Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Dragon, a popular name for lizards of the genus Draco, of the family Agamidae (q.v.). The species, which range over the Oriental region, with the exception of Ceylon, have the nape crested; the hinder ribs are prolonged, and covered with an extensible skin, which forms a nearly semicircular expansion on each side, enabling these animals to take long leaps from bough to bough. Sometimes the term is used poetically, as by Tennyson (In Memoriam, lvi.), for the gigantic saurians of Secondary times. The dragon of mythology is a winged serpent, sometimes with two and sometimes with four feet. It seems to be pre-eminently Aryan, and figures largely in Vedie and Greek myths, probably passing from the latter into those of Western Europe. The dragon was the personification of evil, moral and physical, and the open and avowed enemy of man. This character, which it had in pre-Christian faiths, passed into Christian writings and symbolism, for St. John in the Apocalypse applies the name "dragon" to "that old serpent called the Devil and Satan," and in painting and sculpture of later times the dragon is a symbol of sin, and especially of heresy and schism. Hence to slay the dragon was to confer some great benefit on the human race, and we find such acts ascribed to heroes, gods, and Christian saints. There is, however, a substratum of truth in every myth, and the dragon was probably evolved from more or less exaggerated stories of gigantic serpents. The Chinese dragon, as is shown in a Zoological Note in the Magazine of Art, 1891, pp. 371, 372, appears to have been developed from the Chinese alligator; and in 1869 one of these saurians - then generally supposed to be confined to the New World - was exhibited to the populace in Shanghai as a "real live dragon." Not only to the Chinese, but to many other races the dragon was a reality. We read of "fiery flying serpents" in the story of the wanderings of the Children of Israel in the desert, and Cruden, in the 18th century, was firmly convinced "that there were winged serpents." Gesner and Aldrovandi give circumstantial accounts of these animals; and the latter figures more than one kind. These monsters have a duck-like body and feet, with a serpent's head, and greatly elongated neck and tail, and vary only in minor points. But in those days there were mock-dragons, and the same authors give illustrations of some which crafty showmen had exhibited as the real animals. Olaus Magnus (History of the Northern Nations, published at Rome, 1555) gives a detailed account of the slaying of a dragon by "Harald, King of Norway." In his youth Harald travelled in the East, and there killed a man, and for this was condemned to be thrown to a dragon. With the aid of his servant, who consented to share his fate, he resolved to turn the tables on the monster. They bribed the keeper, and satisfied the dragon's hunger with some fish. Harald, armed with a sharp knife, then ventured into the den, followed by his servant, who chose for weapon the thighbone and skull of a former victim, who, judging from the picture, must have had disproportionately long legs and a very small head. They then despatched the dragon - no very difficult task, unless the artist, as seems probable, has belied the monster. The Celts chose the dragon as the emblem of sovereignty; and a golden dragon figured on the standard of the West Saxons. The Tudors bore it as one of the supporters of the royal arms, till Mary substituted an eagle for it.