dragon

General - A fire-breathing monster, usually with wings. This beast appears in many forms in many mythologies. Some dragons have the power to become invisible. (1) In alchemy they were said to have different characteristics and could affect substances such as metals. For example, those with wings represented volatile materials. Other dragons are described as having the body of a leopard and the feet of a bear; others as having two horns. Some were said to be able to heal their own wounds. (2) In China, the dragon is a monster with a camel's head, fish scales, the hooves of a deer and clawed legs like a tiger. This beast, which can be very small or enormous, is said to carry a jewel under its chin and may disgorge pearls. Some say that it lives in the oceans during the winter months and ascends to the heavens in the spring. In some versions, there are three main types, the lung (or long), the li and the chiao. Other versions have it as a fierce winged beast that breathes fire, while some claim that it can expand or contract and change into any shape. The ten dragons of Buddhism are reduced to four, one for each of the seas. These, the Dragon Kings, are Kuang-te (east), Kuang-li (south), Kuang-jun (west) and Kuang-she (north). An alternative listing gives Ao Kuang (east), Ao K'in (south), Ao Jun (west) and Ao Shun (north). (3) In Greek stories the dragon was the animal of Bacchus. It appears in various stories often as a guardian of treasure such as the Apples of the Hesperides sought by Heracles, and the Golden Fleece in the story of the Argonauts. In the story of Cadmus, he killed a dragon and sowed its teeth like seed, producing a crop of soldiers. Some of these teeth appear again in the story of the Argonauts, also producing soldiers from the earth. (4) In Japan the dragon is a mythical beast thought to hatch from an egg after 3,000 years. The first 1,000 years were spent in the sea, the second in the mountains and the third in a village. The egg contained a tiny snake that, as soon as it was hatched, grew into a huge dragon which flew into the sky. Five of the many dragons in Japanese lore are regarded as guardians of the various quarters of the world; the Black Dragon rules the north, the Red Dragon the south, the Blue Dragon the east and the White Dragon the west, while the Yellow Dragon rules the centre. Occasionally called dragon, Aubry's dog, Aubry's dog, Dog of Montargis, Dragon or Auberijn.

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