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Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art, by John Vinycomb, [1909], at

p. 91

The Crocodile as the Prototype of the Dragon

In the existing representatives of the antediluvian saurians, the crocodile and alligator, we see the prototypes of the dragons and hydras of poetic fancy. The crocodile is a well-known huge amphibious reptile, in general contour resembling a great lizard covered with large horny scales that cannot be easily pierced, except underneath, and reaching twenty-five to thirty feet in length. The crocodile was held sacred by the ancient Egyptians, the Nile was and is its best-known habitat; it is also found in the rivers of the Indian seas. Though an awkward creature upon land, it darts with rapidity through the water after fish, which is its appropriate food, but it is dangerous also to dogs and other creatures, as well as to human beings entering the water or lingering incautiously on the bank.

It is the Lacerta crocodilus of Linnæus, from Greek κροκοδειλος (krokodeilos) a word of uncertain origin. The Alligator, the American crocodile, takes its name from the Spanish El Legarto, the lizard. The Latin form is Lacertus or Lacerta.

Miss Millington, in her "Heraldry in History, Poetry and Romance," says that both dragon and crocodile seem anciently to have been confounded under one name, and that Philip de Thaun, in his "Bestiarus," says that "crocodille signifie diable en ceste vie." Guillim, an old heraldic writer, says:

p. 92

[paragraph continues] "The dragons are naturally so hot that they cannot be cooled by drinking of waters, but still gape for the air to refresh them, as appeareth in Jeremiah xiv. 6."

Young, author of "Night Thoughts," in a footnote appended to the magnificent description of the leviathan (crocodile), in his paraphrase of part of the book of Job says: "The crocodile, say the naturalists, lying under water, and being there forced to hold its breath, when it emerges, the breath long repressed is hot, and bursts out so violently that it resembles fire and smoke. The horse suppresses not his breath by any means so long, neither is he so fierce and animated," yet the most correct of poets ventures to use the same metaphor regarding him:

"Collectumque premens volvit sub naribus ignem."


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