Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tuesday's Dragon


Sometimes associated with: Ladon, Tiamat, and other minor dragons.

Draco is one of the oldest dragons (or assortment of dragons) known to man. He is also one of the very oldest constellations,and has boasted varying importance throughout the history of the world. He is associated with several different dragons in mythology.

In Greek mythology, Draco is one of several dragons. He could be Ladon, the many-headed serpent dragon who guarded Hera's golden apples.

(This is Arthur Rackham's vision of Ladon. Remember him, famous for his portraits of Fafnir?)

Or Draco might be might be the dragon slain by the Greek hero, Cadmus. Cadmus, after sewing the dragon's teeth which grew into soldiers (hmmm, we've seen that story before!) went on to found the city of Thebes. After all, one can't found a city without a certain amount of proper dragon-slaying first, rigth?

(Another multi-headed dragon here! The Hydra had cousins.)

And there are some who say that Draco is a dragon fought by the goddess Minerva, the remains of whom she tossed up into the sky.

Minerva the goddess:

Oops, I mean:

But Draco's story might possibly go farther back still! The Sumerians and Babylonians of the Tigris and Euphrates Valley--we're talking more than 5,000 years ago, people!--had a legend for the constellation as well. Their Draco was a female dragon called Tiamat who existed at the very beginning of creation before earth and sky were separated.

She too was thrown into the sky and bolted to a star around which her constellation spins. And now, as Draco, she is the guardian of the stars:

"They have decorated the night sky for thousands of years and none of them disappeared. Why? Because god Marduk put on the sky an eternally awakened dragon, who guards them . . ." (Enuma Elish)

The star that bolts Draco in place, we assume, was one the early Chaldeans named Thuban, which is found in the body of Draco. In ancient times, the heavens revolved around Thuban, and it was considered the pole star. Even the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza contained an enormous shaft that pointed directly to Thuban. Proving just how important Draco as a constellation was to the ancient peoples of the world!

It is speculated that, due to the affects of axial precession, Thuban will be the pole star again by the year 21000!

Draco has had a profound effect on dragon mythology throughout the ages. In modern literature, we still see stories cropping up about him. For instance, in the movie Dragonheart, the Draco constellation is considered something of a "dragon heaven," where good dragons go when they die.

(This is what heaven looks like to dragons. Now you know.)

But this image cannot compare with the gorgeous imagery provided by the true Draco. Look at this nebula Draco sports!

(The Catseye Nebula found in Draco)

All legends and mythologies aside, this is one dragon who cannot help but declare the glory of God!

"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour fourth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world."
(Psalm 19: 1-4)

Draco on a scale of 1-10

Evil:  1
In some of the legends, such as Cadmus's dragon, he is pretty scary. But in most of the stories, he is merely performing his required duty. So not evil. As a constellation, he is outright helpful!

Scariness: 6
Probably "scary" isn't so much the right word as awe-inspiring.

Poison: 0
This dragon isn't poisonous at all.

Hoard: 10
This this dragon is the guardian of the stars. I don't think you could find a more fabulous treasure trove!

Cleverness: 8
He's a pretty clever dragon to have served as a pole star throughout ancient history.


Anonymous said...

Christa here!
I'm into astronomy so thanks so much for doing a topic on Draco!

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Christa! I took an astronomy class in college, but hadn't really looked into it much for several years. It was fun to do the research for this post! :)

Anonymous said...

dragons are good, dragon killers are bad