Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday's Dragon

St. George's Dragon
Charming, eh?

Another nameless fellow, known only for who killed him rather than any great virtue of his own. In fact, this dragon has no virtue, as, here at last, we find a symbol of Sin Incarnate in dragon form.

The above illustration is possibly the most famous picture of St. George and the Dragon. And . . . he looks rather like the Jabberwocky.

No, certainly not a whole lot of dignity for him in that most famous portrayal. The painting above even inspired U.A. Fanthorpe to write the following poem:


Not my best side, I'm afraid.
The artist didn't give me a chance to
Pose properly, and as you can see,
Poor chap, he had this obsession with
Triangles, so he left off two of my
Feet. I didn't comment at the time
(What, after all, are two feet
To a monster?) but afterwards
I was sorry for the bad publicity.
Why, I said to myself, should my conqueror
Be so ostentatiously beardless, and ride
A horse with a deformed neck and square hoofs?
Why should my victim be so
Unattractive as to be inedible,
And why should she have me literally
On a string? I don't mind dying
Ritually, since I always rise again,
But I should have liked a little more blood
To show they were taking me seriously.

Teeeheee! Follow the link to read the rest of this comical piece.

Nevertheless, Edmund Spenser, the author of The Faerie Queene, who wrote the most famous take upon this classic dragon, took him very seriously indeed, and described him like so:

Approaching nigh, he  reared high afore
His body monstrous, horrible, and vaste,
Which to increase his wondrous greatnesse more,
Was swolne with wrath, & poyson, & with bloudy gore.
                                                (Book I, Canto XI)

If you had a bit of trouble reading that, let me offer my personal translation:

Approaching near, he reared up upon his hind legs,
His body monstrous, horrible, and vast,
And to increase his wondrous greatness even more,
Was swollen up with wrath, and poison, and with bloody gore!

Not so comical anymore, is he? And definitely not suited to the image displayed above! For all that's the most famous depiction of the Redcross Knight slaying his dragon (and Princess Una, rather unattractive, securing it with her belt), it's not a particularly awe-inspiring sight.

I much prefer Trina Schart Hyman's elegant depiction!

That's the image of the dragon I grew up with, taken from this marvelous, award-winning picture book that is, I think,  THE perfect portrait of the hero-against-dragon archetype. A huge inspiration on my own work, even down to a princess named Una!

But, back to the dragon . . .

The actual story of St. George and the Dragon had been around a LONG time before Edmund Spenser borrowed it for his epic. Some people speculate that the origins of the story took their inspiration from the tale of "Perseus and Andromeda." In fact, the origins might go farther back still, even to the old Babylonian tale of Marduk slaying the dragon Tiamat!

It was a fellow named Jacobus de Voragine who made the St. George version of the tale  popular. Around 1260, he wrote his collection of stories, Golden Legend, which included the St. George story, which involves a poisonous dragon who plagues a certain countryside. To pacify him, the villagers feed him two sheep a day. When the sheep run out, he requires children, chosen by lot. One day, the lot falls upon the king's own daughter, so, dressed as a bride, she is sent to the dragon.

But by chance, our bold hero, St. George, rode by that very lake. Seeing the princess's plight, he fought the dragon and subdued it. They tied it about the neck with the princess's own sash and led it back to the village. There, St. George promised to slay the dragon if everyone in that village would convert to Christianity.

A bit of a bullying evangelist, you might say.

But, the people agreed, so the dragon was slain. But his legacy has lived on far beyond the Golden Legends! He, along with St. George, has been immortalized in stained glass and tapestries, paintings and poetry. To be sure, he's always the villain . . . and, to be sure, he always loses.

But as he said at the end of Not My Best Side: "I always rise again".

There will always be more dragons for our heroes to battle.

In a sense, this dragon has found his way into cinematic life via the (slightly campy) film, DragonslayerIn that story, the dreadful dragon, Vermithrax Pejorative, demands a sacrificial virgin every so often, also drawn by lots. And one day, the lot chosen is the king's own daughter . . .

Her fate is, sadly, very different from Princess Una's. Not all heroes are St. George!

St. George's Dragon on a scale of 1-10

Evil:  9
In Spenser's version at least, he represents the Devil. Sometimes he's more animalistic, though, so I can't give him a perfect 10.

Scariness: 7
He's scary enough, especially as Spenser describes him! But many of his portraits through history have been less than frightening.

Poison: 9
This dragon is very poisonous. He envenomed the whole countryside where he lurked!

Hoard: 0
As far as I can tell, none of his stories includes any hoard at all. Poor dragon.

Cleverness: 5
I don't think he's dumb, per se. But it's hard to think when you're spewing that much fire!


Elf said...

When I was younger, I loved to get the Trina Schart Hyman book version of Saint George and the Dragon. I still love to look at the beautiful artwork.

Galadriel said...

I have the top picture in my textbook. Yeah, it's not the best one I've found either.