What is a Dragon?

Dragons. They have fascinated us for thousands of years, and continue to show up in modern works of fantasy including literature, games, movies and TV shows. Almost every culture in the world has some type of dragon or dragon-like monster in their folklore, making it difficult to determine where or when the myth got its beginnings. One thing is for sure though, dragons captivate us to this day.

Accounts differ from culture to culture, but usually the term “dragon” is applied to a large reptilian beast that often possesses some degree of fantastical powers or abilities not seen by actual creatures in nature. Dragons in Western culture are often depicted as evil beings that breathe fire and have huge, bat-like wings. In Eastern cultures they are often wingless and are associated with water, and often appear more benevolent and less villainous.

10145_1_14726bda-5f6f-475e-85c9-69f1ccdf6712_grande 10135_1_grande

 Safari Ltd Ice Dragon - a typical Western Dragon design

Safari Ltd Horned Chinese Dragon - a typical Eastern Dragon design

 Buy Now

 Buy Now

 

 

How Old is the Dragon Myth?

Drawings and paintings of creatures that resemble dragons date back to over 4000 years ago. The oldest dragons appeared quite different from the more common modern depictions. They were often shown as wingless, legless serpentine creatures, and the word “dragon” even originates from the Latin word “draco” which means “large serpent”.

Many ancient cultures have myths about giant serpents or snakes, including Tiamat of Babylon, Apep of Ancient Egypt, and the Midgard Serpent of Norse Mythology, said to be so large that it could wrap around the entire world. It’s possible that these giant mythical snakes evolved into the dragons of later legends.

685604_2_grande 685704_2_grande

Safari Ltd Lair of the Dragons I Designer TOOB

Safari Ltd Lair of the Dragons 2 Designer TOOB

Buy Now Buy Now

 

 

Where Does the Dragon Myth Come From?

It isn’t exactly known where the first dragon myths originated, since so many different cultures have their own unique takes on these creatures. Creatures and monsters with similarities to dragons show up in writings and imagery from ancient cultures, including the Hydra of Greek Mythology and the Leviathan of the Hebrew Bible. A proper dragon even shows up in Beowulf, the oldest surviving Old English story.

802029_3_1d8ecb94-a901-432e-aec7-44a088c173e4_grande 804029_2_52ea160e-4d72-46c7-a626-6e5c0c2209af_grande

The Lernean Hydra of Greek Mythology

The Leviathan of the Hebrew Bible

Buy Now Buy Now

 

In China, the mythical beast known as Lung or Long has come to be associated with the term “dragon” as well. Unlike most other dragons, which are depicted as evil and angry creatures, the Chinese dragon is associated with good fortune and luck.

It is often suggested that idea of dragons was an explanation for dinosaur bones discovered by ancient cultures. This may indeed serve as the origin for some dragon mythology, but it can’t explain all of them, since many areas where dinosaur fossils are rare or non-existent still have some form of dragon-like creature present in their folklore.

 

10175_1_ed5cbde2-9706-4122-9617-0e6de251c1d0_grande 301029_2_grande

Safari Ltd Krystal Blue Dragon - a design based on the Chinese Lung or Long

Guanlong - a dinosaur from China whose name means "Five Colored Crowned Dragon"

Buy Now Buy Now

 

It has also been proposed by anthropologist David E. Jones that the concept of dragons may have stemmed from humanity’s inherent fear of snakes. As we mentioned, earlier designs of dragons usually resembled serpents, and it’s possible that these cultures created monsters centered around common things that human beings just find naturally frightening. It’s believed that these fears might be instinctual, passed along to humanity from our primate relatives who needed to be on the lookout for predators such as snakes.

 

World-Snake-Day
A variety of snakes, the fear of which may have inspired the myth of the dragon.

 

 

Medieval Dragons

The Western image of the dragon that endures today was popularized in medieval Europe. Combining many different depictions of mythical monsters from different sources and cultures, the dragon was re-imagined as a winged, horned, scaly, fire-breathing beast. Often in tales a brave knight was expected to slay the dragon to prove their worth and save local villagers (or a damsel in distress) from the beast.

Dragons were featured in popular folklore that arose during the Middle Ages, including the tale of Saint George and the Dragon, and the legends of Merlin the wizard and King Arthur. Arthur’s father, Uther, was even said to have adopted the last name “Pendragon” in reference to the legendary monster.

 

10155_5_f1ce032a-273b-440a-94c7-cba8ec70d712_grande 10141_1_6f530d24-74bb-42fa-8f73-151ddae6daa6_grande

Safari Ltd Forest Dragon - a typical Medieval Dragon

Safari Ltd Sleepy Dragon - a typical Medieval Dragon

Buy Now Buy Now

 

During this time, many variations of the typical dragon theme arose, which has led to some confusion. A creature known as a “wyvern”, for example, is very similar to a dragon, but can be differentiated by having wings and only two legs, whereas traditional dragons were winged, but had four legs. Since then, many sources have treated wyverns and dragons as interchangeable.

 

10124_1_grande 10166 Sinister Dragon — Nature 1

Example of a Wyvern

With its wings and two legs, the Sinister Dragon is technically a "Wyvern"

Buy Now Buy Now

 

 

Dragons in Modern Times

These days, depictions of dragons are common in modern fantasy and fiction, often with the creatures resembling their medieval forms. Dragons have appeared in popular works like J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit, as well as the Harry Potter franchise of books and movies and the How to Train Your Dragon series. Dragons also feature prominently in the adult Game of Thrones series. Role-playing games with fantasy themes also often heavily feature dragons. The most popular and enduring franchise, Dungeons & Dragons, puts it right there in the name!

 

10149_1_grande 10118_1_grande

Safari Ltd Jewel Dragon - a Dragon obsessed with jewels and treasure

Safari Ltd Golden Dragon - a Dragon with shimmering scales made of precious metal

Buy Now Buy Now

 

Modern dragons are often associated with a love of hoarding gold and treasure. This quality can be traced back to the origins of many dragon myths, where they often stood as guardians of valuable, life-giving forces such as water. Eventually the idea of “value” came to represent gold, jewels or other material objects, which persists to this day.

 

Safari Ltd Dragons

As this popular myth continues to endure, it is constantly evolving and going in new and exciting directions. Safari Ltd features dozens of dragons in our Dragons collection, and our designers are always thinking of fun and inventive takes on this familiar fantasy creature.

10154_1_grande 100211_1_grande 10119_1_c31a017f-006b-4674-b623-2ae6e0860ab8_grande

Safari Ltd Fog Dragon

Safari Ltd Lava Dragon

Safari Ltd Twilight Dragon

Buy Now Buy Now Buy Now

 

From more traditional designs like the Fog Dragon, Lava Dragon and Twilight Dragon, to more outlandish and fresh designs like the Steampunk Dragon, Alien Dragon and Puff Dragon, there’s something in our collection for any dragon fan. As long as these monsters continue to be popular, Safari Ltd will keep coming up with awesome new figures. And seeing as how their popularity is still going strong after more than 4000 years, it looks like our dragons aren’t going away any time soon!

 

100065_4_e2ee62cf-970e-41dd-ba13-93c2e9d7ec38_grande 100198_9_grande 10146_1_61ab3146-724f-409a-af0f-f842a28b8edb_grande

Safari Ltd Alien Dragon

Safari Ltd Steampunk Dragon

Safari Ltd Puff Dragon

Buy Now Buy Now Buy Now

Leave a Comment

Get the latest articles...