Cartoon Showing The Way Photography
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Dragon, in the mythologies, legends, and folktales of various cultures, a large lizard- or serpent-like creature, conceived in some traditions as evil and in others as beneficent. In medieval Europe, dragons were usually depicted with wings and a barbed tail and as breathing fire. In Greece the word drakōn, from which the English word was derived, was used originally for any large serpent (see sea serpent), and the dragon of mythology, whatever shape it later assumed, remained essentially a snake.
In general, in the Middle Eastern world, where snakes are large and deadly, the serpent or dragon was symbolic of the principle of evil. Thus, the Egyptian god Apepi, for example, was the great serpent of the world of darkness. But the Greeks and Romans, though accepting the Middle Eastern idea of the serpent as an evil power, also at times conceived the drakontes as beneficent—sharp-eyed dwellers in the inner parts of Earth. On the whole, however, the evil reputation of dragons was the stronger, and in Europe it outlived the other. Christianity confused the ancient benevolent and malevolent serpent deities in a common condemnation. In Christian art the dragon came to be symbolic of sin and paganism and, as such, was depicted prostrate beneath the heels of saints and martyrs.
The dragon’s form varied from the earliest times. The Chaldean dragon Tiamat had four legs, a scaly body, and wings, whereas the biblical dragon of Revelation, “the old serpent,” was many-headed like the Greek Hydra. Because they not only possessed both protective and terror-inspiring qualities but also had decorative effigies, dragons were early used as warlike emblems, as indicated in the story of King Agamemnon (from Homer’s Iliad), who had on his shield a blue three-headed snake, and in the practice among Norse warriors of painting dragons on their shields and carving dragons’ heads on the prows of their ships. In England before the Norman Conquest, the dragon was chief among the royal ensigns in war, having been instituted as such, according to Arthurian legend, by Uther Pendragon, King Arthur’s father. In the 20th century the dragon was officially incorporated in the armorial bearings of the prince of Wales.
In East Asian mythologies the dragon retains its prestige and is conceived as a beneficent creature. The Chinese dragon, lung, represents yang, the principle of heaven, activity, and maleness in the yinyang of Chinese cosmology. From ancient times it was the emblem of the imperial family, and until the founding of the republic (1911) the dragon adorned the Chinese flag. The dragon came to Japan with much of the rest of Chinese culture, and there (as ryū or tatsu) it became capable of changing its size at will, even to the point of becoming invisible. Both Chinese and Japanese dragons, though regarded as powers of the air, are usually wingless. They are among the deified forces of nature in Daoism. Dragons also figure in the ancient mythologies of other Asian cultures, including those of Korea, India, and Vietnam.
The term dragon has no zoological meaning, but it has been applied in the Latin generic name Draco to a number of species of small lizards found in the Indo-Malayan region. The name is also popularly applied to the giant monitor, Varanus komodoensis, discovered on Komodo Island and a few neighbouring islands of the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia.
The dragon is a mythical creature typically depicted as a large and powerful serpent or other reptile with magical or spiritual qualities. Although dragons (or dragon-like creatures) occur commonly in legends around the world, different cultures have perceived them differently. Chinese dragons, and Eastern dragons generally, are usually seen as benevolent and spiritual, representative of primal forces of nature and the universe, and great sources of wisdom. In contrast, European dragons, as well as some cultures of Asia Minor such as the ancient Persian Empire, were more often than not malevolent, associated with evil supernatural forces and the natural enemy of humanity. The most notable exception is the Ouroborus, or the dragon encircling and eating its own tail. When shaped like this the dragon becomes a symbol of eternity, natural cycles, and completion. Dragons are commonly said to possess some form of magic or other supernormal powers, the most famous being the ability to breathe fire from their mouths.
4 European Mythology
4.1 Slavic mythology
4.2 Germanic and Norse mythology
4.3 British Mythology
4.4 Basque mythology
4.5 Italian mythology
5 Literature and fiction
9 External links
Over the years dragons have become the most famous and recognizable of all mythical creatures, used repeatedly in fantasy, fairy tales, video-games, film, and role-playing games of pop culture fame. While still seen as powerful and often dangerous to humankind, the latter part of the twentieth century saw a change in attitude, with the good qualities of dragons becoming more prominent. No longer must all dragons be defeated by the hero or saint, some are ready to share their wisdom with human beings and act as companions, friends, and even guardians of children—roles that parallel those of the angels.
The word "dragon" has etymological roots as far back as ancient Greek, in the verb meaning "to see strong." There were several similar words in contemporary languages of the time that described some form of clear sight, but at some point, the Greek verb was fused with the word for serpent, drakon (δράκον). From there it worked its way to the Latin language, where it was called Draconis, meaning "snake" or "serpent." In the English language, the Latin word was split into several different words, all similar: Dragon became the official name for the large, mythical creatures, while variations on the root, such as "draconian," "draconic," and "draconical" all came to be adjectives describing something old, rigid, out of touch with the world, or even evil.
Dragons generally fit into two categories in European lore: The first has large wings that enable the creature to fly, and it breathes fire from its mouth. The other corresponds more to the image of a giant snake, with no wings but a long, cylindrical body that enables it to slither on the ground. Both of these types are commonly portrayed as reptilian, hatching from eggs, with scaly bodies, and occasionally large eyes. Modern depictions of dragons are very large in size, but some early European depictions of dragons were only the size of bears, or, in some cases, even smaller, around the size of a butterfly. Some dragons were personified to the point that they could speak and felt emotions, while others were merely feral beasts.
The ancient Mesopotamian god Marduk and his dragon, from a Babylonian cylinder seal
Scholars have attempted to uncover the true source of dragon legends since reports of the ancient creatures themselves have been made public. While it is most probable that dragons in the form popular today never did exist, there is evidence to suggest that perhaps the belief in dragons was based on something real. Some have looked to dinosaurs as the answer.
It is known that ancient cultures, such as the Greeks and Chinese found fossil remains of large creatures they could not easily identify. Such fossils have been held responsible for the creation of other mythical creatures, so it is possible that the belief in dragons could have been fostered in the remains of real animals.
Some take this hypothesis a step further and suggest that dragons are actually a distant memory of real dinosaurs passed down through the generations of humanity. This belief explains why dragons appear in nearly every culture, as well as why the dragon is more closely recognizable as a dinosaur than any other animal. However, such theories disregard the accepted timeline of the Earth's history, with human beings and dinosaurs separated by sixty-five million years, and therefore are disregarded by mainstream scholars. It is more likely that a lack of understanding of nature, certain fossils, a stronger connection with the supernatural, and even perhaps a widespread fear of snakes and reptiles all helped form the idea of the dragon.
Cadmus Sowing the Dragon's teeth, by Maxfield Parrish, 1908
Some of the earliest references to dragons in the west come from Greece. Herodotus, often called the "father of history," visited Judea c.450 B.C.E. and wrote that he heard of dragons, described as small, flying reptile-like creatures. He also wrote that he observed the bones of a large, dragon creature. The idea of dragons was not unique to Herodotus in Greek mythology. There are many snake or dragon legends, usually in which a serpent or dragon guards some treasure.
The first Pelasgian kings of Athens were said to be half human, half snake. Cadmus slew the water-dragon guardian of the Castalian Spring, and on the instructions of Athena, he sowed the dragon's teeth in the ground, from which there sprang a race of fierce armed men, called Spartes ("sown"), who assisted him to build the citadel of Thebes, becoming the founders of the noblest families of that city. The dragon Ladon guarded the Golden Apples of the Sun of the Hesperides. Another serpentine dragon guarded the Golden Fleece, protecting it from theft by Jason and the Argonauts. Similarly, Pythia and Python, a pair of serpents, guarded the temple of Gaia and the Oracular priestess, before the Delphic Oracle was seized by Apollo and the two serpents were draped around his winged caduceus, which he then gave to Hermes. These stories are not the first to mention dragon-like creatures, but perhaps mark the time in which dragons become popular in Western beliefs, since European culture was so heavily influenced by ancient Greece.
In medieval symbolism, dragons were often symbolic of apostasy and treachery, but also of anger and envy, and eventually symbolized great calamity. Several heads were symbolic of decadence and oppression, and also of heresy. They also served as symbols for independence, leadership, and strength. Many dragons also represent wisdom; slaying a dragon not only gave access to its treasure hoard, but meant the hero had bested the most cunning of all creatures. Joseph Campbell in the The Power of Myth viewed the dragon as a symbol of divinity or transcendence, because it represents the unity of Heaven and Earth by combining the serpent form (earthbound) with the bat/bird form (airborne).