How were dragons first described?

Answered by Jeremy Urbaniak

Dragons, in their earliest depictions, bore a striking resemblance to snakes or possessed snake-like attributes. This observation leads to the conclusion that dragons are present in the mythologies and folklore of numerous cultures due to humans’ inherent fear of snakes and other animals that were once formidable predators to our primate ancestors.

The notion of dragons being associated with snakes is not a novel one. In fact, it can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as the Sumerians, Egyptians, and Chinese. These early representations of dragons often depicted them as serpentine creatures, with elongated bodies, scales, and sometimes even wings. The similarities between these early dragons and snakes are undeniable, suggesting that the concept of dragons may have derived from the primal fear humans have long held for these legless predators.

The fear of snakes is deeply ingrained in our collective psyche, and it has evolutionary roots. Our primate ancestors, who lived in environments teeming with dangerous predators, including venomous snakes, developed a survival instinct to fear and avoid these creatures. This fear likely helped them avoid potentially deadly encounters and ensured their survival. Over time, this fear of snakes became deeply embedded in our genetic makeup, and it continues to persist in modern humans, even in those who have never encountered a snake in their lives.

As humans began to develop complex societies and cultures, this innate fear of snakes found its way into various mythologies and folklore. The primal fear of snakes merged with our imagination, resulting in the creation of mythical creatures like dragons. These early dragons often embodied the characteristics of snakes, such as their sinuous movements, serpentine bodies, and sometimes even venomous attributes. The association between dragons and snakes was a natural extension of our deep-rooted fear and fascination with these creatures.

It is fascinating to explore the vast array of dragon myths and legends across different cultures. From the European dragons that terrorize villages and hoard treasure to the benevolent and wise dragons of East Asian folklore, the underlying fear of snakes can be discerned in all their depictions. The dragon’s ability to instill awe and fear in humans may stem from our primal instinct to perceive snakes as potent threats.

My personal experiences and encounters with snakes have only reinforced the notion that these creatures inspire a deep sense of fear and respect. As a child, I vividly remember stumbling upon a harmless garter snake while exploring the woods near my home. Despite its harmless nature, my heart raced, and my instinctual fear kicked in, prompting me to retreat hastily. This innate fear, ingrained in our genetic makeup, serves as a testament to the power snakes hold over our psyche.

The earliest descriptions of dragons closely resemble snakes or possess snake-like attributes. This resemblance can be attributed to humans’ innate fear of snakes, stemming from our primate ancestors’ encounters with these formidable predators. The primal fear of snakes found its way into various cultures and mythologies, resulting in the creation of dragon legends across the globe. The association between dragons and snakes is a testament to the enduring power of our ancestral fears and the fascinating ways in which they manifest in our collective imagination.