IT would only be spoiling good work by bad to attempt to re-write the exhaustive essay which appears, under the heading of "St. George," in Baring Gould's "Curious Myths of the Middle Ages." He there traces the atmospheric myth in which the Dragon is the storm-cloud, the Maiden the earth, and the Hero the sun, through all the forms of the great Aryan legend, in Indian, Egyptian, Phoenician, Italic, Keltic, Teutonic, and Scandinavian mythology. He shows that it was merely by a mistaken metaphor 1 that St. George came to assume the place, and wear the glories of the solar hero; and that England only followed in the wake of other countries, in making him her national Saint and Patron.
We will, therefore, now only glance at some of the Basque and Pyrenean forms of this wide-spread myth. M. Cerquand boldly places one form of the story, which is attached to the house of Belzunce, among historical legends. But the history of Belzunce and the Dragon stands in the same relation
to the original myth as does that of Guy, Earl of Warwick, Moor of Moor Hall, and of scores of other heroes. In a Basque version, collected by ourselves, the concluding words show that in this form it is simply an Eponymous legend, to account for the name, "and that is whence comes the name of Belzunce." The oldest Pyrenean version with which we are acquainted is that of the "Serpent d'Isabit." We give the outlines of it from memory, as we heard, and read it, at Bagnères de Bigorre.
The serpent lay with his head resting on the summit of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre, his neck stretched down towards Barèges, while his body filled the whole valley of Luz, St. Sauveur, and Gédres, and his tail was coiled in the hollow below the cirque of Gavarnie. He fed but once in three months, or the whole country would have been desolate. With a strong inspiration of his breath, he drew into his capacious maw, across the valleys, whole flocks of sheep and goats, herds of oxen, men, women, children, the population of whole villages at once. He was now asleep, and inert, after such a repast. The whole male population of several valleys assembled to consult on what should be done. After long and fruitless debate an old man arose and spoke:--"We have nearly three months yet before he will wake; let us cut down all the forests on the opposite hills; then let us bring all our forges and all the iron we possess, and with the wood thus cut down let us melt it all into the red-hot fiery mass; then we will hide ourselves behind the rocks, and make all the noise we can to try and awaken the monster." So said, so done. The serpent awoke in a rage at having his slumbers broken, he saw something bright on the opposite side of the valley, and drew in a long breath, and the fiery mass, with a roar like a thunderbolt, flew across the valley, right down the monster's throat. Then, what convulsions ensued; rocks were uptorn or split open, the mountains were shattered, the glaciers beaten into dust as the serpent twisted and lashed about in his agony. To quench his agony of thirst
he descended to the valley, and drank up all the streams from Gavarnie to Pierrefitte. Then, in his last convulsion, he threw himself back upon the mountain side and expired; his head rested in a deep hollow; as the fire within him slowly cooled, the water he had swallowed poured out of his mouth, and formed the present Lac d'Isabit. In M. Cerquand's legend of the Dragon d'Alçay, the red-hot iron is replaced by "a cow's skin full of gunpowder." In all the Basque legends of this class the hero dies.
But these legends differ widely from the following tales; there is in them no princess to be rescued, no charcoal-burner, no marriage, or any other wonders. Were it not for their still closer resemblance to the Gaelic tales, we should suspect the following legends to be simply translations of some French legend of St. George. As we remarked before, like the Deccan cobras, the Heren-Suge is always seven-headed. It is strange, too, to notice that the princess always behaves in the same chivalrous way. "One is enough to die." The union, too, of Tartaro and Heren-Suge in the same tale is curious.
20:1 One of the oddest instances of mistaken metaphors that we know of occurs in "La Vie de St. Savin, par J. Abbadie, Curé de la Paroisse" (Tarbes, 1861). We translate from the Latin, which is given in a note:--"Intoxicated with divine love, he was keeping vigil according to his custom, and when he could not find a light elsewhere, he gave light to his eyes from the light that was in his breast. The small piece of wax-taper thus lit passed the whole night till morning without being extinguished."-Off. S. Savin.