The European dragon is a legendary creature that has been mentioned in European literature since antiquity. In contrast to the depiction of dragons in other cultures, the European dragon is seen as an embodiment of evil. Several tales from European legends detail how notable heroes went on to fight the dragon. The legend endows the European dragon with several distinct traits as well as magical powers.
Dragon in European Antiquity
The earliest mentions of dragons in European literature date back to Antiquity. During this period, Greek and Roman authors made mentions of a large serpentine creature. Some of these mentions merely mention the creature as a large snake that can constrict and kill prey. But other mentions embellish this creature with wings, horns, fiery breath, and other properties. It is believed that the writers of antiquity accepted influences from the Near East so that their view of the dragon gradually evolved.
Dragon as a Symbol
The Dragon has been used as a symbol for Satan by some biblical authors. In the Book of Revelation, Satan is depicted as a dragon with multiple heads and horns. This bears a resemblance to the Lernaean Hydra, which Hercules killed during one of his quests as per Greek mythology. Hercules is also said to have killed a hundred-headed dragon known as the Ladon. These myths indicate that the symbol of a dragon was well-recognized and known in ancient Greece.
Dragon in Medieval Ages
During the medieval ages, European interest in dragons grew. The legendary creature underwent many changes in the European imagination during this time. Descriptions from this period started to depict the dragon as a creature with a snake or lizard-like body, two wings, a fiery breath, and a love for treasure. Many European stories from the period, such as Beowulf, indicated how dragons loved hoarding treasures.
The Viking mythology also made clear mentions of the dragon, such as the dragon Fafnir. Sigurd is able to slay this dragon by digging a pit and then laying in wait. When the dragon crawls over the pit, Sigurd pierces its heart with the sword and thus slays it. This theme is repeated in several other dragon legends as well.
European Dragon and Treasure Hordes
In many depictions of the European dragon, it is shown as a creature that was greedy and coveted gold as well as other treasures. In Viking mythology, Fafnir is initially a dwarf who became so greedy that he turned into a dragon in order to guard his treasure. In the tale of Beowulf, the final task of the Swedish hero begins when a dragon wakes after a thief steals a cup of gold from it.
Magical Properties of Dragon Blood
In European myths, the dragon blood possessed magical properties. In some tales, consuming dragon blood allows a person to understand the speech of birds and other creatures. Dragon blood also lets a person live an exceptionally long life as per some stories. The dragon found in Iberian mythology is also able to hypnotize anyone who sees into its eyes. According to the legends, a warrior kills the dragon by using a reflecting shied and mesmerizing the dragon with its own gaze.
Dragon in Christian Literature
Christian literature from the Middle Ages also frequently mentions dragons. Most notably, Saint George was a venerated saint in Christianity who famously slew a dragon in Libya. Several other figures of the Catholic Church also have tales of dragon-slaying associated with them.
Dragon in European Heraldry
The Dragon also became popular in European heraldry during medieval times. A red dragon was famously used on the flag of Wales. Some accounts also symbolize England as a white dragon, which was able to defeat the red dragon.