Dragons and dinosaurs.

Decembrist

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
2,697
the Nile to the Euphrates
#1
Dragons exist both in European and Asian mythologies. And from my understanding, they do independently from each other.
Were these creatures inspired by dinosaur excavations?
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,568
Australia
#2
It's certainly possible. If a bunch of village peasants dug up some of these bones in a field, there would be all sorts of myths being created regarding their origin.
 
Likes: Nostromo
Nov 2016
881
Germany
#3
Were these creatures inspired by dinosaur excavations?
I think it is unlikely that any fossils have fired the dragon idea. Rather, the idea of mixed creatures goes back both to Stone Age shamanistic ideas and to equally old totemistic ideas. Snakes certainly also played a role as role models for supernatural beings, to whom either divine or demonic powers were ascribed. The very fact that dragon myths originated independently from each other in, for example, Mesopotamia, China, Scandinavia and South America makes it hard to imagine that everywhere these ideas were based on fossil finds. Rather, they are fantasies based on certain psychological mechanisms common to all human beings.

The earliest evidence of this idea can be found in Mesopotamia and Egypt.

The medieval fear of dragons is psychoanalytically seen as a symptom of the male fear of the female, which was extremely pronounced in the Middle Ages as an effect of clerical sexual hostility and reached its absolute climax in the sexual-sadist practices of witch persecution.

There is much to suggest that the notion of the "evil dragon" is a result of man's historical process of oppression and devaluation of women. Before this happened, snakes were associated with earth and mother goddesses, who in the millennia before the 4th millennium BCE, when the oppression process began, had a higher value in the faith of humans than male gods, because they were originally attributed the parthenogenetic creation of all living beings, including the male gods.

Indications of this can be found, for example, in the characteristics of the Greek primordial goddess Gaia, who was also a snake goddess. In the temple of Delphi, originally a sanctuary of Gaia, a snake priestess (Pythia) announced the oracles.

The Egyptian Cobra goddess Wadjet was considered the protector of the Pharaoh and thus of the whole country and was depicted as a fire-breathing snake.

The Indian goddess Kali was also originally regarded as the omnivorous primordial and snake goddess and as the embodiment of Kundalini, the spiritual-sexual snake power.

Since the snake goddesses were regarded as carriers of healing power, the snake could also establish itself as a symbol of this power, namely in the snake of the Aesculapian staff.

The list could be continued for a long time.

In the course of the social and religious devaluation of the feminine, the first mythological depiction of the evil female dragon in the form of the monster Tiamat, which was originally a good mother and snake goddess, was made in Mesopotamia, or more precisely in Babylonia at the end of the 2nd millennium BCE, in the course of the social and religious devaluation of the feminine. The warrior god Marduk, the main god of the Babylonian royalty, kills in this story the "evil" Tiamat and creates heaven and earth from her torn body. The killing of the "evil female snake" is here ideologically transfigured into the necessary origin of the world.

In this myth, the image of the dragon is drawn for the first time because Tiamat is not only depicted as a (giant) snake, but also has legs (= "lower members" in vers 90, see below in the quoted passage).

The epic "Enuma Elish" was an important "sacred text", which probably originated around 1200 BCE in Babylon and was recited annually in extracts at the most important religious festival of Babylon, the Aikutu (New Year's Feast), in the Marduk Temple. The text describes, among other things, the brutal killing of the mother goddess Tiamat by the warrior god Marduk, who creates heaven and earth from the two halves of the torn Tiamat. It is striking that Tiamat, a derivation of the old Sumerian mother goddess Nammu, is characterized as a snake-like monster but retains her traits as the mother of all gods (Marduk who kills her belongs to her descendants !!!). The basic statement is that the mother goddess (as a snake, notabene) represents the chaos that must be destroyed in order to establish a world or state order. Marduk, the ruler god of the New Babylonian pantheon, performs this task with his club and strong kicks.

Here are examples of divine hybrid beings from the Egyptian religion:

Sun god Re = rarely completely anthropomorphic, mostly theriomorphic (scarab, hangover) or mixed (falcon's head / ram's head and human body) or as sun disk.

Sky god Horus = the classical falcon god in falcon or mixed form (falcon head). Only after the 22nd dynasty as son of Isis also anthropomorphically represented. Before that - since the Old Kingdom - Horus appeared as a child only in texts.

Magic and moon god Thot = mixed figure of man and ibis(head) or theriomorph as baboon. One of the oldest gods of the Egyptian pantheon.

Thus, in order to imagine a dragon-like monster, 4-5,000 years ago, it simply required common methods of imaginative mixing in different ways.

+++++

Quote from "Enuma Elish" (Marduk vs Tiamat):

87 When Tia-mat heard this
88 She went insane and lost her reason.
89 Tia-mat cried aloud and fiercely,
90 All her lower members trembled beneath her.
91 She was reciting an incantation, kept reciting her spell,
92 While the (battle-)gods were sharpening their weapons of war.
93 Tia-mat and Marduk, the sage of the gods, came together,
94 Joining in strife, drawing near to battle.
95 Be-l spread out his net and enmeshed her;
96 He let loose the Evil Wind, the rear guard, in her face.
97 Tia-mat opened her mouth to swallow it,
98 She let the Evil Wind in so that she could not close her lips.
99 The fierce winds weighed down her belly,
100 Her inwards were distended and she opened her mouth wide.
101 He let fly an arrow and pierced her belly,
102 He tore open her entrails and slit her inwards,
103 He bound her and extinguished her life,
104 He threw down her corpse and stood on it.
105 After he had killed Tia-mat, the leader,
106 Her assembly dispersed, her host scattered.
107 Her divine aides, who went beside her,
108 In trembling and fear beat a retreat.
109 . . . . to save their lives,
110 But they were completely surrounded, unable to escape.
111 He bound them and broke their weapons,
112 And they lay enmeshed, sitting in a snare,
113 Hiding in corners, filled with grief,
114 Bearing his punishment, held in a prison.
115 The eleven creatures who were laden with fearfulness,
116 The throng of devils who went as grooms at her right hand,
117 He put ropes upon them and bound their arms,
118 Together with their warfare he trampled them beneath him.
119 Now Qingu, who had risen to power among them,
120 He bound and reckoned with the Dead Gods.
121 He took from him the Tablet of Destinies, which was not properly his,
122 Sealed it with a seal and fastened it to his own breast.
123 After the warrior Marduk had bound and slain his enemies,
124 Had . . . . the arrogant enemy . . . ,
125 Had established victory for Anšar over all his foes,
126 Had fulfilled the desire of Nudimmud,
127 He strengthened his hold on the Bound Gods,
128 And returned to Tia-mat, whom he had bound.
129 Be-l placed his feet on the lower parts of Tia-mat
130 And with his merciless club smashed her skull.
131 He severed her arteries
132 And let the North wind bear up (her blood) to give the news.
133 His fathers saw it and were glad and exulted;
134 They brought gifts and presents to him.
135 Be-l rested, surveying the corpse,
136 In order to divide the lump by a clever scheme.
137 He split her into two like a dried fish:
138 One half of her he set up and stretched out as the heavens.
 
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Nov 2016
881
Germany
#5
Occam's razor would suggest an alternative idea, such as, "Hey dad, check out these old bones. What do you think they came from?"
Occam's razor says that from a set of theories with the same explanatory value, the one with the least complexity is to be preferred. But I don't see any immediate explanatory value or low complexity in your example. It does not explain why at different times in different places independently of each other the dragon myth has developed.

As I wrote before (see the first paragraph in my article), it is extremely unlikely that all these independent developments are based on fossil finds. And even if such discoveries had happened, this would not explain why they were interpreted in the same way everywhere. So your suggestion (if it's really serious, which I'm not sure about) is not a good example of Occam's razor, because it contains too many prerequisites (fossil finds at different places in different times, same interpretation everywhere), which has nothing to do with simplicity in the sense of Occam´s razor.

My suggestion that these myths are based on observation of real animals and on psychological mechanisms that are universal (i.e. common to all humans) has a much lower complexity of prerequisites and is therefore a better example of Occam's razor.
 
Aug 2013
158
Finland
#6
The medieval fear of dragons is psychoanalytically seen as a symptom of the male fear of the female, which was extremely pronounced in the Middle Ages as an effect of clerical sexual hostility and reached its absolute climax in the sexual-sadist practices of witch persecution.
The medieval catholic church was dead against witch hunts and in fact largely denied even the existence of witches for large parts of the medieval period. Witchcraft started becoming part of the accusations directed against heretics in the late medieval period but the witch hunts as such are mostly an early modern phenomenon, from about 1500 onward and especially in areas touched by the reformation wars.

The quality of the trials against witches was in this later period very poor, with for example child witness statements being taken as fact in many places simply based on the logic that children are without sin and would therefore never lie about such things.

Coinciding with the wave of witch hunts against women is also a wave of trials for homosexuality and bestiality against men, both of which in many countries carried a capital punishment (also for the animal in case of bestiality).

I'm sure the male fear of the female played a role in the form of the witch hunts specifically, but the evidence suggests there were other factors at play in why large organised hunts and executions of various types of sinners were being carried out in general. Maybe this is indeed related to fears represented in earlier stories about dragons and other monstrosities that medieval Europeans were certain existed for real.

We are talking about Europe here of course, dragons in Asia have completely different symbolism attached to them.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,066
Dispargum
#7
I saw something on a documentary once claiming that the myth of the Cyclops may have come from examining mammoth fossils. Early people who didn't know any better may have confused the nose/trunk opening in the middle of its forehead as an eye opening. The mammoth's eyes on the side of its head may have been confused for ear openings so that the mammoth's skull could have been interpreted as a large creature with one eye in the middle of its forehead. Probably not a theory that could be easily proven. How could we know what an ancient person was thinking if he ever saw the skull of a wholly mammoth?
 

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,202
Welsh Marches
#8
I don't think that one should exaggerate the importance of such ideas, people were perfectly capable of developing ideas about monsters on many different kinds without needing any physical evidence for them. The invention came first, I suspect, and fossils could then be interpreted in relation to existing folklore. One only has to invert the question and ask: if no one knew of any fossils of megafauna, would ideas about monsters never have been developed? The notion is absurd. And again, it is possible that knowledge of certain fossil remains may have suggested the idea of specific kinds of monster; but the specific suggestions that I have seen put forward in that regard are extremely hypothetical; and for my partr I simply cannot believe that the idea of one-eyed monsters was suggested by mammoth fossils!
 

Decembrist

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
2,697
the Nile to the Euphrates
#9
I don't think that one should exaggerate the importance of such ideas, people were perfectly capable of developing ideas about monsters on many different kinds without needing any physical evidence for them. The invention came first, I suspect, and fossils could then be interpreted in relation to existing folklore. One only has to invert the question and ask: if no one knew of any fossils of megafauna, would ideas about monsters never have been developed? The notion is absurd. And again, it is possible that knowledge of certain fossil remains may have suggested the idea of specific kinds of monster; but the specific suggestions that I have seen put forward in that regard are extremely hypothetical; and for my partr I simply cannot believe that the idea of one-eyed monsters was suggested by mammoth fossils!
The curious thing is the way dragons and dinosaurs are named in Asian languages.
Japanese: りゅう [ryū ] — きょうりゅう [kyōryū ]
Chinese: 龙 [lóng ] — 恐龙 [kǒnglóng]
Korean: 용 [yong ] — 공룡 [gongnyong ]
 
Nov 2016
881
Germany
#10
The curious thing is the way dragons and dinosaurs are named in Asian languages.
Japanese: りゅう [ryū ] — きょうりゅう [kyōryū ]
Chinese: 龙 [lóng ] — 恐龙 [kǒnglóng]
Korean: 용 [yong ] — 공룡 [gongnyong ]
Probably the dinosaurs were named after the dragons - and not vice versa.
 
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