Saturday, May 2, 2015
Some Notes on Dragons
Many of the cherished readers of this blog are doubtless familiar the myth of Sigurd and how he became invulnerable by bathing in dragon’s blood. This sort of behavior is acceptable in mythology; however, in real life, the blood of dragons is quite leathal. Thoul’s Paradise recommends caution when dealing with dragons in general, but special care is warranted regarding their bodily fluids.
We owe this insight to Athanasius Kircher, one of the finest minds of the 17th century. Kircher did not doubt the existence of dragons and in his 1665 work, Mundus Subterraneus, stated that any person “who denies their veracity must be himself completely mad - unless, that is, he is one who...cannot accordingly be categorized as a human being with a brain.” Of course, Kircher wrote in Latin; this quote is a translation. In honor of Kircher's birthday – May 2 – let us review some of the 'factual basis' he recorded about dragons.
Kircher related a story about a knight named Winkelkried. (As a side note, if your name is Winkelkried and you want to become a knight, you may want to consider an alias.) Anyway, Winkelkried killed a dragon. Upon withdrawing his sword after the killing stroke, the dragon's blood splashed on him. He soon perished due to the toxic nature of that substance.
Another incident Kircher wrote about supposedly transpired in 1660. A man was trapping birds in the marshes and shot at what he assumed was a large bird. Actually, it was a dragon and the shot only wounded it. The dragon attacked and the man managed to cut its throat, killing it. The man returned home and died. It was found that the man's body was permeated with poison as a result of exposure to the dragon's blood. The body of the dragon was recovered and put on display. Kircher neglected to mention if the man's body was put on display.
Kircher also repeated a story from Bosius. Evidently, on the island of Rhodes in the year 1345, a knight named Dieudonné de Gozon made careful preparations to confront a dragon (illustrated above) that had been 'terrorizing the countryside' so to speak. To make a long story short, Gozon overcame the dragon, but not without being exposed to the noxious fumes emitted from the dragon's wounds. Fortunately, Gozon's preparations included providing his servants with medicines for just such a contingency. His servants observed the battle from the cliffs (just as Gozon had instructed them) and, upon seeing the results of the conflict, they recovered their master's body and managed to revive him.
Surely, these occurrences are sufficient to convince any reasonable person of the pernicious nature of dragon blood. Yet how can such abominations as dragons come into being? Kircher was not silent on this matter. Like many scholars of his era, Kircher was a proponent of spontaneous generation and he noted that dragons are often found in the same areas as eagles, vultures, and other large birds of prey. The prey these birds capture can accumulate into mounds of rotting flesh. Such mounds can generate 'worms' with the characteristics of the animals whose flesh is included in the mound. For example, a fermenting pile with the remains of a rabbit might produce a quadruped 'worm' with long ears. So, different animals contribute various characteristics to the worms which, eventually, grow into dragons. This explains why dragons are not uniform as a species – some have wings, others may not; some have four legs, others only two.
Well, it sounded reasonable in the the 17th century. Anyway, who's to say that this isn't the process by which dragons are born in any given fantasy setting?