Week twenty-five: LINDWORM (probability 16351), by David Sutton

Thanks to centuries of legend and folklore, culminating in the wonderful realisations of Tolkien and Ursula Le Guin, we all have a pretty good idea of what a dragon is, and if one should alight in our back garden most of us would have far less difficulty in identifying it than we would, say, a sparrowhawk. But we perhaps do not realise that there are or were various kinds of dragon. A LINDWORM is specifically a wingless dragon; it takes its name from the Danish lindorm, which means 'heath worm'. I suspect that the great dragon Fafnir, which guarded the hoard of the Nibelungs till slain by Sigurd, was a lindworm, as was the LAIDLY worm (laidly is Scots for loathly) that the princess was turned into in the old Northumbrian ballad, till restored to her proper form by a kiss from her brother.

The WIVER, WIVERN or WYVERN was of a more heraldic nature, being winged and two-legged, and combining the features of dragon and GRIFFIN, though the griffin itself (or GRIFFON, GRYFON, GRYPHON) is portrayed as having the body of a lion with an eagle's beak and wings. Another heraldic composite was the OPINICUS, part lion, part dragon, with features of other animals, while the MANTICORA (or MANTICORE), managed only the tail of a dragon, combining this with the body of a lion and porcupine quills. [It should be noted that some authorities have queried the plausibility of this particular CHIMAERA and insist that the tail was actually that of a scorpion].

Returning to dragons proper, we have the FIREDRAKE or FIREDRAGON. The Chinese KYLIN also has some of the attributes of the dragon, sometimes being portrayed with fire over its body and scales, though it also has attributes of the unicorn and has even come to be identified with the giraffe.

The generic name for dragon in pseudo-taxonomical accounts is DRACO, though in the real world this refers, adjectivally (no -S!), to a small gliding lizard. A DRACONITES is a precious stone fabled to come from a dragon's brain, and of course we have DRACONIC, DRACONTIC or DRACONIAN, which mean either dragon-like or, of punishments, exceptionally severe, the latter sense coming from the rule of Draco, an ARCHON or lawgiver at Athens in 621BC, whose name is doubtless no coincidence.


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