Popularized most recently by the hit HBO show Game of Thrones, legends of dragons have permeated human societies for centuries, dating as far back as the ancient Greeks and Sumerians. Derived from the Greek word “draconta,” meaning “to watch,” mythological accounts usually paint dragon’s as malicious adversaries.
Large, serpentine, the ability to breath fire: these things certainly lend themselves to the dragon’s imposition.
While different cultures have different interpretations, many ancient people generally saw dragon’s as any other cryptid; that they could possess both good and bad characteristics and aren’t evil but instead malevolent. Some sources will say myths of dragon’s explain how ancient people understood the gigantic (dinosaur) bones they found, but it turns out dragon myths predate the discovery of fossils. Ancient’s understood dragon’s as beings that could help you just as well as hurt you, much like the Seelie and Unseelie courts of the Fae.
One famous myth is the Greek’s Python; an earth dragon who lived at the Oracle of Gaea at Delphi who was ordered to kill the goddess Leto at the hands of Hera, because Leto had slept with Zeus, Hera’s husband. Leto escaped to Delos, and when Apollo (one of her sons) grew up, he decided to take revenge on the dragon. Python fled Mount Parnassas and went to the Oracle of Gaea at Delphi trying to escape; but Apollo killed him.
If we head over to ancient Eqypt, there is even more to uncover about dragon myth. Apep is a giant serpant in Egypt mythology that resides in the Duat, or the Egyptian Underworld. The Bremner-Rhind papyrus, written around 310 BC, preserves the legends of Ra, the sun god, and how the sun setting is the sun god preparing to go down into the underworld to battle Apep. Thunderstorms and earthquakes were said to be caused by Apep’s roar, and solar eclipses were Apep attempting to attack Ra in the daytime. Significantly, he is the deification of darkness and chaos, called izft. Therefore, Apep or Apophis is the opponent of light and Ma’at, order/truth.
“Zhulong is one of the most prominent of Chinese dragons, and demonstrably one of the most ancient in the world. It is also one of the most useful to illustrate the evolution of religious ideology. In classic Chinese literature Zhulong is a personification of a set of natural occurrences, the creation of night and day and the seasonal winds, which were monsoonal.”
Slowly the understanding of dragon’s has changed. They have become associated with treasure, water, and women; most notably in protecting the former or capturing the latter. “From an anthropological point of view dragon/serpent myths point to the core themes of life, death, regeneration, power, and the need for existential retrieval. For Levi-Strauss (1962), mythology reveals the dichotomous nature of the human mind. Hence, in dragon/serpent symbolism we often find various oppositional categories; life/death; human-world/underworld; power/crisis; death/regeneration” (Dobson, 97). Whether real or myth, the dragon’s legendary reach is what earns them a place in the Crypdex.