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dragon

dragon, mythical beast usually represented as a huge, winged, fire-breathing reptile. For centuries the dragon has been prominent in the folklore of many peoples; thus, its physical characteristics vary greatly and include combinations of numerous animals. The dragon has often been associated with evil. In many legends a dragon had the ability to wreak havoc upon a land and therefore had to be either propitiated by a human sacrifice, or killed; it was also often the guardian of a treasure or a maiden. The highest achievement of a hero in medieval legend was the slaying of a dragon, as in the story of St. George. King Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon (dragon's head), also killed a dragon. The giant red dragon of the Apocalypse (Rev. 12) gave rise to the use of the beast as symbolic of Satan in Christian art and literature. In ancient China the dragon was associated with fertility and prosperity. Many of the beliefs connected with the dragon are echoed in snake worship.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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