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Argeiphontes in Homer—The Dragon-Slayer

  • S. Davis

According to Elliot Smith, the dragon ‘is most intimately associated with the earliest stratum of divinities, for it has been homologized with each of the members of the earliest Trinity, the Great Mother, the Water God, and the Warrior Sun God, both individually and collectively. To add to the complexities of the story, the dragon-slayer is also represented by the same deities, either individually or collectively; and the weapon with which the hero slays the dragon is also homologous both with him and his victim, for it is animated by him who wields it, and its powers of destruction make it a symbol of the same power of evil which it itself destroys.’

Wherever it is found the dragon displays a special partiality for water. It dwells in pools or wells or in the clouds on the tops of mountains, or at the bottom of the sea where it guards vast treasures, or even on the top of a high mountain. It has the same characteristics everywhere, for the dragon of the North is essentially the same as that of the South and the East, an evil power, guarding hoards and withholding good things from men. ‘The slaying of a dragon is the achievement of heroes—of Siegmund, of Beowulf, of Sigurd, of Arthur, of Tristram…But if in the West the dragon is usually a “power of evil”, in the far East he is equally emphatically a symbol of beneficence. He is identified with emperors and kings; he is the son of heaven, the bestower of all bounties.’

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page 33 note 1 Smith, G. Elliot, The Evolution of the Dragon (Longmans, 1919), pp. 7778; cf. ibid., p. 81. The dragon is actually a composite wonder-beast ranging from western Europe to the Far East of Asia and to America. ‘In most places where the dragon occurs the substratum of its anatomy consists of a serpent or a crocodile usually with the scales of a fish for covering, and the feet and wings, and sometimes also the head, of an eagle, falcon or hawk, and the forelimbs and sometimes the head of a lion.’ Cf. Swinburne, A. C. ‘Hertha’, in the Oxford Book of English Verse (Clarendon Press, 1912), p. 925: ‘I am stricken, and I am the blow. I the mark that is miss'd And the arrows that miss.’

page 33 note 2 Cf. Birrell, Augustine, Essays, 1899, ii. 140: ‘From the dragon-warder'd fountains Where the springs of knowledge are.’

page 33 note 3 Elliot Smith, op. cit., pp. 81–82.

page 33 note 4 Ibid., pp. 78 ff. Elliot Smith would trace back the mythical conflict of hero and dragon to the earliest known of such conflicts, that between Osiris (later, his son Horus) and his enemy Set. Cf. p. 137. Set, the enemy of Osiris, is the real prototype of the evil dragon and so the prototype of Satan. The Biblical references to Satan identify him with the dragon who is mentioned (Rev. xx. 2)

page 34 note 1 Sophocles, fr. 1024. See Pearson, , The Fragments of Sophocles (Cambridge, 1917), vol. iii, p. 139.

page 34 note 2 Homer, Od. i. 38; v. 43.

page 34 note 3 Oxf. Class. Dict. s.v. ‘Argos’, article by Rose, p. 88.

page 34 note 4 Aesch, . Prom. Vinctus 678.

page 34 note 5 Aesch. Supp. 305 ‘Aργoν, τòν ‘Eρμς παδα γς κατέκταν∊ν.

page 34 note 6 Cf. Stanford, W. B., The Odyssey of Homer (Macmillan, London, 1947), p. 294.

page 34 note 7 A Greek-English Lexicon, compiled by Liddell, H. C. and Scott, R., new edition revised by Sir Stuart-Jones, H. with the assistance of R. McKenzie (Oxford, 1940).

page 34 note 8 Cornutus, , Theologiae Graecae Compendium, Teubner Series (Leipzig, 1881), p. 21: ἀργ∊ıφóντης δέ ἐστiν oòν ἀργ∊i;φóντης ἀπò τo λ∊υκς π༁ντα φαíν∊ıν καì σαφıηνí∊ıν—τò γἀρ λ∊υκòν ἀργòν κἀλoυν oí πıαλαioí— ἀφıò τσ κατἀ τὴν φıωνήν ταχÚτητoσ—καì γἀρ τò ταχÙ ἀργòν λέγ∊ταı

page 35 note 1 Soph. fr. 1024.

page 35 note 2 Pausanias, fr. 65 in Aelii Dionysii et Pausaniae Atticistarum Fragmenta, ed. Schwabe, E. (Leipzig, 1890). Cf. Eustathius 11, p. 183, 13: ἀργ∊ïφıóντης óòφıioκτóνoς. ργην γἁρ, φıησíν νioi τòν ðφıiν καλoσiν.

Cf. Hesychius i, p. 273 (Nauck, , Tr. fr. adesp. 199): ðφıiν. στi δὲ ἐπıíθ∊τoν δρἀκoντoς. For ἀργς = ðφıiς see Harpocratio, p. 32. 15, partly reproduced by Bekker, I. in Anecdota Graeca (3 vols. Berlin, 1814–21), p. 442. 29.

page 35 note 3 Cf. Liddell and Scott, s.v. ἀργς

page 35 note 4 Aeschines 2. 99; Cf. Plut, . Demosth. 4ó δ' Ἀργς…ἐτέθη τòν γἀρ ðφıiν νioı τν πıoiητν ἀργν òνoμἁoυσiν, “argas' being one of the poetical words for snake’.

page 35 note 5 Etym. Gud. edited by De Stefani, E. L. (Leipzig, 1909, 1920), p. 185: 'Aργ∊ïφıòντης ò ρμς πıαρ’ Ὁμήρω καì πıαρἀ πıo;λλo;ς πıαρὰ δὲ σo;φıoκλ∊ καì ἐπıì τo 'Aπıóλλωνoς καì πıαρἀ ∏αρθ∊νìω καì τo Tηλ∊φıo.

page 35 note 6 Aesch, . Prom. V. 569, 677; Supp. 304.

page 35 note 7 Harrison, Jane, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (Cambridge, 1908), pp. 232–3, 236.

page 36 note 1 Aesch, . Eumenid. 128.

page 36 note 2 Aesch, . Supp. 304.

page 36 note 3 Jeffreys, M. D. W., ‘Snake-Stones’, Journal of the Royal African Society, October 1942, p. 252.

page 36 note 4 Oxf. Class. Dict., p. 88, s.v. ‘Argos’.

page 36 note 5 Aesch, . Prom. V. 567–8:δωλoν ‘Aργoυ γηγ∊νoς… φıoβoμαı τòν μυρıωπıòν ∊ìσoρσα βoύταν

page 36 note 6 Garnier, J., The Worship of the Dead (Chapman and Hall, London, 1904), p. 109.

page 36 note 7 The name Asklepios is connected by some with ἀσκ;λβoς ‘serpent’ or ‘lizard’. Asklepios not only cured all the sick but called the dead back to life again (Pindar, Pyth. iii). The essential part of his temple worship was the sleeping in the temple itself (incubatio), where an oracle through a dream revealed to the patient the method of cure (Arist. Plut. 421 ff.). For Trophonios see Paus. ix. 36. 6. He was said to inhabit a cave in the shape of a snake: snakes were sacred to him as they were to Asklepios.

page 37 note 1 Holland, L. B. in American Journal of Archaeology, vol. xxxvii (1933) p. 206, note 3.

page 37 note 2 Ibid., p. 206.

page 37 note 3 Paus. vii. 22. 2–3.

page 37 note 4 Homeric Hymn to Hermes, 550 ff.

page 37 note 5 Aelian, , de Nat. An. xi. 2.

page 37 note 6 Dionysos occasionally appears in snake form. The snake appears in his rites: a consecrated serpent was the symbol of the Dionysiac orgies. Cf. Eur. Bacc. 101, 687, 1017; Ath. v. 28; Clem. Alex, . Protr. ii. 12.

page 37 note 7 Herod. vii. 111 πıρóμαντıς γυνὴ υρέoυσα κατπı∊ρἐν δ∊λφıoσı

page 37 note 8 Cf. Hastings, , Encyc. of Religion and Ethics, xi. 400, s.v. ‘Serpent-worship’. Cf. Massey, G., The Natural Genesis (Williams and Norgate, London, 1883), p. 300.

page 38 note 1 For the omphalos as the grave-mound of the Python snake cf. Varro, , de Ling. Lat. vii. 17‘et terrae medium—non hoc, sed quod vocant—Delphis in aede ad latus est quiddam ut thesauri specie, Graeci vocant òμφıαλóν quem Pythonos aiunt esse tumulum’.

page 38 note 2 For the Pythia as the medium of the snake god Cf. Hastings, , Encyc. of Religion and Ethics, vol. xi, s.v. ‘Serpent-worship’, p. 400. Cf. also Massey, G., The Natural Genesis, p. 300.

page 38 note 3 For the phiale as a divining bowl associated with the snake cult cf. Genesis xliv. 2, where the verb ‘to divine’, used in connexion with Joseph's divining cup, comes from the root meaning ‘snake’, ‘serpent’. Cf. also Budge, Sir W. Wallis, Amulets and Superstitions (Oxford, 1930), pp. 443, 445–6.

page 38 note 4 For the tripod as the sacred stool of the snake-god cf. Budge, Sir Wallis, Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection, vol. ii (London, 1911), p. 96. Cf. Also Hyginus, , Fab. 140, and Rattray, R. S., Ashanti (Oxford, 1923), p. 92.

page 38 note 5 For healing powers associated with the snake cult cf. Smith, W. R., The Religion of the Semites (A. & C. Black Ltd., London, 1927), pp. 168 ff. For the healing powers of Asclepios the serpent God cf. Pindar, , Pyth. iii. For prophetic powers associated with the snake cult cf. Orosius, , adv. Pagan. Hist. vi. 15‘Pythone serpente interfecto totius vaticinationis auctore et principe’; and Hyginus, , Fab. 140 ‘ante Apollinem responsa dare solitus’.

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