Thursday, December 11, 2008

Discussion Point Sources

- Picture of Saint George sourced from -

- Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra quote sourced from Here Be Dragons: A Fantastic Bestiary. by - Ariane Defacampagne, and Christian Defacampagne.

- Gargoyle Dragons sourced from Holy terrors: Gargoyles on medieval building by Jenatta Rebold Benton. Picture found at

- Dragons as symbol of Avarice excerpt found in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.

- Historie of Foure-Footed Beasts (1658) By: Edward Topsell, excerpt found in - Wonder Beasts: Tales and Lore of the Phoenix, the Griffin, the Unicorn, and the Dragon by Joe Nigg.

Sources Bibliography

Defacampagne, Ariane, and Christian Defacampagne. Here Be Dragons: A Fantastic Bestiary. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2003.

"dragon." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 11 Dec. 2008 .

Nigg, Joe. Wonder Beasts: Tales and Lore of the Phoenix, the Griffin, the Unicorn,and the Dragon. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, Inc., 1995.

Rebold Benton, Jenatta. Holy terrors: Gargoyles on medieval buildings. New York:Abbeville Press, 1997.


Throughout the course of time the dragon has always been present in the human’s imagination. It is fascinating to realize that for the majority of time people thought this beast to be an actual creature, that though they had most likely, never seen one they still believed on their existence. It is also interesting to see how these creatures, due to their mysterious nature, took on so many different attributes and forms.

The most important thing that I learned from this study about dragons during the Renaissance was the fact that they were monsters of ambivalence. At times they would portray Interestingly, while they possessed so many different attributes they did always have the association with power, but what it came down to was how they used their power. For sometimes they used their might to be guardians of something positive, but at other times they used their forces to protect selfish desires. No one knew or knows exactly what a dragon looks or acts like and because of the amounts of artists and writers that were present during the renaissance, this ambivalence was only amplified. Because if a painter depicted a dragon in his work, or if a writer wrote about the terrors of a dragon there was no one present who could refute them saying by saying “No, that is not a dragon”. So, the idea of the dragon’s ambivalence only grew.

However, like most of everything that was once scientifically confusing to the peoples of the Renaissance the dragon became for of a defined creature. This definition lead to the realistic destruction of the dragon. For when the monster was created through scientific examinations and writings, more science came to state that dragons did not exist.

The dragon was an important fixture that was very common in the minds of everyone during the Renaissance. It had many traits which made it very distant and mystical, but still possibly living in the hills or under the sea. Yet, like most ideas that were believed as true during those times, the dragon began to leave our breathing world and enter the world of fantasy, fiction and mythology, where it lives today, still possessing many of the attributes that it maintained during the Renaissance.

Dragons: A Source of Deep Analysis

As time and populations began to be educated, and yearn for knowledge, there came a period when people no longer looked to their assumptions but more to scientific facts as their sources of information and beliefs. This time can be called The Enlightenment, and just like everything else, dragons fell under the examining eye of a world that was looking for reasonable explanations.

“There be some dragons which have wings and no feet, some again have both
feet and wings, and some neither feet nor wings, but are only distinguished from
the common sort of Serpents by the comb growing upon their heads, and the
beard under their cheeks.
Gyllius, Pierius, and Gervinus . . . do affirm that a Dragon is of a black colour, the
belly somewhat green, and very beautiful to behold, having a treble row of teeth
in their mouths upon every jaw, and with most bright and clear-seeing eyes,
which caused the Poets to say in their writings that these dragons are the watch-
ful keepers of Treasures. They have also two dewlaps growing under their chin,
and hanging down like a beard, which are of a red colour: their bodies are set all
over with very sharp scales, and over their eyes stand certain flexible eyelids.
When they gape wide with their mouth, and thrust forth their tongue, their teeth
seem very much to resemble the teeth of wild Swine: And their necks have many
times gross thick hair growing upon them, much like unto the bristles of a wild

Their mouth, (especially of the most tamable Dragons) is but little, not much big
ger than a pipe, through which they draw in their breath, for they wound not with
their mouth, but with their tails, only beating with them when they are angry. But
the Indian, Ethiopian, and Phrygian dragons have very wide mouths, through
which they often swallow in whole fowls and beasts. Their tongue is cloven as it
were double, and the Investigators of nature do say that they have fifteen teeth of
a side. The males have combs on their heads, but the females have none, and
they are likewise distinguished by their beards.”

- Historie of Foure-Footed Beasts (1658) By: Edward Topsell

I came across this excerpt in Wonder Beasts: Tales and Lore of the Phoenix, the Griffin, the Unicorn, and the Dragon by Joe Nigg. From it the reader can see that the dragon, through the changing of mindsets and scientific explanations, was losing its form of ambivalence and taking on a form of set appearance. Now, a determined form will never fully occur, yet it is interesting to note that as the dragon is materialized it also loses its reality. For these descriptions were being created, giving scientifically reliable descriptions of the creature, yet as one came across these literal descriptions of dragons they began to realize that they had never encountered something possessing these set characteristics. The dragon used to be a plausible idea when peoples could read about it and hear accounts of this mighty beast, but as time progressed the dragon became more and more mythical, to point of now where we know that they do not exist.

Gargoyle’s: Our Guardian Dragons

Gargoyle on St. Vitus' Cathedral

When one looks at the architecture that was created during the Renaissance period one of the most prominent, literally and figuratively, was that of Gothic Architecture. This architecture is marked by its grandiose cathedrals, towering steeples and elaborate decorations, inside and out. One of these elaborate decorations that can be found in Gothic architecture is that of Gargoyles.

Originally Gargoyles were used aesthetically to hide downspouts for rain on churches and cathedrals, but it then began to evolve. They soon began to be solely sculptural, not serving an actual purpose, but to add intricacies to the buildings. So, while these gargoyles were being created, ideas behind why they were necessary to the architecture also were being created. The main idea that grew out of these contemplations was this: dragons in the forms of gargoyles were used to guard churches and holy places against satanic spirits that would try to infiltrate these religious settings.

So, as we see here the dragon has taken on a positive form in the essence of gargoyles. For populations of the time knew that dragons were mighty beasts, and who wouldn’t want one guarding their church? Interestingly, they are once again tied to the Church, but this time in a greatly more positive way then when they were illustrated as figures of sin or paganism, in paintings and sculptures with St. George. This duality pf the dragon on the church just once again goes to show the great ambivalence that this beast could incorporate during the time.

Dragons: A Symbol of Ultimate Avarice

To many during the Renaissance Dragons were a creature of utmost might. So it was natural for a feeling to develop that illustrated the dragon as a being that due to its great power, had strong tendencies towards greed and avarice. This is a good example of a negative connotation that existed towards dragons amongst popular beliefs, for no one liked the idea of something with near unconquerable abilities holding what they desired.

The earliest accounts of dragons, predating the Renaissance, as being greedy come from an entirely mythical viewpoint where dragons were guardians of the Earth’s natural bounty of riches like gold and silver. This may only show, however, that people had to work hard figuratively to overcome the dragons that guarded Earth’s riches. We later see accounts of this idea of dragons being symbols of avarice all throughout Renaissance literature and arts.

If one looks at the Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene they see in the first book the dragon possessing and guarding Una, Red Crosse’s ultimate prize, and Crosse must fight this dragon to reclaim his prize of Una. Also, on a more drastic scale, in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress the reader sees Apollyon, or Satan, in the form of a dragon guarding and keeping the protagonist Christian’s heart and soul. For Christian desires to leave the land of Appolyon, but this dragon will not let Christian’s soul, or allegiance pass to another.
“ Apollyon - By this I perceive thou art one of my subjects; for all that country is mine, and I am the prince and god of it. How is it, then, that thou hast run away from thy king? Were it not that I hope thou mayest do me more service, I would strike thee now at one blow to the ground.
Christian - I was, indeed, born in your dominions, but your service was hard, and your wages such as a man could not live on; for the wages of sin is death, Rom. 6:23; therefore, when I was come to years, I did, as other considerate persons do, look out if perhaps I might mend myself.
Apollyon - There is no prince that will thus lightly lose his subjects, neither will I as yet lose thee…” - John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.
As is obvious from this piece Apollyon will only allow his greed to be overcome by a fight that Christian will ensue.

Also, it is interesting to note that this idea of a Dragon having strong greed is still present in today’s society. A good example of this is in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. For at the end of the story the group of dwarves, along with the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, must defeat a dragon to reclaim the bounty that once belonged to the dwarves.

Shakespeare’s Recognition: Dragons, The Symbol of Ambivalence

Through the research that I have been doing on dragons in the Renaissance I have found an interesting discovery of how those living during the time period viewed this mythical beast. The dragon was viewed as a symbol of ambivalence due to its ever changing appearance and its ability to carry both positive and negative connotations.

The physical appearance and capabilities of dragons has always been evolving. At times, during the Renaissance, the dragon was sometimes a fire breathing, flying, two-legged monster, and at other times it’s a four legged creature with the ability to become a sea monster. The fact that the dragon’s image is always changing helps to emphasize this creatures ambivalence, yet this feeling is clearly portrayed through its changing overall perception. Presently the most common view of Dragons is in a negative light. We maintain an idea of the dragon being a fearful being, with strange, supernatural abilities, take for instance Godzilla. However, while this same feeling existed during the Renaissance, there was also present a feeling of reverence towards this powerful beast.

This idea of the Dragon’s ambivalence is reflected through William Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra. Shakespeare was a living and involved member of society during the Renaissance, so he understood the idea of a dragon being a changing figure of appearance and nature so it is not surprising to see him make a reference to this fact in his Anthony and Cleopatra. In the fourth act, in the thirteenth scene Mark Antony comments -
“Sometimes we see a cloud that’s dragonish”.
This reference makes it obvious that this feeling of irresolution was a common belief during the time period.