DRAGON

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DRAGON ; 1. One of the northern constellations. Fable says that Juno translated to the heavens the dragon which kept tlie golden apples in the chamber of the Hesperides, and was slain by Hercules. 2. The dragon of fable. The fabulous stories of this monster reach back almost as far as history. His form is described os most terrible, and his residence has been assigned to almost all countries, particularly that, part of India and Africa that was formerly unknown. His length is represented from 20 to 70 ells. Of the latter sort was the dragon which lived in India, according to iElian, in the time of Alexander the Great, and was venerated as a god. The dragon is described as having no feet, but as crawling like a serpent, his body covered with scales, and his neck, according to some accounts, adorned with a mane. These relations are almost all contradictory, and agree only in thisthat the dragon had very acute senses, especially a piercing vision. His strength was so great that he could easily strangle an elephant. His food consisted of the blood and flesh of all sorts of animals, and of various fruits. Notwithstanding his ferocity, however, the dragon might be confined and lamed, which the old authors represent as having happened in various cases. The animal which gave occasion to these fables is probably no other than the great boa constrictor. (See Boa.) The fabled dragon of the middle ages had four lion's 25* feet, a long, thick, serpent's tail, and an immense throat, from which streamed flames of fire. This dragon played a distinguished part in the ages of chivalry : he is one of those monsters whom it was the business of the heroes of romance to destroy. The idea of the dragon of the middle ages probably grew out of indistinct and exaggerated accounts of the crocodile of the Nile, which were brought to Europe by means of the crusades, and from similar descriptions of the largest land serpents. Even at the present day, the existence of dragons is fully believed in by the inhabitants of certain countries. 3. The researches of modern naturalists have served to explode this and many other fictions connected with the history of animals; and, at the present day, the curious inquirer, who seeks for the celebrated dragon, will be disappointed in discovering that the animal to which the name properly belongs, is not an untamable and ferocious monster, but an inoffensive lizard, a few inches long, formidable to nothing but the small insects on which it feeds. The love of gain often makes the natives of warm climates guilty of the most ingenious frauds on the credulity of strangers, for whom they prepare, with great art, fictitious animals, which are purchased by the ignorant, as genuine dragons, mermaids, &c. In this way, illinformed travellers are led occasionally to revive the fable of the existence of the dragon. Two species of dragonlizard are described by naturalists, but it is most probable that the second is merely a variety of the first (D. volans), which is said to inhabit Asia, Africa, and South America. Length, seldom exceeding 12 inches ; body lacertiform ; sides furnished with peculiar productions of the skin, supported by internal cartilaginous rays, which, when expanded, enable it to support itself in the air for a few seconds, in springing from branch to branch, among the lofty trees in which it resides; body and wings covered by small scales; back slightly carinate; throat with the skin produced into a. pouchshaped expansion, which is inflated with air, at the pleasure of the animal. The food consists almost exclusively of insects. Color varied with blackish, brown and whitish. The proportions of the animal are delicate, and it is very active. Dried specimens, preserved in the cabinets of the curious, do not give a good idea of the animal, as the process of drying destroys the proportions ; and it is also to be regretted that few engraved figures are commendable for their fidelity