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Serpent, heroes had given battle to the whole fraternity. Nay, in their place had arisen a new race of gods, whose theoretical omnipotence was gladly surrendered in the interest of their righteousness; and there was now war in heaven; the dragon and his allies were cast down, and man was now free to fight them as enemies of the gods as well as himself. Woe henceforth to any gods suspected of taking sides with the dragon in this man's life-and-death struggle with the ferocities of nature, and with his own terrors reflected from them! The legend of Prometheus was their unconsciously-given ‘notice to quit,' though it waited many centuries for its great interpreter. It is Goethe who alone has seen how pale and weak grow Jove's fireworks before the thought-thunderbolts of the artist, launched far beyond the limitations that chain him in nature. Gods are even yet going down in many lands before the sublime sentence of Prometheus :
Curtain thy heavens, thou Jove, with clouds and mist,
I know not aught within the universe
When I was yet a child, and knew not whence
Who gave me succour
The myth of Prometheus reveals the very dam of all dragons,—the mere terrorism of nature which paralysed the energies of man. Man's first combat was to be with his own quailing heart. Apollo driving back the Argives to their ships with the image of the Gorgon's head on Jove's shield is Homer's picture of the fears that unnerved heroes :
Phæbus himself the rushing battle led;
Deep horror seizes ev'ry Grecian breast,
Confused, and weary all their pow'rs with prayer.' A generation whose fathers remembered the time when men educated in universities regarded Franklin with his lightning-rod as 'heaven-defying,' can readily understand the legend of Vulcan-type of the untamed force of firebeing sent to bind Prometheus, master of fire. How much fear of the forces of nature, as personified by superstition, levelled against the first creative minds and hands the epithets which Franklin heard, and which still fall upon the heads of some scientific investigators! Storm, lightning, rock, ocean, vulture,—these blend together with the intelligent cruelty of Jove in the end; and behold, the Dragon! The terrors of nature, which drive cowards to their knees, raise heroes to their height. Then it is a flame of genius matched against mad thunderbolts. Whether the jealous nature-god be Jehovah forbidding sculpture, demanding an altar of unhewn stone, and refusing the fruits of Cain's garden, or Zeus jealous of the artificer's flame, they are thrown into the Opposition by the artist; and when the two next meet, he of the thunderbolt with all his mob will be the Dragon, and Prometheus will be the god, sending to its heart his arrow of light.
The dragon forms which have become familiar to us through mediæval and modern iconography are of comparatively little importance as illustrating the social or spiritual conditions out of which they grew, and of which they became emblems. They long ago ceased to be descriptive, and in the rude periods or places a very few i Pope's 'Homer,' Book xv.
? See p. 59.
scratches were sometimes enough to indicate the dragon ; such mere suggestions in the end allowing large freedom to subsequent designers in varying original types.
Fig. 26.—SWAN-Dragon (French). As to external form, the various shapes of the more primitive dragons have been largely determined by the mythologic currents amid which they have fallen, though their original basis in nature may generally be traced. In the far North, where the legends of swan-maidens, pigeonmaidens, and vampyres were paramount in the Middle Ages, we find the bird-shaped dragon very common. Sometimes the serpent-characteristics are pronounced, as in this ancient French SwanDragon (Fig. 20); but, again, and especially in
Fig. 27.-ANGLO-SAXON DRAGONS (Cædmon regions where serpents are rare and comparatively innocuous, the serpent tail is often conventionalised away, as in this initial V from the
MS., tenth century).
380 ANGLO-SAXON AND SOUTHERN DRAGONS
Cædmon Manuscript, tenth century (Fig. 27), a fair example of the ornamental Anglo-Saxon dragon. The cuttlefish seems to have suggested the animalised form of the Hydra, which in turn helped to shape the Dragon of the Apocalypse. Yet the Hydra in pictorial representation appears to have been influenced by Assyrian ideas; for although the monster had nine heads, it is often given seven (number of the Hathors, or Fates) by the engravers, as in Fig. 6. The conflicts of Hercules with the Hydra repeated that of Bel with Tiamat (“the Deep '), and had no doubt its
counterpart in that of Michael with the Dragon, the finest representation of which, perhaps, is the great fresco by Spinello (fourteenth century) at Arezzo, a group from which is presented in Fig. 28. In this case the wings represent those always attributed in Semitic mythology to the Destroying Angel. The Egyptian Dragon, of which the crocodile is the basis, at an early period entered into christian symbolism, and gradually effaced most of the pagan monsters. The crocodile and the alligator, besides being susceptible of many horrible varia