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Evolution of the Dragon, by G. Elliot Smith, [1919], at


In the development of the dragon-story we have seen that the instruments of destruction were of a most varied kind. Each of the three primary deities, Hathor, Osiris and Horus can be a destructive power as well as a giver of life and of all kinds of boons. Every homologue or surrogate of these three deities can become a weapon for dragon-destroying, such as the moon or the lotus of Hathor, the water

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or the beer of Osiris, the sun or the falcon of Horus. Originally Hathor used a flint knife or axe: then she did the execution as "the Eye of Re," the moon, the fiery bolt from heaven: Osiris sent the destroying flood and the intoxicating beer, each of which, like the knife, axe and moon of Hathor, were animated by the deity. Then Horus came as the winged disk, the falcon, the sun, the lightning and the thunderbolt. As the dragon-story was spread abroad in the world any one of these "weapons" was confused with any of (or all) the rest. The Eye of Re was the fire-spitting uræus-serpent; and foreign people, like the Greeks, Indians and others, gave the Egyptian verbal simile literal expression and converted it into an actual Cyclopean eye planted in the forehead, which shot out the destroying fire.

The warrior god of Babylonia is called the bright one, 1 the sword or lightning of Ishtar, who was herself called both the sword or lightning of heaven.

In the Ægean area also the sons of Zeus and the progeny of heaven may be axes, stone implements, meteoric stones and thunderbolts. In a Swahili tale the hero's weapon is "a sword like a flash of lightning".

According to Bergaigne, 2 the myth of the celestial drink soma, brought down from heaven by a bird ordinarily called çyena, "eagle," is parallel to that of Agni, the celestial fire brought by Mâtariçvan. This parallelism is even expressly stated in the Rig Veda, verse 6 of hymn 1 to Agni and Soma. Mâtariçvan brought the one from heaven, the eagle brought the other from the celestial mountain.

Kuhn admits that the eagle represents Indra; and Lehmann regards the eagle who takes the fire as Agni himself. It is patent that both Indra and Agni are in fact merely specialized forms of Horus of the Winged Disk Saga, in one of which the warrior sun-god is represented, in the other the living fire. The elixir of life of the Egyptian story is represented by the soma, which by confusion is associated with the eagle: in other words, the god Soma is the homologue not only of Osiris, but also of Horus.

Other incidents in the same original version are confused in the Greek story of Prometheus. He stole the fire from heaven and brought

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it to earth: but, in place of the episode of the elixir, which is adopted in the Indian story just mentioned, the creation of men from clay is accredited by the Greeks to the "flaming one," the "fire eagle" Prometheus.

The double axe was the homologue of the winged disk which fell, or rather flew, from heaven as the tangible form of the god. This fire from heaven inevitably came to be identified with the lightning. According to Blinkenberg (op. cit., p. 19) "many points go to prove that the double-axe is a representation of the lightning (see Usener, p. 20)". He refers to the design on the famous gold ring from Mycenæ where "the sun, the moon, a double curved line presumably representing the rainbow, and the double-axe, i.e. the lightning": but "the latter is placed lower than the others, probably because it descends from heaven to earth," like Horus when he assumed the form of the winged disk and flew down to earth as a fiery bolt to destroy the enemies of Re.

The recognition of the homology of the winged disk with the double axe solves a host of problems which have puzzled classical scholars within recent years. The form of the double axe on the Mycenæan ring 1 and the painted sarcophagus from Hagia Triada in Crete (and especially the oblique markings upon the axe) is probably a suggestion of the double series of feathers and the outlines of the individual feathers respectively on the wings. The position of the axe upon a symbolic tree is not intended, as Blinkenberg claims (op. cit., p. 21), as "a ritual representation of the trees struck by lightning": but is the familiar scene of the Mesopotamian culture-area, the tree of life surmounted by the winged disk. 2

The bird poised upon the axe in the Cretan picture is the homologue of the falcon of Horus: it is in fact a second representation of the winged disk itself. This interpretation is not affected by the consideration that the falcon may be replaced by the eagle, pigeon, woodpecker or raven, for these substitutions were repeatedly made by the ancient priesthoods in flagrant defiance of the proprieties of ornithological homologies. The same phenomenon is displayed even more obtrusively in Central America and Mexico, where the ancient sculptors

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and painters represented the bird perched upon the tree of life as a falcon, an eagle, a vulture, a macaw or even a turkey. 1

The incident of the winged disk descending to effect the sun-god's purposes upon earth probably represents the earliest record of the recognition of thunder and lightning and the phenomena of rain as manifestations of the god's powers. All gods of thunder, lightning, rain and clouds derive their attributes, and the arbitrary graphic representation of them, from the legend which the Egyptian scribe has preserved for us in the Saga of the Winged Disk.

The sacred axe of Crete is represented elsewhere as a sword which became the visible impersonation of the deity. 2 There is a Hittite story of a sword-handle coming to life. Hose and McDougall refer to the same incident in certain Sarawak legends; and the story is true to the original in the fact that the sword fell from the sun. 3

Sir Arthur Evans describes as "the aniconic image of the god" a stone pillar on which crude pictures of a double axe have been scratched. These representations of the axe in fact serve the same purpose as the winged disk in Egypt, and, as we shall see subsequently, there was an actual confusion between the Egyptian symbol and the Cretan axe.

The obelisk at Abusir was the aniconic representative of the sun-god Re, or rather, the support of the pyramidal apex, the gilded surface of which reflected the sun's rays and so made manifest the god's presence in the stone.

The Hittites seem to have substituted the winged disk as a representation of the sun: for in a design copied from a seal 4 we find the Egyptian symbol borne upon the apex of a cone.

The transition from this to the great double axe from Hagia Triada in the Candia Museum 5 is a relatively easy one, which was materially helped, as we shall see, by the fact that the winged disk was actually homologized with an axe or knife as alternative weapons used by the sun-god for the destruction of mankind.

In Dr. Seligman's account of the Dinka rain-maker (supra, p. 113)

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we have already seen that the Soudanese Osiris was identified with a spear and falling stars.

According to Dr. Budge 1 the Egyptian hieroglyph used as the determinative of the word neter, meaning god or spirit, is the axe with a handle. Mr. Griffith, however, interprets it as a roll of yellow cloth ("Hieroglyphics," p. 46). On Hittite seals the axe sometimes takes the place of the god Teshub. 2

Sir Arthur Evans endeavours to explain these conceptions by a vague appeal to certain natural phenomena (op. cit., pp. 20 and 21); but the identical traditions of widespread peoples are much too arbitrary and specific to be interpreted by any such speculations.

Sanchoniathon's story of Baetylos being the son of Ouranos is merely a poetical way of saying that the sun-god fell to earth in the form of a stone or a weapon, as a Zeus Kappôtas or a Horus in the form of a winged disk, flying down from heaven to destroy the enemies of Re.

"The idea of their [the weapons] flying through the air or falling from heaven, and their supposed power of burning with inner fire or shining in the nighttime," was not primarily suggested, as Sir Arthur Evans claims (op. cit., p. 21), "by the phenomena associated with meteoric stones," but was a rationalization of the events described in the early Egyptian and Babylonian stories.

They "shine at night" because the original weapon of destruction was the moon as the Eye of Re. They "burn with inward fire," like the Babylonian Marduk, when in the fight with the dragon Tiamat "he filled his body with burning flame" (King, op. cit., p. 71), because they were fire, the fire of the sun and of lightning, the fire spat out by the Eye of Re.

Further evidence in corroboration of these views is provided by the fact that in the Ægean area the double-axe replaces the moon between the cow's horns (Evans, op. cit., Fig. 3, p. 9).

In King's "Babylonian Religion" (pp. 70 and 71) we are told how the gods provided Marduk with an invincible weapon in preparation for the combat with the dragon: and the ancient scribe himself sets forth a series of its homologues:—

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He made ready his bow …
He slung a spear …
The bow and quiver …
He set the lightning in front of him,
With burning flame he filled his body.

An ancient Egyptian writer has put on record further identifications of weapons. In the 95th Chapter of the Book of the Dead, the deceased is reported to have said: "I am he who sendeth forth terror into the powers of rain and thunder.… I have made to flourish my knife which is in the hand of Thoth in the powers of rain and thunder" (Budge, "Gods of the Egyptians," vol. i., p. 414).

The identification of the winged disk with the thunderbolt which emerges so definitely from these homologies is not altogether new, for it was suggested some years ago by Count d’Alviella 1 in these words:—

"On seeing some representations of the Thunderbolt which recall in a remarkable manner the outlines of the Winged Globe, it may be asked if it was not owing to this latter symbol that the Greeks transformed into a winged spindle the Double Trident derived from Assyria. At any rate the transition, or, if it be preferred, the combination of the two symbols is met with in those coins from Northern Africa where Greek art was most deeply impregnated with Phœnician types. Thus on coins of Bocchus II, King of Mauretania, figures are found which M. Lajard connected with the Winged Globe, and M. L. Müller calls Thunderbolts, but which are really the result of crossing between these two emblems".

The thunderbolt, however, is not always, or even commonly, the direct representative of the winged disk. It is more often derived from lightning or some floral design. 2

According to Count d’Alviella 3 "the Trident of Siva at times exhibits the form of a lotus calyx depicted in the Egyptian manner".

"Perhaps other transformations of the trisula might still be found at Boro-Budur [in Java]. … The same Disk which, when transformed into a most complicated ornament, is sometimes crowned by a Trident, is also met with between two serpents—which brings us back to the origin of the Winged Circle—the Globe of Egypt with the

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uræi" (see d’Alviella's Fig. 158). "Moreover this ornament, between which and certain forms of the trisula the transition is easily traced, commonly surmounts the entrance to the pagodas depicted in the bas-reliefs—in exactly the same manner as the Winged Globe adorns the lintel of the temples in Egypt and Phœnicia."

Thus we find traces of a blending of the two homologous designs, derived independently from the lotus and the winged disk, which acquired the same symbolic significance.

The weapon of Poseidon, the so-called "Trident of Neptune," is "sometimes crowned with a trilobate lotus flower, or with three lotus buds; in other cases it is depicted in a shape that may well represent a fishing spear" (Blinkenberg, op. cit., pp. 53 and 54).

"Even if Jacobsthal's interpretation of the flower as a common Greek symbol for fire be not accepted, the conventionalization of the trident as a lotus blossom is quite analogous to the change, on Greek soil, of the Assyrian thunderweapon to two flowers pointing in opposite directions" (p. 54).

But the conception of a flower as a symbol of fire cannot thus summarily be dismissed. For Sir Arthur Evans has collected all the stages in the transformation of Egyptian palmette pillars into the rayed pillars of Cyprus, in which the leaflets of the palmette become converted (in the Cypro-Mycenæan derivatives) into the rays which he calls "the natural concomitant of divinities of light". 1

The underlying motive which makes such a transference easy is the Egyptian conception of Hathor as a sacred lotus from which the sun-god Horus is born. The god of light is identified with the water-plant, whether lotus, iris or lily; and the lotus form of Horus can be correlated with its Hellenic surrogate, Apollo Hyakinthos. "The fleur-de-lys type now takes its place beside the sacred lotus" (op. cit., p. 50). The trident and the fleur-de-lys are thunderweapons because they represent forms of Horus or his mother.

The classical keraunos is still preserved in Tibet as the dorje, which is identified with Indra's thunderbolt, the vajra2 This word is also applied to the diamond, the "king of stones," which in turn acquired many of the attributes of the pearl, another of the Great

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[paragraph continues] Mother's surrogates, which is reputed to have fallen from heaven like the thunderbolt. 1

The Tibetan dorje, like its Greek original, is obviously a conventionalized flower, the leaf-design about the base of the corona being quite clearly defined.

The influence of the Winged-Disk Saga is clearly revealed in such Greek myths as that relating to Ixion. "Euripides is represented by Aristophanes as declaring that Aithér at the creation devised

The eye to mimic the wheel of the sun." 2

[paragraph continues] When we read of Zeus in anger binding Ixion to a winged wheel made of fire, and sending him spinning through the air, we are merely dealing with a Greek variant of the Egyptian myth in which Re despatched Horus as a winged disk to slay his enemies. In the Hellenic version the sky-god is angry with the father of the centaurs for his ill-treatment of his father-in-law and his behaviour towards Hera and her cloud-manifestation: but though distorted all the incidents reveal their original inspiration in the Egyptian story and its early Aryan variants.

It is remarkable that Mr. A. B. Cook, who compared the wheel of Ixion with the Egyptian winged disk (pp. 205-10), did not look deeper for a common origin of the two myths, especially when he got so far as to identify Ixion with the sun-god (p. 211).

Blinkenberg sums up the development of the thunder-weapon thus: "From the old Babylonian representation of the lightning, i.e. two or three zigzag lines representing flames, a tripartite thunder-weapon was evolved and carried east and west from the ancient seat of civilization.

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[paragraph continues] Together with the axe (in Western Asia Minor the double-edged, and towards the centre of Asia the single-edged, axe) it became a regular attribute of the Asiatic thunder-gods. ... The Indian trisula and the Greek triaina are both its descendants" (p. 57).

Discussing the relationship of the sun-god to thunder, Dr. Rendel Harris refers to the fact that Apollo's "arrows are said to be lightnings," and he quotes Pausanias, Apollodorus and Mr. A. B. Cook in substantiation of his statements. 1 Both sons of Zeus, Dionysus and Apollo, are "concerned with the production of fire".

According to Hyginus, Typhon was the son of Tartarus and the Earth: he made war against Jupiter for dominion, and, being struck by lightning, was thrown flaming to the earth, where Mount Ætna was placed upon him. 2

In this curious variant of the story of the winged disk, the conflict of Horus with Set is merged with the Destruction, for the son of Tartarus [Osiris] and the Earth [Isis] here is not Horus but his hostile brother Set. Instead of fighting for Jupiter (Re) as Horus did, he is against him. The lightning (which is Horus in the form of the winged disk) strikes Typhon and throws him flaming to earth. The episode of Mount (Etna is the antithesis of the incident in the Indian legend of the churning of the ocean: Mount Meru is placed in the sea upon the tortoise avatar of Vishnu and is used to churn the food of immortality for the gods. In the Egyptian story the red ochre brought from Elephantine is pounded with the barley.

The story told by Hyginus leads up to the vision in Revelations (xii., 7 et seq.): "There was war in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought, and his angels, and prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent called the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."

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In the later variants the original significance of the Destruction of Mankind seems to have been lost sight of. The life-giving Great Mother tends to drop out of the story and her son Horus takes her place. He becomes the warrior-god, but he not only assumes his mother's rôle but he also adopts her tactics. Just as she attacked Re's enemies in the capacity of the sky-god's "Eye," so Horus as the other "Eye," the sun, to which he gave his own falcon's wings, attacked in the form of the winged disk. The winged disk, like the other "Eye of Re," was not merely the sky weapon which shot down to destroy mankind, but also was the god Horus himself. This early conception involved the belief that the thunderbolt and lightning represented not merely the fiery weapon but the actual god.

The winged disk thus exhibits the same confusion of attributes as we have already noticed in Osiris and Hathor. It is the commonest symbol of life-giving and beneficent protective power: yet it is the weapon used to slaughter mankind. It is in fact the healing caduceus as well as the baneful thunder-weapon.


121:1 The history of the thunder-weapon cannot wholly be ignored in discussing the dragon-myth because it forms an integral part of the story. It was animated both by the dragon and the dragon-slayer. But an adequate account of the weapon would be so highly involved and complex as to be unintelligible without a very large series of illustrations. Hence I am referring here only to certain aspects of the subject. Pending the preparation of a monograph upon the thunder-weapon, I may refer the reader to the works of Blinkenberg, d’Alviella, Ward, Evans and A. B. Cook (to which frequent reference is made in these pages) for material, especially in the form of illustrations, to supplement my brief and unavoidably involved summary.

122:1 As in Egypt Osiris is described as "a ray of light" which issued from the moon (Hathor), i.e. was born of the Great Mother.

122:2 "Religion védique," i., p. 173, quoted by S. Reinach, "Ætos Prometheus," Revue archéologique, 4ie série, tome x., 1917, p. 72.

123:1 Evans, op. cit., Fig. 4, p. 10.

123:2 William Hayes Ward, "The Seal Cylinders of Western Asia," chapter xxxviii.

124:1 Seler, "Codex Vaticanus, No. 3773," vol. i., p. 77 et seq.

124:2 Evans, op. cit., p. 8.

124:3 "The Pagan Tribes of Borneo," 1912, vol. ii., p. 137.

124:4 Evans, op. cit., Fig. 8, c, p. 17.

124:5 There is an excellent photograph of this in Donald McKenzie's "Myths of Crete and Pre-Hellenic Europe," facing p. 160.

125:1 "The Gods of the Egyptians," vol. i., pp. 63 et seq.

125:2 See, for example, Ward, op. cit., p. 411.

126:1 "The Migration of Symbols," pp. 220 and 221.

126:2 Blinkenberg, op. cit., p. 53.

126:3 Op. cit., p. 256.

127:1 "Mycenæan Tree and Pillar Cult," pp. 51 and 52.

127:2 See Blinkenberg, op. cit., pp. 45-8.

128:1 I must defer consideration of the part played by certain of the Great Mother's surrogates in the development of the thunder-weapon's symbolism and the associated folk-lore. I have in mind especially the influence of the octopus and the cow. The former was responsible in part for the use of the spiral as a thunder-symbol; and the latter for the beliefs in the special protective power of thunderstones over cows (see Blinkenberg, op. cit.). The thunderstone was placed over the lintel of the cow-shed for the same purpose as the winged disk over the door of an Egyptian temple. Until the relations of the octopus to the dragon have been set forth it is impossible adequately to discuss the question of the seven-headed dragon, which ranges from Scotland to Japan and from Scandinavia to the Zambesi. In "The Birth of Aphrodite" I shall call attention to the basal factors in its evolution.

128:2 A. B. Cook, "Zeus," vol. i., p. 198.

129:1 "The Ascent of Olympus," p. 32.

129:2 Tartarus ex Terra procreavit Typhonem, immani magnitudine, specieque portentosa, cui centum capita draconum ex humeris enata erant. Hic Jovem provocavit, si vellet secum de regno centare. Jovis fulmine ardenti pectus ejus percussit. Cui cum flagraret, montem Ætnam, qui est in Siciliâ, super eum imposuit; qui ex eo adhuc ardere dicitur" (Hyginus, fab. 152).

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