|Gather 'round the campfire|
“”Bofur: Airborne fire breather, teeth like razors, claws like meat hooks, extremely fond of precious metals -
Bilbo: Yes, I know what a dragon is.
|—Exchange between Bofur and Bilbo Baggins regarding the dragon Smaug, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey|
Dragons are legendary creatures that resemble over-sized lizards, snakes, or crocodiles, but with occasional extra limbs,[note 1] and the ability to fly, and are thought to have other special powers such as the ability to breathe fire. In essence, they are a catch-and-all term rarely used by actual anthropologists anymore as it describes a variety of entities unrelated aside from having scales; this ranges from the demonic western dragons to the Asian lion-camel-clam-carp-gods (also known as lung) to the various mutant-chickens of the Mesoamericans.
Evidence of dragons' existence has never surfaced[citation NOT needed] except in mythology, legend, fantasy novels, role-playing games, and the imaginations of some cryptozoologists, but there exists a subculture that believes in them. There is also a subculture that thinks they are dragons or identifies with them in a similar manner to furry fandom and a rather larger subculture that knows they do not exist but deeply wishes they did.
The seemingly worldwide nature of dragon myths has led some people to engage in truly bizarre speculation about the origins of humanity, or about "species memory" and such. Some animals and plants have been named after the dragon, like the leafy seadragon, dragonfly, komodo dragon, snapdragon, and Dracaena.
Dubiously, David E. Jones claimed in his book An Instinct for Dragons that the mythological origin of dragons is in our hominid ancestors' ancient fears of predators such as great cats, snakes, and large raptor birds that became hard-wired in our brains.
Belief in the existence of dragons is a prerequisite for Biblical literalists. In some cases, but not all, the word dragon was mistranslated in various Bible translations. Dragons appear in both the Old Testament:
- Deuteronomy 32:33: "Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps."
- Nehemiah 2:13
- Job 30:29: "I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls."
- Book of Psalms: Psalm 44:19, Psalm 74:13, Psalm 91:13, Psalm 148:7
- Book of Jeremiah: Jeremiah 9:11, Jeremiah 10:22, Jeremiah 14:6, Jeremiah 49:33, Jeremiah 51:34, Jeremiah 51:37
- Book of Isaiah: Isaiah 13:22, Isaiah 27:1, Isaiah 34:13, Isaiah 35:7, Isaiah 43:20, Isaiah 51:9
- Ezekiel 29:3: "… Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers…"
- Micah 1:8: "Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked: I will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls."
- Malachi 1:3: "And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness."
and New Testament:
- Revelation 12:3: "And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads." Dragons also appear in several other passages in Revelation.
Indeed, it would even seem to become difficult for Bible believers who are not strictly literalists to not believe in dragons when dragons are intermixed with alleged historical events or prophesies, such as in Jeremiah 51:37, "And Babylon shall become heaps, a dwelling place for dragons, an astonishment, and an hissing, without an inhabitant."
Young Earth creationism
Some young Earth creationists (YEC) have claimed that the existence of dragons in various human mythologies is evidence for humans and dinosaurs co-existing. YEC believes that a bombardier beetle spewing a 100°C gooey liquid is evidence that dragons were real. Ignore here that the earliest depictions of dragons were snake-like and did not look at all like dinosaurs or the most popular four legs and two wings (rather than six legs, two wings and two elytra for beetles). Using the same reasoning, they presumably also believe in fairies and trolls. Saner heads, most notably historian Adrienne Mayor, have proposed a more sensible hypothesis on the dinosaur-dragon connection, namely that dragons and other legendary creatures might have been inspired by the fossil remains of prehistoric animals. Misidentification of extant animal remains by ancient peoples is also a likely source of cryptids, such as the conflation of elephant skulls with the Cyclops of Greek mythology.
The dragon that would not go away
Saint George and the Dragon is an extra-Biblical legend that is important to numerous regional sects of Christianity. The George in the legend was an actual historical figure (George of Lydda (?–303 CE), a Greek-born Roman Christian soldier), but the legend can be traced to pre-Christian mythologies (Greek: Jason and Medea in Golden Fleece, Greek: Perseus and Andromeda, Greco-Egyptian: Typhon, and others).
In Chinese medicine
Villagers in modern-day Henan Province in China have been grinding "dragon" fossils for use in traditional Chinese medicine. The fossils have been described as coming from dinosaurs or from various mammals. Evidentially, dinosaurs (other than birds) have never co-existed with humans.
The 'bones' have been ground up into tea for decades, a practice recorded to have occurred with ancient peoples across the world. When asked why so many Chinese still believe in dragons, China's premier dinosaur hunter Xu Xing responded: How many Americans still don't believe in evolution?
Ethiopian Coptic Saint George slaying the dragon (Alwan Codex)
Standard of Greek general Markos Botsaris
George and the dragon from Georgia, 12th century
Russian Saint George slaying the dragon from the 14th century CE
Zeus fighting Typhon, Greece
As seen in Dungeons and Dragons. Keep your +4 dragon bane vorpal bastard sword handy.
Want to read this in another language?
- Normal lizards have four limbs — they are tetrapods. Some dragons, like the one on the Welsh flag to the right, have four limbs plus two wings, making six limbs. Other dragons may have only four (i.e. wyverns have two legs and two wings; Chinese dragons and their variants have no wings and usually four legs) or even fewer than that (i.e. the Greek cetus or the Lindworm).
- See the Wikipedia article on An Instinct for Dragons.
- An Instinct for Dragons by David E. Jones (2000) Routlege. ISBN 0415937299.
- Unicorns, Dragons, and Other Animals You Meet in the Bible God Didn't Say That.
- Could a fire-breathing dragon be a possibility?: Exclusive: David Rives examines chemistry, biology of bombadier[ beetle as evidence] by David Rives (September 16, 2015 at 10:36pm) WND.
- The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times by Adrienne Mayor (2000) Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691089779.
- Cyclops Myth Spurred by 'One-Eyed' Fossils? New fossils fuel speculation that Greek tales may have been inspired by ancient skulls. by Hillary Mayell (February 5, 2003) National Geographic.
- See the Wikipedia article on Saint George's Day.
- Saint George
- Saints' Lives in Middle English Collections, edited by E. Gordon Whatley et al. (2005) Medieval Institute Publications. ISBN 1580440894. St. George and the Dragon: Introduction.
- Chinese villagers ate dinosaur 'dragon bones': Villagers in central China spent decades digging up bones they believed belonged to flying dragons and using them in traditional medicines. Turns out the bones belonged to dinosaurs, and now scientists are doing the digging. (July 4, 2007, 11:33 PM PDT) AP via NBC News.
- Dragon Bones (Long Gu) (Last Updated on Tue, 04 May 2021) Chinese Herbs Healing (archived from 22 Dec 2021 18:37:22 UTC).
- Dinosaur Fossils Part of Longtime Chinese Tonic by Kevin Holden Platt (July 13, 2007) National Geographic, Page 1 of 2 (archived from July 16, 2007).
- Part of Longtime Chinese Tonic by Kevin Holden Platt (July 13, 2007) National Geographic, Page 2 of 2 (archived from July 16, 2007).