What a magnificent creature the dragon is – a fierce, giant, fire-breathing lizard.
In China, the dragon is a symbol of strength, used by the Chinese Emperor as a symbol of his own imperial power. Other Oriental nations have their own versions of dragons.
In Europe the dragon is a fearful, aggressive monster, whereas the Chinese dragon is a spiritual and cultural symbol that represents prosperity and good luck.
In the Chinese Zodiac, the traits of a person born in the Year of the Dragon are dominance and ambition. Dragons prefer to live by their own rules and are usually successful.
The European dragon is less like a serpent and more like a winged wolf with a snake-like tail. This is possibly because the snake/crocodile was more common in the east whereas the wolf was the natural animal to be feared in the west, in ancient times.
A dragon with wings but only a single pair of legs is known as a wyvern.
The word dragon entered the English language in 13C and descended from the Greek word drakon ‘serpent, giant fish’. It originally meant any great serpent, not necessarily mythological.
Exotic legends of dragons abound in European folklore and literature. Falkor in The Neverending Story is a lucky dragon, a giant, friendly dog, while Smaug is the wicked, greedy dragon in The Hobbit. Game Of Thrones features two-legged dragons with huge wings and magical powers, that can be trained but not tamed.
There are countless portraits and versions of the story of St George killing a dragon – there is a belief that he may have killed a large sea snake.
The dictionary also has, under the definition of a dragon, ‘a fierce and intractable person, especially a woman’ and ‘a large lizard such as the Komodo dragon’.
To chase the dragon means ‘to smoke opium’ and to sow dragon’s teeth means ‘to take action intended to prevent strife but actually bring it about’.