Mythical Monsters, by Charles Gould, , at sacred-texts.com
The dragon [which is perfectly fearless of beasts], when it hears the noise of the wings of an eagle, immediately conceals itself in hiding-places.
Æthiopia generates dragons reaching thirty paces long; they have no proper name, but they merely call them slayers of elephants, and they attain a great age. So far do the Æthiopian accounts narrate. The Phrygian history also states that dragons are born which reach ten paces in length; which daily in midsummer, at the hour when the forum is full of men in assembly, are wont to proceed from their caverns, and [near the river Rhyndacus], with part of the body on the ground, and the rest erect, with the neck gently stretched out, and gaping mouth, attract birds, either by their inspiration, or by some fascination, and that those which are drawn down by the inhalation of their breath glide down into their stomach[and that they continue this until sunset,] but that after that, concealing themselves, they lay in ambush for the herds returning from the pasture to the stable, and inflict much injury, often killing the herdsmen and gorging themselves with food.
When dragons are about to eat fruit they suck the juice of the wild chicory, because this affords them a sovereign remedy against inflation. When they purpose lying in wait for a man or a beast, they eat deadly roots and herbs; a thing not unknown to Homer, for he makes mention of the dragon, who, lingering and twisting himself in front of his den, devoured noxious herbs.
In India, as I am told, there is great enmity between the dragon and elephant. Wherefore the dragons, aware that elephants are accustomed to pluck off boughs from trees for food, coil themselves beforehand in these trees, folding the tail half of their body round the limbs, and leaving the front half hanging like a rope. When an elephant approaches for the purpose of browsing on the young branches, the dragon leaping on him, tears out his eyes, and then squeezing his neck with his front part and lashing him with his tail, strangles him in this strange kind of noose.
The elephant has a great horror of the dragon.
In Idumea, or Judæa, during Herod's power, according to the statement of the natives of the country, a very beautiful, and just adolescent, woman, was beloved by a dragon of exceptional magnitude; who visited her betimes and slept with her as a lover. She, indeed, although her lover crept towards her as gently and quietly as lay in his power, yet utterly alarmed, withdrew herself from him; and to the end that a forgetfulness of his passion might result from the absence of his mistress, absented herself for the space of a month.
But the desire of the absent one was increased in him, and his amatory disposition was daily so far aggravated that he frequently came both by day and night to that spot, where he had been wont to be with the maiden, and when unable to meet with his inamorata, was afflicted with a terrible grief. After the girl returned, angry at being, as it were spurned, he coiled himself round her body, and softly and gently chastised her on the legs.
A dragon whelp, born in Arcadia, was brought up with an Arcadian child; and in process of time, when both were older, they entertained a mutual affection for one another. The friends of the boy, seeing how the dragon had increased in magnitude in so short a time, carried him, while sleeping with the boy in the same bed, to a remote spot, and, leaving him there, brought the boy back. The dragon thereon remained in the wood [feeding on growing plants and poisons], preferring a solitary life to one in towns and [human] habitations. Time having rolled on, and the boy having attained youth, and the dragon maturity, the former, while travelling upon one occasion through the wilds in the neighbourhood of his friend, fell among robbers, who attacked him with drawn swords, and being struck, either from pain, or in the hopes
of assistance, cried out. The dragon being a beast of acute hearing and sharp vision, as soon as he heard the lad with whom he had been brought up, gave a hiss in expression of his anger, and so struck them with fear, that the trembling robbers dispersed in different directions, whom having caught, he destroyed by a terrible death. Afterwards, having cared for the wounds of his ancient friend, and escorted him through the places infested with serpents, he returned to the spot where he himself had been exposednot showing any anger towards him on account of his having been expelled into solitude, nor because ill-feeling men had abandoned an old friend in danger.
Hegemon, in his Dardanic verses, among other things mentions, concerning the Thessalian Alevus, that a dragon conceived an affection for him. Alevus possessed, as Hegemon states, golden hair, which I should call yellow, and pastured cattle upon Ossa near the Thessalian spring called Hæmonium [as Anchises formerly did on Ida]. A dragon of great size fell violently in love with him, and used to crawl up gently to him, kiss his hair, cleanse his face by licking it with his tongue, and bring him various spoils from the chase.
Beyond the Oasis of Egypt there is a great desert which extends for seven days journey, succeeded by a region inhabited by the Cynoprosopi, on the way to Æthiopia. These live by the chase of goats and antelopes. They are black, with the head and teeth of a dog, of which animal, in this connection, the mention is not to be looked upon as absurd, for they lack the power of speech, and utter a shrill hissing sound, and have a beard above and below the mouth like a dragon; their hands are armed with strong and sharp nails, and the body is equally hairy with that of dogs.
Lycaonus, King of Emathia, had a son named Macedon, from whom eventually the country was called, the old name becoming obsolete. Now, one of Macedon's sons, named Pindus, was indued both with strength of mind and innate probity, as well as a handsome person, whereas his other children were constituted with mean minds and less vigorous bodies.
When, therefore, these latter perceived Pindus's virtue and other gifts, they not only oppressed him, but in the end ruined themselves in punishment for so great a crime.
Pindus, perceiving that plots were laid for him by his brothers, abandoning the kingdom which he had received from his father, and
being robust and taking pleasure in hunting, not only took to it himself, but led the others to follow his example.
Upon one occasion he was pursuing some young mules, and, spurring his horse to the top of its powers, drew away a long distance from those who were hunting with him. The mules passing into a deep cavern, escaped the sight of their pursuer, and preserved themselves from danger. He leaped down from the horse, which he tied to the nearest tree, and whilst he was seeking with his utmost ability to discover the mules, and probing the dens with his hands, heard a voice warning him not to touch the mules. Wherefore, when he had long and carefully looked about, and could see no one, he feared that the voice was the result of some greater cause, and, mounting his horse, left the place. On the next day he returned to the spot, but, deterred by the remembrance of the voice he had heard, he did not enter the place where they had concealed themselves.
When, therefore, he was cogitating as to who had warned him from following his prey, and, as it appeared, was looking out for mountain shepherds, or hunters, or some cottagea dragon of unusual magnitude appeared to him, creeping softly with a great part of its body, but raising up its neck and head a little way, as if stretching himselfbut his neck and head were of such height as to equal that of the tallest man.
Although Pindus was alarmed at the sight, he did not take to flight, but, rallying himself from his great terror, wisely endeavoured to appease the beast by giving him to eat the birds he had caught, as the price of his redemption.
He, cajoled by the gifts and baits, or, as I may say, touched, left the spot. This was so pleasing to Pindus, that, as an honourable man, and grateful for his escape, he carried to the dragon, as a thank-offering, whatever he could procure from his mountain chases, or by fowling.
Nor were these gifts from his booty without return, for fortune became immediately more favourable to him, and he achieved success in all his hunting, whether he pursued ground or winged game.
Wherefore he achieved a great reputation, both for finding and quickly catching game.
Now, he was so tall that he caused terror from his bulk, while from his excellent constitution and beautiful countenance he inflamed women with so violent an affection for him, that the unmarried, as if they were furious and bacchantes, joined his hunting expeditions; and married women, under the guardianship of husbands, preferred passing their time with him, to being reported among the number of goddesses. And, for the most part, men also esteemed him highly, as his virtue and appearance attracted universal admiration. His brothers only held a hostile and inimical feeling towards him. Wherefore upon a certain
occasion they attacked him from an ambush, when he was hunting alone, and having driven him into the defiles of a river close by, when he was removed from all help, attacked him with drawn swords and slew him.
When the dragon heard its friend's outcries (for it is an animal with as sharp a sense of hearing as it has quickness of vision), it issued from its lair, and at once, casting its coils round the impious wretches, suffocated them.
It did not desist from watching over its slain [friend] with the utmost care, until those nearest related to the deceased came to him, as he was lying on the ground; but nevertheless, although clad in proper mourning, they were prevented through fear of the custodian from approaching and interring the dead with proper rites, until it, understanding from its profound and wonderful nature, that it was keeping them at a distance, quietly departed from its guard and station near the body, in order that it might receive the last tokens of esteem from the bystanders without any interruption.
Splendid obsequies were performed, and the river where the murder was effected received its name from the dead man.
It is therefore a peculiarity of these beasts to be grateful to those from whom they may have received favours.
The Epirotes, both at home and abroad, sacrifice to Apollo, and solemnise with extreme magnificence a feast yearly in his honour, There is a grove among them sacred to the god, and inclosed with a wall, within which are dragons, pleasing to the god. Hither a sacred virgin comes alone, naked, and presents food to the dragons. The Epirotes say that these are descended from the Delphic python. If they regarded the virgin ministering to them with favour, and took the food promptly, they were believed to portend a fertile and healthful year; if they were rude towards her, and would not accept the proffered food, some predicted, or at least expected, the contrary for the coming year.
There is a peculiar divination of the dragon, for in Lavinium, a town of the Latins but in Lavinium, there is a large and dense sacred grove, and near it the shrine of the Argolic Juno. Within the grove is a cave and deep den, the lair of a dragon.
Sacred virgins enter this grove on stated days, who carry a barley cake in their hands, with bandaged eyes. A certain divine afflatus leads them accurately to the den, and gently, and step by step, they proceed without hindrance, and as if their eyes were uncovered. If they are virgins, the dragon admits the food as pure and fit for a deity.
[paragraph continues] If otherwise, it does not touch it, perceiving and divining them to be impure.
Ants, for the sake of cleansing the place, carry from the grove the cake left by the vitiated virgin, broken into little pieces, so that they may easily carry it. When this happens, it is perceived by the inhabitants, and those who have entered are pointed out and examined, and whoever proves to have forfeited her virginity is punished with the penalties appointed by the laws.
"The masculine sex also seems to be privileged by nature among brutes, inasmuch as the male dragon is distinguished by a crest and hairs, with a beard."
Onesicritus Astypalæus writes that there were two dragons in India [nurtured by an Indian dancer], one of forty-six and the other of eighty cubits, and that Alexander (Philip's son) earnestly endeavoured to see them. It is affirmed in Egyptian books that, during the reign of Philadelphus, two dragons were brought from Æthiopia into Philadelphia alive, one forty, the other thirty cubits in magnitude.
Three were also brought in the time of King Evergetis, one nine and another seven cubits. The Egyptians say that the third was preserved with great care in the temple of Æsculapius.
It is also said that there are asps of four cubits in length. Those who write the history of the affairs of Chios say that a dragon of extreme magnitude was produced in a valley, densely crowded and gloomy with tall trees, of the Mount Pelienæus in that island, whose hissing struck the Chians with horror.
As none either of the husbandmen or shepherds dare, by approaching near, estimate its magnitude, but from its hissing judged it to be a large and formidable beast, at length its size became known by a remarkable accident. For the trees of the valley being struck by a very strong wind, and the branches ignited by the friction, a great fire thence arising, embraced the whole spot, and surrounded the beast, which, being unable to escape, was consumed by the ardour of the flame. By these means all things were rendered visible in the denuded place, and the Chians freed, from their alarms, came to investigate, and lighted on bones of unusual magnitude, and an immense head, from which they were enabled to conjecture its dimensions when living.
Homer was not rash in his line,
[paragraph continues] For the dragon, while sacred and to be worshipped, has within himself something still more of the divine nature of which it is better to remain in ignorance.
Indeed, a dragon received divine honours in a certain tower in Melita in Egypt. He had his priests and ministers, his table and bowl. Every day they filled the bowl with flour kneaded with honey, and went away; returning on the following day, they found the bowl empty.
Upon one occasion, a man of illustrious birth, who entertained an intense desire of seeing the dragon, having entered alone, and placed the food, went out; and when the dragon commenced to feed at the table, he opened suddenly and noisily the doors, which according to custom he had closed.
The dragon indignantly left; but he who had desired to see him, to his own destruction, being seized with an affliction of the mind, and having confessed his crime, presently lost his speech, and shortly after died.
When Halia, the daughter of Sybasis, had entered the grove of Diana in Phrygia, a certain sacred dragon of large size appeared and copulated with her; whence the Ophiogenæ deduce the origin of their race.
Alexander (while he attacked or devastated some portions of India, and also seized others), lighted on, among other numerous animals, a dragon, which the Indians, because they considered it to be sacred, and worshipped it with great reverence, in a certain cave, besought him with many entreaties to let alone, which he agreed to. However, when the dragon heard the noise made by the passing army (for it is an animal endowed with a very acute sense of hearing as well as of vision), it frightened and alarmed them all with a great hissing and blowing. It was said to be seventy cubits long.
It did not, however, show the whole of itself, but only exposed its head from the cave. Its eyes were said to have been of the size (and rotundity) of a Macedonian shield.