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One who has looked upon Leonardo da Vinci's Medusa at Florence-one of the finest interpretations of a mythologic subject ever painted—may comprehend what to the early explorer and colonist were the fascinations of those rumoured regions where nature was fair but girt round with terrors. The Gorgon's head alone is given, with its fearful tangle of serpent tresses; her face, even in its pain, possesses the beauty that may veil a fatal power; from her mouth is exhaled a vapour which in its outline has brought into life vampyre, newt, toad, and loathsome
Fig. 31.-BELLEROPHON AND CHIMÆRA (Corinthian). nondescript creatures. Here is the malaria of undrained coasts, the vermin of noxious nature. The source of these must be destroyed before man can found his city ; it is the fiery poisonous breath of the Colonial Dragon.
Most of the Dragon-myths of Great Britain appear to have been importations of the Colonial monsters. Perhaps the most famous of these in all Europe was the Chimæra, which came westward upon coins, Bellerophon having become a national hero at Corinth-almost super
seding the god of war himself—and his effigy spread with many migrations. Our conventional figure of St. George is still Bellerophon, though the Dragon has been substituted for Chimæra,-a change which christian tradition and national respect for the lion rendered necessary (Fig. 31). Corresponding to this change in outward representation, the monster-myths of Great Britain have been gradually pressed into service as moral and religious lessons. The Lambton Worm illustrates the duty of attending mass and sanctity of the sabbath; the demon serpents of Ireland and Cornwall prove the potency of holy exorcism; and this process of moralisation has extended, in the case of the Boar, whose head graces the Christmas table at Queen's College, Oxford, to an illustration of the value of Aristotelian philosophy. It was with a volume of Aristotle that the monster was slain, the mythologic affinities of the legend being quaintly preserved in the item that it was thrust down the boar's throat.
But these modifications are very transparent, the British legends being mainly variants of one or two original myths which appear to have grown out of the heraldic devices imported by ancient families. These probably acquired realistic statement through the prowess and energy of chieftains, and were exaggerated by their descendants, perhaps also connected with some benefit to the community, in order to strengthen the family tenure of its estates. For this kind of duty the Colonial Dragon was the one usually imported by the family romancer or poet. The multiplication of these fables is, indeed, sufficiently curious. It looks as if there were some primitive agrarian sentiment which had to be encountered by aid of appeals to exceptional warrant. The family which could trace its title to an estate to an ancestor who rescued the whole district, was careful to preserve some memorial
of the feat. On account of the interests concerned in old times we should be guarded in receiving the rationalised interpretations of such myths, which have become traditional in some localities. The barbaric achievements of knights did not lose in the ballads of minstrels any marvellous splendours, but gained many; and most of these came from the south and east. The Dragon which Guy of Warwick slew still retained traces of Chimæra; it had
paws as a lion.' Sir William Dugdale thought that this was a romanticised version of a real combat which Guy fought with a Danish chief, A.C. 926. Similarly the Dragon of Wantley has been reduced to a fraudulent barrister.
The most characteristic of this class of legends is that of Sockburn. Soon after the Norman conquest the Conyers family received that manor by episcopal grant, the tradition being that it was because Sir John Conyers, Knight, slew a huge Worm which had devoured many people. The falchion with which this feat was achieved is still preserved, and I believe it is still the custom, when a new bishop visits that diocese, for the lord of Sockburn to present this sword. The lord of the manor meets the bishop in the middle of the river Tees, and says :- My Lord Bishop, I here present you with the falchion wherewith the Champion Conyers slew the Worm, Dragon, or fiery flying Serpent, which destroyed man, woman, and child, in memory of which the king then reigning gave him the manor of Sockburn to hold by this tenure,—that upon the first entrance of every bishop into the country this falchion should be presented.' The bishop returns the sword and wishes the lord long enjoyment of the tenure, which has been thus held since the year 1396. . The family tradition is that the Dragon was a Scotch intruder named Comyn, whom Conyers compelled to kneel before the episcopal throne. The Conyers family of Sockburn seem
to have been at last overtaken by a Dragon which was too much for them : the last knight was taken from a workhouse barely in time not to die there.
In the ‘Memoirs of the Somervilles' we read that one of that family acquired a parish by slaying a 'hydeous monster in forme of a worme.'1
The wode Laird of Laristone
It was in lenth 3 Scots yards, and somewhat bigger than an ordinary man's leg, with a hede more proportionable to its lenth than its greatness; its forme and collour (like) to our common muir adders.'
This was a very moderate dragon compared with others, by slaying which many knights won their spurs: this, for example, which Sir Dygore killed in the fourteenth century
- -A Dragon great and grymme,
The familiar story of St. Patrick clearing the snakes out of Ireland, and the Cornish version of it, in which the exorcist is St. Petrox, presents some features which relate it to the colonist's combat with his dragon, though it is more interesting in other aspects. The Colonial Dragon includes the diseases, the wild beasts, the savages, and all
1 Vol. i. p. 38.
manner of obstructions which environ a new country. But when these difficulties have been surmounted, the young settlement has still its foes to contend with,-warlike invaders from without, ambitious members within. We then find the Dragon taking on the form of a public enemy, and his alleged slayer is representative of the commune,-possibly in the end to transmit its more real devourer. Most of the British Dragon-myths have expanded beyond the stage in which they represent merely the struggles of immigrants with wild nature, and include the further stage where they represent the formation of the community. The growth of patriotism at length is measured by its shadow. The Colonial is transformed to the Communal Dragon. Many Dragon-myths are adaptations of the ancient symbolism to hostes communes : such are the monsters described as desolating villages and districts, until they are encountered by antagonists animated by public spirit. Such antagonists are distinguishable from the heroes that go forth to rescue the maiden in distress: their chief representative in mythology is Herakles, most of whose labours reveal the man of self-devotion redressing public wrongs, and raising the standard of humanity as well as civilisation.
The age of chivalry has its legend in the Centaurs and Cheiron. The Hippo-centaurs are mounted savages: Cheiron is the true knight, withstanding monsters in his own shape, saving Peleus from them, and giving hospitality to the Argonauts. The mounted man was dragon to the man on foot until he became the chevalier; then the demonic character passed to the strategist who had no horse. It is curious enough to find existing among the Mormons a murderous order calling themselves Danites, or Destroying Angels, after the text of Gen. xlix. 17, ‘Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the