I recently brought a copy of Charles Owens’s 1742 book An Essay Towards A Natural History Of Serpents: In Two Parts. The book makes fascinating reading as it was written at a time when science and learning were replacing legend and folklore. The book is full of oddities of cryptozoological interest. This is my fifth and final collection of bits and bobs that I have found within its pages.
STRANGE SNAKES AND FREAKY FAUNA FROM CHARLES OWEN’S ‘AN ESSAY TOWARDS A NATURAL HISTORY OF SERPENTS (1742) PART FIVE DRAGONS
We have seen how Charles Owen has got things write and how he has made errors. In his book he takes it as read that several kinds of dragons exist in the world. Here I think he is correct.
“There are Marine as well as Land Dragons, of uncommon bigness: some in Ethiopia of 30 paces long, and in Phygia ten paces long.- N.B. A geometrical Pace is five foot; but if it be the lesser pace only viz he measure of two foot and a half, it must be a monstrous animal.
In the reign of Philadelphus, two Live Dragons were brought from Ethiopia to Alexandria, one 13 the other 14 Cubits long. In the reign of King Eueregetes, they took three Dragons, one seven Cubits, the other nine Cubits long. The third was carefully nursed in the Temple of Esculpius, and no creature so highly reverenced.
On the Pellonaeon Hill in Chius, was a dragon whose hideous Noise filled the Vicinity with Horror and Dread; so terrible, that none durst approach so near as to take its Dimensions. It happened, the wilderness were it lived, took fire in a storm; being involved in smoke and fire, it perished, and upon viewing its Bones, ‘twas concluded to be of monstrous Bulk.
The Ethiopian Dragons just mentioned, have no proper Name, and are only known by a Periphasis, viz Killers of Elephants. The Method is, by winding themselves about the elephants legs and thrusting their Heads up their Nostrils, sting hem and suck their blood till they are dead.
Alexander, in his Tour of the Red Sea says he saw Serpents of incredible magnitude, some about 30 Cubits long.
We read of monstrous Dragons, particularly two Draconic Monsters mentioned by Alexander’s Ambassadors, seen by them on their return from the kingdom of Abisaris, one of 80 Cubits long, the other 140.
Among serpents, Authors place Dragons; Creatures terrible and fierce in Aspect and Nature. They are divided into Apodes and Pedates, some with feet and some without them; Some are privileged with Wings, and others are destitute of Wings and feet: some are covered with sharp scales, which make a bright Appearance in some Position. Some have observed that about the Ganges, are Dragons whose Eyes sparkle like precious Stones.
Dragons are inhabitants of Africa and Asia; those of India exceed most in Largeness and Longitude: In the Tower of London, is the skin of one, which is of vast bulk. In Ethiopia they have no name for Dragons but Killers of Elephants, which is supposed to be the largest of Land-Animals.
Over the Water-gate in the City of Rhodes, there is set up the head of a dragon, which was 33 foot long, that wasted all the Country till it was slain by Deodante de Gozon, one of the Knights of St John Baptist. The Knights of hat Order had frequently attack’d it, but in vain; for its Scales being proof against all their arms, it destroyed so many of them, hat the Grand Master forbad them to engage the Monster any more.
Gozon, who after several dangerous Onsets escaped with his life, resolved to make another Trial by Stratagem; perceiving it was no where vulnerable but in the Eyes and Belly, contrived a Resemblance of a Dragon by Machine of Plastboard, of equal bulk with the dragon, and by certain strings made it leap like a true Dragon: having trained a Couple of fierce Dogs to attack it a the belly, he went out privately one morning, well armed on a managed Horse with his Dogs, and rode up to the Den, from whence the Dragon leaped furiously at him: In the Encounter, the Dogs laid hold on his belly, and forced him to lie down; upon which the valiant Knight alighted, thrust his great Sword several times into his Throat and soon killed him: upon which the Spectators drew near, and with great difficulty sever’d the Head from he Body, and lugged it into the own in Triumph.
The Conqueror was degraded for the sake of Form, because he had violated the Grand-Master’s Order; but was immediately restored, and soon after was elected Grand-Master himself; he died in the year 1335, and on his Tomb were engraven these words, Draconis Extinctor; The Destroyer of the Dragon.
The Pythian Dragon, so called from it being the Guardian of the Delphick Oracle: Its Eyes are large and sharp, and the Body painted with a Variety of Colours, as red, yellow, green and blue, and furnished with scales that are resplendent, well compacted and hard. It has been called Deucalionaeus, because in the Language of Ignorance, it was produced from the Mud left by the Deucalionian Deluge: a Serpent of prodigious Bulk.
In Asiatic-Georgia, between the Caspian and Euxine Sea, are found winged Dragons, with aserine Feet and venomous Claws; some of them are fortified with more terrible Pedestals than others: their wings are generally composed of strong, nervous membranes, which when they walk, are scarcely visible, because of their close adherence to their Lateral parts.
In the Atlantic Caves, and Mountains of Africa, is an infinite number of these winged Dragons, whose poison is so strong, that the flesh of such as are wounded by hem immediately grows soft, languid, and incurable. We read of flying serpents transported from Parts of Arabia into Egypt.
These also have been seen in Florida in America, where their wings are more flaccid, and so weak, that they cannot soar on high. Scaliger describes a certain flying serpent that was four Foot long, and as thick as a man’s arm, whose wings were cartilaginous or gristly. History accounts for one of these flying Dragons that was killed in old Aquitania in France, a Present of which was made to King Francis, as a great Rarity of the Kind.
Jerom Cardan informs us of some Winged Dragons he had seen at Paris, so nicely preserved, hat they very much resembled the Living; they were described with two feet, weak wings, a serpentine head and the Bigness of a Rabbit.
Among the strange animals of the East –Indies Alexander found in a Cave a monstrous Dragon which he inhabitants counted sacred, and was adored by them, and daily supplied with food: The poor, ignorant, superstitious People, humbly addrest the Conqueror, not to attack the holy place and disturb he Repose of their God. The victorious army hearing its hideous and Dreadful Roarings, were not a little terrify’d, they only saw its monstrous Head, when strech’d out of its Mansion, and its eyes appeared to them as big as a large Macedonian Buckler, a Species of defensive Armour.
It is observed by some, that Serpents at this day are highly honour’d in the Kingdom of Calicut, on this side of he Ganges, where the inhabitants call their king Samori, or Zamorin, that is Sovereign Emperor, and God upon Earth. The Dragon being a Serpent of the vigilant Tribe, was constituted and made Guardian of their Houses, of their oracular Temples, and of all their Treasures.
At Alba, in a Wood not far from Juno’s Temple, is a Dragon worshipp’d by the inhabitants, and for their great Honour, fed by Virgins, thereby intimating, that innocence was a proper Attendant on he Gods.
In Epirus, south of Macedonia, is a certain place sacred to Apollo, and wall’d about, within are kept sacred Dragons, fed likewise by a Virgin Priestess, unclothed, which they believe to be most acceptable to their idol gods; called by Juvenal, one of their own poets, wenching gods.
The Epiroticks, who highly venerated Apollo, honour’d his Temple with a consecrated Dragon, which they worshipp’d in solemn remembrance of his killing the Pythonic Serpent.
At Pella in Macedonia, the Royal Seat, and Alexander’s Birth-place, were dragons of a large bulk, but of a gentle Nature’ maintain’d at the Expense of the Government, as Creatures bearing a sacred character, and worthy of public Regard. Because may tame serpents were kept in that Place, the fabulous Poets said, Alexander was born of a Serpent.