Jacobus de Voraigne, 1498

Michael slays a Dragon. An illustration from The Golden Legend, 1498. (Jacobus de Voraigne, 1498)

By all accounts Basilisks are bullies and thugs, but some creatures labelled anti-social are simply misunderstood. Dragons, for example, are simple and gullible and easily led astray, but they are not all bad, as Jacobus de Voraine's thirteenth century collection of saints' lives, The Golden Legend, makes clear.

Voraigne tells us that when St Matthew the apostle was preaching in Ethiopia he encountered two sorcerers who had set their fire-breathing dragons on townsfolk. Rather than punish the dragons, the Saint simply gave them a jolly good talking to and sent them home, the lesson for us being that the dragons were not bad lads really but just hanging out with the wrong crowd. Unfortunately St Matthew was an exceptional character and most dragons have been victims of extreme prejudice, quite often ending up in someone’s museum of curiosities or magical potion.

Stradanus, 1630

A dragon hunt. (Stradanus, 1630) The motto of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is Draco dormiens numquam titillandus - Never tickle a sleeping dragon.

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