DRAGONS: Ovid tells us that the Boetian (League of eleven cities of
central Greece, subscribers to the Council of Thebes) ships were
distinguished by a representation of their god Cadmus holding a dragon
in his hand (the dragon which he slayed at the site of Thebes, whose
teeth he sowed in the ground, which grew to become the Sparti warriors).
The great Bayeux Tapestry of the late eleventh century, shows dragons on
the shields of some of William of Normandy's invaders.
Many of the creatures used in heraldry and thought by non-experts to be
dragons are in fact derivative heraldic panthers, with front eagle's
claws, sometimes with horns and usually breathing fire - these were
sometimes used as symbolic of Christ. The Physiologus of AD140 says that
the dragon was the only animal which fled from the sweet-smelling breath
of this panther. Many see the dragon as being a real race memory of some
of the last of the dynosaur family, perpetuated by the crocodile.
Heraldically, the gryphon/griffin is another imaginary monster, and
often mistaken for a dragon. The gryphon has the body, hind legs and
tail of the lion, the head (with ears), forelegs, wings and forefeet of
the eagle. The "male gryphon" has no wings.
The heraldic dragon is not (as with other heraldic/fabulous monsters) a
hybrid of real animals, bur wholly imaginary, having pterodactyl - like
wings, scales and all four feet clawed, with a serpentine, pointed tail.
There are a number of sub-species of the dragon: the wyvern, basilisk,
The red dragon of Wales is also known as the red dragon of Cadwallader.
It migrated to the Welsh flag from the supporters of the arms of the
Tudor kings, and it seems to have been borrowed by them from the use of
King Henry III (1202-1272) who was not Welsh.
----- Original Message -----
rom: Mark Harris <[log in to unmask]>
o: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Wednesday, September 27, 2000 9:26 PM
Subject: Re: dragons' genitalia (was: Pickering)
> Oriens writes that the dragon is "neither markedly feminine nor
> markedly masculine", but would a mediaeval artist have bothered to
> indicate the sex of the dragon? I doubt it, but (being no art
> historian) would gladly hear argument to the contrary. Or perhaps
> a dragon was considered to have nothing externally visible (rather
> like a snake or a fish, say).
> In heraldry animals are very occasionally shown with visible
> genitalia, and I believe that the adjective applied to animals thus
> depicted is "pizzled".
> Mark Harris
> University of London