Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Athanasius Kircher's Natural History of Dragons

The following text is a translation of Athanasius Kircher's "De Draconibus" (here titled "A Natural History of Dragons"). "De Draconibus" is a chapter within Kircher's monumental study of all things underground, Mundus Subterraneus. While most of this work is scientific in the modern sense of the word, "De Draconibus" is a curious digression into learned fancy: Here Kircher demonstrates a fair degree of credulity with regard to second- and third-hand narratives which could only be considered folklore. However, it is also worth noting that we have in this text one of the first documented European attempts to account for fossils of extinct species, inasmuch as that is exactly what the dragon bones which Kircher observed undoubtedly were.

"A Natural History of Dragons" is the first piece of a collection entitled Kircher, Commodianus, and Pseudo-Strabo: Three Translations of Christian Latin. Copyright owned by Darius Matthias Klein, the translator.

A Natural History of Dragons – by Athanasius Kircher (1601/2-1680 CE)

There is a great deal of debate among writers with regards to dragons: do animals of this sort actually exist in nature, or, as is often the case in many other things, can they only be found in fables and fairy tales? And we also were stubbornly undecided for a long time as to whether these animals have ever in fact existed. At last, however, it was necessary for us to set aside our doubts; which we did easily, in light of having not only read excerpts from a variety of established authors, but also having heard the accounts of trustworthy eyewitnesses. Because monstrous animals of this kind (i.e., dragons) quite often make their nests and rear their young in underground caverns, we assert with a solid basis that they are a verifiable kind of subterranean species, in accordance with the worthy topic of this book.

We know for a fact from recent writers that this kind of animals is of two types: one winged, the other not. As to whether the first is in fact a living creature, no one can doubt this; nor ought he to doubt, unless he were to dare to contradict Holy Scripture (itself an unspeakable act), where in the Book of Daniel mention is quite plainly made of the dragon Bel, whose cult was maintained by the Babylonians. Dragons are also mentioned in various other places in Scripture, and it is quite plainly stated that animals of this sort make their lairs in the hidden depths of the earth; and that, when any means of egress is found, they emerge to cause great harm both to animals and to humans. We also find in the non-Christian accounts of Aristotle that, during the reign of Phillip of Macedon, two dragons dwelt underground in the caves of the nearby mountains, diffusing a toxin of such virulence that no one was able to travel there without peril to his life. And the existence of dragons, or rather serpents, of enormous size is entirely certain, for they are found everywhere, and most especially in Ethiopia, India, and in other places in the tropical zones under the present rule of various European maritime powers. A similar dragon can still be seen at Rome in the Museum of Cardinal Francis Barbarini, stuffed with pillow stuffing, having the length of fifteen palms, the width of one, and with two rows of formidable teeth. With regards to the winged dragons there is no agreement among the Authors, who for the most part deemed them to be imaginary. But they are contradicted both histories from all eras and eyewitness accounts as well. Winged dragons - small, large, and enormous - have occurred in every era in all parts of the globe; see Cardinal Barbarini, Book VII, Chapter 23, concerning winged dragons, which he himself claimed to have seen in the museum of Gulselm Asulica the Parisian. Here also we must make mention of the authoritative account of Bellon, who tells that he saw the complete bodies of winged dragons which he found in Egypt after a zealous search. He relates that it had a distended belly, two feet, two wings anatomically similar to those of bats, and the tail of a serpent. Aldeovarius relates in his Annals of 1551 that bodies of the dragons of this sort could be found preserved in his museum, which had been brought to him by Gabriel Barbarus and Franciscus of Crete. He describes them as having two feet, the skin of a snake - that is, covered all over with green and blackish scales, ears also like those of a snake, wings on its back appropriate for flying, and a long and crooked tail covered with protuberant scales. Their mouths are armed with fangs, which, although they were not of unusual size, still had the potential to grow over time, in the same way that the teeth of crocodiles or other such monsters grow continually as long as they are alive.

If anyone wishes to know more about dragons, they can be found in the pages of Aelian, Olaus Magnus, Panfanta, and Pliny. The reader may also come upon dragons in the lives of the saints, where they are killed or routed by saintly virtues. In the account of Matthias the Governor, one can learn of the dragon in Taurica of the Chersonnese, which was killed by the saintly virtues of the Virgin Mary. Syrius, in his Life of Saint Margaret, writes about an horrific dragon slain by the Saint Margaret's spirit-derived powers. Saint Jerome writes of a dragon handed over to hellfire in his Life of Saint Hilarion. In the Lives of Saints of Arsace of Nicomedia, dragons can be found in the accounts of the lives of Saints Donatus the Bishop, John the Abbot, Sylvester and Leo the Fourth, all Popes of the Roman Catholic Church; and in Syrius' Lives of Saints, Saints Theodore, Marcellus, and Crescentius; in the Metaphrastes and the Sozomenus, and in the writings of many others, all of whom describe the dragons as having been deadly creatures. The reader may also consult Fulgosius, Diodorus, Orasius (Book 4, Chapter 8), and Saint Augustine. Whether or not these dragons were winged dragons is not known. So let us go forward to those accounts which describe not only bipedal dragons, but the four-footed variety as well. Gesnerus first, and then Stumphinus, and in recent times Cysatus in his Description of the Cities of Switzerland, all say that the remote fastnesses and inaccessible caves of the Swiss Alps sustain a population of dragons, which delight in such places. Even now, according to the memories of men of recent generations, these creatures can be found there. Thus it is impossible to doubt the truth of these amazing monsters. But I shall also here treat of flying dragons, which witnesses describe as visible the air by the great flapping of their wings. The lesser kind of this variety, with which I shall begin, are the notorious flying snakes known to inhabit the land of the Egyptians. They are depicted them in the hieroglyphic inscriptions of that nation. Pliny, Aelian and Solinus confirm that to this very day it invariably happens that winged snakes come from Arabia to Egypt after the flooding of the Nile has occurred. Once there, their offspring are born as insects in the decaying matter of the muddy slime left behind by the flood.

In 1660, in the month of November, a Roman named Lanio was in the coastal marshes trapping birds. Instead of finding birds ran into a dragon about the size of a very large vulture. He judged it to be a bird and unloaded his shotgun into the creature. Wounding its wing in this way, he succeeded in enraging the beast. Then, in counterattack, the dragon charged the hunter, propelling itself headlong with a semi-flying run. When the hunter realized that he had used up his supply of ammunition, he cut its throat, and it died. After he had returned home on that same evening, he died himself, either from the toxicity of the creature's blood, or from the virulence of its breath. His entire body was suffused with poison. Since this was a matter which was of concern to the entire city, it occurred to a certain very curious person, who had been informed of the incident by a relative of the deceased hunter, to go to the location where the struggle had taken place. There he found the rotting body of the dragon. So that he could in all truthfulness bear witness to the matter, he brought back the dragon's head to the city. This was conveyed to me even as I wrote this treatise by the most expert Lord Jerome Lancta, curate of Cardinal Baberini's museum. This head was very carefully examined and I received the report that it was indeed a true dragon, with a double row of teeth just as one can find in a snake's mouth. The dragon itself was bipedal; and it had the bizarre feature of webbed feet, like those of a duck. It is on display for all to see in my own museum. It is an example of the bipedal type of winged dragon.

It is well-known that the winged basilisk is born from the egg of a chicken in its dotage - so well known, in fact, that anyone so insolent as to deny this would be considered insane (see the passage concerning this in our Treatise on Miraculous Crosses). Just as some smaller kinds of cabbage grow oversized flanking leaves, so some worms grow continuously into a large mass. Then at last they become a quadrupedal spoloumorph [meaning uncertain] by taking on bird-like wings from the inherent arrangement of the matter from which they are spawned. And these are the horrific winged dragons which we are now discussing. It can be read in the Life of Saint Mary the Magdalene that when the blessed lady sought a more secluded hideaway in the wilderness, she took leave of her home in Marseilles and settled down five leagues away in a certain mountainous tract of land. This area is today called Mount Beaume. She took up residence in a cave of one of Mount Beaume's loftier pinnacles; from here she could not be conveyed away, unless it was by angelic assistance. There, when she had come into conflict with a hideous dragon of unusual size, she ordered it in the name of Christ to depart at once. And when the saint's holy power had succeeded in driving off the creature, it flew away to a deserted locale on the Isle of Rhodes. At that time, Saint Martha was herself sojourning on the Isle of Rhodes. Eventually she captured the beast by means of both the great curses which she laid upon it and the hurried prayers of the local populace. They bound the monster with ropes and led it to that place which was later called Tarasco. It is said that there they killed it. I recall that I myself in 1632 saw an account of this incident in the Cathedral of Tarascus as I was traveling in the area. It was depicted pictorially with great artistry. And I shall here append two more accounts from this region. For from this area there are reports of flying dragons from so many and such reliable witnesses, that anyone, I think, who denies their veracity must be himself completely mad - unless, that is, he is one who, inasmuch as he has concluded that all human faith must be disregarded, cannot accordingly be categorized as a human being with a brain. One of these accounts can be found in Bosius' History of the Cult of Saint John of Jerusalem. The other is in John Cysatus' Description of Switzerland. We shall here briefly summarize each. From Bosius, who writes in Book II, page 45 in the aforementioned work:

"In the year of Our Lord 1345, when Clement VI was pope and while Elion of Villanova, Grand Magistrate of the Order, still lived, a memorable incident occurred which has awed the succeeding generations. There was on the Isle of Rhodes, not far from the Church of Saint Stephen's, a large cliff in which there was an extensive underground cavern with a stream trickling forth. In this cavern a dragon had made its nest - a horrid monster indeed, huge and terrifying to look upon. Not only had it preyed upon men and beast in great numbers alike all over the eastern part of the island with unspeakable savagery and rapaciousness, but it was corrupting the very air with its virulent breath. For this reason, no one was able without obvious danger to his life to approach the entrance to the dragon's lair. The Grand Magistrate instituted by public proclamation a ban on the attempt of anyone, whatever their condition or status, to go near the place. The prohibition applied even to knights, who risked death or the revocation of their knightly status should they defy it. From this a not undeserved name had remained for the place: Malpasso. There was at that time a knight living in Rhodes, who was a most noble youth endowed with great strength both of spirit and body. His name was Francisco Deodato of Gozon, for he had been born at Gascony. He deemed it a disgrace that no one, even from so many courageous soldiers and knights which lived nearby, had dared to oppose the monster. Prompted not only by a desire to work a great deed, but also by an infatuation with acquiring an immortal name for himself, the young knight perceived that there never had been a more suitable occasion to rid his homeland of the reputation for cowardice that it was acquiring by reason of its submission to the monstrous beast. And so he set out to provoke a heretofore unheard-of battle with this horrifying, raging monster, from whose multitude of oppressive evils he would liberate the island. He considered this undertaking with such single-mindedness that he seemed unable to sleep either day or night; until at last he figured out how to put his plan into action. What concerned him most was how he could achieve his intentions without anyone noticing or guessing what was in his thoughts, for he greatly feared the impartial capital punishment of the Grand Magistrate's edict. And so he went about it in this way: first, from the vantage point of a hidden spot, he observed the form and constitution of the monster's body, and the colors of its hide.

[subscript to the illustration: "This is the winged quadrupedal dragon memorialized for all ages, which the most illustrious knight Deodato of Gozon killed by stratagem on the Isle of Rhodes, concerning which we have written. This knight, because of his goodly work, was later appointed Grand Magistrate of the Order for the entire island."]

[cont'd] And this was the form of the dragon: it had a head shaped like that of a large horse, but was wide like a cow's head. The head was scaled like a snake's, and was situated at the end of long neck. It was known to have elongated ears like those of a mule's. Its horrific gaping mouth was outfitted with massive teeth; it had oversized eyes, breath which burned like fire, and four feet with claws like those of a bear. Its tail and other hind parts were similar to those of a crocodile. The entire body was well-protected by an extremely tough hide of overlapping scales; it had two membranous wings; and its long sides were of a color similar to that of dolphin fins': it was blue on its back, and its underside was a golden-yellow, while the remainder of the body was tinted with a mixture of these two colors. It conducted itself in a frenzied and excited manner, so much so that no horse could equal its speed, however fast it went in its attempt to outrun it. The monster seemed partly to fly, and partly to go about on its feet. As it went about in search of food, its scaly hide gave off a rattling noise, and the monster itself emitted an awful hiss which could be heard for miles around. By this it could cause one to faint, or even to die outright from sheer terror (Francisco Deodato of Gozon's careful observations and description, here briefly summarized, have provided the basis for much of what is known of the anatomy of winged dragons).

Once he had observed the dragon, the young knight immediately sought permission from the Grand Magistrate to go out into the countryside, using the excuse of the necessity of taking care of household affairs. Without delay he began to construct a model of the dragon from paper and hemp-cloth, equal in size and form to the real dragon and having the same variety and arrangement of pigmentation. He also bought a horse which had been bred specifically for battle, and likewise two very powerful mastiffs. He then ordered his servants to put on the model of the dragon and to move its members about from the inside. Thus the dragon model was able to move forward, open its horrid mouth by the use of ropes, and to flick its tail this way and that. This marvelous spectacle of the similitude of the living dragon was complete, moreover, with flapping wings. Deodato goaded both his horse and his dogs against the dragon with a simulated attack. And after he had engaged in this exercise for six months, the horse and the dogs were prepared for any effort and gripped by such a fierce desire for combat that they were scarcely able to be restrained, once they had caught sight of the dragon model. Now certain of a successful outcome to his dragon-battle, Deodato terminated the shadow fighting and without further delay made haste to Rhodes with his horse, servants, and dogs. As soon as he had arrived at Rhodes, Deodato, recognizing that he must put his designs into effect as soon as possible, arrayed himself in a suit of armor of the better kind, and armed himself with a stout lance and a sword most suitable for battle. He commended himself to God, to Saint Stephen, and to John the Baptist at the Church of Saint Stephen's, not far from the dragon's lair. Having done so, he went forward to the cave of the deadly dragon. He made sure that his servants were armed; and he additionally admonished them that they climb a cliff nearby in order to observe the fight. This was so that, should the outcome be that he lived and the dragon were killed, they could run to his aid with the medicines he had already prepared for them; or, if he were killed and the dragon were still alive, they could flee for their lives by a pre-appointed route. Once he had given them these instructions, Deodato went before the dragon's cave with courageous resolve. And just as it seemed that nothing might happen, the ferocious monster came at him from the depths of its lair, its wild shrieking, horrid hissing, and the rattling of its scales all unnerving the horse. Deodato went forward to a level spot suitable for fighting to await the monster's charge. The dragon, thinking that it had espied easy prey, at last charged, half-flying, half-running. The dogs and the horse, not at all fearing the sight of their opponent the monstrous dragon, attacked in the manner in which they had been for so long accustomed and trained. The knight, brandishing his lance, charged and with great strength impaled the tough, scaly hide of the dragon. He then withdrew his weapon from where he had lodged it, and the dragon was thus deprived of the sense of safety imparted by its hard outer integument. It was marvelous to behold! The dogs tormented the beast by chewing off its genitals, and because the dragon was occupied with defending itself against the dogs, it was forced to desist from fighting the knight. The knight was still armed with his sword and shield, and believed it to be easier at this point to continue the combat on foot. The monster turned toward him and stood on its hind feet - and while erect it attacked with its forepaws, using its right to assail the knight with its fearsome claws, and its left his shield. The knight then discerned the softer part of the dragon's neck and drove his sword into it - and an enormous outpouring of blood flowed forth. With the dragon thus vexed by pain and driven into a blind rage, the knight moved himself close enough to his opponent to drive his sword all the way through its entrails, until the thrashing motions of the dragon caused the adamantine blade to open its underside up all the way to its throat. Once this had happened, the monster, weakened by the huge loss of blood, threw its entire mass upon the knight as it fell. The knight, now exhausted by his labors in the terrible struggle and poisoned, moreover, by a massive dose of the hellish toxin which the beast had exhaled from its open body, was now rendered nearly lifeless. The servants saw this and recalled the orders he had given. They came down from the cliff at once and flew to his aid. Dragging Deodato away from the beast, they discerned some faint signs of life in him. They then brought cold water from a nearby stream in buckets and poured it continually over his entire body until he began to revive, and his heart began to beat once more. When Deodato felt that his powers had returned to him, he straightaway mounted his horse and returned to the city. He told the story of the deed, and how he had accomplished his glorious victory, exactly as it had happened, to the Grand Magistrate. And while he was hoping for great glory and payment for a deed which was of such goodly benefit to the public, however illegal it may have been, he instead was forced to endure the opposite kind of reward. The Grand Magistrate convened a council and by public censure had the knight cast into the most miserable prison for his insolence and presumptuous audacity in violating of an inalterable edict. This, the Grand Magistrate reasoned, would make a public example to knights in general. But when the news of the dragon's demise was disseminated throughout the island, the stout-hearted determination of the knight elicited nothing but applause. And from an island now liberated from the dire calamity with which the unvanquished monster had afflicted it, great gratitude now arose. The island resounded with praises for the knight, which at last induced a consideration of his merits and led to his freedom and the restoration of his title. Not only that, he was subsequently promoted to the highest grades of the worthy Order of Magistrates. Since he had been promoted to that level by virtue of his own prudence, he published accounts of his undertaking, showing the excellence of his judgment. As a result, he was eventually chosen as the successor of the Grand Magistrate by a unanimous election, once Elion of Villanova had retired. Even today these laudatory inscriptions can be publicly seen, which were written by Jerome of Meggisero, whose pictorial rendering bore witness to the event: "Sir Deodato of Gozon, Slayer of the Dragon, Magistrate of Province III. The Dragon was slain before He acted as Magistrate." The other, also inscribed under the same depiction, reads: "Sir Francisco Deodato of Gozon: here He valiantly slew a Dreadful Serpent of Great Size, Which was devouring the Inhabitants of Rhodes. Thereafter, He was elected Magistrate in the Year of Our Lord 1349."

We have related this matter in perhaps too great a detail, so that by this noteworthy history people can most humbly come to believe that winged dragons exist in nature, in the past and in the present day. We have to decided to append here an illustration of another dragon along with the above history of the battle, with the illustrious knight of Melitense sent to me. Aldrovando, formerly known as Hugo Compagno, Cardinal of the Pontificate (for which name he is renown), who died under the name of Gregory XIII, found a dragon in the Bononine Field, the drawing of which is below. Concerning the origin and genesis of such creatures there will be a fuller discussion elsewhere in this work.

[subscript to illustration] "This little dragon, wingless and bipedal, was caught in the Bononine Field by Hugo Compagno, Cardinal of the Pontificate, before he assumed the name Gregory XIII. Its stuffed body can now be seen in the Museum of Aldrovandi."

And because those who scoff will require more than one factual account to be convinced, I shall here add others no less worthy of amazement. These were published by John Cysatus in his Description of the Four Swiss Sylvanian Cities, in which he informs us with numerous examples that there are more dragons to be found in this region than in any other locale outside of Switzerland. Additionally, we corresponded with the worthy gentleman Christopher Schorer, prefect of the Soliduranum Canton, in order to ascertain the veracity of Cysatus' accounts. He affirmed that not only were these things entirely true according to reports that he had received, but he had seen with his own eyes the truth of the matter: "During the year 1619, as I was contemplating the serenity of the nighttime sky, to my great astonishment I saw a brightly glowing dragon fly from a large mountain cliff (which is commonly called Mount Pilate), to another cave on the opposite cliffside (commonly called the Flue Cave) with a swift flapping of its wings. Its body was quite large; it had a long tail and an extended neck, while its head displayed the toothsome mouth of a snake. As the creature was in the midst of flight, it spewed out sparks from its body, not unlike the embers which fly when smiths beat glowing iron. It was after I had observed all of the details that I knew it rightly to be a dragon from its bodily motions, by which I could discern the arrangement of its limbs. I write this to Your Reverence, lest you doubt that dragons truly exist in Nature." This same gentleman also wrote to us as we were still writing this work; and his letters stated the he had found "something similar concerning a certain local hunter by the name of Paul Schumperlin. In 1654, around the time of the Feast of Saint James, Paul Schumperlin was hunting around the base of Mount Flue, where he ran into a dragon next to the mouth of a cave in which it was making its lair. It had a snake-like head, a neck and tail of equal length, and it walked on all fours about a foot or more off of the ground. Its entire body was covered with scales, and it was mottled with both grey and whitish-yellow spots. The formation of its head was not dissimilar to that of a horse. When it caught sight of the hunter, it retreated into its cave with a great rattling of its scales. In 1602, a skeleton of a dragon was found in another mountain cave, commonly called Mountain Staffelwand, near the aforementioned Mount Flue. It had been killed when the cave collapsed during an earthquake." These things were related to us by correspondence with the aforementioned gentleman Christopher Schorer.

Cysatus also tells us of something similar which happened to a farmer who was harvesting hay. At that time the farmer saw on a nearby mountain a dragon of enormous size. It was sufficiently distant that he did not lose his wits from fear when he saw it. And so he was able to observe that it exuded a liquid from itself. Later on he found this liquid in a certain field in the form of hardened blood in which there was a multicolored gem. This stone has been conserved to the present day in Lucerne like an invaluable carnelian, where it acts as an excellent remedy for all illnesses, especially poisonings and infections, as the annals of the city testify.

But let us now move on to the Description of Cysatus. Here he recounts four noteworthy incidents pertaining to the subject of this treatise. Here is an excerpt from his History, which was written in German, but here translated into Latin: "There is a very old city in the Bernenine Province called Burgdorpium. It is so named from two brothers, the elder of whom was named Syntram, and the younger Beltram. They were the Dukes of Lenzenburg in the year of Our Lord 792. There was one occasion when they went hunting through vast forests and remote vales of the mountains. And as they were wandering here and there they came upon a large mountain cliff where a wild monster of immense size - a dragon, I say - was nesting in a deep cave. This same beast had recently been roaming the nearby countryside, robbing farmers of their animals. When the knights encountered it, it charged them as if it were attempting to seize prey as it ordinarily did. It immediately gulped down Beltram while he was still living. Syntram, with the help of their squires, bravely made battle against the beast - first with their spears, then with their swords. When they had at last destroyed the beast, Syntram cut open the belly and extracted his still-breathing brother. In this very spot and to this very day, a pictorial account of the affair can be seen next to the Chapel of Saint Margaret at Berne, which the two brothers themselves commissioned to be built in memory of their deed".

The other account is found in the above-cited author, in Folio 168, which Saint Stumphius, Book VII, Chapter 2, confirms. "Before Sylvania was under cultivation, a large dragon in a good-sized mountain cave was making his nest near the canton of Weylam. It was preying on both humans and animals, so that the inhabitants were compelled to abandon their homes and move to another locale. This second village is called Odeweyla to this day, while the first retains the name Abandoned Vyla. At that time there was a brave and noble gentleman, known in the area as Winkelkried. Winkelkried had at that time been banished from his homeland and was living in exile due to vague accusations of homicide. But once he had heard of those damnable things which the dragon had been inflicting on the entire canton, he contacted the local Magistrate so that he might kill the dragon in order to reacquire his liberty. The Magistrate accepted the conditions and gave Winkelkried leave to do as he saw fit. The knight discovered the dragon's wild lair, and, armed with a lance and large sword, provoked it to conflict. He had already prepared a bundle of exceedingly long spines, which he had then affixed to the tip of his lance. So when the dragon was charging him with great speed, he impaled it securely with the spiny bundle in its mouth. The dragon was then preoccupied not with devouring the knight but with freeing itself from the spiny ball. The knight, meanwhile, with his sword affixed in the soft underside of the dragon, finally slew the beast. But when he hurled the blood-spattered sword upward as a gesture of celebration, what should happen but that the poisonous blood flowed downward upon his exposed skin; and inasmuch as it was powerfully toxic, he who had believed himself to be the victor was in turn conquered by the dragon's avenging blood. The knight Winkelkried, poisoned by contact with the dragon's blood, died a short while later." I have added here a drawing of this dragon, which was sent to me from Switzerland.

The Astounding Story of Victor, the Man Who Lived with Two Dragons for Six Months

Here I shall now add an account related to me by the same Cysatus mentioned above. I would hardly have believed it, had I not been persuaded of its truth by so many personal testimonies and indeed by the surviving public devotion in the Church of Saint Leodegard at Lucerne, which serves as a witness to the affair. The events occurred as followed:

There was a man named Victor living in the Swiss city of Lucerne. One day, while he was looking for material to make traps in remote areas the Alpine forests and hills, became hopelessly lost in the labyrinthine pathways of the trackless wilderness. He did not know how he might find his way back, and he wandered in all directions for the greater part of a night. He made his way in the semi-somnolent state induced by pure exhaustion; because of the lack of light he did not see the mouth of a pit gaping before him. And so he fell right into it. But because of the soft mud which had accumulated at the bottom of the pit, he suffered no injury. His mind, however, was torn by anxiety born of the certainty of his imminent destruction. For when he looked up, he saw that the depth of the pit was such that it would be impossible for him to climb out of it (the pit was circular in shape, and its walls were sheer all the way around). Despairing of ever being rescued, Victor turned his entire mind toward seeking Divine assistance, soliciting both God and His Mother with continual prayers and petitions, that they might free him from so miserable a pass. Yet it pleased His Divine Majesty to afflict him further, in order that he could accumulate merits. In the sides of the pit were passageways of substantial length and width. Victor entered one, hoping to find a comfortable resting place, when to his horror he found his egress blocked by two hideous dragons. Frightened half out of his wits, he attempted to retreat to the muddy pit, pleading all the while in the midst of a great outpouring of tears that God and His mother defend him against such terrifying monsters. But the dragons, wrapping their tails and long necks around him, still did him neither harm nor violence. It would be easier to imagine just what despair this man experienced, being in company of such frightful and bizarre creatures, than it would be to describe it. You would have seen the prophet Daniel all over again, except that he was in a pit of dragons rather than lions. But Victor remained there, not for one day or even a week, but for six whole months, from the sixth of November all the way to the tenth of April. And how do you suppose that he was able to eat during this time? Listen, and be astounded. He observed that the dragons ate no other food throughout the winter season except a salty liquid exuded from the walls of the pit. And so, inasmuch as he was bereft of everything necessary to survive, he followed the example of the dragons. He set about licking and lapping up the liquid himself, and thus revived by this sort of food, he was able to live for half a year. During the equinoctial sun, from which he felt the air to grow a little warmer, the monsters also seemed to feel that the time was at hand for them to come out of their underground lairs to look for food. One of them swiftly flew upward from the muddy pit ahead of the other with a great flapping of his wings; and when the second dragon began the same ascent, Victor, seeing that this was his best chance for freedom, seized the tail of the beast, and was carried away from the pit. Never was there a more marvelous sight! And once the dragons had set him down, he found, by the providence of God, a path back to Lucerne. When he came to his family, who had believed him long dead, they were utterly speechless at the account he gave of what had happened to him. It was, they adjudged, the most frightening experience imaginable. And because he had obtained his liberation from so horrendous a situation by the intercession of the Great Mother of God, Victor wished that there be a testament to his ordeal. And so he ordered that, as a witness to the matter for the wonder of future generations, the kind of priestly garb which is called a casula or planeta to be sewn, in which the story of his experiences were depicted by the art of needlework. It survives to this day in the Church of Saint Leodegard at Lucerne, where it is shown to foreigners. Victor himself was taken into the bosom of God because he was no longer able to take ordinary food because of the damage done to his stomach; and two months after he had escaped from the pit of the dragons, he died piously in the Lord.

Many things are contained in this history which far exceed the powers of nature, for which reason it must be admitted that Victor's life was maintained supernaturally in so horrific an abyss. Anyone can easily surmise from this account and from others like it that the descriptions of winged dragons among various writers are accurate. And now, so that the reader's curiosity does not go unsatisfied, we shall explain the origin of dragons, and how they come into being.

How Dragons Come into Being

How and in what kind of environment dragons come into being is a matter of no small wonder. And since no written account has yet been found which provides a treatment of this subject, we have set about here to explain the means of dragon reproduction to the extent that our relative ignorance permits.

All doctors and physiologists know that hybrid species of animals are engendered by a mixture of more than one kind of sperm. This is the case in animal species whose representatives are complete organisms in and of themselves, such as mules, mountain nyalas, cameleopards, and other hybrid species. This also occurs in human fetus' formed from more than one kind of sperm in the womb of either a wild beast or a human female. Many examples of these monsters, such as the anthropomorphs in the accounts of Lycostenis, have been documented. This process most especially occurs among insects, whose remarkable metamorphoses have been sufficiently described. A good example is the bee, which is born from cattle manure. It is undeniable upon close examination that the bee's head replicates exactly that of a cow (we have demonstrated this exhaustively in our chapter on the "Head of the Hieroglyphic Cow", in our tract The Pamphilian Obelisk). This is also the case for the horned head of the scarab beetle, whose head is not at all dissimilar to that of the horse from whose manure they are born. And then there's the stag beetle, which is sometimes called a tragelaphus because of its resemblance to the horned stag whose manure engenders it. In fact, the feces of animals invariably generate some kind of insect showing a resemblance to the very animal in whose excrement they have been born. If the insect does not resemble the animal in its entirety, it at least resembles it in some anatomical particular. We have described this in greater detail elsewhere. And now that we have given this preliminary explanation, we shall say in a few words how dragons can come into being in remote mountain caves and in desert places.

It is a known fact that those places in which dragons are generally observed are also the haunt of eagles, vultures, and other birds of prey. Large vultures are known to nest in remote cliffs and escarpments in the Alps, so there is no need to describe their habits in detail here. Dominic the Black, in his Geography, tells us that the Isle of Rhodes abounds in formidable eagles. These birds customarily make off with all kinds of prey, such as snakes, birds, rabbits, and lambs. They even seize children and take them to their mountain fastnesses to serve as food. Many have borne witness to the fact that in the eagles' nests the prey are gradually accumulated into a heap from the continual hunting by which the eagles ensure that their food supply remains inexhaustible. The heap inevitably becomes a mass of decaying matter suitable for generating other forms of life. Inasmuch as some portion of the sperm stays in the corpse after death (as we will show in Book 12), it so happens that an animal can come into being in the deposited mass of fermenting matter. This occurs as a result of the confluence of various kinds of sperm. From the sperm which remains in the corpse of a quadruped, a worm is generated which resembles a quadruped. If the quadruped is a rabbit, the worm acquires elongated ears from the co-radiating force of the rabbit sperm. When the sperm of a flying animal is also present in mass of decaying matter, it joins with the other sperm to produce a worm which, if it is not altogether winged, has at least the cartilaginous membranes suitable for wings. In this way also, if snake corpses are present, their sperm imparts the head, tail, and neck of a snake to the nascent worm. The resulting serpent-hybrid embryo, once it has been formed from the variety of spermatozoa, increases in mass over time until it grows into a dragon of considerable size. If many dragons of both sexes come into being through generation in a mass of decaying matter, they are also able to reproduce sexually, as are insects which come into being in this way. And should the fecundity of such a noxious animal result in too much damage to the environment, Nature provides an excellent law by which only one dragon at a time can be generated by the mixture of spermatozoa in an underground cavern. (As for the life-giving power of the sperm which remains in a corpse, a full explanation of this awe-inspiring faculty will be given in Book 12).

It therefore must be asked why the various kinds of sperm do not produce another whole creature. The answer is that it comes about by the blending of the kinds of sperm. And while the sperm is the actuating force behind each individual creature to the extent that it is able, it still happens as a result of the blending that individual animals, when they are unable to produce a whole due to the resistance of matter, at least produce a part similar to themselves. For this reason, since individual animals bring forth another from their own form, the appalling and monstrous body of the dragon is accordingly born.

Another question is why dragons seem to breathe fire. The answer is that because of a certain viscous matter they have an inborn glowing light, such as some fish, rotting wood and glow-worms have, which shines forth most greatly in darkness. And so when people see dragons glittering with light, they think that they have fiery bodies. You might ask how they acquire their extremely tough armor of scales. This is because of the same arrangement of matter by which shelled animals are covered, as well as by the moisture of a viscous and adhesive mucous which covers their outer surface all the way around, and gradually degenerates into a durable, horn-like substance.

From these things we know most certainly that it is a fact that a hybrid animal can be born from the fermentation resulting from the varied mixture of sperms in an incubating mass of decaying matter. It is known that the chicken generates a basilisk when it eats a snake egg. And this is because the sperm lying in the snake's egg gradually unleashes its powers and thus brings forth a ptereophiomorph, which is an animal whose constitution is both chicken and snake. Such a creature was the prodigious rooster which Francisco, the Archduke of Tuscany, exhibited for many years to spectators in the garden of Bobolo at Florence. It had the crest, scaly legs, and spurs - indeed the entire bodily form - of a rooster; but it also displayed a flexible and coiled snake's tail. It was, in short, something similar to a dragon, inasmuch as it was born from a chicken-snake egg. In the same manner such creatures are born at Bernicla in Scotland, and the neighboring areas. For eggs are laid in the frigid sea by ducks and geese in great numbers (as Batavus mentions in his account of his voyage to the Arctic), where they are broken open by the melting ice, and their sperm is washed up on the shores of the Orkneys and the Hebrides by the tides. Then from certain unusual climatic conditions, the remora which cling to the undersides of ships are brought to life by the underlying matter of sperm from the ducks and geese. Only a minimal amount of sperm is required to effect this. But enough has now been said with regard to dragons.


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