Stepping out from the justifiably immense shadow of the Striker/Thunderer’s deeds, and those of His Father aforesaid … the situation of Cadmus presents us with an actual, bona-fide Dragon (or, rather, ‘Drakon’ – Δρακων) … that is also generally depicted as effectively a very large snake.
Not with extra heads, wings, or even legs – it’s a serpent, the Sentinel of a God (and related to Ares by blood, it should appear, as well, per both Pseudo-Hyginus’ Fabulae and the Bibliotheca of Pseudo-Apollodorus – Pseudo-Hyginus reporting Aphrodite as the apparent mother, something that might bear further examination given the textual citations for Aphrodite in relation to certain other dragon figures we have met previously and elsewhere herein), standing watch over His Sacred Spring.
Which leaves us with a question:
Why is this rather impressive Serpent hailed as being a ‘Dragon’ (‘Drakon’ – Δρακων ) rather than an ‘Ekhis’ ( ἔχις ) or ‘Ophis’ ( ὄφῐς ) ?
After all, both Ekhis and Ophis do most definitely mean ‘Snake’ – indeed, the root term in PIE, *h₁ógʷʰis , is actually shared with ‘Ahi’ ( अहि ) that means ‘Serpent’ in Sanskrit (and c.f. also ‘Azi’ in the Iranian sphere – with the rather prominent adversarial figures of such naming that also spring fairly instantly to mind).
So what’s the distinction?
It’s ‘In The Eyes’. Literally.
That’s where ‘Drakon’ in Ancient Greek comes from – words relating to the Eyes. Not just in terms of ‘Seeing’, but also in terms of a certain ‘Flaring’ quality to same.
Consider the words of Ovid:
“Martius anguis erat, cristis praesignis et auro;
igne micant oculi, corpus tumet omne venenis,
tres vibrant linguae, triplici stant ordine dentes.”
[Metamorphoses III 32-34]
Or, in Melville’s translation:
“[the] Snake of Mars [, ] Its crest shone gleaming gold;
its eyes flashed fire; its whole body was big with venom,
and between its triple rows of teeth its three-forked tongue flickered.”
Eyes flashing fire.
Now, if we rewind back to our consideration of Typhon / Typhoeus, what do we find in specific relation to those ‘Drakon’ heads of the adversary?
Per Hesiod (in a slightly different Evelyn-White translation of the Theogony this time):
“[…] and up from his shoulders there grew a hundred snake heads, those of a dreaded dragon [drakon] , and the heads licked with dark tongues, and from the eyes on the inhuman heads fire glittered from under the eyelids: from all his heads fire flared from his eyes’ glancing […]”
Per Pseudo-Apollodorus (and in the Aldrich translation of the Bibliotheca I, for variety):
” In his eyes flashed fire.”
To this chorus of in-sight we can also add Aeschylus:
“That destructive monster of a hundred heads, impetuous Typhon. He withstood all the gods, hissing out terror with horrid jaws, while from his eyes lightened a hideous glare.”
[Prometheus Bound, Weir Smyth translation]
But why stop there? (And don’t worry – I’m not just quoting all of the following occurrences simply to repeatedly speak about the same thing. These shall also serve to draw out some less immediately apparent typological features that shall prove most pertinent when we do come to discuss India and Hindu ‘dragons’ in due course)
The famed Dragon of Colchis that guarded the Golden Fleece sought by Jason and his Argonauts is – as with the Ismenian Drakon that stood leglessly sentinel for Ares over a sacred spring – pointedly remarked upon in terms of its oracular capacity.
Valerius Flaccus, in his Argonautica, puts it in typically dramatic fashion:
“[…] when suddenly amid the clouds he sees a mighty flame and the darkness quivering with angry gleams of light. ‘Why glows the heaven so, what is that baleful star?’ he asks; and the maiden thus makes answer to his fear: ‘It is the eyes and angry glare of the dragon himself thou seest; from his crest shoot those quivering flashes [‘ …]”
[Argonautica VIII, Mozley translation]
Which is perhaps rather more forceful language than Pindar writing of the “the glaring eyes and speckled back” of the creature in his Fourth Pythian Ode [Conway translation].
Ovid, in his Heroides [XII, Showerman translation], speaks of the “flame-like eyes” of the creature – and is also at pains to emphasize (as are various other verse-smiths who have sought to tell the tale of Jason and Medea) the ‘sleepless’ (i.e. unwearying – perhaps even ‘unblinking’, which is certainly how Apollonius Rhodius is said to phrase it in his Argonautica [II, Rieu translation]) characteristic to the serpent’s sparkling points of vision.
This piece continues our exploration of the Dragon in Indo-European terms. Find Part One and the Introduction here: