Gresham College Lectures

Dragons: A History - Ronald Hutton

March 06, 2024 Gresham College
Gresham College Lectures
Dragons: A History - Ronald Hutton
Show Notes Transcript

Why have people believed in dragons, and what were they actually? Is there a difference between Western and Eastern dragons, in a global perspective, and if so, why?

Has the Western attitude to dragons changed in the modern era? Did Christianity give rise to a different idea of what a dragon should be? These are the questions that this lecture sets out to answer.

This lecture was recorded by Ronald Hutton on 14th February 2024 at Barnard's Inn Hall, London

The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:

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I will start with the proposition that across most of the world, most peoples have traditions of monsters similar to those who are called dragons in English. In other words, giants, winged land, reptiles of lizard or snake kind, or giant water serpents. It may be that there is a genuinely ancient collective human memory at work here. The Gresham College lecture that you're listening to right now is giving you knowledge and insight from one of the world's leading academic experts making it takes a lot of time, but because we want to encourage a love of learning, we think it's well worth it. We never make you pay for lectures, although donations are needed, all we ask in return is this. Send a link to this lecture to someone you think would benefit. And if you haven't already, click the follow or subscribe button from wherever you are listening right now. Now, let's get back to the lecture. Our ancestors in Africa long ago would've had to deal with big poisonous snakes, big constricting snakes, large birds of prey and crocodiles. Moreover, venomous or crushing snakes are the only dangerous animal that every single inhabited continent has in common. So monsters of the sort I've just described are a compound of all those primordial natural hazards. However, two areas in the world have made such creatures, especially prominent in art and story, and their Europe and the far East is especially China, but the nature of the dragon is very different. In each European dragons are super predators who take up residents near a human community and eat the people and their livestock. Their functional role is then to get killed by heroes. Chinese dragons look like elongated versions of European dragons with lizard bodies, four legs, clawed feet and wings and fangs, but otherwise they have nothing in common with them. Chinese dragons are friendly and beneficial to humans if treated with respect. They don't breathe fire and they inhabit water of all kinds. They exist in harmony with the natural magnetic energies of the earth as reflected in the Chinese art of Feng shui or Feng. I therefore have two questions to answer in this talk. Why did Europeans believe in dragons so much and why are European dragons so nasty and Chinese dragons so nice to go to Europe first, there are two main kinds of European dragon in popular folk law and medieval literature. One is the fire Drake, a reptile with wings, a horn or crested head, a spine tail and fiery breath. The fire Drake is the classic dragon of medieval heraldry Chronicles and romances, but also of JR R Tolkien, CS Lewis and JK Rowling. The other traditional European dragon is the worm or cold Drake A. That is a huge snake which spits venom or breeds poisonous gas and can sometimes crush with its coils. There are however many other kinds of dragon that appear in European folklore, literature and heraldry. The one that I'll mention here is the basals or cock. There's a thoroughly glorious but misleading description of one in Harry Potter and the chamber of secrets where it takes the form of a gigantic serpent. The classic medieval basals was a winged snake or a scaly cocker only a few feet long. It was formed from an egg hatched by a toad. What JK Row got absolutely right was its most famous characteristic that it kills with its stare. England has the largest number of dragon legends for a country its size anywhere in the world, 68 in all Somerset, my local county has most followed by Yorkshire. The chief narrative function of English dragons is to get killed, and the whole point of the typical dragon story is that slaying one is difficult. There are no specialists and no kit Dragon slaying. Dracony is a one off ad hoc business with no prose. English dragon slayers include five saints ranging from the local to the truly international, such as Saint George. George was probably a real Roman soldier who got martyred during the great persecution of Christians under the emperor Diocletian, but he's not actually mentioned by anybody until the sixth century. A couple of hundred years later, he's first mixed up with a dragon. However, 600 years later in the time of the Crusades, this is almost certainly because Jaffa in Palestine, which became part of the crusader kingdom, was both one of George's cult centers and the setting for the ancient legend of Perseus and Andromeda. Perseus rescued Andromeda from a sea monster and his legend got built into George's with the sea beast turned into the more familiar European monster by the Middle Ages. The dragon and the crusaders then brought the story home to Europe. In modern memory, the classic dragon slayer is a noble knight and there are 24 of those in England. There are, however, also 26 stories in which the slayer is a young artisan, like a tailor or a cobbler. Now those trades rely on skill and independence, so the majority of English dragon slayers are working class lads made good. Both traits are needed for the job because a dragon always has a hide too tough to be pierced by conventional weapons. One solution is to get the dragon to swallow you and then pierce it from the inside. This is clearly risky <laugh>, but it's still a trick. Obvious enough to be found worldwide as a way for really hard heroes to kill huge monsters. The ancient Gods Indra in India and Marduk in Babylon both used it. Another node is to stab the dragon through the mouth. As it's opens its jaws to swallow you Also tricky. A third, which is the cowardly way, is to poison the beast. The least obvious is to put on spiked armor or get into a barrel studded with spikes. The dragon then, if it's stupid enough, charges you and impales itself on the spikes if they're long enough. This idea actually came from watching hedgehogs deal with vipers by rolling into a spiked ball against which the striking serpent got injured or killed. Whatever the method employed, dragon slaying served two different purposes. One is a monster killing, which is one of the oldest and most timeless forms of human narrative. The other is a heroic how done it in which the good characters are pitted against much more powerful and evil. Foes good is expected to win, but until the end, it seems impossible to see how it can just think. James Bond, star Wars or the Lord of the Rings. It is clear there's a particular boom period in the creation of English dragon legends. This was between 1350 and 1550 when they had got attached to a range of families and communities got carved in churches and appeared in games and processions. The reason for this is simply that the period followed the adoption of George as the English national patron saint. His legend then got spread across the country and started the huge popularity of dragon slaying as an English folk motif. But the basic point of the dragon remains that dragons are there to eat people and their livestock and then come to a sticky end. In Europe, what they almost never do is guard treasure as they do in a lot of modern fiction. This is simply because they do guard treasure in a narrow range of Germanic medieval tales and the most famous a Beowulf and the Volson ga saga where Beowulf and Siegfried become the dragon killers and two Oxford Dawns who had to teach Beowulf and the Volson ga saga every week where JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, and that's why treasure guarding dragons are so big in modern fiction. But behind all these traditions lay much older precursors. The ancient Greek heroes killed giant snakes, which English translators of the stories called dragons. The Greeks, however called them pythons, a term employed in the modern world for a class of real snakes. Of course, the Romans use the term Draco for a mythical kind of winged snake, and this is the root of the English word dragon. These beasts do things like pulling the chariot of the sorceress Madea. There's also a distinctively Norse version of the dragon, the lindworm. This is a giant snake like the English and Germanic worm, but after it grows to a certain size it takes to water there it becomes the sea serpent or lake monster. The greatest in Norse legend was the mid guard serpent, which encircled the whole earth. Unlike dragons in general, Norse Lind worms continued to be cited right up to the present. In 1894. Two of them were reported in a newspaper as blocking the entrance to the harbor of the north fishing village of Ervin. The nearest one was dark yellow and 180 feet long, a whaling ship set out from the nearest big port, very bravely to fight the snakes, but both sensibly vanished as it approached. Now all this sounds amazingly real, but if it is, then Norse Lind worms are scrupulously nationalist. Once you cross into Finland, they're absent. Even though Finland has lots of lakes and an enormous seacoast finished dragons live on hills and only eat fat people and hate eggs <laugh>. So children, if you eat up your eggs and stay slim, you are safe. In other words, a creature that on one side of the border can block a modern fishing port on the other is equivalent to AA mill's bears who only eats children who tread on the lines between paving stones, <laugh>. So what were dragons, I'm going to start with some fun answers, really attractive answers, but also I think are wrong answers. And the first issue to settle when dealing with these is whether dragons actually existed as portrayed zoologists were long confident that fire Drakes were physically impossible, but in 1979, a cryptozoologist called Peter Dickinson showed that they were not. He suggested that they produced hydrogen gas from hydrochloric acid in their stomachs, which was burned off through their mouths. This enabled them to descend in flight like balloons burning off gas, and of course, the acid completely consumed their bodies after death, which is why we never find their remains <laugh>. The theory is wonderful. It is also however incapable of proof, and it's hard to see how stomach acid could consume an entire huge body. Moreover, no dragon legend describes a fire Drake imploding after death. Instead, were often told how parts of the body were preserved as trophies. Another theory was popularized by John Michel in 1969, which imposed the Chinese view of dragons on the entire world. It picked up on the Chinese idea that dragons moved along currents of natural energy that crossed the earth. John gave these currents the English name of Lays, lay lines and declared that the Chinese belief had been held across the whole planet. He declared that also the European hostility towards dragons have been imposed by repressive medieval Christianity. This turned benevolent earth energies into satanic monsters. His book was the main force in catalyzing the whole late 20th century enthusiasm for mapping and dowsing lay lines. I acknowledge readily that this has given great pleasure and re enchanted the landscape for many people in dragon law. However, John got things the wrong way round. It's the Chinese belief in benevolent dragon light creatures, which is anomalous in a world context. Most peoples have treated giants, reptilian beasts as monsters, and the European antipathy towards them goes as indicated way back before Christianity. There's also a psychological explanation for dragon stories that they are simply metaphors for predatory human beings. They're certainly used as such. In history, the Romans had dragon standards like wind socks on poles, which made a roaring sound as cavalry charged. This is incidentally the only historical detail which Jerry Bruckheimer filmed about King Arthur got right, but we were treated to Keira Knightly in a leather bikini to console those looking for historical accuracy.<laugh> the Vikings famously had dragon figureheads on the ships. Both groups ravaged lands and demanded tribute. The trouble here is that Romans and Vikings used the dragon for as a symbol for ferocity because the concept of it already existed. It's also not obvious that dragons function well as a metaphor for armed bands of humans. They seem to be much more like animal predators. So we now come to explanations, which I think to be credible, but marginal. One is that dragons are the result of freak meteorology. Medieval chronicles are bound in references to fiery dragons seen high in the air and meteors and comets could account for all of these. Medieval and early modern night skies were very bright as there was though little human lighting. Some dragons could also have been misidentified real animals. The closest real beast to dragons are crocodiles, which can grow up to 30 feet in length and way three tons. They're also highly predatory. Even today, they kill an average 5,000 people a year more than any other species except humans. A so-called dragon exhibited Durham in 1569 was a crocodile and escaped crocodilians would explain some local medieval dragon legends. The dragon of St. Leonard's Forest described in a pamphlet of 1614. The foresters in Sussex was a giant snake which reared up and approached, killed people and dogs with its bite ate rabbits and vanished when winter came. Now, this would fit an escaped king cobra or mamba in all those details, including not being able to survive. Frost accidents of natural history can also plausibly explain bits of dragon law. Hems are sometimes born with insufficient estrogen and develop the physical characteristics of Cox. Sometimes the hormonal balance is rectified and they lay eggs in pre-Modern societies also hens often suffered from roundworms, which could get from the animal into its eggs. When such an egg was cracked, the riving worm was revealed. A newborn basal lisc, which you may remember, was supposed to be hatched from an egg laid by a cock. All these factors, in my opinion, do indeed credibly explain certain dragon legends or classes of reference to dragons. There is, however, an obvious problem with them as a general source of explanation, even when they're all rolled together. That is all the comets, meteors, crocodilians, cobras, and worm infested eggs presuppose an existing idea. When you look up into a medieval sky and see a meteor, you don't think it's a flying fire, breathing reptile unless you already believe in such beasts. To get to the real roots of the belief in dragons, we're going to have to dig deeper, but first I need to do two bits of tidying up. The first is to suggest an origin for the most distinctive and classic form of European dragon, the fire Drake. No other culture and time has produced a predatory big reptilian monster that breathes fire. I'd suggest it comes from just one source, and that happens to be the book that medieval and early modern Europeans read, respected and believed more than any other. The Bible. The relevant passage isn't the Book of Job chapter 41, and it's spoken by God himself. This is actually very rare. Jehovah almost never speaks in the first person in the Bible, and it begins Leviathan and it then goes on to say, have you draw? Can you draw out to Leviathan with a hook or his tongue with a cord? And it then goes on for a number of verses to portray a gigantic monster with terrible, sharp teeth scales so close together that no weapon can possibly pierce them and out of his mouth go burning lamps and sparks of fire, leap out out of his nostrils, go with smoke as out of a seething pot or cauldron. And it then goes on to say about, uh, his heart being like a stone, about how swords and spears are useless against him and how he makes the deep boil like a pot, the deep being the sea. He makes the sea like a pot of ointment. He makes a path to shine after him. He is a king over the kingdom of pride. By the 17th century when Christians were starting to understand the natural world better, it became generally concluded that the leviathan as a sperm whale, this is probably correct if a plume of water from its blowhole was mistaken for smoke and that therefore it was concluded that an animal blowing smoke out of its head must have a fire in its mouth to medieval readers. Therefore, what you have here is a huge scaly fire breathing monster with terrible teeth apparently found in both land and sea with a hide impervious to conventional weapons apart from the wings, which could be added to account for the way in which it spans environments. This is a blueprint. Fire drag leviathans are mentioned briefly elsewhere in the Old Testament, such as an Isaiah, and always with the reputation of being the most terrifying of animals, more powerful and deadly than lions. To those who regarded the Bible as the literal word of God, which is most Christians till the 19th century, something that he speaks in the first person is going to carry particular weight. No wonder the fire Drake became the classic monster of the Christian world from the Anglo-Saxon Times onwards. This isn't a theory of mine, it's uh, shared widely among crypto zoologists and I'm simply endorsing it. There's a final loose end to be tied that dragons are now once again really big business in fantasy literature and screenplays. There have been dozens of fantasy novels with Dragon or Dragons in the title published since 1970. What is striking about them is that most regard dragons as a good thing as essentially intelligent and sensitive beasts that can be allies of humans. I am your dragon Aragon, in particular. The 1970s threw up a new sort of hero or heroine, the dragon rider who treats the beasts both as steeds and companions. These were the work of Anne McCaffery, an Irish woman who moved to America and who really loved horses. And so her flying dragons are actually horses that breathe fire and look like dragons and have horse like characteristics. What has happened is that the physical form of the classic European dragon, the fire Drake, has been combined with the spiritual form of the classic Chinese dragon in a western world that is kinder and greener and doesn't have to worry any longer about predators. This combination has taken place logically enough in the nation, which is both the current leader of the globe and lies midway between Europe and China America. Now it's time to discuss the most fundamental aspects of the concept of the dragon. European dragons occupy a very specific animal relationship with humanity. They're what the American eco journalists David Kwaman has named the Alpha Predator. Great and terrible flesh eating beasts were part of the ecological matrix within which our species evolved. They were part of the psychological context within which we formed our identity. They were part of the spiritual systems that we developed for coping with the cosmos. Their ferocity and hunger and complete violation of our sense of self and of self-worth were grim realities that could be alluded but not forgotten to nearly all early humanity and to traditional peoples right up until almost the present. They were a familiar kind of capricious misfortune. Among the earliest forms of human self-awareness must have been the awareness of being prey, even in the most modernized and well-protected modern societies. Zoological, mellow drama Aja described by detractors as predator porn, whether it be Jaws alien, deep Blue Sea, lake Placid, or Jurassic Park is a well-established form of entertainment. An alpha predator, however, is not just any animal that eats humans. It's a solitary hunter, which makes a one-to-one relationship with its prey. Predators that hunt in packs like cowards, however dangerous to humans such as hyenas, wild dogs and wolves do not qualify. On the other hand, a lone big rogue wolf does in a region which has no more frightening wildlife. Elephants kill more people every year than any other mammal, but they don't count because they don't eat their victims. They have never been made. The mythological alpha predator. The very real human fear of predators means that a good Lord or chief in a traditional human society is at least in theory, in the position of a shepherd to his flock. He is there to guard its members against both human and animal foes. And the greater the hero, the more spectacular is the predator against which he has matched the oldest surviving piece of literature, the epic of Gilgamesh has a battle between a king and a monster. At the center of the story, the greatest heroes of their respective peoples Hercules, alias, Hercules, and Beowulf were serious killers of pre serial killers of predators. It also matters that human societies tend to have room for only one alpha predator in their imaginative space. Across most of the old world, the predator of human symbolic choice is the lion. It features as such in both Greek myth, hence Heracles and the Bible, hence Samson. And one of the chief duties of an ancient near Eastern king was to kill lions personally as a sign of royal prowess, and so an ability to defend his people. Lions always stood in for foreign foes when none of the latter are currently available in ancient India and Persia and tribal Africa. To be a ruler, likewise meant being a lion killer. Other predators took over only where lions didn't exist. For example, in India, outside Lion country where the tiger stood in across most of the rest of East Asia and eastern Siberia where there were tigers. And in West Africa where the next cat down the pecking or biting order was the leopard, you can go on down the scale it lands with no big cats. The bear is the alpha predator and where there are no big land animals at all, the crocodile or the shark takes over In medieval Europe, however, the alpha predator was missing. Lions disappeared from almost all of Europe at the end of the ice age. The European brown bear is much less dangerous than other species, and very rarely do European wolves produce the giant lone serial killer of humans that is needed to qualify as a mythological. Alpha predator lions stayed pretty close. They survived in Turkey until the 1870s and an Algerian Morocco till the 1920s, but they were never even by the new stone age, an actual menace to most Europeans. Instead, the lion's reputation as the nce of great kings and the lordly appearance and flamboyant behavior of the male lion made it the royal beast par excellence to Europeans. In the medieval besties, it stood for courage and regality. It became the most common symbol of West European rulers, especially in Britain, Spain and Germany. The British lions still roars for us today. Europeans therefore had an imaginative need for an alpha predator that was even more powerful and terrifying than the lion, and which could be treated as an emblem of evil as well as a ferocity. The dragon filled that conceptual gap. This does, however, invite the question of why medieval Europeans would've thought that the dragon was more native to their lambs than the lion, so it could be appropriated for the job and why they thought it was so real. There is absolutely no evidence for dragon like creatures actually surviving on land in Europe during historic times. Things get a lot trickier and more interesting, however, as soon as we hit deep water, whereas nobody nowadays claims to see fire, Drakes worms or Basalis lake and sea monsters are regularly reported across the world, including Britain. Hence Lochness zoological. There's still a lot of mileage and a lindworm or a sea serpent. We do have some good candidates for these among real creatures. One is the ribbon fish, which is the fish on the screen, which is a rare species of eel that often grows to more than 20 feet and has red spines running down its back, which rise to a crest on its head. In addition, the natural decomposition of carcasses can turn even well-known marine species studied at close quarters into fabulous beasts. In 1977, the Japanese National Museum of Natural Science identified photographs of a huge corpse trawled up by fishermen off New Zealand as showing a prehistoric CIA saw only when tissues saved from the body and its merciful tissues were saved, were examined. Did it turn out to be a badly rotted blue shark whom decomposition had turned into the shape of aple? Saw many reports of sea serpents are now attributed by marine biologists to sightings of the giant squid, the long tentacles of which can easily be taken for the body of a huge serpent. Giant squids can grow to more than a hundred feet in length, over half of which are the tentacles. And mistaking a giant squid for a sea serpent is even easier if the squid concerned is dead and dismembered and the tentacles appear to form one continuous creature on the surface of the sea. Having said that, however, we still face two puzzles. One is that there are simply no known animals that correspond to some of the detailed descriptions of sea and lake monsters provided by observers over the centuries. There's still a mystery here. Remember that 180 foot yellow serpent just off the harbor of air vCAN and its mate. The other is that we're still no nearer finding real animals which correspond to the European land dragons so prominent in tradition, I'd suggest they were indeed prehistoric monsters, but safely dead, not living fossils, just fossils. Since Homosapiens first acquired its capacity for reasoning, humans will have noted that huge bones weather out of the rocks offered of creatures with teeth like steak knives in powerful jaws plus grasping claws and horns. It's would have been obvious to the observers that such beasts no longer lived in the lands, concerned to humans before the sciences of geology and paleontology and the concept of evolution had appeared. The obvious explanation was they'd been exterminated, given their size and ferocity. It had to have been heroes who did it at times. In the case of dragons, we can be much more specific Every time that a relic of a historic dragon has actually been preserved, it turns out to be a long extinct animal. One of the most famous European dragons was that of klar and foot in Austria, slain by a duke of Austria. Its skull was displayed in the town hall until the 19th century when it was identified as that of a woolly rhinoceros. Another Austrian, the paleontologist EO arbel studied dragon legends in 1914. He realized that the cave systems traditionally identifies the layers of the beasts, often contain the bones of cave bears, massive ice age predators with sharp teeth. The head of the dragon of kil Somerset was preserved and as that of one of the Jurassic marine reptiles called IAOs. The reason why Somerset is richer in dragon legends than any other county may simply be that its limestone rocks preserve fossil remains is especially those of IAOs police souls and ply saws with great clarity. And ply saws, just for the record, are the biggest carnivorous animals that the planet has ever produced, truly terrifying beasts, and they look at in their skeletons. We can be a lot more sure of this now because of the work of Adrian Maya, a classicist who also understands paleontology, a rare combination. She points out that ancient literature is full of references to giant bones where skeletons are found in fossil beds superimposed on each other. It would be easy to see how these could reasonably give rise to tales of hybrid beefs, such as cental and the chime era. She has also pointed to two specific sources of dragon legends. One is that of the griffin, the half lion, half eagle beast of European legend. The ancient Greeks invented the idea of griffins and they placed their homeland in central Asia. Now that region is full of fossils of beaked dinosaurs, which look very much like the griffins of myth. The other is much more particular to dragons and consists of one of the most influential sources of dragon law, the biography of the philosopher Apollonius of Tiana, written by Philosophists in the imperial Roman period. It included a description of a journey that Apollonius had made to northern India, in which he described huge scaly serpentine monsters in two main species, one smooth headed and the other larger and crested this account, the result of one Greek taking the hippie trail across Persia to India in the first centuries of the common era became the basis of a considerable amount of medieval and early modern dragon law. His account repeated wholesale and works on dragons right up to the 17th century. Adrian and Mayer pointed out that apollonius route into India along the old Persian royal road would've taken him under the SWA hills, which are full of bones of huge extinct crocodiles and mammals. One vivid detail in Apollonius story has a direct parallel in the swale. This is the information that one kind of Indian dragon had a jewel in the center of its skull. Again, a motif that passed into European dragon law. As it happens, the rocks of the swale form crystals and these often grow inside the larger fossil skulls in the hills. Adrian Mayer picked up and other certain or probable connections between ancient myths and fossil remains. She noted that the Greek historian Herodotus had said that great flying serpents lived in the Egyptian desert. This may have been inspired by the sight of the bones of the enormous sail backed predatory dinosaur spinosaurus, which is the super nasty of Steven Spielberg's film, Jurassic Park. Three more certain is the alleged discovery of the skeleton of the monster slain by Perseus to rescue Andromeda, which was dug up in imperial Roman times at the traditional setting of the tale at dropper, the modern Jaffa in Palestine. It was brought to Rome and had a 40 foot backbone. Clearly this was some kind of prehistoric beast. It's notable that China and Europe lands of dragon law par excellence, a both exceptionally rich in fossil bearing rocks that produce big ferocious looking extinct beasts. Chinese fossils have been called dragons bones since records begin, but China didn't make the dragon the alpha predator of its myths because it had enormous striped alpha predators on its premises already, the tigers that ate the Chinese in large numbers until the 1930s. And so the tiger hunter became the classic hero of China's. China's mythology and legend, and these harmless, enormous bony beasts weathering outta the rock became associated with the energies of the earth from which they came and regarded as benevolent. It is time to conclude. I would suggest three stages of creation of dragon myth. The first is the general human need for stories about alpha predators and the ancestral fear of great reptilian beasts, crocodiles and snakes from our emost human past in the Africa from which our species came. The second is the discovery of giant fossils and the sighting of mysterious sea beasts supplying the apparent objective evidence that these things had been and still were around. And the third is that regional traditions then form Europe gets dragons as alpha predators because it lacks them in reality. And then the Christian fire Drake, out of the Book of Job China got benevolent dragons moving along energy lines. So I think I've answered my last two questions, and I think that if you want to go dragon hunting or communing with dragons, all you need to do is go fossil hunting, but just stay out of the water.<laugh>, Do you have a favorite dragon <laugh>? Yes, it's, uh, I, I am a great west country patriot. I spent so many years living and working there and loving the land, and I like a humdrum local Somerset dragon <laugh>, uh, the dragon of chill compton. And, uh, it was a dozy dragon and the hero who went to kill it didn't actually realize it was a dragon until he'd been sitting on it for about half an hour thinking it was a log. Uh, and eventually and some versions of the story, they felt they had to come to terms and they did. So there's a happy ending possible to the storm<laugh>. Excellent. The gentleman just, just say, if you wait for the microphone to get to you, then the people online can hear as well. Fine. Uh, thank you for that. That was amazing. Um, I noticed at the beginning you were talking about English dragons. Yeah. And I noticed that whales and Scotland were absent in that. And yet whales is very well known for a dragon. Yeah. Is there any more to do with whales? Happy To answer Scotland that there are Scottish dragons, but many fewer than in England because the lack of a catalyzing national saint, uh, Wales, uh, is a different matter. Wales actually has fewer local dragon legends by far than England, although there are some cute examples, my favorites, the Ber, which is a small dragon England Morgan that eats chickens and is in traditional folk law. Uh, the reason why dragons became central to Welsh identity and heraldry is because of one story, which is in the British history, published in 8 29, uh, in which the boy who's called Ambrosius, who is later going to become Merlin, explains the subsidence of a tower built by a tyrant because there are two dragons, white and red fighting underneath. And the red one stands for whales, and the white ones stands for the English. And so naturally the red one's gonna win eventually, but they keep fighting for the time being, and the Welsh likes that, and we all do. But the lion was the symbol used by Welsh medieval princes on their coats of arms, their banners, their heraldry. Until that splendid Welshman, Henry Tudor killed Richard II at the Battle of Bosworth with a largely Welsh and French army, and conquered England, thereby fulfilling the Welsh prophecy that a, a Welsh prince would do this. It actually happened the moment they'd been waiting for, since 8 29, but there's now a heraldic problem because Henry's beast should be the lion, but it's already the royal beast of England. So what are the Welsh gonna get? And so overnight the Tudors decided the dragon should be the symbol of Wales because of the story and the British history. Um, the Red Dragon has been the symbol of Wales ever since. I'm, I'm a member of the, the Learned Society of Wales. I have a patriarchic investment in that<laugh>, The Gentleman at the back. Um, thank you. It was very interesting. Um, out of curiosity, like when we have a broader viewpoint as to beasts in general Yes. Uh, in, uh, let's say just specifically in this context, let's say European versus Chinese. Uh, do we know the distribution of say, the nasty beasts versus nice beasts? And do they overlap? Are they similar? Are they very different across European and, uh, Chinese landscape? Most human societies have nasty beasts in mythology, and that's because most human societies have had nasty beasts in reality. So it's a trans position, very easy to make, but they're also good beasts in the mythology of most nations. Uh, the affection given to the raven by the northwestern Pacific peoples, or the coyote by the peoples, the American southwest, the reverence for the bear all the way across the circumpolar region from, uh, the saami lands, the lap lands right through to the northern most island of Japan is, uh, again, an example of this. So there's a tendency among humans to regard animals as in a constant relationship with us, which they were and are, and to pick out friends and foes among them. They then get frozen in mythology for all time. I'm just curious if any other country pursues its myths in the way that we pursue lochness, and are people going around actual with scientific, uh, processes trying to discover a myth? Yeah, there are lake monsters all over the globe. Uh, notable examples in the North American continent, and there's a favorite lake monster in the Congo, uh, which was Zaire. Now the Democratic republic, uh, sometimes it's possible to identify sources for these. Uh, in the case of the Congolese Lake monster, which got a lot of, uh, attention from scholars in the eighties and nineties, it was realized that it's actually the now almost extinct northern white rhinoceros, which had lived in the land and become extinct. And in mythology, it had got it transferred to water to explain why you no longer saw it. So it must have come out of the lake and go back in at a particular lake. Uh, and there at least we can pin down the origins of a, a lake monster legend, but they're found all over the globe, including Polynesia like New Zealand and every inhabited continent high. Are there any differences in the personalities of different colored dragons, like red versus green versus Black? Not, not really. Uh, dragons are lots of different colors. That's a point on which the imagination of the individual storyteller is given free reign. There's nothing canonical about dragons colors, and there are no moral qualities, no local loyalties attached to them except for the famous case of Wales, because of that one tail. Thank you so much for this lecture. Um, if I may, two very quick questions. One, uh, I noticed when you were talking about Bazel Lisk that the look that kills not very typical. And the only one other one that comes to my mind is Medusa. Yes. Where does the look that kills come from? It's obvious for the jaws and the teeth and the claws, but where does the look that kills Come from? Uh, the answer is we haven't The faintest idea, somebody fought it up. I mean, there, there's, there's actually much crazier stuff about the basal than I had time to describe in the lecture. For example, not only were medieval people convinced that it existed and came outta this egg laid by a cock hatch by a toad, but that the only animal, which it really feared was the weasel, which is why there's a weasel in the picture that I flashed up there with a, a basalis looking distinctly wary. And nobody knows why weasels should be picked, but it became canonical. Everybody knew that if you kept a weasel around, you'd be safe from a basalis. So, but there, there is, uh, a, an absolutely glorious, uh, cultural fertility in all this, which sometimes borders on the absolutely crazy and, and therefore all the more wonderful. So if you will allow me that second question. Yeah. I think it kind of ties nicely into what you just said. Do you notice any differences in dragon myths across the European tribes tribe? Tribal lines? No, absolutely. Versus Germanic versus, No. Uh, it's amazingly standard. Uh, every European people by the beginning of history had picked up on the idea of dragon light creatures and embedded them in their mythology. And, uh, we, we were kind of baffled as to why this should be, which is why I, this is actually one of my ideas, I can take credit for it. Good or bad, is, uh, the idea of the absence of alpha predator in historic Europe and late prehistory. You really have to go back as far as, uh, the paleolithic the ice age before you live in a world which has credible alpha predators of the kind farm pretty well everywhere else. Thank you so much. Thank you. Um, let, let's take a couple from Slido, which I've been silently neglecting. Um, a couple of people have asked, uh, similar questions about how did the city of London end up with dragons as its crest That I don't actually know. Uh, I've never found a book that could tell me, although I'm certain there must be one. Uh, certainly the incredible popularity of dragon legends in the late middle Ages, we're talking 1350 to 1500 produces dragons across the landscape. They appear everywhere, and that's when they appear as, um, a symbol of London. So perhaps the corny explanation, which may actually be right, is at a time when the country was going Dragon Mad London had to have one too <laugh> or perhaps one in every post, uh, leading in. And of course, the, the locals here were just outside Gresham, just opposite the city of York. Pub<laugh> Everywhere needs a dragon. Um, a couple of people have asked questions about how sort of popular imagination kicks from a dragon. So the combination of whether it's artists, creative people, or just people in the pub exaggerating what's, what's the role of, um, of, of culture in creating what we've ended up with The role of culture and creating everything else. We end up with <laugh>, uh, which is that we have this stock of primeval loves and fears that focus on certain symbolic shapes and forms and traditions. And then this gets reworked millennium after millennium and century after century, and adapted to modern needs, uh, which is why in Hollywood, uh, within, uh, within about 10 years, dragons turned from being things that even in Walt Disney had to be killed to being things, uh, whom you love feed domesticate and ride around the sky.<laugh>, Thank you so much for another brilliant, and, and very, yeah, interested lecture. What just came to my mind, the dragon maybe seen as the Wild Nature force, and in China, they have Feng Shu of fng shui. So they learn to live with the nature force as they build their buildings. So the nature spirits aren't disturbed, so they, they build buildings so the dragon can, can go from the mountains to the, to the lake and and drink also. And maybe Europeans, especially in the Middle Ages, have seen nature as a forces that have to be overcome because they are threatening. Just, just my idea, I just don't know. So question, I, I don't think that the Chinese traditional relationship with nature was that different from the European. Uh, because the same Chinese who are, uh, celebrating dragons as wonderful forces, the earth are exterminating tigers as fast as they can, uh, and usually not very successfully until the 19th, 20th century as mortal predator enemies. And in the same way in Europe, uh, you can have the ancient Greeks and Romans having dracos and pythons as symbols of, uh, the terror of nature. And, uh, hees bumping off the maayan lion and other natural monsters. But venerating rocks, trees, and water as the home of nymphs and of, uh, rather beautiful spirits. So the human relationship with nature is very complex and deeply ambivalent right across the grove, but the world, the, well, the, uh, the globe. But the, the fun thing here is it manifests in such different ways that it provides something really creative, fascinating, and it's wonderful seeing the different way the kaleidoscope re patterns itself in culture after culture. Um, I'm afraid I have to break the news, uh, that, that we're out of time. Um, uh, the, uh, uh, ladies and gentlemen, we have had a absolute tour divorce, as said, uh, earlier, we, we have been informed, we've been entertained, and we have had a series of important life lessons about how to kill a dragon and the importance of retaining a weasel at all times.<laugh>, uh, would you please join me in thanking the Gresham College Professor of Divinity, professor Rob.