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


When the life-giving attributes of water were confused with the same properties with which shells had independently been credited

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long before, the shell's reputation was rationalized as an expression of the vital powers of the ocean in which the mollusc was born. But the same explanation was also extended to include fishes, and other denizens of the water, as manifestations of similar divine powers. In the lecture on "Dragons and Rain Gods" I referred to the identification of Ea, the Babylonian Osiris, with a fish (p. 105). When the value of the pearl as the giver of life impelled men to incur any risks to obtain so precious an amulet, the chief dangers that threatened pearl-fishers were due to sharks. These came to be regarded as demons guarding the treasure-houses at the bottom of the sea. Out of these crude materials the imaginations of the early pearl-fishers created the picture of wonderful submarine palaces of Nâga kings in which vast wealth, not merely of pearls, but also of gold, precious stones, and beautiful maidens (all of them "givers of life," vide infra, p. 224), were placed under the protection of shark-dragons. 1 The conception of the pearl (which is a surrogate of the life-giving Great Mother) guarded by dragons is linked by many bonds of affinity with early Erythræan and Mediterranean beliefs. The more usual form of the story, both in Southern Arabian legend and in Minoan and Mycenæan art, represents the Mother Goddess incarnate in a sacred tree or pillar with its protecting dragons in the form of serpents or lions, or a variety of dragon-surrogates, either real animals, such as deer or cattle, or composite monsters (Fig. 26). 2

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There are reasons for believing that these stories were first invented somewhere on the shores of the Erythræan Sea, probably in Southern Arabia. The animation of the incense-tree by the Great Mother, for the reasons which I have already expounded, 1 formed the link of her identification with the pearl, which probably acquired its magical reputation in the same region.

"In the Persian myth, the white Haoma is a divine tree, growing in the lake Vourukasha: the fish Khar-mâhî circles protectingly around it and defends it against the toad Ahriman. It gives eternal life, children to women, husbands to girls, and horses to men. In the Minôkhired the tree is called 'the preparer of the corpse'" (Spiegel, "Eran. Altertumskunde," II, 115—quoted by Jung, "Psychology of the Unconscious," p. 532). The idea of guarding the divine tree 2 by dragons was probably the result of the transference to that particular surrogate of the Great Mother of the shark-stories which originated from the experiences of the seekers after pearls, her other representatives.

There are many other bits of corroborative evidence to suggest

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that these shell-cults and the legends derived from them were actually transmitted from the Red Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean. Nor is it surprising that this should have happened, when it is recalled that Egyptian sailors were trafficking in both seas long before the Pyramid Age, and no doubt carried the beliefs and the legends of one region to the other. I have already referred to the adoption in the Mediterranean area of the idea of the dragon-protectors of the tree- and pillar-forms of the Great Mother, and suggested that this was merely a garbled version of the pearl-fisher's experience of the dangers of attacks by sharks. But the same legends also reached the Levant in a less modified form, and then underwent another kind of transformation (and confusion with the tree-version) in Cyprus or Syria.

As the shark would be a not wholly appropriate actor in the Mediterranean, its rôle is taken by its smaller Selachian relative, the dog-fish. In the notes on Pliny's Natural History, Dr. Bostock and Mr. H. T. Riley 1 refer to the habits of dog-fishes ("Canes marini"), and quote from Procopius ("De Bell. Pers." B. I, c. 4) the following "wonderful story in relation to this subject": "Sea-dogs are wonderful admirers of the pearl-fish, and follow them out to sea. … A certain fisherman, having watched for the moment when the shell-fish was deprived of the attention of its attendant sea-dog, … seized the shell-fish and made for the shore. The sea-dog, however, was soon aware of the theft, and making straight for the fisherman, seized him. Finding himself thus caught, he made a last effort, and threw the pearl-fish on shore, immediately on which he was torn to pieces by its protector." 2

Though the written record of this story is relatively modern the incident thus described probably goes back to much more ancient times. It is only a very slightly modified version of an ancient narrative of a shark's attack upon a pearl-diver.

For reasons which 1 shall discuss in the following pages, the rôle of the cowry and pearl as representatives of the Great Mother was in the Levant assumed by the mandrake, just as we have already seen the Southern Arabian conception of her as a tree adopted in Mycenæan lands. Having replaced the sea-shell by a land plant it became necessary,

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in adapting the legend, to substitute for the "sea-dog" some land animal. Not unnaturally it became a dog. Thus the story of the dangers incurred in the process of digging up a mandrake assumed the well-known form. 1 The attempt to dig up the mandrake was said to be fraught with great danger. The traditional means of circumventing these risks has been described by many writers, ancient and modern, and preserved in the folk-lore of most European and western Asiatic countries. The story as told by Josephus is as follows: "They dig a trench round it till the hidden part of the root is very small, then they tie a dog to it, and when the dog tries hard to follow him that tied him, this root is easily plucked up, but the dog dies immediately, as it were, instead of the man that would take the plant away". 2 Thus the dog takes the place of the dog-fish when the mandrake becomes the pearl's surrogate. The only discrepancy between the two stories is the point to which Josephus calls specific attention. For instead of the dog killing the thief, as the shark (dogfish) kills the stealer of pearls, the dog becomes the victim as a substitute for the man. As Josephus remarks, "the dog dies immediately, as it were, instead of the man that would take the plant away". This distortion of the story is true to the traditions of legend-making. The dog-incident is so twisted as to be transformed into a device for plucking the dangerous plant without risk,

It is quite possible that earlier associations of the dog with the Great Mother may have played some part in this transference of meaning, if only by creating confusion which made such rationalization necessary. I refer to the part played by Anubis in helping Isis to collect the fragments of Osiris; and the role played by Anubis, and his Greek avatar Cerberus, in the world of the dead. Whether the association of the dog-star Sirius with Hathor had anything to do with the confusion is uncertain. 3

There was an intimate association of the dog with the goddess of

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the underworld (Hecate) and the ritual of rebirth of the dead. 1 Perhaps the development of the story of the underworld-goddess Aphrodite's dog and the mandrake may have been helped by this survival of the association of Isis with Anubis, even if there is not a more definite causal relationship between the dog-incidents in the various legends.

The divine dog Anubis is frequently represented in connexion with the ritual of rebirth, 2 where it is shown upon a standard in association with the placenta. The hieroglyphic sign for the Egyptian word mes, "to give birth," consists of the skins of three dogs (or jackals, or foxes). The three-headed dog Cerberus that guarded the portal of Hades may possibly be a distorted survival of this ancient symbolism of the three-fold dog-skin as the graphic sign for the act of emergence from the portal of birth. Elsewhere (p. 223) in this lecture I have referred to Charon's obolus as a surrogate of the life-giving pearl or cowry placed in the mouth of the dead to provide "vital substance". Rohde 3 regards Charon as the second Cerberus, corresponding to the Egyptian dog-faced god Anubis: just as Charon received his obolus, so in Attic custom the dead were provided with μελιτοῦτια, the object of which is usually said to be to pacify the dog of hell.

What seems to link all these fantastic beliefs and customs with the story of the dog and the mandrake is the fact that they are closely bound up with the conception of the dog as the guardian of hidden treasure.

The mandrake story may have arisen out of a mingling of these two streams of legend—the shark (dog-fish) protecting the treasures at the bottom of the sea, and the ancient Egyptian beliefs concerning the dog-headed god who presides at the embalmer's operations and superintends the process of rebirth.

The dog of the story is a representative of the dragon guarding the goddess in the form of the mandrake, just as the lions over the gate at Mycenæ heraldically support her pillar-form, or the serpents in Southern Arabia protect her as an incense tree. Dog, Lion, and

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[paragraph continues] Serpent in these legends are all representatives of the goddess herself, i.e. merely her own avatars (Fig. 26).

At one time I imagined that the rôle of Anubis as a god of embalming and the restorer of the dead was merely an ingenuous device on the part of the early Egyptians to console themselves for the depredations of jackals in their cemeteries. For if the jackal were converted into a life-giving god it would be a comforting thought to believe that the dead man, even though devoured, was "in the bosom of his god" and thereby had attained a rebirth in the hereafter. In ancient Persia corpses were thrown out for the dogs to devour. There was also the custom of leading a dog to the bed of a dying man who presented him with food, just as Cerberus was given honey-cakes by Hercules in his journey to hell. But I have not been able to obtain any corroboration of this supposition. It is a remarkable coincidence that the Great Mother has been identified with the necrophilic vulture as Mut; and it has been claimed by some writers 1 that, just as the jackal was regarded as a symbol of rebirth in Egypt and the dead were exposed for dogs to devour in Persia, so the vulture's corpse-devouring habits may have been primarily responsible for suggesting its identification with the Great Mother and for the motive behind the Indian practice of leaving the corpses of the dead for the vultures to dispose of. 2 It is not uncommon to find, even in English cathedrals, recumbent statues of bishops with dogs as footstools. Petronius ("Sat.," c. 71) makes the following statement: "valde te rogo, ut secundum pedes statuae meae catellam pingas—ut mihi contingat tuo beneficio post mortem vivere". 3 The belief in the dog's service as a guide to the dead ranges from Western Europe to Peru.

To return to the story of the dog and the mandrake: no doubt the demand will be made for further evidence that the mandrake actually assumed the rôle of the pearl in these stories. If the remarkable

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repertory of magical properties assigned to the mandrake 1 be compared with those which developed in connexion with the cowry and the pearl, 2 it will be found that the two series are identical. The mandrake also is the giver of life, of fertility to women, of safety in childbirth; and like the cowry and the pearl it exerts these magical influences only if it be worn in contact with the wearer's skin. 3 But the most definite indication of the mandrake's homology with the pearl is provided by the legend that "it shines by night". Some scholars, 4 both ancient and modern, have attempted to rationalize this tradition by interpreting it as a reference to the glow-worms that settle on the plant! But it is only one of many attributes borrowed by the mandrake from the pearl, which was credited with this remarkable reputation only when early scientists conceived the hypothesis that the gem was a bit of moon substance.

As the memory of the real history of these beliefs grew dim, confusion was rapidly introduced into the stories. I have already explained how the diving for pearls started the story of the great palace of treasures under the waters which was guarded by dragons. As the pearl had the reputation of shining by night, it is not surprising that it or some of its surrogates should in course of time come to be credited with the power of "revealing hidden treasures," the treasures which in the original story were the pearls themselves. Thus the magic fern-seed and other treasure-disclosing vegetables 5 are surrogates of the mandrake, and like it derive their magical properties directly or indirectly from the pearl.

Fig. 21
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Fig. 21

Fig. 21.—(a) A slate triad found by professor G. A. Reisner in the temple of the Third Pyramid at Giza. it shows the pharaoh Mycerinus supported on his right side by the goddess Hathor, represented as a woman with the moon and the cow's horns upon her head, and on the left side by a nome goddess, bearing upon her head the jackal-symbol of her nome.

(b) The Ecuador Aphrodite. Bas-relief from Cerro Jaboncillo (after Saville, "Antiquities Of Manabi, Ecuador" Preliminary Report, 1907, Plate XXXVIII).

A grotesque composite monster intended to represent a woman (compare Saville's plates XXXV, XXXVI, and XXXIX), whose head is a conventionalized octopus, whose body is a Loligo, and whose limbs are human.

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The fantastic story of the dog and the mandrake provides the most definite evidence of the derivation of the mandrake-beliefs from the shell-cults of the Erythræan Sea. There are many other scraps of evidence to corroborate this. I shall refer here only to one of these. "The discovery of the art of purple-dyeing has been attributed to the Tyrian tutelary deity Melkart, who is identified with Baal by many writers. According to Julius Pollux ('Onomasticon,' I, iv.) and Nonnus ('Dionys.,' XL, 306) Hercules (Melkart) was walking on the seashore accompanied by his dog and a Tyrian nymph, of whom he was enamoured. The dog having found a Murex with its head protruding from its shell, devoured it, and thus its mouth became stained with purple. The nymph, on seeing the beautiful colour, bargained with Hercules to provide her with a robe of like splendour." 1 This seems to be another variant of the same story.


158:1 In Eastern Asia (see, for example, Shinji Nishimura, "The Hisago-Bune," Tokio, 1918, published by the Tokio Society of Naval Architects, p. 18, where the dragon is identified with the wani, which can be either a crocodile or a shark); in Oceania (L. Frobenius, "Das Zeitalter des Sonnengottes," Bd. I., 1904, and C. E. Fox and F. H. Drew, "Beliefs and Tales of San Cristoval," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. XLV, 1915, p. 140); and in America (see Thomas Gann, "Mounds in Northern Honduras," Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1897-8, Part II, p. 661) the dragon assumes the form of a shark, a crocodile, or a variety of other animals.

158:2 Sir Arthur Evans, "Mycenæan Tree and Pillar Cult," op. cit. supra: W. Hayes Ward, "The Seal Cylinders of Western Asia," op. cit.: and Robertson Smith, "The Religion of the Semites," p. 133: "In Hadramaut it is still dangerous to touch the sensitive mimosa, because the spirit that resides in the plant will avenge the injury". When men interfere with the incense trees it is reported: "the demons of the place flew away with doleful cries in the shape of white serpents, and the intruders died soon afterwards".

159:1 Vide supra, p. 38.

159:2 In Western mythology the dragon guarding the fruit-bearing tree of life is also identified with the Mother of Mankind (Campbell, "Celtic Dragon Myth," pp. xli and 18). Thus the tree and its defender are both surrogates of the Great Mother. When Eve ate the apple from the tree of Paradise she was committing an act of cannibalism, for the plant was only another form of herself. Her "sin" consisted in aspiring to attain the immortality which was the exclusive privilege of the gods. This incident is analogous to that found in the Indian tales where mortals steal the amrita. By Eve's sin "death came into the world" for the paradoxical reason that she had eaten the food of the gods which gives immortality. The punishment meted out to her by the Almighty seems to have been to inhibit the life-giving and birth-facilitating action of the fruit of immortality, so that she and all her progeny were doomed to be mortal and to suffer the pangs of child-bearing.

There was a widespread belief among the ancients that ceremonies in connexion with the gods must (to be efficacious) be done in the reverse of the usual human way (Hopkins, "Religions of India," p. 201). So also an act which gives immortality to the gods, brings death to man.

The full realization of the fact that man was mortal imposed upon the early theologians the necessity of explaining the immortality of the gods. The elixir of life was the food of the gods that conferred eternal life upon them. By one of those paradoxes so dear to the maker of myths this same elixir brought death to man.

160:1 Bohn's Edition, 1855, Vol. II, p. 433.

160:2 A Cretan scene depicts a man attacking a dog-headed sea-monster (Mackenzie, op, cit., "Myths of Crete," p. 139).

161:1 A number of versions of this widespread fable have been collected by Dr. Rendel Harris (op. cit.) and Sir James Frazer (op. cit.). I quote here from the former (p. 118).

161:2 Josephus, "Bell. Jud.," VII, 6, 3, quoted by Rendel Harris, op. cit., p. 118.

161:3 The dog-star became associated with Hathor for reasons which are explained on p. 209. It was "the opener of the way" for the birth of the sun and the New Year.

162:1 When Artemis acquired the reputation as a huntress and her deer became her quarry the dog was rationalized into the new scheme.

162:2 See, for example, Moret's "Mystères Égyptiens," pp. 77-80.

162:3 "Psyche," p. 244.

163:1 See, for example, Jung, op. cit., p. 268.

163:2 Nekhebit, the Egyptian Vulture goddess, was identified by the Greeks with Eileithyia, the goddess of birth (Wiedemann, "Religion of the Ancient Egyptians," p. 141). She was usually represented as a vulture hovering over the king. Her place can be taken by the falcon of Horus or in the Babylonian story of Etana by the eagle. In the Indian Mahábhárata the Garuda is described as "the bird of life … destroyer of all, creator of all".

163:3 Quoted by Jung, op. cit., p. 530.

164:1 See Rendel Harris (op. cit.) and Sir James Frazer (op. cit.).

164:2 Jackson, op. cit.

164:3 An interesting rationalization (of which Mr. T. H. Pear has kindly reminded me) of this ancient Oriental belief is still alive amongst British women. It is maintained that pearls "lose their lustre" unless they are worn in contact with the skin. This of course is a pure myth, but also an illuminating survival.

164:4 See Frazer, op. cit., p. 16, especially the references to the "devil's candle" and "the lamp of the elves".

164:5 Rendel Harris, op. cit., p. 113: Other factors played a part in the development of this legend of opening up treasure-houses. Both Artemis and Hecate are associated with a magical plant capable of opening locks and helping the process of birth. Artemis is a goddess of the portal and her life-giving symbol in a multitude of varied forms is found appropriately placed above the lintel of doors.

165:1 Jackson, op. cit., p. 195.

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