The Legend of Saint George and the Dragon

 

Saint_george_raphael

St. George and the Dragon. Raphael.

 

St. George is a Christianised representation of the mythic sun-horse that reflects the inter-changeability of the hero and the horse. Another example is the ancient Celtic mare goddess known as Epona. Therefore, as a saint George is a patron of “…soldiers and sailors, the protector of rocky and dangerous coasts.” (Brown, 1950). In another aspect a descendant of the seafarers horse (Clarke, ). St. George is a representation of the Thracian ‘Rider God’ depicted in Hero-reliefs as a fight between a hero and a boar. The image has a religio-mythic significance of a hunting god that is “…principally honoured as a chthonic divinity.” (Kazarow, 1938). The Hero is presented as a powerful nature divinity, an ancestral image of the hunter-rider-hero.

Tradition places the birth of St. George at Lydda on the coast of Palestine not far from Phoenicia. The two locations where the activities of St. George centre are firstly those of Lydda or Ludd in Palestine where he was martyred, and secondly in Libya where he killed the dragon. The Phoenician version of the legend is derived from the hero and dragon in the myth of Perseus and Andromeda. In their turn the Phoenicians took the ancient story with them to Carthage and thence to Gades, the ancient Roman colony of Cadiz. It is most likely that the myth, the legend, became attached to the saint, each representing “…the powers of light destroying the powers of darkness.” (Brown, 1950), with the dragon that threatened Andromeda coming out of the sea.

In folklore St. George is closely connected with the ‘hero’ although he “…appears to be almost as mythical as the monster he disposed of…” (Leach, 1955). Two reliefs from Moesia show him protecting two horses accompanied by Epona. The Thracians, who were later absorbed by invading Slavs, had their beliefs absorbed by the Slavs as they overran the Balkans. There developed a mutual influence of Thracian and Christian beliefs. It is noteworthy that in Thracian beliefs the quake, or ‘Kraken wakes’, is a symbol of the soul not that of a dragon.

The cult of St. George is of greater antiquity than that of St. George himself, and one of “…those saints whose history is almost entirely a matter of mythology of folklore.” (Heath-Stubbs, 1984). The legend of St. George centres about a soldier martyred by Diocletian for refusal to denounce his Christian faith. The offender was a Roman soldier who tore down Diocletian’s edicts of his intention to persecute the Christians. This historical incident refers not to but to George but to Nestor. The dragon is the mythic element, a “…typical specimen of the maiden-eating variety.” (Leach, 1955). There is some identification with George of Cappadocia, the Arian Bishop of Alexandria who died in 362 and a nameless hero executed for destroying the edicts of Diocletian. George of Cappadocia was a corrupt and unattractive individual, put in prison for his crimes, and thence released by a pagan mob and torn to pieces (Heath-Stubbs, 1984).

The question therefore arises concerning the existence of a cult of an entirely fictitious saint. In the legend the hero, St. George, was tormented and then executed seven times in succession, whereupon on each occasion he was resurrected to life by St. Michael. to life. St. George was worshipped widely from the 3rd century onwards in the Near East, though it “…seems doubtful whether there ever was an historical St. George.” (Leach, 1955), who was adopted as England’s patron saint only at the time of the crusades.

The popularity of St. George of England has nothing to do with Richard the Lion Heart ((1157-199), but originates in the 15th century (Morris, 2009). The cult of St. George did originate in the eastern Mediterranean during the 4th century AD , being transferred to England at a later date. It was during the 13th century, during the reign of Henry III, that interest in royal and aristocratic circles became centred on St. George. Indeed, it seems that the belief in St. George, who was known to the Anglo-Saxons as an early Christian martyr, was transferred to England only in the middle ages.

 

Sources used.

Brown, T. (1950). Turtullian and Horse-Cults in Britain. Folklore LXI (1).

Clarke, C. P. S. (1927). Everyman’s Book of Saints.

Davidson, H. R. E. (1984). The Hero in Tradition and Folklore. UCL. London.

Heath-Stubbs, J. (1984). The Hero as Saint: St. George. In: Davidson (1984).

Kazarow, G. (1938). The Thracian Rider and St. George. Antiquity, 47, September.

Morris, M. (2009). Slaying Myths: St. George and the Dragon. History Today, 59.

Williams, M. E. (1936). Whence came St George? Bulletin de la Societe Royale d’Archeologie d’Alexandrie.

Leach, E. R. (1955). St. George and the Dragon. In: Myth or Legend. G. Bell & Sons. London.

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2 Comments

Filed under Historical Studies

2 responses to “The Legend of Saint George and the Dragon

  1. Beth Macy

    Very interesting. I didn’t realize St George had such an extensive history.

  2. This legend also bears certain similarities to the myth of Perseus slaying Cetus to save Andromeda.

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