Where Do Dragons of the Ancient World Come from?

mansamusa

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
3,308
That would be true of the physical monstrous dragon myths. The forces of nature were responsible for others. As I already mentioned, 'dragon' is a generic term which the western world has applied to amything exotic, serpentlike, and powerful. There is no similarity between the beast slain by George at Uffington, Wiltshire, and the unseen presence in the landscape of oriental realms, other than the imagined form in visual terms.
Thanks. I do believe that some people are being too literally minded about this. We are speaking about mythical creatures, that no one has actually ever seen.

Yet Thessalonian says it has to look like a typical Dragom. what does a typical dragon look like? And how does Quetzalcoatl and Bida of the Western Sudan not fit the description?

When I think of Greek Dragons I think of the Hydra, slain by Hercules in the 2nd of his 12 tasks, which was 9 headed snakelike monster, and which spat out no fire, just like Bida (7 not nine headed). So here is a perfect example of an African dragon bearing similarity to a Greek Dragon, more so than the Western medieval Dragons we are familair with.

I think the dragons that Thessalonian and Hrsvelgr have in mind are the ones from modern day movies and comic books, which are usually Western European. I suppose we will have to wait for the Mexicans to come up with the Aztec equivalent of Beowulf so that the people of the Americas could qualify as having dragon legends.

PS.

Am curious what do you think of Acharya S' theory that all these myths are all solar myths, an idea she seems to have taken from Gerard Massey. She would argue that the 12 tasks of Hercules represent the 12 months in a year, or that Hercules clad in the Lion's mane would be the sun in its rays.


Of the African dragon, Bida, she would probably say the seven heads represent 7 days in a week, although am not sure what she would make of the 2 extra heads on the hydra.
 

mansamusa

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
3,308
dragon is simply an English word used to describe these creatures of myth, rather poorly given that horned/feathered serpent is both more descriptive and more accurate. And the African "dragons" are also serpents. A dragon in the original tales was something other than a giant serpent.
You say dragon is simply an English word used to describe these creatures of myth--

But based on the fact that i know no other language besides English, i cannot think of a better or more convenient word to describe a feathered serpent or a seven headed snake like Bida, which unlike many other dragons was able to talk, and give birth to Gold assuring the prosperity of the Medieval Kingdom of Ghana. I dont Know how seven heads and the ability to talk and produce gold makes a creature nothing more than an ordinary serpent as you say:


As Thessalonian said the word Dragon comes from the Greek word for serpent. The most famous dragon of Greek Mythology as far as I know was the Hydra--basically a snake with 9 heads, which was not fire breathing.
 

olly

Ad Honorem
Feb 2011
2,268
.
Here be dragons [ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dragons_in_mythology_and_folklore"]List of dragons in mythology and folklore - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,330
Am curious what do you think of Acharya S' theory that all these myths are all solar myths, an idea she seems to have taken from Gerard Massey. She would argue that the 12 tasks of Hercules represent the 12 months in a year, or that Hercules clad in the Lion's mane would be the sun in its rays.
Not really my specialist field but I have to say this sounds like an explanation in search of a mystery.


Of the African dragon, Bida, she would probably say the seven heads represent 7 days in a week, although am not sure what she would make of the 2 extra heads on the hydra.
Be careful because seven headed beasties have different roots. One is from the Book of Revelations but in that case represents an image of Rome as an evil tyranny (seven heads equate to the original seven hills). I wouldn't pay too much attention to talk of prophecy for the modern day. Revelations was most likely written by a disaffected jewish refugee and represents something closer to the sort of literature that Al Qaeda might issue against the States. In that context the use of a hydra as an image is deliberately using a pre-existing idea.
 

Mandate of Heaven

Ad Honorem
Jul 2010
6,851
Not sure what it is
Be careful because seven headed beasties have different roots. One is from the Book of Revelations but in that case represents an image of Rome as an evil tyranny (seven heads equate to the original seven hills). I wouldn't pay too much attention to talk of prophecy for the modern day. Revelations was most likely written by a disaffected jewish refugee and represents something closer to the sort of literature that Al Qaeda might issue against the States. In that context the use of a hydra as an image is deliberately using a pre-existing idea.
If Revelation was written as a propoganda for a specific purpose, it wouldn't be written in such a confusing way.
 
Mar 2012
46
New Zealand
I believe Massey was very close.

There is a great deal of confusion involved because the languages became... ...well... ...confused at the Tower of Babel. While origins are mostly Egyptian as told by the Greeks the "confusion of the language" originated at Babel which was likely Mesopotamia. This isn't to say everything originated in Egypt, just that most of the concepts, processes, and beliefs still current today first arose in Egypt or were quickly adopted in Egypt after foreign invention. This is lost because religion intentionally omitted Egyptian beliefs and ideas after many centuries of their influence being forgotten because of symbolic language.

Ancient Egyptian was one of the mother languages where words were associated with their definitions. Ideas weren't abstract or symbolic but were concrete and mimiced nature. It looks to us something like computer code and this is why it has been misunderstood. You can't parse computer code without the meaning and intent evaporating.

When symbolic language took over worldwide (yes, it even rapidly spread to the new world somehow) it soon was forgotten how to translate or understand the old writing. Some got saved but most was allowed to moulder away. It's the misunderstanding of the old writing and old ideas that gave rise to most of the myths. Ancient people after the confusion of the language were well aware that their ancestors were sane and meant what they said but didn't understand it.

Dragons most probably are derived from the concept of flows of fluids and water that could be fatal. These were associated with Nehebkau in Egypt which was the hydraulic cycle. Water evaporated and formed clouds which were the coils of Nehebkau and came back down as rain which flowed in the rivers to the sea. All such natural flows can prove fatal under extreme or sublime conditions.

Hence dragons.

Superstition has increased each year since the languages changed.
How then does that explain the Ancient Greek myths of Drako or the Dragon?

They can't all be pure symbolism...
 

mansamusa

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
3,308
I personally do not know how historically correct are Masseys's interpretations of Egyptian Myths as solar myths or the creative retelling of the climatic seasons of drought and rain. However a close look at the Bida myth of the Western Sudan seems to accord well with his interpretations. The myth tells the story of how the Ghana empire declined only after Bida was killed in order to save the life of of a young virgin to be sacrificed to Bida, to secure the prosperity and safety of Ancient Ghana, as was the annual custom. The black snake was killed by the Fiance of that young virgin--Maadi:

The first ruler of this empire was said to be Dingha Cisse, who it is said had a semi-divine status. He came with his people from "the East", either Mali or possibly what is modern day Senegal, and created a coalition against the neighboring tribes and “nomadic raiders”. Some believe that after long battles with the Berbers, Cisse married the three daughters of their leader and created an impressive alliance.

Oral tradition in the legend of Wagadu says that after Cisse's death, his two sons, Khine and Dyabe, disagreed about who would become the successor. They fought and Khine won the battle. Dyabe, humiliated, made an accord with a black snake with seven heads named Bida. Dyabe promised to sacrifice a virgin to the snake once every year in return for victory over his brother. He fulfilled his promise to Bida until his death. The wealth of Ghana is depicted by this story, as the Soninke believe that there were rains of gold due to the annual virgin girl sacrifice to the black snake.....

For the Soninke people, the decline of their empire was due to the legend of Wagadu, and the rupture of the pact between the empire and the black snake. This happened after the nobles chose Siya Yatabare as the annual sacrifice. She was the most beautiful and “cleanest” virgin girl in that year, but she was also engaged to be married. Her fiancé, Maadi, was the son of Djamere Soukhounou whose unique quality was that he always did what he promised. When Maadi was told him what would happen, that his fiancée would be given to “Bida” - the black snake of Wagadu, he promised Siya that she would not die in the well of Wagadu.

Siya tried to convince him that it is her destiny, that he should let her to be the gift to the snake in order to save the Empire, but Maadi refused. Within days, he asked his friend, the blacksmith of his village named Bomou, to sharpen his saber. When the day came, Maadi set on his way in the direction of the well of Wagadu. Siya Yatabare was well dressed and her hairstyle was in plaited with gold. The praise-singer encouraged her, as did her family. When they left, she saw Maadi and they both fell in tears. Siya told him that if he killed the snake, Wagadu would not have any more rain and the empire would be destroyed forever. Maadi refused, saying their destinies are ratified. He left her and hid himself nearby to wait for the snake.

The snake of Wagadu had seven heads. When the snake took out his first head, Maadi cut it. He did the same to all the others. When the snake took out his last head, the one in silver, the night became clear like the day. The snake said, “I swear by the lord of seven head, during seven years and seven bad years, and during seven months and seven bad months, during seven days and seven bad days, Wagadu will not receive any rain and any piece of gold”. Maadi did not mind, and cut the last head.
[ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Soninke_people"]History of the Soninke people - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]

The people of Soninke up to this day attribute the decline of the Ghana empire to this Bida-slayer. And indeed the most recent archaeoilogical evidence shows that the decline of Ghana was associated simultaneously with worsening drought conditions and depletion of Gold reserves within the empire.

I also find the reference to the number 7 interesting. Again does this represent the number of days in a week? Is this evidence of a solar myth or just simply coincidence? Is there even any scientific way of being certain?
 

cladking

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
2,772
exile
How then does that explain the Ancient Greek myths of Drako or the Dragon?

They can't all be pure symbolism...
This specific myth;

"Cadmus followed Apollo's advice and found a suitable site for his new city. He sent his attendants to find fresh water to offer as a libation to Jupiter, and they wandered into a cave with springs. As they were getting water, however, they were all killed by "the serpent of Mars, a creature with a wonderful golden crest; fire flashed from its eyes, its body was all puffed up from poison, and from its mouth, set with a triple row of teeth, flickered a three-forked tongue" [SIZE=-1](Metamorphoses III 31-34)[/SIZE]. After his companions did not return, Cadmus himself went into the cave and discovered the dragon. He killed it with his spear, and then (upon the order of Minerva) sowed the dragon's teeth in the ground. From the teeth sprung warriors, who battled each other until only five were left. These five, along with Cadmus himself, were the first people of the city of Thebes."

The Mythology of the Constellations: Draco

...sounds very much like it might be ancient writing translated into modern gobblety gook. It has the main elements of serpents coming from a cave.

I tend to agree that all subsequent stories of dragons are not strictly symbolic. But so far as is known there are very few possible referents for the term "dragon" as told in literature and that the real world referents share very few characteristics with them. This is most probably caused by the nature of people to see what we expect and be unable to see what we don't. This is likely natural to the species but exascerbated by language which no longer allows for the unknown. Language is used in thought and and definitions now are implied to be complete. Where an ancient might say "Re' in its name of that which is round appears in my attention visually on the eastern horizon." We say, "I see the sun come up". We presume that we see reality as it occurs despite the fact that the sun is 8 1/2 minutes ahead of what we see. There is an unspoken assumption that it's spherical even though we might not be able to guess of its shape in other dimensions or even if other dimensions exist. There are numerous assumptions that are not spoken. For instance despite the fact we know the sun doesn't come up at all and it's the spinning of trhe earth that causes the illusion we still say it comes up or goes down. We assume that the gravity of the sun holds the earth such that its spinning will eternally cause rises and sets of the sun. Yet we actually know little more about gravity than the Tower of Babel builders.

We have a "shorthand" way of talking which leads to a "shorthand" way of thinking. Thought is full of non sequiturs, illogic, and assumptions which we never examine. Obviously there are different types of thought in which we all engage and some of these can be far more logical and far more likely to arrive at correct answers. But when you couple the modern traits of seeing what we expect with a belief in dragons it's hardly surprising that people do find referents and write stories. Large lizards, swamp gas, and many barely seen phenomena probably account for most of these stories. Certainly there could well be phenomena of which we aren't aware that are more characteristically dragons but without evidence they simply unweighable. If they exist we need the evidence and if we don't find evidence we don't know they exist. To my knowledge no such stories exist which constitute very good evidence in themselves.

In a nutshell it seems likely that people used to have a lot more respect for the ancients so they saw what they believed the ancients wrote about. It is largely simple misunderstanding.
 
May 2012
89
You say dragon is simply an English word used to describe these creatures of myth--

But based on the fact that i know no other language besides English, i cannot think of a better or more convenient word to describe a feathered serpent or a seven headed snake like Bida, which unlike many other dragons was able to talk, and give birth to Gold assuring the prosperity of the Medieval Kingdom of Ghana. I dont Know how seven heads and the ability to talk and produce gold makes a creature nothing more than an ordinary serpent as you say:


As Thessalonian said the word Dragon comes from the Greek word for serpent. The most famous dragon of Greek Mythology as far as I know was the Hydra--basically a snake with 9 heads, which was not fire breathing.

You are correct. Dragon is the modern term for a large "lizardy" creature. An older term is wurm. They normally weren't winged. You could even put the "waterhorse" or kelpie in the dragon family as they too were reptilian. And yes, Native Americans DID have dragons. The Rainbow serpent was a large multicolored flying....snake. Associated also with water/rain.
I have to go with the fossil theory. Everyone had some kind of fossil to look at and wonder about. Could there also be a racial memory of the elephant bird or Roc?
 

Rasta

Ad Honoris
Aug 2009
21,071
Minnesnowta
Native-Americans have no legends of dragons. They had legends about giant serpents, feathered in the tales of Mesoamerica, horned and evil in North America. These are not dragons. As others said, dragon is simply an English word used to describe these creatures of myth, rather poorly given that horned/feathered serpent is both more descriptive and more accurate. And the African "dragons" are also serpents. A dragon in the original tales was something other than a giant serpent.

On a side note, I've actually ran into people who believe dragons were real because they made this false assumption that all cultures had stories of dragons. Mildly amusing and deeply worrying, to be sure.
Dragon is a word like religion. A broad category that describes similar perceptions. When we get down to the meat and potatoes, religions are widely different in detail as well.