Many cultures have stories of dragons woven into their folklore, so they are obviously taken seriously, writes David Biggs.
Cape Town - Some time ago I was intrigued to see graffiti sprayed on a rock beside one of the Cape’s scenic roads. It said: “Bring back dragons.”
This got me thinking. Where did all the dragons go? (This is not an invitation for you to tell me the date of your mother-in-law’s death.)
Many cultures, east and west, have stories of dragons woven into their folklore, but nobody has actually claimed to have seen one.
They’re obviously taken seriously. England’s patron saint, St George, is famous for having slain a dragon. Nobody seems to know much about him, apart from that.
The episode is said to have happened in Libya in the 10th century, but as far as I know Libya doesn’t have a strong dragon tradition.
The Welsh have a dragon on their national flag. The Chinese have painted detailed pictures of dragons for many centuries. Some of the ancient South American temple carvings show creatures that are very similar to dragons.
The Welsh dragon is different from a Wyvern, which has no forelegs and walks upright, rather like a leather-bound runner duck. Wyverns have wings, but in true British tradition they do not fly.
I sometimes wonder where all these dragon stories originated. Could it be that somewhere in the dim distant past there were actually proto-dragons roaming the earth.
We’re not talking dinosaurs here, because the scientists tell us dinosaurs were extinct long before humans evolved.
It’s interesting to note that different cultures seem to have known different types of dragons. If you study the Chinese paintings you’ll see that Chinese dragons have no wings, but they are usually seen flying through the air. They must have been lighter than air.
British dragons on the other hand, all have quite substantial wings but are never depicted in flight. St George fought his opponent on the ground.
If the dragon could have flown it would have given it a distinct advantage from a tactical point of view.
Chinese dragons are generally considered friendly and very lucky. They're a bit fluffy.
European dragons, on the other hand are scaly, fearsome and dangerous and likely to demand young maidens to be delivered on a regular basis for culinary purposes.
Were there really creature like dragons roaming the earth during the human occupation, or is the human mind such an incredible thing that it can conjure creatures out of nothing?
It’s significant that the very earliest human rock paintings depict people and animals, all of which are identifiable today.
But nary a single dragon.
Where did they come from? Where did they go? My sympathies go with the graffitist who sprayed that rock.
A renowned ladies’ man took a young woman to dinner. Halfway through the meal he leaned across the table and gently removed her spectacles.
“You know,” he said suavely, “without your spectacles you are very beautiful.”
Without missing a beat the young woman replied: “Without my spectacles you don’t look so bad either.”
* "Tavern of the Sea" is a weekly column written for the Cape Argus by David Biggs.