On Classification of European Dragons.
Dragons firmly settled down in European mythology long ago. Ancient Greeks already knew about these strange creatures, and in Middle Ages dragons were so common that they were apparently tamed and domesticated. Anyhow, although Roman legionnaires were utterly impressed by Hannibal's elephants, such tricks were unable to surprise Crusaders, because their own troops included riding dragons. And only afterwards, when dragons were virtually made extinct, the word "dragoon", that originally meant "dragon rider", began to mean simple cavalrymen.
Alas, antiquity and Middle Ages have left only a few legends about mysterious monsters. Naturalists of ancient times have failed to describe the rare beast, and only since the Renaissance we gain clear enough insight into the nature of dragons.
The first problem any serious dragonologist has to confront is the problem of classification. European dragon definitely differs from dragons from Eastern Asia. Chinese and Japanese dragons are either spirits of rain - harmless creatures resembling frogs, living in some puddle and bearing humiliation from any scoundrel; or someting virtual like white dragon that cannot even be imagined.
European dragon is always real, utterly dangerous and ill-tempered. Other parameters have a wide range, and this fact enforces us to introduce additional classification.
West-european dragon is the one that experiences unbearable craving for gold and beautiful maids. Unlike its east-european colleague it can't breathe fire and... doesn't fly. Of course, it has FLOWN from somewhere, often it even has wings, but it almost never uses them, and the battle with a dragon ALWAYS occurs on the ground. Moreover, if Barbara Hambly is right, it is only possible to kill a dragon by attacking it from above. The strange phenomenon of flying-non-flying dragons has never been appropriately researched.
The second peculiarity lies in the fact that the west-european dragons don't eat or breed. I.e. no one has ever seen a new-born dragonling, and no one has seen a dragon eating. All the time they are not kidnapping princesses they spend guarding or multiplying their treasures, while the maids are kidnapped for some ritual purposes, since uncommonly often they remain alive and well.
It has to be noted that a west-european dragon is not very big, it cannot cover half of the sky by itself, its appearance is dangerous but not apocalyptic. When St. George (a typical knight) penetrated a dragon, he was riding a horse, stabbing it with a lance that pointed downwards. It means that the creature was as tall as a meter and a half [5 feet]. Maybe the saint did not come across the largest of dragons, but it is unlikely that even the most huge west-european dragon's height exceeded two meters and a half [8 feet].
East-european dragon is much more bulky and less fantastic than his western brethren. It is a definite beast, that flies, spits fire and is quite voracious. While a Frankish knight attacks a dragon that lies on the ground, a Slavic hero has to repulse the swoops of the filthy serpent, which is airborne. The captives, whom the filthy serpent seizes in Russian lands, are required only as food. There is nothing uncommon in the fact that human meat is stored alive, some species of wasps do the same thing, paralysing, yet not killing caught caterpillars.
As for dragons with many heads, that are common in Slavic legends, pan Stanislaw Lem proved that many-headed dragons can not exist in reality because of reasons psychological rather than physiological. So, what is the source of endless mentioning of three-, seven- and more- headed dragons? There are several explanations of this phenomenon:
First of all, observers who described the appearance of the filthy serpent, may have confused some other ogran with a head. For example, it is known that the serpent has such limbs as proboscises ("So I'll clasp you, Dobrynya, in trunks...") If even an insignificant bulge is present on the end of this "proboscis", it can be easily confused with a head. Curiously, "trunks" are always in plural, so it is not an enlarged upper lip that we see in elephants, but something like agile tentacles. Of surface animals, some species of spiders or gryllotalpae have such organs.
It is also possible that the explanation of the phenomenon is that the observer sees not one but many dragons. It is widely known that the east-european dragon beeeds quite well. The newly arrived hero near the lair first of all tramples on young serpentlings and only then starts the battle with the dragon. (It's not surprising at all that the new-born dragons can't fly). A great number of species don't expose their spawn (like the same spiders or boat-flies), but carry them on their own back. If six of the east-european dragonlings would sit on the back of their parent, the observer standing on the ground would see something with seven heads. It appears that he wouldn't have both time and desire to examine the scene more thoroughly. A dragonfighter could of course find out that his foe is not alone, but it seems that the filthy serpent laden with children is not inclined to engage in dubious battle, especially when it has the initiative.
It is tempting to classify the dragons basing on color and characteristics of their blood. The east-european dragon's blood is always black. It is not poisonous (a hero sometimes stands sumberged in blood up to the neck for three days) and it does not mix with water (Mother-Wet-Earth doesn't absorb the blood and at last it flows away through a spear-made fissure in the ground). The west-european dragon's blood at least inflicts burns while more often it brings fast and agonizing death. According to some sources, such blood is green; other authors contend that it is of a yellowish orange hue. It has to be noted that dragon blood is never blue. So, we can cast aside the suggestion that dragons are genetically related with cephalopodae.
So, we have enough facts to start setting up hypotheses. I call attention of the enlightened public to the following thesis, that I am going to prove: all proposed classifications of european dragons are deeply erroneous, because the european dragon is a single species and therefore cannot be subjected to further specific classification. The differences between the dragons that we find in literature, are just sexual differences. It is easy to note that in such a system the west-european dragon is a male, while the east-european is a female.
This suggestion explains all peculiarities of dragons and has prognostic power that, in natural-science disciplines, is a criteria of a proposed hypothesis's accuracy.
It is now clear why the western dragon doesn't have children and the eastern one does. The food base differences are also easily explained. The female who has to bear and raise a large number of children, has to eat high-energy protein food, while the male after fulfilling his function can be herbivorous (like male mosquitos) or even lack eating organs at all (like some spiders, mayflies, etc). It is interesting to note that the female mosquitos have a proboscis, or, more exactly, seven (!), proboscises, while her husband doesn't have any.
So, such a picture begins to unfold: somewhere near the Carpathians the spring swarming of dragons happens. The impregnated females fly to the East and there, near the Wild Field, they nest and grow children, feeding them with nomads and people caught in Russian cities. By the way, kidnapping of a duke's daughter that often occurs in the Russian epic, is a classical response of a female whose children have died.
The males exhausted by love migrate to the West (it is dangerous to stay near the females, for they may consume males), where they are an easy prey of knights. Like drones or ant males, west-european dragons don't lose wings but don't use them anymore. This is how the obvious non-flying of winged dragons can be explained.
The fact that dragon females are much bigger than males is also not surprising at all, we can see the same phenomenon with most insects.
It would be quite reasonable to suppose that male dragons are far more numerous than females. Such an assumption perfectly chimes in with basic biological theories as well as myths of different nations. In this case, a large number of west-european dragons can't satisfy their sexual instinct. Many living beings in such situations change sexual orientation. Sexually unsatisfied dragon starts to steal or extort women. The differences in anatomy of dragons and humans are so great that the captives are absolutely useless for the kidnapper, but the instinct is inexorable and it hastens the coming of the unlucky animal's death.
The question about dragon blood is a great obstacle on the victorious way of the new theory. Indeed, biologically compatible creatures should have identical blood. But this objection is easily declined is we suppose that the liquid streaming from a wound is not always blood. After all, even from Jesus Christ's wound "came out blood and WATER". If we suppose that male dragons were herbivorous, then "green blood" can be the contents of the stomach eructated at the moment of danger. That's what some grasshoppers do when they spit on themselves with digestive juices. Of course it was noted above that no one ever mentioned what do western dragons eat, but upon consideration, there is nothing strange in it. Pasturing dragon! - what could be more ridiculous? What normal knight would tell about it even if he saw such a scene with his own eyes? At least he will lie describing a terrific predator. Is there a lot of glory in vanquishing even a very big cow? The biblical hippopotamus lost all its charm when Europeans saw it pasturing (by the way, the biblical description of a hippopotamus rather resembles a dragon than a behemoth).
Poisonous yellowish orange blood can be either real blood or some other physiological liquid. After all, yellowish orange (and poisonous!) blood flows in the veins of common ladybirds.
The poisonousness of dragon blood is worth a separate discussion, for it sheds light on many peculiariries in the behaviour of male dragons.
It is known from literary sources that not only the blood of a dragon is poisonous but so is its breath (we remember that the east-european dragon has a fire breath). Such a phenomenon can be observed only if the poison in the blood is inorganic. Prussic acid is also possible but is smells like bitter almond and this smell is too familiar for the Europeans not to mention it. Moreover, the smell of bitter almond can't be called fetid, and all authors come to a conclusion that the breath of the monster is foul. So, only sulphur compounds (hydrogen sulphide and mercaptanes) or arsenic compounds (arsine and its derivatives) can be the poisonous substance in the west-european dragon's blood.
Here we face a new difficulty: there is very little sulphur in vegetable food and no arsenic at all. So, a dragon experiencing a need in this minerals will have to search them.
The chief minerals that contain sulphur are pyrite and chalcopyrite, arsenic is found only as orpiment. The distinctive feature of all three minerals is bright yellow metallic glitter. Pyrite and chalcopyrite were called "frogs' gold" by Russian geologists. It is not surprising that a huge weak-sighted beast roving through caves and gorges and searching for delicious rocks was often mistaken. Having returned to the lair it tasted the found rock and realized that instead of desired chalcopyrite it brought home a lump of gold. Abandoned ignots and nuggets covered the cave floor bit by bit, giving birth to numerous rumors and inducing greedy humans to hunt the lonely beast.
We have explained all previously inexplicable oddities in the behavior of west-european dragons. Let's now proceed to the east-european, which the people's wisdom has correctly called by feminine name: filthy serpent. 1)
If we look into the characteristics of the filthy serpent's blood, it is easy to notice an amazing fact: it resembles petroleum very much. It is black, thick, not poisonous and does not mix with water. However, petroleum cannot be blood, i.e. oxygen carrier. Most likely, female dragons have the same yellowish orange blood which the males have, but it is impossible to notice under a thick layer of oil. Also it must be taken into consideration that blood is quickly absorbed by wet earth. Female dragon's blood must be less poisonous than blood of a male dragon because the filthy serpent doesn't have the time to roam searching for minerals, and the fire breath is a rather good defence.
It is not difficult to guess what does the dragon's organism need petroleum for, and where did dragons replentish their reserves. Since ancient times near Apsheron there were surface petroleum sources. Oil gathered in puddles and lakes, and female dragons from steppes beyond the Don river used it as a petroleuming place. They cautiously sucked up black liquid, satisfiedly breathed trying not to belch with flame, not to set the precious source on fire. Then they would spread their wings, make a farewell lap above the Caspian Sea and head north. Firebreath gland deeply grumbled in the the inflated crop, petroleum smoothly burned in it, hot air filled the hollows of the huge dragon's body, enabling it to float in the air.
Maybe this scene is too poetic, but otherwise dragons would just be unable to fly. And they used to fly like the first of zeppelins. The defensive function of the firebreath gland was therefore secondary, although its meaning was not reduced at all. In the right moment the unstriped muscles of the petroleum reservoire injected the spray through the throat, the firebreath gland worked as an igniter and the serpent turned into a living flamethrower. The stream of fire reached a length of a hundred meters [300 feet] and its effect was fascinating.
However, any arms expert will competently say that the burning oil itself is not very dangerous. Its effect would be much more fearsome if a thickening agent is added, turning oil into a sort of napalm. Alas, neither seringa nor kok-saghyz grow in our lands - of all rubber-bearing plants only dandelion can be found, and it is a plant too insignificant to take it into consideration. However, the sneaky evolution has found a way out even here.
Ancient chronicles have delivered stories about the horrible weapon of the Byzanthians - the Greek fire. This barbaric weapon resembled napalm in all things. It is usually thought that the secret of Greek fire is lost. It is not true, but the secret was too monstrous to speak about it loudly. For the purposes of thikening, the Greek fire included human fat. This substance doesn't let the petroleum to spread on the water surface, it burns very well and of course it sticks to human skin and because of that it is impossible to shake down the flame.
The same "thickening agent" was used by dragons to generate fire. That's why the filthy serpent was not satisfied with the herds of saigas and antelopes, but instead with rare persistence it would attack Russian cities, preferring fatty Zabava Putyatichna and not the more skinny ones.
By the way, the main reason of almost total extinction of dragons was not the activity of knights, shooting off the exhaust stock of males, but the technical revolution that was the reason of disappearance of petroleum sources about two centuries ago. The dragons had to rob kerosene stores and that, we must confess, doesn't help the growth of population.
Some biologically unsophisticated readers may consider the "scheme of firebreath gland" questionable. It resembles a machine too much: a fireproof chamber with everburning igniter, injectors, sprays... However a biologist will easily prove that far more sophisticated systems exist in the nature. Let's take, for example, the bombardier beetle. There is a reaction chamber and even TWO glands in its body. The first one produces hydroquinone, while the other produces hydrogen peroxide. The active liquids mix in the reaction chamber, the exothermic reaction immediately begins and boiling water throws the mixture out of the beetle's body a moment before the explosion. It would seem that the reliability of such a system is close to zero, but never has a beetle misfired or died in a premature flash. The firebreath compared with this system looks like a child's toy.
So, we uncovered all secrets of dragons' life, and also the secret of their death. However, the capabilities of a real theory are not limited by explaining of known facts. A hypothesis becomes a theory only if it has predictive power.
Let me remind you that the theme of the work is: "On Classification of European Dragons" We have proved by now that the European dragons are a single species, but we did not say a word about class, order and familia this species can belong to.
At the first glance the question seems unsignificant and the answer obvious. Since ancient times dragons were regarded reptiles. However, we only have to remember that cetaceans were regarded as fish and the obviousness of the answer will dissipate.
So, what class of living beings do the dragons belong to?
For examples illustrating principal accuracy of our conclusions we used wasps, fen-crickets, spiders, boat-flies, mosquitos, bees, ants, grasshoppers, ladybirds, bombardier beetles... So what? Dragons are insects? To tell the truth, we also mentioned Jesus Christ... The author is far from the idea of regarding Jesus Christ as an insect, however the idea of dragons' belonging to anthropodae requires further discussion.
Let's start from the contrary. If you take a magnifying glass and peer at any hexapod, you will see a dragon. It's just the size that is spoiling the whole thing. But, if we ponder over it, what doesn't let insects grown to the size of a good dinosaur? First of all it's breath and inconvinient hydraulic muscles. The air that naturally flows through the tracheae is enough to provide oxygen for a dragonfly, but not a dragon. The only way to circumvent this obstacle is to create a powerful compensatory mechanism that will significantly increase the flow of air through outer tracheae. In a furnace such feed is managed with the help of flame. That's the secret of fire breathing dragons! The firebreath gland appeares to be very multifunctional. The use of flame as not only a weapon but also as an engine is a secondary function of the ingenious nature. The main function of the fire breath is breathing.
The weak males that lacked oil feeding had to use a more complicated compensatory mechanism. The required draught in the tracheae was created by catalytic oxidation of mercaptan and arsine to sulphur dioxide and arsenious anhydride. These substances helped increase the foul stench that surrounded the dragon's lair. It is doubtful that a human would be able to breath in such an athmosphere, but a dragon couldn't breath without it.
And the hydraulic muscle remains a weak spot of any dragon. Any dragonslayer knows that it is enough to pierce the indestructible armour (chitin?) of the dragon and its movements will slow down, become disorderly and vanquishing it will be only a matter of time.
It is not difficult to foresee that this article will cause indignation among the people who are far from natural sciences.
" Dragon! ", a philologist would exclaim, " it is a universal symbol, it's a monster! And what is an insect? Total insensibility, ephemera... pin it and add to a collection!.."
I will not argue with these people, I'll just remind you that in the tales of Verhovina, i.e. the lands where the dragons swarm, a dragonslayer hero Pokatigoroshek asks a smith to forge him a weapon out of a... pin.
You are free to make conclusions.
And, finally, the last thing. For many years now there have been no reports about dragons. No one gathers treasures, no one steals anaemic French maids and plump Russians. Could the dragons have really become extinct, becoming another grave by the merciless road of progress? I don't want to believe in that. And I hope that somewhere among the impassable Carpathian steeps there still are anthropod titans. Male dragons do not migrate to the west and die like lambs to be eaten by their children, and females don't migrate to steppes long since ploughed. Human greed has taken the ore from the surface, destroyed the lifebringing oil springs. The dragons do not fly anymore, they simply try not to suffocate, not to starve. If it's not too late...
Luckily, several important oil pipelines run through Western Ukraine. And with quiet joy I watch the Russian media shout about Russian oil disappearing in Ukraine. The irresponsible journalists accuse the sister Ukrainian nation of theft. And I, hearing all this nonsense, imagine how the last surviving dragons cautiously approach the pipeline, turn on a tap with a shaky paw and drink the life bringing oil...
So, there is still hope. And before the irremediable happens, I urge to make special drinking bowls for dragons along the pipelines. The maintenance cost and the loss of oil can be written off as expenses for "nature-conservative measures". And then above the vast expanses of our motherland wondrous fire creatures will fly again and the Russian peasant, turning away from the plow and looking at the sky, will say:
" The dragons are flying. Guess it's going to rain"
(c) Sviatoslav Loginov, 1997
(c) Translation from Russian - Denis Lianda, 2002
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