The Lady and the Dragon, Part II

As I pointed out in The Lady and the Dragon I, dragons in Christianity are usually accompanied by women, not men. Here’s three more examples.

A common depiction of Mary, Mother of God, shows her trampling a snake (keep in mind snake=dragon in Biblical text) underfoot, representing her victory over the Devil, or over evil in general. But now that I know about the Lilith connection, I’m reminded of how virtuous Eve has gotten the ultimate prize — Adam — and thus prevailed over her unctuous rival.

A plaster statue of Mary resided in my bedroom for the longest time, and I always felt sorry for that snake even though I knew it was probably blasphemy. It looked so small and defenseless. One day I went to move my bureau and the statue toppled down and smashed into pieces on the floor. I truly thought I was going to go to hell because I had killed the Virgin Mary.

St. Margaret is another female saint with a dragon connection. She was born in Antioch to pagan parents, but was converted to Christianity by her nurse. When a Roman governor wished to marry her she refused, not wanting to give up her faith or her virginity which had been consecrated to God. In response, he imprisoned her and tortured her, one of the highlights of which was her being devoured by Satan who had taken the form of a dragon. The cross she carried, however, irritated his stomach, and he “burst asunder,” allowing her to escape.

Though the last part of the tale wasn’t taken seriously by the Church even in its fanciful Medieval days, it proved a great inspiration to artists. You have to admit it made for a more memorable depiction than showing her herding sheep or praying, the other activities she was noted for. It allowed them to riff on what makes a convincing dragon, and how such an animal would look if a human being suddenly exploded from its insides. The picture above shows the dragon, which is depicted as a winged snake like Quetzalcoatl,  being cut cleanly in two.

This dragon has wings attached to its forelegs and a wild boar’s head. In common with many depictions of this legend, its size is far too small to contain a human being in its stomach. St. Margaret looks like she is weeping from relief, or maybe, fright at escaping her tiny prison while the dragon looks unperturbed.

Here it’s the dragon who looks wide-eyed with shock and fright. He still hasn’t swallowed the train of her dress before she bursts free.  The dragon’s pekingese dog face, furry, floppy ears, and unicorn horn may refer to another layer of symbolism, or be artistic invention. I interpret the expression on Mary’s face as “Told ya so.”

The dragon here looks nauseated as Margaret emerges amidst blood and gore. Again he hasn’t had time to swallow the rest of her gown which is far too long for a normal garment. All of these depictions seem to me to say: A woman can escape from her own dragonish nature if she holds faith in God.

Finally, there’s St. George, the originator of the ages-old damsel-in-distress trope. Knight kills dragon who holds a princess captive, and then he marries the princess. But in looking at Medieval depictions, it seems a different story is being told.

The princess kneels in the distance here, away from the action. She could run away, but she doesn’t. Instead, she chooses to pray. She and the dragon have some connection other than physical that is compelling her to stay put. Maybe… she and the dragon are actually the same being? The knight on his tiny-headed gelding is slaying her independent, aggressive dragon nature?

The princess is physically  closer to the dragon in this portrayal, but she looks like she is leading it on a leash, like a faithful hound, rather than being chained to it like the artist intended. Either way, it’s a closer connection. She is not praying here and appears somewhat bored. The knight slays this dragon by piercing it through a nostril, like one would a wild boar or bull. It’s a spindly, rickety-looking beast that doesn’t seem like much of a threat, despite its fangs and claws. Its looks anguished, and I feel for it.

Again, the princess’s wild, dragonish nature must be overcome before she gets her man (or is awarded to him.) But in the symbolic nature of this legend, it’s the duty of the knight to do this, not the princess.



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  1. […] few mass-produced dragon depictions in popular culture. Most of the ones I referenced in Parts I and II of this series were oil paintings intended for the nobility or wealthy merchants, or in illuminated […]

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