Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Dragon in Question

Yet another PBS TV show yesterday, combining cartoons and documentary footage, aimed at educating children about that awesome creature, the male lion, set me musing—about dragons. The lion, the dragon, and the eagle are probably the most-used images in heraldry; if we wink knowingly at double-headed eagles and lions, accepting them as products of artistic license, we have two animals still alive and well today, but what about that dragon? One can also extend the list. All manner of other actual animals also play a role; among the carnivorous the wolf and bear play respectable roles. Among the vegetarians, the horse leads, I think, but there are also bulls, oxen, donkeys, sheep, and goats as well. Among the more imaginative are fused animals, thus camel-body-donkey’s head. As we advance in time, sure enough we find both elephant and whale. Yes, yes. But what about the dragon? What are the roots of that creature in human memory? Or is it—and its fiery breath—entirely the product of imagination?

The current consensus appears to assert that—and for a reason. The reason is that the last reasonable physical prototype of a dragon, some gigantic carnivorous dinosaur, disappeared 65 million years ago roughly, while humans anatomically like ourselves appeared a mere 200,000 years ago. Conclusion: no human was actually threatened by a dinosaur, got eaten by one, or escaped being eaten after a close encounter with that fiery breath. It amuses me to read the following sentence in Wikipedia’s article on Dragon (link): “Some creationists believe that dragons of mythology were actually dinosaurs, and that they died out with other creatures around the end of the ice age.” Such a characterization, to be sure, is the ultimate dismissal of the possibility; creationists, so-called, appear to compress the past drastically. Based on Biblical studies, they think creation took place roughly 6,000 years ago.

But there are many ways to skin the cat. My own gut feel is that the great symbols of humanity are always rooted in real experience. I would bet that real humans did encounter Tyrannosaurus Rex or a close cousin; the wings so typical on dragons in the west, but not the Chinese variety, may have been poetic license too; I’d prove it, too, if only I had handy access to the Akashic Records. (Google has a ways to go yet.) Creationists shorten the age of the earth, but anthropology may be artificially shortening the history of homo sapiens. As I’ve noted in a post on “Catastrophism” last year (link) we don’t really know what prevailed in times about 10,000 years ago and going back; all we have is stone and debris, and carbon dating; the latter may not be a very high-resolution lens.

Now as for that fiery breath, we do know something about that. It doesn’t take a dragon to produce it. Why, in our extended family lives Katie the Beagle who, before some very expensive dental work corrected the phenomenon, used to have a breath so strong that it could derail a speeding train. One didn’t see the flames—but felt them. That breath might explain the reason why St. George stayed up on his horse and used a long lance.
Illustration is the coat of arms of Kahlenbergerdorf, an independent community until 1892, now part of Vienna. The figure in the image is identified as St. George. The source is Wikipedia (link).

1 comment:

  1. Umm...
    I think the ancients - and in particular the Greeks whom I have read - did frequently come across dinosaur bones and fossils, and their knowledge of human and animal anatomy led them to postulate such beings...

    which was not all that off the mark.