The legend of St George and the dragon takes us back over 800 years, and all the way to the Middle East. In one of the most famous and compelling dragon legends, we’re taken to a town in Libya that is being terrorised by a dragon. The petrified townsfolk ritually offer the dragon a sacrifice of a beautiful young maiden. When the it’s the King’s daughter who is next, the town needs a hero.
Where does the story come from?
For as long as there has been stories, there have been stories about dragons. You may already know that there are dragons in the Bible, and there are of course thousands of other dragon books, full of tales of different types of dragons.
Not only have there been stories about dragons, but there have been stories about those brave enough to take them on and slay them. In fact, one of the most popular dragon anime series of the last 20 years is Slayers.
Throughout the ninth and tenth centuries, there were tales and legends of a fearless saint who took on, tamed and killed a dragon. In the original tales you were more likely to hear about the brave Saint Theodore Tiro. By the 11th century, the narrative was firmly fixed on Saint George.
Who is Saint George?
As well as being the legendary dragon slayer, Saint George is also the patron saint of England, which is in the United Kingdom. A patron saint is the protector of a place, a person or an occupation. Other notable patron saints include Solange, who is the patron saint of shepherdesses (as well as being Beyonce’s sister!), Thomas Aquinas, the patron saint of students, and of course the Virgin Mary, the patron saint of the USA.
Despite not being English, George was made Patron Saint in 1350 for being a brave soldier, and one who would ride to England’s rescue in times of great peril. He was immortalised in Henry V, a play by William Shakespeare, when the King cries “Cry God for Harry, England and St. George!” In fact, the connections between Shakespeare and Saint George go further than that, as the playwright was born and died on April 23, Saint George’s Day.
What is the story of St George and the Dragon?
As you would expect with a story as old as this one, there are several different versions, but every single one agrees on a few key facts. So here is the story as Dragon University knows it.
In Silene, Libya in the Middle East, the townspeople live in fear of a terrifying, poisonous dragon who lives in a lake on the edge of the town. The dragon pollutes the area with his venom. To calm the dragon and stop him from him from killing the working men of the town, the people of Silene offer the dragon a sacrifice of two sheep every day.
But after a while, the sacrifice of sheep isn’t enough, and the dragon insists on more. Eventually it’s decided that the girls of Silene should be sacrificed to the dragon. The next girl is chosen by way of a lottery. Very much like Hunger Games, you may think?
One day, the King’s daughter was the unlucky girl chosen for sacrifice. This infuriated the King and broke the heart of the Queen. The King offered the people of Silene all of his gold, silver and jewels but they refused. And so the King’s daughter was sent to the dragon.
Just in time to save her life, George rides into town and comes across the scene at the lake, charging at the dragon with his lance and spearing him through the chest. The dragon, however, is not killed, but is tamed by George. So tamed in fact, that the princess is able to put a leash around his neck and pull him back into town.
The dragon, recovers, and as he does, becomes far less tame, once again terrorising the people of Silene. The town beg George to kill the dragon, which he says he will do only if they all convert to Christianity. After over fifteen thousand men have converted, George slays the dragon by chopping its head off with his sword.
The King is so grateful that he builds a church on the spot where the dragon was slayed. Soon a spring starts to flow with a water that cured all disease.
What are the different versions of the story?
With all the talk of sacrificing girls, and forcing people to convert to Christianity, it’s perhaps natural that there are different versions.
Some versions of the story have the action taking place in England. These stories are particularly popular in England of course. Whereas other versions change the location to Egypt or to Turkey, where George is from.
You may also see the dragon’s location moved from a lake to a pond, or even to a cave. And in some tellings George kills the scary dragon instantly, where still more have an almighty battle raging before George eventually prevails.
Did it really happen?
With any legendary tale like this, you do get the same questions. Did it really happen? Are dragons real? And the honest answer is that nobody knows.
There’s no doubt that there was certainly a brave soldier named George, who was sainted after his death. But most reports put his death at many hundreds of years before this story took place.
However, it is possible that all of this did happen during George’s lifetime, but the story didn’t enter into popular folklore until years later.
What we do know for certain is that the legend of St George and the Dragon is one of the classic and most compelling legends of all time, and one that will certainly be retold for many hundreds of years.
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