Medieval peoples – European in particular – have tales of all kinds of monsters and even ghosts, werewolves and women turning into snakes on Saturdays, but dragons have a special place in the popular imagination both in those times and in modern times.
A follower of modern arts such as cinema, literature, and contemporary fiction is well aware of the sweeping global nostalgia for the past and the Western yearning for the Middle Ages as a lost asset, driven by the emotions, desires and ideologies of the present.
Within this growing nostalgia, the symbolism of the dragon from ancient myths such as the Babylonian and Indian myths depicting these beings eating the sun and the moon to cause eclipses and the phases of the moon reappears.
Psychology widely studies the phenomenon of nostalgia as a modern phenomenon for modern people, who have been disturbed by the rapid pace of change in the industrial world, to express, as the theory says, unprecedented levels of yearning for a time when life was more predictable and slower.
Legends such as the dragon guarding a treasure or the valiant knight ready to save one from the clutches of a ferocious beast have long been associated with the Middle Ages, although those who lived at that time had never seen a winged fire-breathing creature in their entire lives.
In fact, the dragons and monsters and the terrifying stories that are told around them are nothing but fantasy legends that have been passed down through generations and in which there are many stories over time.
Authors David Berry and Matthew Gabriel, in a report Published by the American “Smithsonian” magazine, the myths of monsters in the Middle Ages were educational and religious stories about the taboos that we must avoid and the dangers involved in following everything that is demonic and supernatural, and metaphors for what man can do to his fellow man.
And the peoples of the Middle Ages – European in particular – had tales of all kinds of monsters, even ghosts, werewolves and women turning into snakes on Saturdays, but dragons have a special place in the popular imagination, both in those times and in modern times.
The Penguin Book of Dragons (Classics)
Over the years, Scott Bruce, a historian at Fordham University, has studied how people talked about monsters in the Middle Ages. His two books, in 2016 and 2018, contain a collection of ancient texts that enable readers to learn how medieval peoples imagined things that frightened them at night.
According to Bruce, one of the reasons he collaborated with Penguin Publishing was his desire to make “these subjects accessible to common readers”, to show that the monsters of the past are not the same as the monsters of the present.
Folk tales usually portray mythical beasts as an enemy that only a brave hero can overcome, but dragons in medieval Europe were more often found in accounts of the lives of saints and religious symbols than in stories of adventure.
In the sixth century, for example, the French bishop and poet Vinantus Fortunatos (died at the beginning of the seventh century AD) wrote about the bishop of Paris called Marcellus, who, in front of a crowd of people in the city, expelled a dragon that devoured the corpse of a lewd noble woman, striking it three times on the head and leading it in shackles from Paris to the woods to live there without disturbing the townspeople again.
Similarly, the Byzantine historian Michael Silos wrote in the 11th century about Saint Marina and the Dragon. After being imprisoned and tortured by a Roman official who wanted to rape her, Marina encounters a demon in the form of a dragon that she manages to kill after it swallowed her up by drawing the Christian Trinity emblem.
Although series such as “Game of Thrones”, “Viking” and others are not historical and seem inspired by folk legends, they – with only a little reveal about the past – tell us a lot about how that past was imagined, according to Open University history lecturer Richard Marsden.
Contemporary philosophers see the postmodern predicament through which contemporary reality can be understood as a reproduction of the Middle Ages.
During the past decade, medieval studies have already discovered a wealth of traces and imaginations of this time period in pop culture and video games, for example, as well as films, television and popular literature, according to a previous report by Al Jazeera Net.
Fantasies and legends
The authors explain to the American magazine that the image of dragons with fins that breathe fire may be the embodiment of the pagan threat in Christian culture, as is the case with St. George.
This saint lived in the third century in the eastern Mediterranean, and the legend says that he killed a dragon in the Roman province of Libya, North Africa. For Christians, this dragon symbolized the idolaters of that era who represented a threat to the honor of Christians that only the knights could defeat.
By the time the dragon-slaying became the most common element in the stories told about Saint George during the High Middle Ages, his battle was also used to talk about contemporary Western chivalry values and the conflict between Christians and Muslims.
Medieval monsters sometimes reflected irrational fears and sometimes logical ones. Bishop Venantus’ dragon was a creature living in the jungle, Bishop Silos’ dragon was a demon, and Saint George’s dragon personified the Church’s human enemies.
In all cases, dragons were part of folk tales, as they represented a danger that had to be confronted, or at least contemplated.
The authors argue that people in the Middle Ages were not so superstitious or more naive than the people of the present age.
In the past, monster stories were not just stories of intimidation, but rather educational tales that carry lessons and lessons for Christians hoping for salvation.