Found in many stories, dragons are powerful creatures that are depicted as either serpentine or reptilian. The word dragon stems from the Latin draconem, meaning ‘huge serpent.’ Modern tales depict dragons as reptilian creatures with four legs, many of whom can walk upright on two. Ancient myths portray them as being more snakelike, however, slithering along with their bellies close to the ground. These dragons are all described as having scaly bodies, often with a dazzling effect, and living to be very old. Most dragons laid eggs, from which their young would hatch, and these were often coveted. A dragon egg was believed to bring luck to humans, and in many stories they would be stolen from the beast at great personal risk.
Dragons were also believed to be fire-breathers, with magical capabilities, and the ability to change their gender as required. They often possessed a great love for treasure, and would hoard items with great value placed upon them. Dragons are often depicted as seeing themselves as intellectually superior to humans, and have the ability to speak. They can be considered seasonal beasts, which can enhance their powers using the elements. Many Asian cultures considered the dragon to have major spiritual significance, and art with their images has been found all over the world including: paintings, sculptures and metal statues.
Modern scientists speculate that the belief of many ancient cultures in dragons came from their observation, and discovery, of other animals. Different characteristics were merged to create a large and powerful creature. Some of these may have included: spitting cobras as the origin of breathing fire, the discovery of dinosaur fossils and the displacement of large land reptiles, such as crocodiles found out of their natural habitats.
During pre-Christian Europe, dragons were seen as beneficial to a society and soldiers’ banners would often bear their image. The flag of Wales still depicts a red dragon, Y Ddraig Goch, against a white background. Legends claim that this powerful beast had been flown by both King Arthur and Uther Pendragon. Other European cultures that respected dragons included the Greeks, who viewed them as snakelike creatures associated with the sea, and the Russians, whose dragons frequently had multiple heads.
The myths about dragons extended to Asia, where the Persians believed that a dragon’s baby would be the same colour as its mother’s eyes. Persian books written during the era describe the dragon evolving from a snake, that lived to be over 100. They are then thrown into the sea, to avoid their torment of others animals, where they continue to grow. Eventually, the creatures grew two ‘wings’ like a fish which are the cause of the waves in the ocean. Eating the heart of one of these snakelike dragons would bring a warrior great courage, their skins would heal pain that had been caused by unrequited or broken love and any land in which the dragon’s head was buried would become fertile.