St. George And The Dragon - Building A Myth
of reading - words
If the theory of the collective unconscious developed by Carl Gustav Jung is - in some cases - a theory that holds true, as men around the world are so similar, in the case of myths created from scratch, does this theory still have value?
The myth of Saint George is very significant of a hagiographical writing in the "promotional" framework of the Catholic Church in its young age, busy with its intense development.
Building a Myth: St. George and the Dragon
The legend of Georges de Lydda, a Roman officer, was adapted around 1265 or 1266 by the Archbishop of Genoa, a Dominican friar: Jacques de Voragine in the book entitled "La légende dorée".
Here is the short text describing the fight against the dragon:
"George of Lydda was born around 275 in Cappadocia, into a Christian family. He became an officer in the Roman army, and was elevated by the Emperor Diocletian to the rank of tribune. One day, George arrives in the city of Silcha in the Roman province of Libya. The city is terrorized by a fearsome dragon hiding in a pond as big as a sea, and who had often driven back the people who had come with weapons to kill them. All he had to do was approach the city walls to destroy all the inhabitants with his breath.
The men were forced to give him two sheep every day to appease his wrath; otherwise, he infected the air, so that many died. Now when the sheep ran out, it was decided that they would give a sheep and add a man to it. All boys and girls were designated by lot, and there was no exception for anyone. Now, as there were almost none left, the fate came to fall on the king's only daughter, who was therefore destined for the monster. The saddened king said, "Take the gold, the silver, half of my kingdom, but leave my daughter to me, and let her not die of the same death. "The people answered him with fury: "O King, you, you have carried this edict, and now that all our children are dead, do you want to save your daughter? If you don't do for your daughter what you ordered for others, we will burn you with your house." When he heard these words, the king began to cry for his daughter, saying: "Please, please, give me eight days to mourn my daughter. "The people having consented, returned in fury after eight days, and he said to the king, "Why do you lose the people for your daughter? Now we all die of the dragon's breath. "Then the king, seeing that he could not deliver his daughter, clothed her in royal garments and kissed her with tears. Now, Saint George passed by by chance by there: and seeing her crying, he asked her what was wrong with her. After she had fully instructed him, George said to him: "My daughter, do not be afraid, for in the name of J.-C., I will help you. "She said to him: "Good soldier! But hurry to save yourself, don't perish with me! "As they were talking like this, the dragon approached and lifted his head over the lake. At that moment George got on his horse, and fortifying himself with the sign of the cross, he boldly attacked the dragon who was advancing on him: he brandished his spear with vigour, recommended himself to God, struck the monster with force and knocked him down on the ground: "Throw, said George to the king's daughter, throw your belt around the dragon's neck; do not be afraid, my child. "She did it and the dragon followed her like the sweetest bitch. Now, as she led him into the city, all the people who witnessed it began to flee up and down the mountains. Then George waved to them saying, "Fear not, the Lord has sent me to you on purpose that I may deliver you from the woes that this dragon only caused you, believe in J.-C., and that each of you may receive baptism, and I will kill the monster. "Then the king and all the people received baptism, and St. George, having drawn his sword, killed the dragon and ordered him to be carried out of the city. Four pairs of oxen dragged him out of the city into a vast plain. On that day, twenty thousand men were baptized, not counting children and women. »
St. George and the Dragon - Legend
Then, after this excerpt from "The Golden Legend", come the multiple adventures of the martyr of St. George as they are told by Jacques de Voragine.
But there is also another slightly different version, a more "historical" version that has the backing of the current Roman church....
"George was born around 275 in the midst of the Dispersion of the Faith, in the Province of Cappadocia, into a wealthy and fit family. When his father died, when he was only ten years old, his mother, Polychronia, converted to Aristotelianism without her husband's knowledge, took him to Palestine, his native land. There, she instilled in him the Virtues of Reason taught by Aristotle, as well as the Faith in the Love of God preached by Christos.
George grew up and in his eighteenth year, he joined the Roman armies to defend the peace of the Roman lands and their inhabitants. Very quickly, his value distinguished him from the lot, and his superiors appointed him tribune of the Praetorian guard. The emperor himself acknowledged his dedication and courage and raised him to the dignity of a prefect.
As George returned to Cappadocia, after a victorious campaign in Mesopotamia against the Persian king Narses, he crossed the region of Beryte, then ravaged by an army of bloodthirsty looters, led by a cruel man named Nahf whose unparalleled barbarity had earned him the nickname "Dragon", because in Phoenician, "nahf" meant "serpent". Nahf's looters had settled in the city's nearby marshes, destroying crops and looting farms. All those who had tried to resist them had their eyes gouged out by Nahf and his men. To protect themselves from the devastation, the inhabitants decided to offer two animals every day to calm the Dragon's looters. However, there came a day when there were no more animals to sacrifice, and Nahf began his ravages again. Desperate, the king of this region accepted that a young woman, drawn at random from the brigands to satisfy their vile appetites, should be given every day.
Weeks and months passed, and the day came when the king's own daughter, Princess Alcyone, was chosen to be thrown into the looters' grazing. She was tied to a wooden stake facing the marshes and thus abandoned to her sad fate. A few moments later, as Alcyone cried hotly, a rumble was heard. Alcyone turned and could see a tall rider, dressed in shining armor and carrying a long spear, pointing his mount at her. When he reached his height, he stepped on the ground and approached Alcyone. The princess asked him to leave far away from her to save her life, but the rider refused and untied her. Suddenly, a roar rang through the swamps and a hundred men rode on black horses. All wore mesh armour similar to olive-green scales, and wielded their swords. At their head, a massive man with a shaggy beard, where only his bloodshot eyes pierced through his leather helmet. George raised his spear and spurred his horse, which galloped towards the "Dragon". Terrifying screams rose from the opposing ranks and the looters attacked the lone warrior. George found himself caught in the middle of a whirlwind of eyes inflamed with rage and blades. Wherever his gaze lay, there was a looter ready to swoop down on him, but he held on as the circle closed on him, continuing to ram his mount towards Nahf's. As he was about to be submerged by the human tide, George mobilized all his strength and Faith, to raise his arm again and plunge his spear into the middle of the whirlwind of men and blades that stood in front of him. A terrifying scream sounded, to which panicked screams replied. Terrified, the looters fled as suddenly as they had appeared, leaving their weapons behind.
Coming out of his war exaltation, George saw Nahf lying at his feet, mortally wounded by his spear that had frozen across his throat. George tied the chief of the looters to his horse and returned to Beryte with Princess Alcyone, dragging the "Dragon" behind them. They were greeted by the jubilation and cheers of the inhabitants who were finally delivered from this terrible calamity. George brought Nahf's remains before the king who bowed down before George and swore that he and his subjects would convert to the Aristotelian Faith. The hero then headed back to Cappadocia. »
After these two versions, this leads us to clarify two
1/ What is the origin of this myth?
and as for the "Dragon"
2/ What is the meaning of this extraordinary beast?
1/ The origin of the myth of Saint George.
it is obvious that this myth borrowed from the legend of Perseus and possibly from that of Theseus. Let us examine the epic of Perseus in the text of the "library" of the pseudo Apollodorus.
"Perseus having received a diamond sword from Mercury, flew to the shores of the Ocean, and found the sleeping Gorgons; Medusa was the only mortal, and it was her head that Perseus had been asked for. Their heads were bristling with snakes; they had teeth like boar's tusks, bronze hands and gold wings, with the help of which they rose into the air. Those who watched them were turned to stone. Perseus approached them, while they slept, turning their eyes back, and holding them fixed on a bronze shield that reflected the figure of the Gorgon, he cut off her head and set off.
When he arrived in Ethiopia, where Cepheus was king, he found his daughter Andromeda exposed to be devoured by a sea monster.
Cassiopeia, wife of Cepheus, had dared to compare herself to the Nereids for beauty, and had even bragged about overcoming them. The Nereids were irritated. Neptune shared their indignation, submerged the country, and sent a sea monster there. The oracle of Ammon having announced that these disasters would stop if Andromeda, daughter of Cassiopeia, were exposed to be devoured by the monster, the Ethiopians forced Cepheus to do what the oracle ordered and to tie his daughter to a rock. Perseus having seen him, he fell in love, and promised Cepheus to kill the monster if he wanted to give it to him in marriage. Cepheus having taken an oath, he waited for the monster, killed him and delivered Andromeda. Phinehas, brother of Cepheus, to whom Andromeda had been promised before this event, conspired against him to destroy him; but Perseus, having discovered him, showed him the head of the Gorgon, and turned him into stone, as well as all those who had taken part in his plot. »
Some elements of the myth of Saint George, notably the hostage-taking of the city's young people, remind us of the fight against another well-known monster of Greek antiquity: the Minotaur. Here is the text celebrating Theseus' exploits:
"King Minos was at war with Athens and had been besieging it for a long time, forcing the Athenians to consult the oracle on ways to remedy their ills. Zeus ordered them to give Minos the satisfaction he would require. Minos demanded that they send him[every year] seven boys and seven girls, unarmed, to serve as pasture for the Minotaur.
This Minotaur was enclosed in the Labyrinth, from which it was impossible to leave, once you entered it, because there were so many detours and circuits that prevented you from finding the way out: it was Daedalus' work that had been judged and condemned to exile by the Areopagus. Later, he went to Minos, "where he made a wooden cow to satisfy Pasiphae's passion for the bull of Poseidon, who had fallen in love with him. This is how the Minotaur would have been born.
Theseus, who had grown up, lifted the stone and took the sandals and sword of his father Aegean and set off for Athens. He found many robbers on his way and won victory after victory.
Theseus left for Crete of his own free will, or he was on the list of young people offered to the Minotaur. Ariadne, King Minos' daughter, falls in love with Theseus and undertakes to help him if he marries her. On his advice, Ariadne gave Thésée some thread, which he unrolled behind him in the labyrinth. Theseus found the Minotaur and punched him to death, then he came out with the wire, and freed the young men. »
Let us note this fact: even if a Roman citizen who won a monster - a crocodile for example - may have existed at the beginning of our era, the story of St George is too close to the Greek epics, necessarily known at that time, not to have borrowed elements from them. We are therefore dealing with the construction of a myth. A glorious historical event triggered the idea among some authors to develop this episode and make it a "founding myth" for the ambitious young religion.
Mrs Desroches-Noblecourt recently gave us another approach in her book: "Le fabuleux héritage de l'Egypte". The eminent Egyptologist brings the figure of Saint George closer to that of the god Horus discovered in the following image, in the exact posture that the "fabulous St George" will take.
Building a Myth: St. George and the Dragon
It is a representation of Horus in the clothing of a Roman legionnaire, dating from the Coptic period, at the beginning of our era.
On the walls of New Kingdom tombs there are many depictions of crocodile harpoonists or hippopotamuses on the Nile. This common representation in ancient Egypt may have taken on a more "warlike" meaning in the Ptolemaic and Roman times. Let us not forget that the cult of Osiris and Isis was exported throughout the Mediterranean, first to the Greeks during the Ptolemaic period, during which Egyptian priests worshipped these deities on Greek soil, then to the Roman world. We do not know much about the form of this cult, but its establishment in cities dependent on the Roman Empire was confirmed at the beginning of our era, until the prohibition of pagan cults by Emperor Theodosius in 392. The cult of Isis and Osiris, also known by the text of Plutarch, written around 120 ADJC, seems to have undergone significant changes compared to the original model. Thus, in the Roman world, popular belief has focused mainly on the figure of Isis, and with his son Horus, a "mother-child" cult has developed. The cult of black virgins holding "the child in their arms" could come from this.
Thus, the cult of a "Divine Mother" linked to ancient Egypt experienced a strong craze, in parallel and in the same space, as that of the cult of Jesus Christ and the mother of God. The cult of the mother of Jesus has grown as much as that of her son in popular fervour, as shown by the many stelae of antiquity.
The prohibition of pagan cults solved this "problem" for "Christians", but existing beliefs and myths had to be replaced. This could explain why the image of a warrior fighting evil - a sea monster - was used, as it stands, by the fathers of the Roman church. A simple image substitution....
While we do not know exactly when this myth was built, it was fully developed in the Middle Ages.
The 13th century, the time of Jacques de Voragine, was particularly fertile in "inventions" of the clergy in order to recover and take over all the so-called pagan cults. The number of site destructions was very high - sacred trees, megaliths - and when site destructions were not possible, - springs, important religious mounds - the construction of a chapel, a cross, allowed these sites to be attached to the triumphant Catholic church.
Building a Myth: St. George and the Dragon
The influence of the clergy of the time was also reflected in the prohibition to preserve the "pagan" habits and customs of his ancestors.
Catholic priests and monks, in the following centuries, also "interpreted" myths and legends, transforming them when necessary. The tales of Brittany and the Basque Country have suffered well, and it is difficult not to find the predominant presence of priests or saints: the legend of the city of Ys is a perfect example.
Because it is not enough to destroy a culture, for one's own to replace it naturally, it is necessary to invent new myths, close enough to the old ones for the "sauce to set" and "oriented" enough to suit the development of the new religion. What was supposed to be the simple account of a valiant Christian legionnaire, became a founding myth, written by the monks of the Middle Ages.
2/ What is the meaning of the dragon?
This myth has been used to designate a very simple dualist concept: the struggle of good against evil. Thus, at that time, it was necessary to illustrate Evil as something brutal, bestial, frustrating, in opposition to the Good represented by a noble man, a knight, bringing with him the ideal of an elaborate, hierarchical civilization, a sign of stability, security. The sea monster, the bloody highway robber or the half-animal-human being has turned into a dragon: a powerful and unknown beast, whose form remains mysterious, rising from the bowels of the earth or later flying into the air. The form our dragon has taken is that of terrifying evil, which, according to the clergy, comes from our most vile desires and which only submission to the Lord and His Representatives can keep on a leash.
What was a great and powerful treasure guardian snake in Greek antiquity, a facet of the ego in initiatory narratives, has been transformed into an image of repugnant evil, a form of raw and wild nature. This figure externalizes Evil in popular beliefs, transposing it into a vague representation foreign to man and his responsibility....
This simplistic concept did not encourage self-questioning....
Alexandre Solzhenitsyn writes in his book "L'archipel du Goulag"
"If only there were evil people somewhere who commit evil and it were enough to separate them from us and destroy them! but the line that separates good from evil crosses the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a part of his heart? »
See that in the intentional elaboration of a myth in the service of a precise goal, the theory of the collective unconscious, based on the concept of a common intuition, necessarily vague, is very random.
A myth or a complete mythical system - genesis, theogony, epics - was developed in antiquity to meet the objective of a path of self-knowledge during the initiation journey in a School of Mysteries. Some myths from ancient legends, or created from scratch, - whether very developed or very simple - have been used as propaganda in the context of religious or even political development. In these two situations, the part of the unconscious is nil, because these creations are clearly elaborated by a structured and determined thought.
The part of the collective unconscious seems to me to correspond better to Plato's ideals - the aspiration for Beauty, Good and Just Peace - that each of us carries to the depths of our souls or hearts.
The Dragon is a lure that turns our interest towards the outside world and prevents us from perceiving the true treasure deep within us. But if the Dragon takes the form of questioning and we answer it, then the path to oneself opens up and it is the adventure to the light.
- The first relationship of the myth of Saint George is taken from Jacques de Voragine's book, available on the BNF website: Gallica. The second version: the hagiography of St. George, is made available by Vincent Diftain, Cardinal Chancellor of the Holy Office and is available on the Internet.
- The short texts of Perseus and Theseus come from Apollodorus' "The Library". You can find them on the Remacle website.
- Madame Desroches-Noblecourt's book "Le fabuleux héritage de l'Egypte", is available from Télémaque, 2004.