LEGENDS

DRAGONS

With a snake body, bat wings, eagle claws and lion teeth, dragons flied across the skies of myths and legends scaring the inhabitants of towns and villages with their fierceness.    
The origins of legends about dragons are lost in the mists of the past.
Dragons were evil and destructive, and had incredible supernatural powers.
They were considered the incarnation of evil, and their apparition was a presage of misfortune, destruction and death.
Their body was covered with protective scales, and they were able to spit out flames and to wheel in the sky thanks to their powerful wings..
Their bones, as well as their blood, were told to have healing powers
It could take many centuries before they reached the complete maturity and, in fact, the legend says that it would take at least one century before a dragon egg hatched, and many other ones before it completely developed; at the end of this time, long horns would grow on its head.
Thanks to their longevity these creatures could acquire a knowledge and a wisdom which had no equal, and their intelligence was superior to the human one.
Black dragons were the reincarnation of cunning and serpentine evil, while red dragons embodied bursting evil and strength.

DragonsWhere does the idea that dragons where destructive creatures and a symbol of chaos come from?
The first Mesopotamian legends tell about huge winged monsters, whose colour could be black or deep blue: they were the dragons of night and depths.
The first black dragon of which we had knowledge is Tamiat, a Babylonian female dragon which, according to the legend, gave birth to an army of fellow creatures which scattered in the whole planet.
Once grown, they were so hungry that they started devouring everything they ran into, both animals and human beings .
Heroes used to come from far away to save lands from such a bane; a village in the southern Denmark, for example, was rescued by a Viking hero.
Europe was mostly inhabited by red dragons, and from this fact come all the legends about titanic fights; many towns were named after the dragon which had flagellated tem; words “worm” and “ormes” appear in place names like Worms Head, Great Ormes Head, Ormesleigh, Ormeskirk, Wormelow, Wormeslea..
Black dragons did not like duelling against their enemies, but provoked fires and famines wheeling in the sky above villages: for this reasons they disappeared from legends, and were remembered just for great massacres, for the evilness of their carnages and the cowardice they showed by avoiding face-to-face fights.

DragonsThe largest part of the historical references and legends about dragons in Europe dates back to the Middle Ages; their pictures, symbol of fight, violence and war, were often used as herald in battles.
For Christianity, dragons represented the Devil, and many historical sources and manuscripts give evidence of the “beast par excellence”. For example, in bestiaries we can find detailed descriptions of semblance and habits of dragons, which usually lived in caves on the top of mountains, or in inaccessible territories from where they rarely came out, but a roar was enough to make all the other animals escape and hide into their own lairs.
According to the western tradition, the extinction of dragons dates effectively back to the Middle Ages, when knights errant, adventurers looking for fortune and fame and dragon hunters used to devote their whole existence to fight against these animals.
Dragon was the symbol of evil, thus there could not be a better weapon against them than sanctity.

There are many famous tales, like the ones of Saint George, the dragon slayer, of Saint Marcel, bishop of Paris, of Saint Sylvester, who saved Rome from the dragon with the venomous breath, or of Saint Martha, who defeated the dragon Tarasca.
It is told that, while Saint Martha was evangelizing Provence, a terrible dragon was devastating the fertile plains of the Rhone valley, preventing men from living in peace. As the Saint found it out, she pursued the dragon through the most remote zones of the forests and tamed it sprinkling it with holy water and marking it with the sign of the cross. The dragon, which had become docile, let that the woman fastened its tail to her belt, and then she carried it in the town of Tarascona, who was named after the dragon. The inhabitants took their revenge by stoning the dragon to death, and ever since, every year on 29 June, the Church commemorates Saint Martha, and in Tarascona a solemn procession takes place: it is opened by a puppet looking like a dragon with opened jaws, then a girl dressed in white blesses it, and the dragon gets tied and overwhelmed.

The most famous dragon slayer was obviously Saint George, the patron saint of England.
Around the XII century a legend started circulating, according to which Saint George, in Silene (Libya), killed a dragon which was about to devour a princess tied to a cliff.

The “Liber Notitiae Sanctorum Mediolanii” narrates about a dragon which was raging from Erba to Valassina (Brianza).

After it had devoured all the sheeps in Crevenna, the peasants began offering it the boys of the village, which were drawn for this purpose. By chance, among these sacrificial victims there was also princess Cleolinda di Morchiuso, which got tied to an elder tree and offered to the dragon. Saint George came to rescue her and, to tame the dragon, threw some sweets covered with petals of elder flowers into its jaws. The docile dragon followed Saint George and, once they reached the castle, the saint decapitated it with just a sword stroke. The head of the beast rolled down to the Pusiano Lake. According to custom, sweets with dried elder flowers (“Pan meitt de San Giorg”) are prepared on 23 April, the feast of Saint George, still nowadays.

Another important legend concerns the northern lands.
Centuries ago, when northern lands were ruled by heroes, a man dressed in rags was walking along a rocky Scandinavian beach, looking for a way to climb the cliff above. He was a servant escaping from his master, a lord of the Geats Kingdom.
Staggering and with no strength left, he ran into an enormous stone tumulus, probably the tomb of an ancient king..
He found the entrance and penetrated the tomb and saw before his eyes a chamber full of jewellery, the riches of an ancient tribe. The servant could not believe his eyes: snake-shaped bracelets, silver filigree brooches, Samos ceramic cups, amulets of god Thor, golden coins filled the whole cave. The servant threw himself onto the treasure, but a sound made his blood freeze and prevented him from making any movement. He turned and saw a dragon crouching on the long-clawed legs: its strong flanks were glittering, its wings were folded and its enormous head was leaning on the cave floor..
The scared servant took a golden cup and got away from the tumulus.
His only thought was coming back to his master and ask his forgiveness.
Unfortunately the servant had disturbed the sleep of the treasure guardian, sealing the end of his people.
The dragon, which could see and know everything, realized the theft immediately after its awake.
It slowly got through the narrow passage leading out of its lair and, in the thin light of evening, began observing the Infinite looking for the traces of the man. As soon as it saw him, it let out a cry and a fire blast and flied up to the Geats Kingdom..
Its terrifying shrieks made the inhabitants get out of their houses, and their frightened faces were looking up to the sky while the dragon started its dance of death. It began its descent wheeling and spitting out tongues of flame, burned down the roofs of all the houses and then vanished. Nothing escaped the dragon’s destroying fury. That night, in the Geats Kingdom, villages burnt like funeral pyres. Beowulf, king of Geats, took up arms and, followed by the best men of the Kingdom, reached the tumulus to face the dragon. Only the noblemen Wiglaf took part in the fight, while the king and the dragon killed each other.

In Norse mythology, another feature of dragons is their linguistic ability, which allows them to speak all languages: they use this skill to lie and deceive.

We find another legend in the Volsungen saga, where Sigfried kills dragon Fafnir.

The oriental concept of dragon was very different from the occidental one.
Dragons were considered peaceful creatures and friends of men.
In China, Dragon, Turtle, Unicorn and Phoenix represented the four benevolent spirits.
According to Chinese custom, dragons were the greatest and most glorious race which inhabited the world for millenniums, gave birth to life and ruled over natural elements until men were ready for such a task..

Moreover, there are many legends about valiant heroes who turned into dragons.

Dragons were divided into different categories:
Heavenly dragons: the guardians of the sky and the only ones with five-clawed legs.
Spiritual dragons: the most venerated ones and the guardians of wind, clouds and water; farmers’ harvests depended on them.
Earthly dragons: the guardians of waterways, of which they regulated the flow; they lived in the depths of rivers.
Underground dragons: the guardians of immense treasures and dispenser of eternal happiness.
Red dragons and Black dragons: violent and warlike creatures which continuously fought against each other in the sky, causing violent storms through their energy.

Have these winged monsters really existed?
How can we explain their presence in so many legends of population different and very far from each other?
Were they really so cruel, or did men just need to believe in good heroes defeating the evil, whatever semblance might it take?

Many historical sources tell us more about dragons than about events proved to be real.
Were they maybe ancient animals which have existed in reality and not only in human fear?

LEGENDS