« ZurückWeiter »
now preservative forces of nature, and how they may blend in the theories, and subserve the interests, of pretenders is well shown in a German work on Alchemy (1625) quoted by Mr. Hardwicke. There is a dragon lives in the forest, who has no want of poison; when he sees the sun or fire he spits venom, which flies about fearfully. No living animal can be cured of it; even the basilisk does not equal him. He who can properly kill this serpent has overcome all his danger. His colours increase in death; physic is produced from his poison, which he entirely consumes, and eats his own venomous tail. This must be accomplished by him, in order to produce the noblest balm. Such great virtue as we will point out herein that all the learned shall rejoice.'
It will be readily understood that these traditions and fables would combine to ‘hedge about a king' by ascribing to him familiarity with a monster so formidable to common people, and even investing him with its attributes. The dragon's name, Opákõv, derived from the Sanskrit word for serpent (drig-visha), came to mean 'the thing that sees.' While this gave rise to many legends of præternatural powers of vision gained by tasting or bathing in a dragon's blood, as in the poem of Siegfried; or from waters it guarded, as `Eye Well,' in which Guy's dragon dipped its tail to recover from wounds; the Sanskrit sense of eye-poisoning was preserved in legends of occult and dangerous powers possessed by kings,—one of the latest being the potent evil eye popularly ascribed in Italy to the late Pius IX. But these stories are endless; the legends adduced will show the sense of all those which, if unexplained, might interfere with our clear insight into the dragon itself, whose further analysis will prove it to be wholly bad,—the concentrated terrors of nature.
( 372 )
THE DRAGON'S EYE.
The Eye of Evil— Turner's Dragons-Cloud-phantoms- Paradise and
the Snake--Prometheus and Jove-Art and Nature- Dragon forms : Anglo-Saxon, Italian, Egyptian, Greek, German-The modern conventional Dragon.
The etymologies of the words Dragon and Ophis given in the preceding chapter, ideally the same, both refer to powers of the serpent which it does not possess in nature, -the præternatural vision and the glance that kills. The real nature of the snake is thus overlaid; we have now to deal with the creation of another world.
There are various conventionalised types of the Dragon, but through them all one feature is constant,—the idealised serpent. Its presence is the demonic or supernatural sign. The heroic dragon-slayer must not be supposed to have wrestled with mere flesh and blood, in whatever powerful form. The combat which immortalises him is waged with all the pains and terrors of earth and heaven concentrated and combined in one fearful form.
Impossible and phantasmal as was this form in nature, its mystical meaning in the human mind was terribly real. It was this Eye of anti-human nature which filled man with dismay, and conjured up the typical phantom. It was this Pain, purposed and purposing, the Agony of far-searching vision, subtlest skill, silently creeping, winged, adapted to
ineet his every device with a cleverer device, which gradually impressed mankind with belief in a general principle of antagonism to human happiness.
It is only as a combination that any dragon form is miraculous. Every constituent feature and factor of it is in nature, but here they are rolled together in one pandemonic expression and terror. Yet no such form loses its relations with nature: it is lightning and tempest, feverbearing malaria and fire, venom and fang, slime and jungle, all the ferocities of the earth, air, and heavens, gathering to their fatal artistic force, and waylaying man at every step in his advance. In Turner's picture of Apollo slaying the Python there is a marvellous suggestion of the natural conceptions from which the dragon was evolved. The fearful folds of the monster, undulating with mound and rock on which he lies, at points almost blend with tangle of bushes and the jagged chaos amid which he stretches. The hard, wild, cruel aspects of inanimate nature seem here and there rankly swelling to horrible life, as yet but half-distinguishable from the stony-hearted matrix; the crag begins to coil and quiver, the jungle puts forth in claws; but above all appear the monstrous EYES, in which the forces of pain, hardship, obstacle have at last acquired purpose and direction. The god confronts them with eyes yet keener; his arrow, feathered with eyebeams, has reached its mark, straight between the monster's eyes; but there is no more anger in his face than might mar the calm strength of a gardener clearing away the stone and thicket that make the constituent parts of Python.
If we turn now to the neighbouring picture in the National Gallery by the same artist, the Hesperian Gardens and their Guard, we behold the Dragon on his high crag outlining and vitalising not only the edge of
rock but also the sky it meets. His breath steams up into cloud. The heavens also have their terrors, which take on eyes and coils. On the line of the horizon were hung the pictures of the primitive art-gallery. Imagination painted them with brush dipped now in blackness of the storm, now in fires of the lightning or the sunset, but the forms were born of experience, of earthly struggle, defeat, and victory.
As I write these words, I lay aside my pen to look across a little lake amid the lonely hills of Wales to a sunset which is flooding the sky with glory. Through the almost greenish sky the wind is bearing fantastic clouds, that sometimes take the shape of chariots, in which cloudveiled forms are seated, and now great birds with variegated plumage, all hastening as it were to some gatheringplace of aerial gods. Beneath a long bar of maroon-tint stretches a sea of yellow light, on the hither side of which is set a garden of fleecy trees touched with golden fruit. Amid them plays a fountain of changing colours. On the left has stood, fast as a mountain range, a mass of darkblue cloud with uneven peaks; suddenly a pink faint glow shines from behind that leaden mass, and next appears, sinuous with its long indented top, the mighty folds of a fiery serpent. Nay, its head is seen, its yawning lacertine jaws, its tinted crest. It is sleepless Ladon on his high barrier keeping watch and ward over the Hesperian garden.
Juno set him there, but he is the son of Ge,—the earth. The tints of heaven invest and transform, and in a sense create him ; but he would never have been born mythologically had it not been that in this world stings hover near all sweetness, danger environs beauty, and, as Plato said, “Good things come hard.' The grace and lustre of the serpent with his fatal fang preceded him, and all the perils
that lurk beneath things fair and fascinating. So far there is nothing essentially moral or unmoral about him. This dragon is a shape designed by primitive meteorology and metaphysics together. Man has asked what is so, and this is the answer : he has not yet asked why it is so, whether it ought to be so, and whether it may not be otherwise. The challenge has not yet been given, the era of combat not yet arrived. The panoplied guard and ally of gods as unmoral as himself has yet to be transformed under the touch of the religious sentiment, and expelled from the heaven of nobler deities as a dragon cast down, deformed, and degraded for ever.
As thought goes on, such allies compromise their employers; the creator's work reflects the creator's character; and after many timorous ages we find the dragon-guarded deities going down with their cruel defenders. It is not without significance that in the Sanskrit dictionary the most ancient of all words for god, Asura, has for its primary meaning 'demon' or 'devil:' the gods and dragons united to churn the ocean for their own wealth, and in the end they were tarred with one brush. I have already described in the beginning of this work the degradation of deities, and need here barely recall to the reader's memory the forces which operated to that result. The bearing of that force upon the celestial or paradise-guarding Serpent is summed up in one quatrain of Omar Khayyam:–
0 Thou who man of baser earth didst make,
And e'en in Paradise devised the Snake;
For all the sin wherewith the face of man
Is blackened, man's forgiveness give—and take ! The heart of humanity anticipated its logic by many ages, and, long before the daring genius of the Persian poet wrote this immortal epitaph on the divine allies of the