dragon-fire is all-consuming. Catalan dragons also can emit a fetid odor, which can rot away anything it touches.

The Catalans also distinguish a víbria or vibra (cognate with English viper and wyvern), a female dragon with two prominent breasts, two claws and an eagle's beak.

Dragons in Italian mythology Edit

The legend of Saint George and the dragon is well-known in Italy. But other Saints are depicted fighting a dragon. For instance, the first bishop of the city of Forlì, named Saint Mercurialis, was said to have killed a dragon and saved Forlì. So he often is depicted in the act of killing a dragon. Likewise, the first patron saint of Venice, Saint Theodore of Tyro, was a dragon-slayer, and a statue representing his slaying of the dragon still tops one of the two columns in St. Mark's

NotesEdit

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