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277

dragon

OLogy Series
anthropology
card
277

dragon

OLogy Series
anthropology

For thousands of years, the dragon has been an unmistakable symbol around the world. But this lizard-like beast doesn't always carry the same meaning. In European legends, dragons are evil and dangerous creatures that spit fire, devour animals, and kill humans. Dragons in Asia also carry magical powers, but they are usually powerful and wise creatures that control changes in nature.

In the Christian Bible, the devil himself appears as a dragon with:

2 horns

7 heads

100 claws

Are you right?

Correct!

The description, written in the first century, reads: "a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems [jeweled headbands] on his heads." In heaven, the dragon is defeated in battle with an angel.

In Chinese art, the dragon is sometimes shown with the phoenix, a mythological bird. Together, the phoenix and dragon are symbols of the:

struggle between good and evil

past and the future

harmony of marriage

Are you right?

Correct!

The dragon was often a symbol of the emperor. During the Ming dynasty, the phoenix became a symbol for the empress--the bride of the dragon.

The Aztecs worshiped a god that appeared as a dragon with sharp fangs and the winding body of a snake. It was also covered with:

smooth scales like a water snake

thick fur like a mountain lion

green feathers like a tropical bird

Are you right?

Correct!

In ancient America, this god was called Quetzalcoatl, which means "feathered or plumed serpent." This creature was linked with the sky--the rain, the wind, and the movement of the planet Venus.

Laurel Kendall, anthropologist

In East Asia, the dragon is equivalent to an emperor or king. He inhabits a watery kingdom attended by sea creature courtiers.

In Chinese mythology, dragons spend their winters sleeping at the bottom of a lake or ocean.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

In the spring, they awaken and rise into the sky to make rain. These dragons also breathe clouds, move the seasons, and control the waters of rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Scientists once considered dragons real animals that were related to snakes.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

In a 17th century encyclopedia, an Italian scientist wrote that "winged dragons flying through Africa... beat enormous animals such as bulls to death with their tails."

In most legends around the world, dragons live on land.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Most European dragons live on land, but those in Asian legends live in the water, rising into the air in the spring. Aztecs described a dragon that fly like a bird.

Physical features: may have wings; smelly, fiery breath; two, four, or no legs; whiskers, a bump on the forehead, scales, sweet-smelling saliva
Significance: In Europe, a symbol of power or evil. In Asia, a symbol of power, imperial rule, rain, fertility, or good fortune.
Natural "evidence": Fossils of T. rex and woolly rhinoceros have been mistaken for dragon bones.
Cool fact: Chinese dragons have 81 scales, which is equal to 9 times 9, a lucky number.

Image credits: Sean Murtha; Laurel Kendall: courtesy of AMNH.