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Thursday, 27 June 2013

Daniel the Dragon-slayer / Bel and the Dragon

Some of the sources on the Dragon of Ishtar Gate, including Willey Ley, quote from the apochyrphal book of Bel and the Dragon (included in some translations of the Bible) indicated that the Babylonian priests were keeping a living animal in their temple compounds and infer that since this is the same as the Sirrush or Dragon of Ishtar Gate, the ancestors of those priests must have brought a young Congo Dragon with them when they returned from an expedition to Central Africa. Here is the text that this idea is based on.
The Book of Daniel

Chapter XIV

user posted image

And there was a great dragon in that place, and the Babylonians worshipped him. and the king said to Daniel: Behold thou canst not say now, that this is not a living god: adore him therefore. And Daniel said: I adore the Lord my God: for He is the living God: but that is no living god. But give me leave, O king, and I will kill this dragon without sword or club. And the king said: I give thee leave. Then Daniel took pitch, and fat, and hair, and boiled them together: and he made lumps, and put them into the dragon's mouth, and the dragon burst asunder. And he said: Behold him whom you worshipped.
When the New Testament spoke of the Fall Of Babylon, they spoke of the ruins as being the habitation of dragons, supposedly the same kinds of dragons. The word is often said to be a misreporting of a similar-looking word meaning "Jackals" and indeed the dragon-like creature is comically shown with some doggy characteristics, including the pointed ears, furry body and paw-shaped feet. However a jackal would have been familiar in the area and the priests would never have used one to try and awe the local yokels, the creature in question must have been in some way dragon-like and fearsome looking enough to impress the visitors to the shrine.

On the other hand, Eberhart's Mysterious Creatures has this entry early on in its listing:

Unknown LIZARD of the Middle East.
Etymology: Madan (Marsh Arab) word.
Physical description: Large lizard.
Distribution: Marshes at the mouth of the
Tigris River, Iraq.
Possible explanation: An undescribed species
of Monitor lizard (Family Varanidae), large carnivorous
reptiles that live in tropical areas.
Source: Wilfred Thesiger, The Marsh Arabs
(New York: Dutton, 1964), p. 115.

And that would be the same as the Persian Dragon (Sometimes called Adhi or Azhi; Ahi being a dragon name used in legends pertaining to the former Indus River in ancient times)
Azhi, big enough to attack, kill and eat deer.

                                    Water Monitor Lizard, the reasonable identity for the Afa
                                    The large Komodo dragon lizard (Similar in appearance)
                                        is indeed large enough to hunt, kill and eat deer        

Marco Polo in China
Strange Serpents and Dragons
The Travels of Marco Polo in China date to the early 1290s. He was the first Western traveler to write about the various provinces of Burma (Mien) in what is present-day China. Marco Polo returned to Venice in 1295 and his famous journals started circulating in Europe by 1298.

The following was translated by W. Marsden in 1818 and re-edited by Thomas Wright in 1854. A complete copy of this translation of “The Travels of Marco Polo, The Venetian” is housed at the British Library.
Chapter XL
Of the Province named Karazan

Leaving the city of Yachi, and traveling ten days into a westerly direction, you reach the Province of Karazan which is also the name of its chief city…Here are seen huge serpents, ten paces in length (30 feet?), and ten spans in the girt of the body (making them a little under 30 inches thick-actually about 27 inches). At the fore-part, near the head, they have two short legs, having three claws like those of a tiger, with eyes larger than a fourpenny loaf (pane da quattro denari) and very glaring. The jaws are wide enough to swallow a man, the teeth are large and sharp, and their whole appearance is so formidable, that neither man, nor any kind of animal, can approach them without terror. Others are met with of a smaller size, being eight, six, or five paces long (15 to 24 feet long); and the following method is used for taking them. In the day-time, by reason of the great heat, they lurk in caverns, from whence, at night, they issue to seek their food, and whatever beast they meet with and can lay hold of, whether tiger, wolf, or any other, they devour; after which they drag themselves towards some lake, spring of water, or river, in order to drink. By their motion in this way along the shore, and their vast weight, they make a deep impression, as if a heavy beam had been drawn along the sands.

Those whose employment it is to hunt them observe the track by which they are most frequently accustomed to go, and fix into the ground several pieces of wood, armed with sharp iron spikes, which they cover with the sand in such a manner as not to be perceptible. When therefore the animals make their way towards the places they usually haunt, they are wounded by these instruments, and speedily killed. The crows, as soon as they perceive them to be dead, set up their scream; and this serves as a signal to the hunters, who advance to the spot, and proceed to separate the skin from the flesh, taking care immediately to secure the gall, which is most highly esteemed in medicine. In cases of the bite of a mad dog, a pennyweight of it, dissolved in wine, is administered. It is also useful in accelerating parturition, when the labour pains of women have come on. A small quantity of it being applied to carbuncles, pustules, or other eruptions on the body, they are presently dispersed; and it is efficacious in many other complaints. The flesh also of the animal is sold at a dear rate, being thought to have a higher flavour than other kinds of meat, and by all persons it is' esteemed a delicacy.

Many people have thought to link Marco Polo's dragons (allegedly up to 30 feet long but more ordinatrily half of that) to the Tatzelwurm and "Worm" dragons (Ivan Sanderson's "Great Orms") because only the front pair of feet are mentioned. However I should hasten to point out, all that is mentioned is the fact that there are short feet near the head...Marco Polo does NOT say there were not any hind legs, he merely does not mention them. So I think that this is the same type of dragons as they had in Iran and Iraq, but in a more remote and inaccessible region. Since this seems to be the same as the Buru, which is said to reach a length of 15 feet,and the same sorts of creatures as the Buru are rarely reported in Tibet, which is geographically in between the areas inhabited by Marco Polo's dragons and the regular Burus of Bhutan, Assam and Burma, this does make some sense.

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