Dragonology: the idea of the dragon among the greeks and the zulu

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Kate Fraser


UNIV 200

Annotations for Unit 2

Kirby- Hirst M. “DRAGONOLOGY: THE IDEA OF THE DRAGON AMONG THE GREEKS AND THE ZULU.” Akroterion 55 (2010): n. pag. Akroterion. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.

An analysis of 2 famed Greek dragons, and the Zulu idea of the dragon as a comparison. This source uses Jungian psychology to explore the idea of the dragon as a symbol of the deep seated fear of chaos and the unknown in both cultures.

The intent of writing this article was to educate and explore the interesting topic of “Dragonology” through both a historic and a psychological standpoint.

Kirby-Hirst succinctly states his thesis, “This article takes a Jungian psychoanalytic approach to the dragon as symbol, and juxtaposes two distinct perspectives on the dragon, that of the ancient Greeks (the mythic dragons Typhon and Python in particular) and the Zulu people of South Africa (with special attention given to the place of the python as a possible “dragon” in the practice of divination), in an effort to better understand the creature’s significance to these two cultures and to the world at large(75).”

Mark Kirby-Hirst attended KwaZulu-Natal and has written many articles for Akroterion: Journal for the Classics in South Africa. Akroterion is a journal that publishes scholarly articles that have to deal with classical Greek Mythology and history.

The intended audience is people in South Africa that are interested in classic Greece.

The audience should care about this source because it is a good analysis of the ubiquitous symbol of the dragon in different cultures. Although only focusing on the two, this source also incorporates Jungian psychology in order to understand what dragons innately mean to these cultures and the humans associated with them.

This source is directly relevant to the question I’ve posed. I am asking what the cultural and symbolic importance of the dragon is worldwide, and this essay offers an incredible comparison between two completely different cultures.

The source refers to pop iconography, however that does not diminish the scholarly aspect, but helps to keep the source relevant. Its shortcomings are within the fact that there is no information on the author or the publication.

Wilson, Keith J. “Powerful Form and Potent Symbol: The Dragon in Asia.” JSTOR Arts and Sciences 5 77.10 (1990): 286-323. Print.


This source looks at mostly Chinese artistic depictions of dragons and attempts to glean symbolic meaning from the changes that occurred in the depictions over many centuries. The author’s purpose was to interpret art in a way that reflected history. It was an interdisciplinary study of ancient Chinese culture. The main claim of this source was that  ”[dragons] have flourished in the world of art… Both in legend and in art these popular imaginary creatures often possess symbolic significance” (286).

The author of this article is Keith J. Wilson, who is the current associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. This article examines each piece of ancient Chinese art, using them as primary sources for his claims. The genre of this piece is scholarly journal article, featuring art and culture as main topics.

This source is an interesting analysis of Chinese art and uncovers, to a point, the origin of the modern representation of the Chinese dragon. Wilson postulates that what we have come to know as the Chinese dragon didn’t even originate in China. This source touches upon the symbolism that the dragon has in China and the East. It focuses mainly on descriptions of art, rather than the actual symbolism behind them, which is a major shortcoming.

Morabito, Pasquale. “Saint George and the Dragon: Cult, Culture, and Foundation of the City.” Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture 18.1 (2011): 135-53. EBSCO Humanities International Complete. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.

This source focuses specifically on the series of works of “St. George and the Dragon” as a primary source to make arguments about how the dragon is the symbol of chaos and the devil. Morabito explores the paintings to primarily talk about the icon of St. George and of the fortified city,  briefly educating the audience on the importance of religious art in that era. This source suggests that the fight with the dragon is the fight against evil- lending itself to be used as a symbol for the devil in the medieval biblical sagas. The actual claim of the piece however is “ The cycle of Carpaccio at the Scuola di San Giorgio agli Schiavoni in Venice, a massive production of paintings and images, is the occasion for a reflection on the anthropological and theological-political figure of the Holy Knight in battle” (137).

Pasquale Maria Morabito is a Research Fellow of Political Philosophy at the University of Messina, where he is the Professor of Cultural Anthropology. He is a member of the European Centre for the Study of Myth and Symbols. The intended audience is one that has been previously educated on the study of religion and is familiar with medieval italy. The author uses the primary source of the paintings as his source of evidence. The analysis of the paintings includes vivid descriptions and references to major events of the period. This source is a scholarly journal article that focuses heavily on religion.

This source is important because it contextualises the medieval western dragon.  It provides the extreme claim that the dragon is really a symbol for the devil, a claim which I would be hesitant to make. Morabito writes the first example of Western dragons I have yet to find, making his claims about dragons seem extreme, but somehow accurate. This source focuses mostly on walled cities, both as a symbol of order and then also for practical reasons. The icon of St.George and the dragon are addressed in a singular paragraph, which is the source’s major shortcoming.

Oberhelman, David D. “Good Dragons Are Rare: An Inquiry into Literary Dragons East and West.” Mythlore 30.3-4 (2012): 153. EBSCOhost Humanities International Complete. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.

This source evaluates JRR Tolkien’s speech “Monsters” about  the symbolism that Tolkien instilled into the modern dragon. Oberhelman agrees with Tolkien that a “good dragon” is one that defies symbolism alone and is its own antagonist, rather than an extension of something else. Oberhelman’s purpose in writing the piece is to compare famous dragons and to assess Tolkien’s point of view on dragons as antagonists. “In the following essay then, I will explore the literary function(s) of dragons by means of the Tolkienian concept of ‘good’ dragons, discuss exemplary instances of dragons as they occur in vernacular (predominantly English) literature and contrast them to Tolkien’s own tales as illustrative examples for the development of this central critical idea “(28).

Oberhelman is the English, Foreign Languages, Music, and Theatre subject specialist in the Humanities and Sciences department at Oklahoma State University. He uses the primary source of J.R.R. Tolkien’s speech on monsters to analyse further the dragon symbols in modern fantasy.  This is a scholarly source with particular specialization in fantasy.

The audience should care about this source because it provides a commentary on the literary brilliance of Smaug both from the perspective of Oberhelman and from J.R.R Tolkien himself.  This source is relevant to my question because it opens the door from only ancient symbolism of dragons to a more modern view. The source only touches on symbolism, both of modern and ancient dragons. Though the commentary it does provide on symbolism is important and bridges the gap from modern to ancient in my research.

Chen, Fanfan. “From the Western Poeticisation of Falkor and Temeraire to the Imaginary of Chinese Dragons.” Good Dragons Are Rare An Inquiry into Literary Dragons East and West. Wissenschaften: Peter Lang, 2009. 359-82.Ebrary. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.


This source explores the change from formidable foe to, sometimes, a hero that have occurred as the world modernized both oriental dragons and western dragons. The author created this article to assess the differences in the dragons of modern day, specifically Falkor and Temeraire. This source claims that “… Chinese academia consider to ‘de-dragonise china’ on account of the dragon’s evil image in the West, Western writers are enchanted and inspired by this imaginary creature and make it their fictional character, even hero” (359).

Fanfan Chen is an Associate Professor of European and Comparative Literature at National Dong Hwa University, Taiwan.  Her intended audience are those that are multicultural and wish to learn about Dragons. Chen researched extensively into the stories surrounding Falkor and Temeraire, as well as the Chinese long, and the Western myth of the dragon. This is a scholarly source with particular specialization in fantasy.

The audience should care about this source because it brings in modern dragons to contrast with both Chinese and Western dragons, and the mixing of the symbolism and imagery therein. This source only touches upon symbolism, and therefore is hardly useful for my research question, however it does bring in modern dragons, which will be important to my actual claim

Vinycomb, John. Fictitious & Symbolic Creatures in Art with Special Reference to Their Use in British Heraldry. Detroit: Gale Research, 1969. Google Ebooks. Google. Web. 16 Mar. 2014.

This source explores the symbolism of dragons in specific reference to British heraldry. Vinycomb wrote this book  to fully explore all the symbols behind Britain’s prominent coats of arms. The main claim of this source was; “Western nations, with their growing civilisations, conjured up monsters of benign of baneful influence, or engrafted and expanded the older ideas in a manner suited to their genius and national characteristics” (2).

Vinycomb died in 1928, he was a  member of the Royal Irish Academy; Vice-President of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland; Vice-President of the Ex-libra Society of London and founder and past President of the Belfast Art Society and the Ulster Arts Club. He was a recognised authority on heraldry and illuminating. The author presumably did years upon years of research, as well as making his own educated guesses because he was an expert on the subject. This is historical nonfiction, very scholarly.

Although very old, the book was first published in 1906, the book remains accurate and one of the best resources I have found thusfar exploring the significance of dragons in both British heraldry and in terms of the ancient world. It relates directly to symbolism because it is literally all about symbolism.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit, Or, There and Back Again. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966. Print.

J.R.R Tolkien’s best selling book, the Hobbit, is about an unassuming Hobbit that goes on a fantastical adventure. He ends up outsmarting one of the most well recognized dragons of all time and preventing a war. Tolkien wrote the Hobbit as his first novel, his purpose was to write a universe for his languages to exist in. Bilbo is a quintessential example of brains over brawn.

J.R.R Tolkien is widely regarded as one of the greatest fantasy writers of all time, after having produced novels such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit. Tolkien drew from his catholic background and experiences in war as well as his own mind for all parts of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. This style of writing is fiction.

The audience should care about this source because it is most of the public’s introduction to dragons. Tolkien writes Smaug as more than a symbol of avarice or as a servant to evil, but as the ultimate symbol of evil. He is not a beast, he is a highly intelligent villain that Tolkien has called a “good” dragon. The comparison between the book, cited here, and the movie that came out recently is one of the topics for my paper. So having the Hobbit cited as a primary source is very relevant.

Spirited Away. By Hayao Miyazaki. Perf. Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, Miyu Irino. Studio Ghibli, 2001. DV

This movie follows mainly Chihiro as she experiences the alternate spirit world of Japanese culture. It is a beloved animated classic by Hayao Miyazaki via the studio he co-founded, Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki is first and foremost a storyteller, he generally uses his films however to convey important morals to children. I am claiming that this source is a primary source example of the Eastern Dragon in modern day culture.

Hayao Miyazaki has often been called the Walt Disney of Japan. The animated feature in question here grossed more than the Titanic in Japan (the highest grossing film in Japan, ever) and was the first Japanese anime film to win an Academy award. Miyazaki came up with the idea for this story based on his friend’s sullen daughter. This is a beloved children’s film both in the United States.

The audience should care about this source because it is the most prevalent example of eastern dragons in modern pop culture. It is so very important to be able to read Miyazaki’s careful symbolism in choosing Haku to be the main secondary character. This source is the perfect example of the modern Eastern dragon. It displays clearly how their ideals of dragons have, at the same time, remained unchanged but also influenced by Western culture. Its shortcomings are that it is only a movie and there is no literature on it, although thats not a problem because it is a primary source

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