The dragons in myths may not exist on this planet, but the mystical stories about dragon-like creatures can be heard across the world. And dragons always play important roles in various mythologies and legends. The dragon stories coincidentally emerge all round the world.
A creature named “Naga” is highly worshipped by Indian people. ”Naga” is a word in both Sanskrit and Pali, referring to a mystical creature in local legends. Outwardly, this creature looks like a huge serpent with one or multiple heads; it often appears in the classic works of Brahmanism, Hinduism and Buddhism.
The appearance of Indian dragon (Naga): it is an aquatic monstrous creature with multiple cobra-like heads (it is generally believed that Naga is based on cobra); it has a long body, extremely toxic venom, but neither feet nor horns. In Buddhist stories, it is the water god and guardian of Buddhism, living under the water or underground. It likes treasures, has its own palace, and is able to control water, clouds and rain.
After Buddhism was introduced into China, monks translated “Naga” as “dragon” when translating Buddhist Scriptures, as Naga shares many things in common with Chinese dragon (loong); they also did that with the intention of sinicizing Buddhist stories as soon as possible so as to expand the influence of Buddhism. After being introduced to China, this legendary creature from India was gradually integrated with local traditional culture of dragon, and thus bred brand new legends and culture. For example, the dragon kings and dragon palaces we know today were actually created under the influence of Naga stories.
Dragon in ancient Egyptian mythology
There is neither image of typical dragon nor stories centered on dragon in ancient Egyptian mythology. However, the ancient Egyptian mythology contains all the raw material for the image and stories of dragon, including the destruction of mankind, the conflict between Horus and Set, as well as the winged sun. These elements were modified and mixed in ancient Babylonian mythology, thus producing the initial form of dragon stories. An initial form of dragon in ancient Egyptian mythology is of an upper body of hawk and a lower body of lion. The upper body of hawk represents the sun god Ra, while lion is one of the images of the goddess of fertility Hathor.
Dragon in Mesopotamia
A dragon more similar to the dragon today appears in the Mesopotamian mythology, which is as old as ancient Egyptian mythology. A representative example is Tiamat in ancient Babylonian mythology. Tiamat is the goddess of ocean. She is not only the creator goddess but also the embodiment of primordial chaos (the Chaos in Greek mythology). Concepts of ocean, mother goddess and destruction (chaos) inherited from ancient Egyptian mythology can be found in ancient Babylonian mythology. The battle between Tiamat and the patron deity Marduk is the prototype of the motif “the battle between warrior and sea monster”.
The appearance of Mesopotamian dragon: there is a mythical creature named “Musmahhu” in Mesopotamia. Its body is completely covered by serpent scales; it has long neck and tail, forefeet of lion and hind feet of hawk; there are long horns on its head and scorpion-tail-like needle on its tail; Europeans called it ”serpent-dragon”. Musmahuu appears in the local creation myth as a sea monster created by Tiamat, the mother goddess and ruler of ocean. Tiamat used Musmahuu to fight the patron deity Marduk, but it was subdued by Marduk at last, and carved on the bas-relief of Ishtar Gate of the city of Babylon together with other two subdued monsters.
The appearance of European dragon: it is usually described as a creature of the body of cougar, a pair of huge bat-wings or feathered wings, four legs and a horse head. In folktales, it is usually described to be green, red or golden. It has a long and winding tail with a thorn at the end, and there might be barbs too. There is a huge paw at the end of each of its legs, like those of carnivorous birds. The European dragons have several rows of tusks, and many of them have dorsal spines. This creature can usually spit fire or venom, or has poisonous blood. It also has great power and magic.
Dragons in Europe do not always appear as a symbol of evil. For example, the Welsh red dragon in the well-known legend about King Arthur and Merlin symbolizes the people of king, whose triumph in battle foretold that Wales would certainly defeat the enemy. The red dragon later becomes the symbol of Wales and appears on their national flag.
The appearance of Slavic dragon: dragon in Slavic mythology is different from the widely-known European dragon. In Russian legends, dragon is a monster with three or more heads. The Slavic ballad Dobrinya and the Dragon recorded the story that Dobrinya fought the three-headed and fire-spitting huge dragon Gorynych for three days in order to save Zabava, the girl abducted by the dragon.
In the region of South Slavs, such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina, dragon appears in two images. One of them shares the same name as the legendary Russian dragon, but it is male. It has preterhuman wisdom, knowledge and wealth, huge and strong body, and is skilled in magic. It also hankers after beautiful women, and is good at pursuing women and having offspring with them.
The meaning of Slavic dragon: dragon is usually considered to be highly respectable, many folk heroes are described as dragons or their descendants in folktales. Another kind of dragon is usually female and sister to the dragon mentioned above, but it is of a totally different image. Similar to the dragon in Greco-Roman- Christian culture, it is completely opposite to its brother and is an embodiment of evil hiding in the darkness. A female dragon often represents bad weather that destroys crops and farmland; while male dragon is the guardian of crops.
In the Balkan, it is believed that dragon has preterhuman wisdom, knowledge and wealth, huge and strong body; and is skilled in magic. Dragon is highly respected by people there, and many heroes are described as dragons or their descendants in local folktales.
Ancient Greek Dragon
Dragon often appears in ancient Greek mythology as a ferocious monster or the guardian of treasure. The description of Agamemnon‘s attire in Homer’s epic Iliad mentioned that there was a blue dragon pattern on his sword and the ornamentation of three huge dragon on the breastplate. Among the Twelve Labors of Heracles, a dragon guarding the golden apples was involved in the eleventh one “stealing the apples from the garden of Hesperides”. According to the Book II of the Bibliotheca historica of Diodorus Siculus, “the golden apples were guarding by a huge, immortal dragon. The dragon was the descendant of Typhon and Echidna, and he had one hundred heads which were making one hundred voices.” According to the Fabulae of Gaius Julius Hyginus, Ladon, the dragon guarding the golden apples, was one of the children of Typhon and Echidna. He had a brother, a dragon guarding the golden wool (another story is that the mother of this dragon was the Earth goddess Gaia).
The appearance of ancient Greek dragon: another famous dragon is Python which appears as hermaphrodite; Ares’ dragon, whose teeth were sown into the ground as if a crop and sprang up as the fully armored autochthonic Spartoi, ancestors of Thebans (Pentheus referred to Thebans as the descendants of Mars or the descendants of dragon); Helius’ dragon, which draw sun god Helios’ chariot (Helios gave it to his granddaughter Medea later); according to the Metamorphosis, Demeter was another deity who had a chariot drawn by dragons.
The meaning of ancient Greek dragon: “dragon” and “huge sea serpent” are the same word in ancient Greek, therefore, dragon was similar to serpent in ancient Greek culture. Both creatures had great power and immortality. This was related to the image of Tiamat in ancient Babylonian mythology.
There was a dragon, the Quetzalcoatl, widely worshipped by aboriginal groups in Central America such as the Aztec and the Mayan. The legends of this deity were originated from the Olmec Civilization. In local myths, this deity and the serpent deity controlled rains and governed stars, death and rebirth. He also invented books and laws, and brought his people corn, one of the most important foods for them.
The appearance of Quetzalcoatl: the status of Quetzalcoatl in Mayan civilization can be seen in many respects. In the Classical Maya period, the Mayan ruler held a scepter with a serpent head on one end, a small human-leg-turned serpent body in the middle and a delicate small heart on the other end. While in the Postclassical Maya period, there were many variations of Mayan scepter with the basic form completely changed. They appeared as the image of Quetzalcoatl: feather-fan shape on the top, serpent body in the middle and serpent head at the bottom.
The symbolic meaning of Quetzalcoatl: Quetzalcoatl can also been seen on the murals in famous Bonampak Mayan ruins. Quetzalcoatl is the most respected figure in Mexican mythology. Its name was derived from Nahuatlan two words: “quetzalli” which means “green feather” and “coatl” which means “serpent”. In the history of Central America, there were various ethic groups which worshipped Quetzalcoatl, but the exact origin is unknown. The Aztecs used Quetzalcoatl as the core image in their temples, but this deity had existed long before them. Quetzalcoatl was honored as the religious symbol in pre-Hispanic city of Teotihuacán in Mexico. Today people can still find images of serpents on old temples and other buildings in this region.
Dragon/loong is a deified creature in ancient myths of East Asia (mainly China). It is a common symbol of auspiciousness and one of the representative traditional cultures of East Asian nations (mainly Chinese). There is a rich culture of dragon (like dragon stories) in this region. The most basic characteristic of loong is the “nine similarities (being similar to nine animals)”, but what the nine animals are remains controversial. Loong is said to be able to switch itself between visible and invisible, tiny and huge, as well as short and long. It flies to the sky in spring, dives into abyss in autumn and controls wind and rain. But these are related to the late image of loong, which is much more complex than the early image of loong.
Marco Polo is first person currently known that translated “Chinese loong” as “dragon”. Actually it is very appropriate at that time as there known differences between eastern dragon and western dragon were not as big as those today.
The appearance of loong: it has ox head, deer horns, shrimp eyes, elephant ears, serpent neck, fish scales, eagle claws, goat beard; totally a mixture of body parts from various animals.
The meaning of loong: it is a creature which can be found in ancient Chinese mythology and legends as well as Chinese classics, but not in reality; however, the components of its image can be seen in actual world. It is also believed that loong helps eliminating evil, avoiding disasters and praying for blessing.
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