Thursday, November 21, 2019

DINOSAURS: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1260: St George and the Dragon


St. George and the Dragon

A few years ago I was invited to give a talk in St. George, Utah. I had chosen a version of my "Dinosaurs! From Cultural to Pop Culture" to give to the audience when a friend of mine asked if I was going to include the story of St. George and the Dragon, knowing that I had a heavy dragon component to the talk. At the time my talk was pretty well set and I hadn't heard of St. George and the Dragon, so I let it go to be researched another day. That day has come.

The story of St. George and the Dragon is a convoluted one through history. Aspects of the story were written far later than the real St. George's life, added to, and adapted from other sources. The primary source for the story of the dragon appears to come from the Legenda Aurea written in approximately 1260 by Jacobus de Voragine. The story goes, that there was a dragon which was terrorizing a town. The people satiated the dragon with sheep. However when sheep alone wouldn't satisfy the dragon anymore they started adding people into the mix with the sheep. And when that didn't work anymore it became multiple people at a time. Until one day the king's daughter was the sacrifice. Despite all he tried, the people would not let the king get away without sacrificing her. He ended up sending he along to the dragon's lair to be sacrificed for the sake of the town. Well, when she was standing outside the dragon's home, the man who will eventually become known as St. George happened to pass by. 

St. George was a good Christian proselytizer who lived during the 3rd century AD. He was born in Cappadocia, which eventually became Turkey, but he was eventually killed by  Emperor Diocletian for refusing to give up his Christian faith, a faith handed down to him through his parents. However, that it not the primary reason he is remembered today. He is known for his dragon tale. 

After St. George passed by the princess, he decided to take on the dragon to save the princess' life.
"Thus as they spake together the dragon appeared and came running to them, and S. George was upon his horse, and drew out his sword and garnished him with the sign of the cross, and rode hardily against the dragon which came towards him, and smote him with his spear and hurt him sore and threw him to the ground. And after said to the maid: Deliver to me your girdle, and bind it about the neck of the dragon and be not afeard. When she had done so the dragon followed her as it had been a meek beast and debonair."
After defeating the dragon, St. George dragged it back to the town where he promised to kill the dragon if everyone converted to Christianity. Upon everyone's conversion, St. George killed the beast and "smote off his head."  

12th Century icon of St. George and the dragon from Likhauri, Georgia. Image is in the Public Domain

Early works of art depict St. George sitting triumphantly upon a horse with a spear point towards the ground. No dragon is to be seen. Later works though, began to incorporate the dragon at the base of the horse. The earliest work that I could find with the dragon is this 12th century icon of St. George and the Dragon from Likhauri, Georgia. This image of the dragon followed the cultural norms of the time, showing the dragon in a snake-like form with feathery wings and long, pointy ears. 


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