Monday 7 November 2011

Dragons In Greek Mythology

Dragon Facts- Dragons in Greek Mythology

The very first mention of a “dragon” in Ancient Greece is derived from the classic Iliad where Agamemnon is described as having a blue dragon motif on his sword belt and a three-headed dragon emblem on his breast plate. Keep in mind however, that the Greek word used in this context could also mean a “snake.”

The English word Dragon is derived from Greek word “Drakon”, meaning dragon, and serpent of huge size or water –snake. Greek word Drakon also carried the meaning in context of, “To see” or “the one with the deadly glance.”

In “The Life of Apollonius of Tyana” (217 A.D. Flavius Philostratus ) the translation in part states: “In most respects the tusks resemble the largest swine’s, but they are slighter in build and twisted, and have a point as unbranded as sharks’ teeth.”

Now in the Greek legends of the Phoenician prince Cadmus and Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece the dragon’s teeth plays an important role. The most memorable moment in the movie version of this fable (Jason and the Argonauts 1963) is when the dragon’s teeth, thrown on the ground, convert into formidable fully armed seemingly invincible skeletal warriors. The audiences, including me were paralyzed with fear, for how can you kill that which is not made of flesh? Jason and his group eventually overcame with the aid of Medea, who provided them with the means to resist fire and steel.

Here’s a synopsis of this story:

Pelias , a king of Iolcus in Greek mythology was the son of Tyro and Poseidon. Now Tyro was married to Cretheus and had three sons by him: Aeson, Pheres and Amythaon. Unfortunately she loved not her husband but Enipeus, a river god who had refused her advances. Poseidon, who had lusted after Tyro, one day, disguised himself as Enipeus and the product of their union was Pelias and Neleus, the twin boys. One version states that Tyro left her sons to die, through exposure, but they were found by a herdsman and raised as his own. When they reached adulthood, Pelias and Neleus found Tyro and killed their stepmother, Sidero, for having mistreated her. At one point trying to escape her pursuers, Sidero had hid in a temple to Hera, but Pelias uncovered her and brought about her demise, incurring in the process Hera’s eternal wrath. Pelias was rather ambitious (power-hungry) and wished to gain dominion over all of Thessaly. To reach his goal, he had to dispose of his would be rivals. So he banished Neleus and Pheres and locked up Aeson in the Iolcus’s dangeouns. While there Aeson married and had several children, go figure, the most famous of them being Jason. Wishing to protect Jason from Pelias, she smuggled him out and Jason was trusted to the care of Chiron the centaur, on Mount Pelium. There he was well looked after and educated. Meanwhile Pelias still fearful of being overthrown, during a consultation of an oracle, was warned to be wary of a man wearing one sandal.

Some years later, Pelias was holding the Olympics and according to custom, was offering a sacrifice by the sea in honour of Poseidon. Jason, who was among the countless summoned to take part in the sacrifice, in his haste to reach Iolcus, lost one of his sandals in the flooded river Anaurus. (Hera had disguised herself as an old woman, whom Jason helped across the river, during which he came to lose his sandal.) Now when Jason entered Iolcus , he was announced as a man wearing one sandal. Asked by the king what he would do if he was confronted with the man that would be his downfall, Jason responded that he would send the man in a quest to retrieve Golden Fleece. Pelias agreeing with this sent Jason on the same quest. Now this was a seemingly impossible task, for the Golden Fleece hung on an oak tree, at Colchis, in a grove, sacred to Ares, the God of War, and further, was guarded by a fierce dragon.

A sturdy ship called The Argo was constructed to hold fifty men. These fifty men that joined Jason on this impossible quest were called the Argonauts. Reaching their destination, Jason requested the Golden Fleece from the king of Colchis, Aeetus. His majesty demanded that Jason first yoke a pair of fire-breathing bulls to a plough and sow the dragon’s mouth shut. No one has ever been successful at this prior. But the king’s daughter Medea, smitten with Jason, and possessing magical powers, aided Jason in this impossible task. She cast a potent spell to put the dragon to sleep, enabling Jason to retrieve Golden Fleece from the oak tree. Jason, Medea and the Argonauts were soon on their return journey to Thessaly.

During Jason’s absence meanwhile, Pelias disposed of Aeson and Promachus. One version is that Pelisas believing that Argo had sunk related this to Aeson and Promachus, causing them to commit suicide by drinking poison. More likely however, they were both murdered by Pelias.

When Jason, Medea and the Argonauts returned, Pelias , going back on his word, adamantly refused to relinquish the throne to Jason. Medea using her powers and trickery had Pelias’s own daughters the Peliades, murder their father. You see, Medea had told them prior to this that she could turn and old ram into young ram by cutting up the old ram and boiling it. During the demonstration, a live, young ram, proving this point had jumped out of the pot. The girls therefore were coerced to cut their father into pieces and throw them into the pot, in the same expectation that he would re-emerge young and rejuvenated. Pelias, who had been a willing participant, did not survive the ordeal however. Being an accessory to this crime, Jason was denied a kinship. Pelias’son Acastus reclaimed the throne and drove Jason and Medea to Corinth.


In the story, Cadmus (who’s supposed to be the spreader of literacy and civilization) had supposedly killed the sacred dragon that guarded the spring of Ares. The goddess Athena instructed him to sow the teeth, from which sprang a group of formidable warriors called the “Spartoi”. When it was time to get away, he threw precious jewel into the midst of the warriors, they coveting the gem and wanting the stone for themselves, turned on each other, providing the hero and the five survivors to escape and found the city of Thebes.

The classical legends of Cadmus and Jason have later still, on more serious note, have given rise to the phrase "to sow dragon's teeth." This metaphor is used in reference to – an action that would fuel disputes, or foster unintended dire consequences.

No comments:

Post a Comment