Dragons are pretty interesting, right? I thought the same thing, so I decided to do some research on them, because I didn’t know to much. I’ve decided to share what I learned with whomever reading this.
From Humble Beginnings (But Not Really)
The concept of dragons dates back to at least 4000 BCE, existing everywhere in the world. The word “dragon” comes from Old French, which is an upper class language used by French aristocrats and lawyers in the early 1000s (The Vintage News). You kids probably don’t remember those days, you probably don’t even know what a trebuchet is. So spoiled with your fancy cannons and all that. A very early example of a draconic creature is the Leviathan, from the Hebrew bible. Leviathan comes from a Hebrew word, Liwyāṯān, which means “twisted or coiled”. This translated into Greek turned into “dragon”.
Isaiah 27:1: “In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.”
The Leviathan’s description isn’t exactly agreed upon. Some say it resembles a whale with a large body and powerful fins (Leviathan actually translates to “whale in modern Hebrew”), but the more widely held belief is that it’s a lizard-like creature, armed with claws and the ability to spew flames from its mouth, between its razor-sharp fangs, and armored from head to toe with metallic scales (New World Encyclopedia).
Book of Job 40: 24-32, 41:1-24: “By his [sneezing] a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of morning. Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.”
These Bible verses are very dramatic, aren’t they?
Western and Eastern Dragons
Dragons can usually be categorized into these two main types, Western dragons, and Eastern dragons. European/Western dragons are seen as violent hoarders of treasures, eager to munch on any would-be knight who comes waltzing into their lair to slay them. They usually had 2-4 legs, wings, and breathed hellfire to burn anyone stupid enough to “fight” them.
Eastern (Mostly Asian, and especially Chinese) dragons, on the other hand, were thought to be peaceful and even beneficial creatures. In the winter, the would hibernate under the ocean waves, and in the light of spring, they would rise, bringing with them the rain to help the farmers with their crops. They had long, serpentine bodies, four legs, no wings, and a majestically furry mane and beard. The dragon was seen also as the symbol of the Chinese empire, and the emperor himself was seen as an embodiment of the dragon. A good emperor would do what a dragon did, help his people prosper (The Vintage News).
Many people have wondered how so many cultures have dragons in them, you might even be wondering. One theory is dinosaur bones. We have evidence that people found dinosaur bones all the way back in the 4th century BCE, in China. Having no living animal to compare these giant bones with, they would likely theorize what kind of creature the bones would fit with. They didn’t know which bones fit with which, so they would try and piece them together in a weird amalgamation of what we now know as dinosaurs, after all they had no point of reference. That also explains all the different varieties of dragons. No two people would piece the bones together the same way, creating some dragons with long snaking bodies, and some with bulky torsos and wings, for example: a pair of pterosaur wings combined with the body of a stegosaurus would create something that looks quite similar to a European dragon (The Vintage News).
Another similar theory is snakes. Snakes are a force to be reckoned with, for sure. The ancient Egyptian god, Apep, was called the Serpent of the Nile, and the Lord of Chaos (The Vintage News). The biggest snake to ever live, the titanoboa, could grow up 48 feet long and could weigh one-and-a-half-tons! That’s about the length of a semi-truck! Yikes! Lucky for us we have around 60 millions years of buffer room between those guys and us (The Smithsonian). That could certainly account for some tales of giant serpents and other draconic creatures.