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The Macksey Journal

Abstract

Previous endeavors to identify a common origin of the dragon-slayer myth (and its many derivatives) in the Indo-European language family have produced mixed results, due in part to the ubiquity of dragon lore. Calvert Watkins’s ambitious project (How to Kill a Dragon, 1995) to reconstruct a poetic formula with PIE *gwhen- (‘to smite, slay’) has garnered both praise and criticism (see, e.g., Daniel Ogden 2013). Christine Rauer (Beowulf and the Dragon, 2000) has demonstrated that Beowulf was influenced by the Latin hagiographic tradition but finds that “the imagery which seems to be so typical for the hagiographical genre is extremely rare” in the secular Scandinavian material (82). However, not much has been said about the Norse-Germanic dragon’s relationship to the dragons of classical antiquity. To determine whether the Norse-Germanic dragon was demonstrably influenced by the Graeco-Roman dragon, this project focuses on the pattern to portray symmetry between serpent and adversary in the Graeco-Roman literature and identifies analogous examples in the Norse-Germanic extant literature. Although such a discovery further complicates Watkins’s project, it aids in clarifying the origin of certain features of the dragon lore in at least one of the Indo-European language branches.

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