When it comes to the most popular creatures of myth and legend dragons are up there with the best alongside unicorns, mermaids, fairies, and werewolves. Dragon toys are popular with kids and dragons have made many appearances in both classic fairy tales and modern cinema.
What is particularly interesting about dragons is that they appear to have appeared in ancient myths and culture independently in different parts of the world. They are particularly popular in Chinese and European Mythology and culture but are thought to also appear in Australian and American Folklore.
In Chinese Mythology and folklore they are generally depicted as giant serpentine creatures with 4 legs but without wings. Whereas in European Mythology they are often winged creatures that breathe fire.
The earliest stories of dragon-like creatures come from the near east and giant serpents feature in ancient Mesopotamian art. The Leviathan, a decidedly dragon like creature of the deep, crops up in the old testament of the bible.
Dragons also vary in their character. In European mythology, they are generally fearsome creatures to be overcome by heroes whereas in the Chinese folklore they are more auspicious, wise creatures with powers over water and the rain.
How did Dragon Myths Develop
There are different theories as to how and why dragons of one form or another seem to have independently evolved in different parts of the world and seemingly unconnected cultures.
One theory is that dragons came about when ancient cultures uncovered the bones of dinosaurs. These huge bones would clearly have been from creatures unlike those that they saw around them. Huge long beasts that would have been powerful creatures to be feared.
The fiery flying dragon has been connected with the appearance of comets in the sky. And aboriginal dragon stories are connected to the rainbow that appears when the dragon moves between watering holes.
There is also the theory that as a species we all have certain innate fears including the fear of snakes as well as other predatory animals suggesting that it is only natural that humans in various parts of the world have created stories of huge snake-like creatures that reside in dark and dangerous places.
And perhaps the origins are a combination of all these things mixed with the knowledge of creatures that do exist such as crocodiles and other large reptiles as well as whales and other creatures of the deep that would have been fairly unknown in ancient times.
Stories also tend to get embellished over time. So the elements of truth that are essential for a good story get gently elaborated on or given metaphor over time. Making them more appealing to the listener or more useful in teaching lessons.
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