Dragons!


Today I want to talk about a slightly more light-hearted topic than my last post. Today, we’re going to talk about drakons!

As many of you may know, and for those of you who don’t, this last Noumenia also marked the beginning of the Asian New Year, the year of the Dragon. Dragons, or Drakon in Greek, play an important role in the myths of Ares. Ares is even said to have fathered a dragon, the Ismenian Drakon of Thebes.

Drakons and Dragons are quite simmilar if you compare Hellenic and Chinese mythologies. Both creatures are serpentine, powerful, and often the guardians of sacred or important places. Both also have magical attributes. For instance, Chinese dragons can fly, heal the sick, control the weather and waters. In contrast, Greek drakons have realtively weaker powers, but they’re no less fantastic in nature. The most impressive may be the regenitive powers of the Hydra, made popular in fiction by numerous depictions in film and literature (and Dungeons and Dragons, for my fellow nerds out there). My favorite, and the main topic of this post however, are the two drakons associated with Ares.

First, let’s talk about the Ismenian Drakon. This beast is borne of Ares without a mother we know of; this is an important detail to note, because very few gods are said to have the power to do this. This power must surely be inherited from Ares’ father, Zeus. I digress. The Ismenian Drakon guarded the sacred well of Ares at Ismenia near what would become Thebes. The hero Kadmos sent a band of men to fetch water for a sacrifice to Athene. The drakon promptly slew every man. Wondering where is water was, Kadmos went to the grove and battled the drakon, killing it. One instance of the myth even has the drakon besting Kadmos and eating him, but Kadmos prevails, is disgorged, then slays the drakon. At the behest of Athene, Kadmos sows the teeth of the drakon in the fields, which propmtly become Spartoi warriors. The warriors fight amongst themselves until five remain, and these are said to become the ancestors of the Thebans. For such a crime, Kadmos is forced to serve at least one year in service to Ares; some sources say the year was a year of what would be eight years now. Whatever the period, the services demanded must have been terrible, considering Ares’ reputation. At the very least, the “service” may allude to the struggles of founding a new state, and those of us with fresh memories of Iraq, Afghanistan, or the Sudan (or any other country caught in the Arab spring) can attest.

The second drakon of Ares is not His child, but nonetheless the grove of Ares at Kolkhis. Within that grove, some of you may remember, laid the mythical and mysterious golden fleece, set there by King Aeetes. Of course, who should come to retrieve that fleece by Jason and his Argonauts. Two accounts of how he retrieved the fleece disagree in what happened to the Kolkhian Drakon. Pseudo-Apollodorus states Medea put the serpent to sleep, while Diodorus Siculus says Medea poisoned and perhaps killed the drakon. Now, this is important, because this myth, too, includes the sowing of the (a?) drakon’s teeth to create Spartoi. Some say Athene split the teeth of the Ismenian Drakon between Aeetes and Kadmos, while other sources say Jason had to sow the teeth of the Kolkhian Drakon. Either way, a group of Spartoi sprang up, and to protect Jason, Medea used poison or sorcery to confuse each Spartoi into thinking his shield-mate was Jason, until each killed the other in turn.

I always enjoyed these myths myself. While they may not necessarily give much insight into Ares worship, they do show us the the drakon, and to some extent, any serpent or venemous snake is a sared animal. This, in my opinion, may connect Ares to the agathos daimon, athough there is no literary or epigraphic evidence to support this; any association is tenuous and circumstantial. The relationship between Ares and dragons is, nonetheless, interesting, especially for those of us born under both the signs of Scorpio and the Dragon, each symbolically tied to Him. Kala Noumenia, Happy Chinese New Year, and Hail Ares!

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2 comments on “Dragons!

  1. very interesting post Pete. While I have always been fond of the above myths, I never really put alot of thought into them. Actually it does surprise me how many gods are associated with dragons. For instance the serpent of Delphi, alternately called Delphinia or Python depending on which author you are reading, is described often as a dragon, and there are images of Apollon being carried forth on a chariot drawn by giant serpents/dragons. Dragons are also associated with the sun as Medea borrowed the dragon drawn chariot of her father in order to escape. Then there is also the associations with Dragons held by Demeter, and one could suggest with her connection to serpents Athena too, as too with Zeus, the Chtonic form of who is as a giant serpent. These seem to be distinguishable in ancient art to resemble more dragon than a natural snake by a bearded appearance in ancient art. So there is certainly a divine element of dragons in Greek religion!

  2. pthelms says:

    I was thinking about the Python and Apollon, and I did see the serpent-drawn chariot while I was doing research on Theoi.com.

    Personally, I think there is a lot of useful, meaningful symbolism people can and should find in myth; what purpose would these stories serve otherwise? While it’s true stories are meant to entertain, a story with which the reader/audience can not identify with rarely survives. Going back to Sannion’s defense of the Bible as a important piece of literature, I’ve concluded much of the failing of modern Christianity stems from the inability of the clergy to relate the profound symbols and meaning from the Bible to their flocks. While the analogy isn’t completely parallel to Hellenic Polytheism or other paganisms, if we can’t relate the importance of our symbols, or at least find new meaning in old symbols, we’re doomed to decline as well.

    This is what I believe separates reconstructionists from the eclectics, in my experience. Using a reconstructionist methodology, we can be more confident in how we interpret symbols, and thus how we can adapt those symbols and stories into relelatable and applicable lessons, as opposed to just ‘copy and paste’ formulae for ritual or magic. Unfortunately, the more academic we become, the more often we can lose sight of the basic human need for story. Again, this is also a problem in many Christian denominations that use professional seminaries, such as the Roman Catholic Church; the more well-versed in the ancient they become, the greater their loss of modern perspective. Granted, we do not want to become as other denominations in which anyone can just spout off something as divinely inspired, or err on the side of becoming a self-help movement like charismatic Christianity and the New Age movement.

    For my few years within the Hellenic community, at least as far as the virtual world goes, the main intr-community conflict is based in balancing academic integrity with artistic innovation. Finding that balance will be integral in moving the Hellenic Polytheist community forward both liturgically and socially. The tenuous situation caused by this conflict can only serve to turn people off to Hellenismos in the long run, but at least for now it helps separate the wheat from the chaff so that we have serious minds on either side of the divide to move the issue forward.

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