Snakes and dragons in literature and legend
'You run through them,' said Quintin.
'Well, starting from the oldest,' said Miranda, 'a Minoan snake goddess. That's a good start. The figurine was found in the Palace of King Minos on Crete that Sir Arthur Evans excavated. Dating to the second millennium BC. Then there is the snake lurking beneath Athene's shield. The Ancient Greek goddess Athene. And Aesculapius, whom the Roman poet Ovid depicts as a snake leaving Greece for Rome.'
'The god of healing?'
'Well exactly. The god of healing. Like a snake shedding its skin and renewing itself.'
'Didn't Saint Patrick chase all the snakes out of Ireland?
'Yes, he did. Along with chasing all the paganism out.'
'I wonder if that meant the same thing?'
'Possibly. I don't know. There is not much in the way of snakes in Irish or Welsh mythology. But snake motifs played a great part in Celtic Iron Age art and design, in Britain and in continental Europe. There was a god with snakes for hair in the old Roman Baths at Bath, in Somerset.'
'Just like the gorgon Medusa then?'
'Yes. And the Iron Age designs are often called dragons. They chase each other's tails. The symbol of Wales is a dragon. And there are loads of them in medieval romance and Arthurian legend. Sir Tristrem fights a dragon in Ireland. Sir Lancelot fights with one as well. There is a battle between a red dragon and a white dragon in the medieval story of Merlin. And in medieval romance they abound: Sir Eglamour of Artois, Torrent of Portyngale, Sir Bevis of Hampton, Guy of Warwick: they all fight with one and defeat it…'
'Yes, Sir Degaré, although that's really a Breton lai. And in another Arthurian legend, The Fair Unknown releases a woman from captivity when her serpent scales and wings fall away, in a medieval story written by the same author who retold the Breton lai Lanval, about a knight who was taken to Avalon by his Otherworldly princess.'
'William Blake drew children sitting on a snake, in an elegy for a lost child,' said Quintin.
'And Edmund Spenser, in Elizabethan England, depicts Saint George fighting a dragon beside a Pool of Life, where, if you are thrown into it dead, you come out of it alive and well again.'
'Like a spring of healing in Irish mythology then,' suggested Miranda.
'Well, here it all is,' said Quintin. 'You can flick through it by tapping the grey button, or dive deeper by clicking one of the summaries.'