Evolution of the Dragon, by G. Elliot Smith, , at sacred-texts.com
Throughout the greater part of the area which tradition has peopled with dragons, iron is regarded as peculiarly lethal to the monsters. This seems to be due to the part played by the "smiths" who forged iron weapons with which Horus overcame Set and his followers, 1 or in the earlier versions of the legend the metal weapons by means of which the people of Upper Egypt secured their historic victory over the Lower Egyptians. But the association of meteoric iron with the thunderbolt, the traditional weapon for destroying dragons, gave added force to the ancient legend and made it peculiarly apt as an incident in the story.
But though the dragon is afraid of iron, he likes precious gems and kung-tsing ("The Stone of Darkness") and is fond of roasted swallows.
The partiality of dragons for swallows was due to the transmission of a very ancient story of the Great Mother, who in the form of Isis was identified with the swallow. In China, so ravenous is the monster for this delicacy, that anyone who has eaten of swallows should avoid crossing the water, lest the dragon whose home is in the deep should devour the traveller to secure the dainty morsel of swallow. But those who pray for rain use swallows to attract the beneficent deity. Even in England swallows flying low are believed to be omens of coming raina tale which is about as reliable as the Chinese variant of the same ancient legend.
"The beautiful gems remind us of the Indian dragons; the pearls of the sea were, of course, in India as well as China and Japan, considered to be in the special possession of the dragon-shaped sea-gods" (de Visser, p. 69). The cultural drift from West to East along the southern coast of India was effected mainly by sailors who were searching for pearls. Sharks constituted the special dangers the divers had to incur in exploiting pearl-beds to obtain the precious "giver of life". But at the time these great enterprises were first undertaken in the Indian Ocean the people dwelling in the neighbourhood of the chief pearl-beds regarded the sea as the great source of all life-giving virtues and the god who exercised these powers was incarnated in a fish. The sharks therefore had to be brought into harmony with this scheme, and
they were rationalized as the guardians of the storehouse of life-giving pearls at the bottom of the sea.
I do not propose to discuss at present the diffusion to the East of the beliefs concerning the shark and the modifications which they underwent in the course of these migrations in Melanesia and elsewhere; but in my lecture upon "the Birth of Aphrodite" I shall have occasion to refer to its spread to the West and explain how the shark's rôle was transferred to the dog-fish in the Mediterranean. The dog-fish then assumed a terrestrial form and became simply the dog who plays such a strange part in the magical ceremony of digging up the mandrake.
At present we are concerned merely with the shark as the guardian of the stores of pearls at the bottom of the sea. He became identified with the Nâga and the dragon, and the store of pearls became a vast treasure-house which it became one of the chief functions of the dragon to guard. This episode in the wonder-beast's varied career has a place in most of the legends ranging from Western Europe to Farthest Asia. Sometimes the dragon carries a pearl under his tongue or in his chin as a reserve of life-giving substance.
Mr. Donald Mackenzie has called attention 1 to the remarkable influence upon the development of the Dragon Myth of the familiar Egyptian representation of the child Horus with a finger touching his lips. On some pretence or other, many of the European dragon-slaying heroes, such as Sigurd and the Highland Finn, place their fingers in their mouths. This action is usually rationalized by the statement that the hero burnt his fingers while cooking the slain monster.
135:1 Budge, "Gods of the Egyptians," vol. i., p. 476.
136:1 "Egyptian Myth and Legend," pp. 340 et seq.