Evolution of the Dragon, by G. Elliot Smith, , at sacred-texts.com
So far in this discussion I have been dealing mainly with the problems of the dragon's evolution, the attainment of his or her distinctive anatomical features and physiological attributes. But during this process of development a moral and ethical aspect of the dragon's character was also emerging.
Now that we have realized the fact of the dragon's homology with the moon-god it is important to remember that one of the primary functions of this deity, which later became specialized in the Egyptian
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FIG. 16.THE GOD OF THUNDER
(From a Chinese drawing (? 17th Century) in the John Rylands Library)
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FIG. 17.FROM JOANNES DE TURRECREMATA'S MEDITATIONES SEU CONTEMPLATIONES. Rome; Ulrich Han, 1467
god Thoth, was the measuring of time and the keeping of records. The moon, in fact, was the controller of accuracy, of truth, and order, and therefore the enemy of falsehood and chaos. The identification of the moon with Osiris, who from a dead king eventually developed into a king of the dead, conferred upon the great Father of Waters the power to exact from men respect for truth and order. For even if at first these ideas were only vaguely adumbrated and not expressed in set phrases, it must have been an incentive to good discipline when men remembered that the record-keeper and the guardian of law and order was also the deity upon whose tender mercies they would have to rely in the life after death. Set, the enemy of Osiris, who is the real prototype of the evil dragon, was the antithesis of the god of justice: he was the father of falsehood and the symbol of chaos. He was the prototype of Satan, as Osiris was the first definite representative of the Deity of which any record has been preserved.
The history of the evil dragon is not merely the evolution of the devil, but it also affords the explanation of his traditional peculiarities, his bird-like features, his horns, his red colour, his wings and cloven hoofs, and his tail. They are all of them the dragon's distinctive features; and from time to time in the history of past ages we catch glimpses of the reality of these identifications. In one of the earliest woodcuts (Pl. VI.) found in a printed book Satan is depicted as a monk with the bird's feet of the dragon. A most interesting intermediate phase is seen in a Chinese water-colour in the John Rylands Library, in which the thunder-dragon is represented in a form almost exactly reproducing that of the devil of European tradition (Pl. VII.).
Early in the Christian era, when ancient beliefs in Egypt became disguised under a thin veneer of Christianity, the story of the conflict between Horus and Set was converted into a conflict between Christ and Satan. M. Clermont-Ganneau has described an interesting bas-relief in the Louvre in which a hawk-headed St. George, clad in Roman military uniform and mounted on a horse, is slaying a dragon which is represented by Set's crocodile. 1 But the Biblical references to Satan leave no doubt as to his identity with the dragon, who is
specifically mentioned in the Book of Revelations as "the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan" (xx. 2).
The devil Set was symbolic of disorder and darkness, while the god Osiris was the maintainer of order and the giver of light. Although the moon-god, in the form of Osiris, Thoth and other deities, thus came to acquire the moral attributes of a just judge, who regulated the movements of the celestial bodies, controlled the waters upon the earth, and was responsible for the maintenance of order in the Universe, the ethical aspect of his functions was in large measure disguised by the material importance of his duties. In Babylonia similar views were held with respect to the beneficent water-god Ea, who was the giver of civilization, order and justice, and Sin, the moon-god, who "had attained a high position in the Babylonian pantheon," as "the guide of the stars and the planets, the overseer of the world at night". "From that conception a god of high moral character soon developed." "He is an extremely beneficent deity, he is a king, he is the ruler of men, he produces order and stability, like Shamash and like the Indian Varuṇa and Mitra, but besides that, he is also a judge, he loosens the bonds of the imprisoned, like Varuṇa. His light, like that of Varuṇa, is the symbol of righteousness. ... Like the Indian Varuṇa and the Iranian Mazdâh, he is a god of wisdom."
When these Egyptian and Babylonian ideas were borrowed by the Aryans, and the Iranian Mazdâh and the Indian Varuna assumed the rôle of the beneficent deity of the former more ancient civilizations, the material aspect of the functions of the moon-god became less obtrusive; and there gradually emerged the conception, to which Zarathushtra first gave concrete expression, of the beneficent god Ahura Mazdâh as "an omniscient protector of morality and creator of marvellous power and knowledge". "He is the most-knowing one, and the most-seeing one. No one can deceive him. He watches with radiant eyes everything that is done in open or in secret." "Although he has a strong personality he has no anthropomorphic features." He has shed the material aspects which loomed so large in his Egyptian, Babylonian and earlier Aryan prototypes, and a more ethereal conception of a God of the highest ethical qualities has emerged.
The whole of this process of transformation has been described with deep insight and lucid exposition by Professor Cumont, from whose important
and convincing memoir I have quoted so freely in the foregoing paragraphs. 1
The creation of a beneficent Deity of such moral grandeur inevitably emphasized the baseness and the malevolence of the "Power of Evil". No longer are the gods merely glorified human beings who can work good or evil as they will; but there is now an all-powerful God controlling the morals of the universe, and in opposition to Him "the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan".
137:1 "Horus et St. George daprès un bas-relief inedit du Louvre," Revue Archéologique, Nouvelle Série, t. xxxii., 1876, p. 196, pl. xviii. It is right to explain that M. Clermont-Ganneau's interpretation of this relief has not been accepted by all scholars.
139:1 Albert J. Carnoy, "The Moral Deities of Iran and India and their Origins," The American Journal of Theology, vol. xxi., No. 1, Jan. 1917, p. 58.