Dragons are legendary creatures, typically with serpentine or otherwise reptilian traits, that feature in the myths of many cultures.
==[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dragon_(PSF).png Overview]== An illustration of a dragon. Dragons are usually shown in modern times with a body like a huge lizard, or a snake with two pairs of lizard-type legs, and able to emit fire from their mouths. The European dragon has bat-type wings growing from its back. A dragon-like creature with no front legs is known as a wyvern. Following discovery of how pterasaurs walked on the ground, some dragons have been portrayed without front legs and using the wings as front legs pterosaur-fashion when on the ground.
Although dragons occur in many legends around the world, different cultures have varying stories about monsters that have been grouped together under the dragon label. Some dragons are said to breathe fire or to be poisonous. They are commonly portrayed as serpentine or reptilian, hatching from eggs and possessing typically scaly or feathered bodies. They are sometimes portrayed as having especially large eyes or watching treasure very diligently, a feature that is the origin of the word dragon (Greek drakeîn meaning "to see clearly"). Some myths portray them with a row of dorsal spines. European dragons are more often winged, while Oriental versions of the dragon resemble large snakes. Dragons can have a variable number of legs: none, two, four, or more when it comes to early European literature
Dragons are often held to have major spiritual significance in various religions and cultures around the world. In many Asian cultures dragons were, and in some cultures still are, revered as representative of the primal forces of nature, religion and the universe. They are associated with wisdom—often said to be wiser than humans—and longevity. They are commonly said to possess some form of magic or other supernatural power, and are often associated with wells, rain, and rivers. In some cultures, they are also said to be capable of human speech. In some traditions dragons are said to have taught humans to talk.
Origin and etymologyEdit
Dragon on the Ishtar Gate, ca. 600 BC The word dragon derives from Greek δρακων, via Latin draco. It is attested in Middle English from the 13th century, in the context of medieval bestiaries and legends
The Greek and Latin term referred to any great serpent, not necessarily mythological, and this usage was also current in English up to the 18th century. Today the great komodo lizard Varanus komodoensis is also known in English as the Komodo dragon. The King James Bible uses the words "serpent", "dragon" and "Devil" in a fairly interchangeable manner.
Dinosaur and mammalian fossils were occasionally mistaken for the bones of dragons and other mythological creature; for example, a discovery in 300 BC in Wucheng, Sichuan, and China, was labeled as such by Chang Qu. Adrienne Mayor has written on the subject of fossils as the inspiration for myths in her book The First Fossil Hunters, and in an entry in the Encyclopedia of Geology she wrote: "Fossil remains generated a variety of geomyths speculating on the creatures' identity and cause of their destruction. Many ancient cultures, from China and India to Greece, America, and Australia, told tales of dragons, monsters, and giant heroes to account for fossils of animals they had never seen alive." In Australia, stories of such creatures may have referred to the land crocodiles, Quinkana, a terrestrial crocodile which grew from 5 to possibly 7 metres in length, or the 4 tonne monitor lizard Varanus priscus (formerly Megalania prisca) a giant, carnivorous goanna that might have grown to as long as 7 metres, and weighed up to 1,940 kilograms, or rainbow serpents (possibly Wonambi naracoortensis) that were part of the extinct megafauna of that continent.
In Ancient Greece the first mention of a "dragon" is derived from the lliad where Agamemnon is described as having a blue dragon motif on his sword belt and a three-headed dragon emblem on his breast plate. However, the Greek word used (δράκωνdrákōn, genitive δράκοντοϛdrákontos) could also mean "snake". δράκωνdrákōn is a form of the aorist participle active of Greek δέρκομαιdérkomai = "I see", derkeîn = "to see", and originally likely meant "that which sees", or "that which flashes or gleams" (perhaps referring to reflective scales). This is the origin of the word "dragon".
In 217 A.D., Philostratus discussed dragons (δράκων, drákōn) in India in The Life of Apollonius of Tyana (II,17 and III,6-8). The Loeb Classical Library translation (by F.C. Conybeare) mentions (III,7) that “In most respects the tusks resemble the largest swine’s, but they are slighter in build and twisted, and have a point as unabraded as sharks’ teeth.”
According to Aelian's On Animals, Ethiopia was inhabited by a species of dragon that hunted elephants. It could grow to a length of 180 feet and had a lifespan rivaling that of the most enduring of animals.
European dragons exist in folklore and mythology among the overlapping cultures of Europe. Despite having wings, the dragon is generally depicted as having an underground lair or cave, making it an ancient creature of the earth element.
Chinese dragons, and Oriental dragons generally, can take on human form and are usually seen as benevolent, whereas European dragons are usually malevolent though there are exceptions (one exception being Y Ddraig Goch, the Red Dragon of Wales). Malevolent dragons also occur in the mythology of Persia (see Azhi Dahaka) and Russia, among other places.
Dragons are particularly popular in China and the five-clawed dragon was a symbol of the Chinese emperors, with the phoenix or fenghuang, the symbol of the Chinese empress. Dragon costumes manipulated by several people are a common sight at Chinese festivals.
Japanese dragon myths amalgamate native legends with imported stories about dragons from China, Korea and India. Like these other Asian dragons, most Japanese ones are water deities associated with rainfall and bodies of water, and are typically depicted as large, wingless, serpentine creatures with clawed feet. Gould writes the Japanese dragon is "invariably figured as possessing three claws".
Toy dragons, on sale in a California gift shop, 2005 In the early 20th Century sculpture of the Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland, inspired by Medieval art, dragons are a frequent theme - as symbol of sin but also as a nature force, fighting against man.
There are numerous examples of dragons in modern literature, especially the fantasy genre.
In the 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, the major antagonist is a dragon named Smaug. Smaug hoards a great treasure but is ultimately shot down with an arrow by an archer who was told about a soft patch in Smaug's underbelly armor. Other dragons appearing in Tolkien's works include Glaurung, the "father of dragons" created by Morgoth, along with Ancalagon the Black and Scatha. Also, in Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham, a dragon named ChrysophylaxDives is encountered.
Dragonriders of Pern is an extensive science fiction series of novels and short stories created and primarily written by Anne McCaffrey. Since 2004, McCaffrey's son Todd McCaffrey has also published Pern novels, both in collaboration with Anne and on his own. The Pernese use intelligent firebreathing creatures called "dragons" who have a telepathic bond with their riders, formed by mental impressions which the dragons receive when they hatch from their eggs.
Some modern pseudo-biological accounts of dragons give them the generic Draco, although the generic name Draco is used in real-world biology for a genus of small gliding agamid lizard.
The Dragons of ProbabilityEdit
Stanislaw Lem, in his whimsical Cyberaid, explores the statistical notion of Dragons. His two fabled Constructors, Trurl and Klapaucius, while satisfied with the impossibility of Dragons, are not satisfied to end the discussion at this point. In line with the White Queen's assertion in Through the Looking Glass that one can "Think of hundreds of impossible things before breakfast", an entire scientific community quickly establishes itself around the study of impossible Dragons. Statistically improbable, Dragons are the most likely impossible creature to exist, with a higher (though equally near infinite) improbability assigned to Fairies, Gnomes, Pixies, Witches, and Elves, in that order. With the development of Draconology (the Statistical science of determining and describing Dragon Implausibility in a quantifable manner), developments included determining that Dragons exist within Configurational Space, the same statistical environment in which electrons exist and move. Trurl develops the theory of the Dracotron, and uses it in a manner analogous to the Mossbauer to detect a Dragon's tail, which nearly costs him his life. In discovering that Dragons exist in configurational space, this explains how in the (incredibly infinitesimally likely) cases where dragons are encountered, the beast when cornered will slip back into this space-time outside of reality. The Beast, being stupid and obstinate, does so instinctively. Trurl and Klapacius have a few adventures involving their statistical science, which involve the quantum mechanical uncertainties associated with Dragons.