Obsession of the Day:
Dragons And Other Mythical Creatures
You are a wayfarer at sea venturing through Europe, East Asia and Greece. The wind whirls around you. Endless tufts of water surround you on all sides. Situated in a boat that is being tossed about the ocean blue like a buoy on a beach in a storm, you look up. There is nothing but sky above you, no sign of land before you. You appear to be in the middle of nowhere and yet… you are here. Where is here exactly? In the sea of the serpents my friend, that place where the dragons be.
Dragons: Why We’re So Obsessed With Them
First of all they’re fire breathing. Plus, they fly. This is not to mention the fact that dragons add a little hint of mysticism to just about everything they’re featured on from globes to video games to movies but the main point of intrigue is this… They might actually be real.
Dragons: Gracing Ancient Maps and Modern Legends
“Hic Sunt Dracones” declares the Hunt-Lenox globe of 1510, a globe you can still see displayed at the New York Public Library. The controversial phrase is allegedly Latin for “Here Be Dragons”. For supporters of the “dragons do exist” theory, this spherical map is all the proof that they need but it isn’t really all the proof they have. Several attempts at disproving dragons have been unsuccessful and, in truth, the scientific community is somewhat baffled by the phenomenon. Experts claim that maps from the ancient world were elaborate and colorful intentionally. They were designed to make journeymen and journeywomen want to, you know, journey. Brave the seas and hunt for treasure and come home with elaborate, colorful stories of their own. As legend would have it, this is the reason maps and globes were so often decorated in mythical creatures— in order to arouse intrigue.
Why This Theory Doesn’t Hold Water
This theory doesn’t hold water mainly because when it comes to our own planet, we’ve almost completely stopped exploring. It appears that facing the roaring sea and staring into the eye of the ocean or even the giant squid for that matter, is no longer at a high point on our list of priorities. We feed our fancies with virtual realities, leaving the real life monsters out there lurking in the muddy waters.
“But we have tons of maps,” you might be thinking. And that’s true. We have all sorts of digital directions stored in data bases across the globe but here’s the problem. 95% of the oceans still remain uncharted and when you consider the fact that 71% of the planet is water, you’re talking about a whole lot of unaccounted for space. There’s a debate in here that I’d like to propose— Which do we know more about, Earth or Mars?
Could Dragons Really Exist?
Well, here’s what we know for certain. Dragon stories have been in heavy circulation since even before the written history of humankind emerged. There is also some archeological evidence for dragons. You’ve seen this evidence in museums but you know it by a different name—Dinosaur bones. The thing about the rumors, myths and legends related to dragons that’s rather shocking is the descriptions were near identical. We’re talking about a time when villagers from even neighboring towns were unlikely to meet due to the sheer danger posed by travel. Yet people from all corners of the Earth who likely didn’t know each other shared eerily similiar stories. Today, paleantologists think they have the answer to this mystery.
The Tie Between Dragons and Dinosaurs
Meet Draconex Hogwartsia whose name was inspired by Harry Potter. He’s pictured above. This prehistoric skeleton is what paleontologists believe all the fuss was about. According to independent scholar and author Adrienne Mayor, the knobs, horns and muzzle all support the theory that this fossil is in fact a dragon and not a dinosaur as was previously presumed. Records indicate that it could be as ancient as 66 million years old. It recently took center stage at “Dragons Unearthed”, an exhibit that examines ancient stories and the fossils that coincide with them.
Yes. Ancient Stories Have Fossils That Support Them
It makes sense that our ancestors were probably too busy struggling with basic survival to be bothered telling fictional tales. Stories were once the only way information was passed around so these stories were probably sacred. More than likely, they were also probably true. The aforementioned scholar has dedicated a great deal of time to proving the links between myths and fossils in an attempt to show that many mythical creatures were, and maybe even are, real. Other legendary characters that went from the fiction to the non-fiction section of the library include:
- Giant Squid
- Unktehi (the horned sea serpent)
While the above listed species went by different names and were often found to be slightly different from the tales it doesn’t change the fact that they exist(ed).
Were Dragons Just From Prehistoric Times?
Given our inability to further examine the oceans of the planet, the world may never know…
“None of the animals is so wise as the dragon. His blessing power is not a false one. He can be smaller than small, bigger than big, higher than high, and lower than low.”
Chinese scholar Lu Dian
dragon stories from around The World
Here is a brief overview regarding what people in different regions said about dragons and Sea Monsters.
Asia’s Dragon Tales
In Asia, dragons were beheld in a realm with deities. In addition to fire breathing powers and the ability to soar through the air, they were also believed to:
- Change the Seasons
- Control All Bodies of Water on Earth
- Bring Rain
- Give Out Magical Powers
- Protect Land and Sea
The small details varied from village to village but the descriptions of the actual dragons along with the respect for their authority was agreed upon. The dragon has held a spot in Asian culture for more than 4,000 years. To this day, these mystical beings are widely accepted power sources for various religions like:
The Dragon Fables of Ancient Greece
The fabled dragons of ancient Greece were spookily similar to those described in Asia. Much like the inhabitants of the Orient, the Greek often worshipped them and ascribed powers to them. The dragons of Greek mythology were winged, ferocious and magical. Many were believed to have multiple heads. One multiple headed dragon known throughout Greece as Lernaean Hydra was closer to a Sea Serpent. He was made famous after allegedly being slayed by Hercules and henceforth, his picture graced many a piece of ancient pottery. Fanged and venomous, he was also reputed to be immortal, that is, until he was slayed. While this elaborate description may not shock you at first, please consider that this same description was retold elsewhere…
Sea Serpents Chronicled in the Middle East
At this point, it might come as no surprise to you that the fabled maritime monster known as Lernaean Hydra in Greece was being called by a different name in the Middle East. Nevertheless, this guy was spotted donning multiple heads and battling a slew of different deities. Other regions that bear records of a multi-headed sea dragon include:
- The British Isles
While many speculate this dragon tale was based largely on the giant squid it is notable to mention that giant squid were thought to be fictional until 2004. Also worth looking into— the mention of the Sea Serpent in the bible along with stories of a Catholic Saint who slew him.
Was Dragon Talk Just Whisper Down the Lane?
Pictured above is one of those elaborately decorated maps we mentioned earlier but it’s an important one because this particular map marks the onset of an era. The 15th century, ironically the time the talk of dragons began, was historically significant for a different reason. This era was known as the Age of Discovery and it was right about the time when sailing started getting smooth. As a result, the spice trade, another one of my obsessions, ensued. The spice trade brought people from all corners of the Earth together for the very first time. Did they get together and embellish wild stories about giant lizards, snakes and fish? You decide.
Some Have Entered, Some Have Crouched-Dragons In Pop Culture
If dragons really were just an exaggerated tale (tee hee), then none have told a taller tale than we. We’ve perpetuated the myth and the monster in everything from film to festival. We even ride the serpent on our boardwalks. Here are just a few fun facts and modern dragon spottings to peruse.
Rayquaza is back with a vengeance thanks to the reemergence of the beloved Pokemon which, by the way, made $14 million in its first week. But let’s not forget about an equally cute, awe-inspiring dragon by the name of…
Yoshi’s first spin off was created by the same crew that brought you Pokemon so double bank for them. Another fun Yoshi fact is that his character was inspired by a Japanese video game called Devil World. Speaking of Asian inspired video games…
The Mortal Combat Dragon
And that’s my obsession. Dragons— Fact or fable, fiction or fossil? Did they leave behind a legend or a legacy? The verdict’s still out and there’s definitely room for a sequel.
upcoming obsessions Fueled By this topic
Blogging about dragons has stirred in me thoughts about fossil hunters, Earth Vs. Mars, Harry Potter, Dungeons and Dragons, video games, Stanford researchers, arcades, lanterns and moats. Stick around because any or all of these subject matters are bound to show up in coming posts.
the obsession that started today’s topic
Whenever possible, I like to gather my information the good old fashioned way—by heading over to the library. Below are the books and websites I relied upon to create this post along with which part(s) of the topic they covered.
- For an indepth look at the Monster Maps that came out during the Age of Discovery, please view “Magill’s Choice Explorers“.
- For more on the link between dinosaurs and dragons, see this post from Stanford Humanities Center.
- To continue learning about sea serpents, check out Encyclopedia Britannica.
- To learn about Learnean Hydra and Greek Mythology see Wikipedia.
This webpage contains unaltered versions of Wikimedia’s DracorexDisplay, Age of Discovery,Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra, 1875-1876, by Gustave Moreau – Art Institute of Chicago , Sea serpent and Flickr’s Here be Dragons!, Black Dragon Pool Park (黑龙潭公园) Dragon and This dragon breathes fire at random times. It’s very cool. #harrypotter #universalstudios, as well as Deviant Art Yoshi pretends to be godzilla all of which were available under Creative Commons licensing.
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