posted on Aug, 3 2012 @ 05:26 PM
I have a theory about the origin of the dragon myth, and sadly, it's not very fantastic (although very interesting I believe).
Doing some research, turns out the word "dragon" comes from Greek "drakkon" which means "snake" or "serpent". Ancient Greek depicted dragons
as giant snakes, not winged reptiles.
What if dragons, as the Greek understood them, were actually python snakes?
Here's my line of thought:
- "Dragon" originally meant snake. Ancient Greek depicted dragons as giant snakes. Two famous examples are Python of Parnassus and Ladon, the
guardian of the Hesperides.
- There are no giant snakes in Greece, but they do exist in Africa and Asia. Today we call them pythons.
- Greek (and later, Roman) sources describe dragons once and again as being snakes of great size, native to India and Ethiopia.
- Python snakes are found in Africa and Asia, including India (Indian and Reticulated pythons) and Ethiopia (African rock python). All three species
can reach huge sizes (up to 8 meters at least) and they probably grew to large sizes more often in ancient times, when they weren´t so heavily hunted
and their habitat was more intact.
- Ancient Greek (and later Roman) sources including Pliny the Elder describe dragons as coiling around their enemies, including enormous beasts such
as elephants, and strangling them. No mention of venom, fire-breathing or other elements, which were almost certainly added in later times.
- Python snakes kill their prey (including very large animals, although not elephants of course) via constriction- coiling around them and squeezing
so hard as to stop breathing and blood flow.
This means that we have three lines of evidence to link dragons and python snakes: a) They're both giant snakes, b) they both live in India and
Ethiopia, and c) they both kill prey by constriction.
There's even one very interesting image of Ladon, the dragon that guarded the Hesperides, that shows him as a large snake (and not even an abnormally
large one!) with skin patterns that closely resemble those of a reticulated python. Although this could be coincidence, it should be noted that the
image dates back to the 4th century BCE. At this time, Greek naturalists and historians were traveling to, and living in India, where the reticulated
python is found.
Is it possible that they sent or brought back either live pythons or their skins to Greece? If this was the case, then the possibilities are
- Live python snakes may have been kept and raised in Greece. Now, python snakes prefer much warmer, more tropical places, yet I suposse some of them
could potentially survive and attain great size (much greater, at least, than native Greek snakes). The large size and dangerousness would make them
intimidating animals. What if some ancient Greek actually did use pythons to guard temples, shrines, you name it, thus starting the idea of the dragon
as a guardian of treasure?
- This may be stretching it, but the fact that Ladon, the dragon of the 4th century painting, looks like a reticulated python is interesting, as this
species is larger and more ferocious than the Indian python which was the other large snake living in India at the time. A better guardian?
- Python, the dragon slain by Apollo in Mount Parnassus, may have been a large python snake. Now, the myth of Apollo vs Python has been interpreted by
some historians/archaeologists as being a memory of an actual happening; the arrival of a new religious leader who crushes the previous cult (which
had the dragon as its deity) and replacing it with his own.
Some people believe Apollo was a real man, and that Python was possibly one too. Others say Python is simply a representation of the old cult. But
what if the dragon was real? A huge, old python snake kept as a sacred animal in the Mount Parnassus shrine and brought from either Africa or Asia?
Snakes had been sacred animals in Greece since before the Olympian gods, so there wouldn´t be anything strange in a temple/shrine that kept live
snakes. What's more; the Kerna spring waters flowed under the temple keeping it warm and steamy according to ancient sources, which sounds like the
perfect environment for a giant snake native to warmer, more tropical countries.
Last seen in Europe in the Roman circus, the python snake became unknown again in the Middle Ages and it is then that the dragon starts gaining wings,
fire breath and other traits borrowed from real and mythical animals (Greek dragons didn´t breathe fire, but Chimaeras did...) and eventually the
modern image of the dragon was born.
This of course covers only the Western dragon myth, but I've been told the Eastern dragon also started out as a snake-like creature, and later
developed into the crested, four legged, whiskered animal we see today. China having native pythons and being close to India and South East Asia, it
may very well have taken inspiration from pythons as well.