Dragons are legendary creatures, typically with serpentine or otherwise reptilian traits, that feature in the myths of many cultures. There are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon, derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern mythologies, and the Chinese dragon, with counterparts in Japan, Korea and other Asian countries. The two traditions may have evolved separately, but have influenced each to a certain extent, particularly with the cross-cultural contact of recent centuries. The English word "dragon" derives from Greek δράκων (drákōn), "dragon, serpent of huge size, water-snake", which probably comes from the verb δρακείν (drakeîn) "to see clearly".
Dragons are usually shown in modern times with a body like a huge lizard, or a snake with two pairs of lizard-type legs, and able to emit fire from their mouths. The European dragon has bat-type wings growing from its back. A dragon-like creature with no front legs is known as a wyvern. Following discovery of how pterosaurs walked on the ground, some dragons have been portrayed without front legs and using the wings as front legs pterosaur-fashion when on the ground.
Although dragons occur in many legends around the world, different cultures have varying stories about monsters that have been grouped together under the dragon label. Some dragons are said to breathe fire or to be poisonous, such as in the Old English poem Beowulf. They are commonly portrayed as serpentine or reptilian, hatching from eggs and possessing typically scaly or feathered bodies. They are sometimes portrayed as having especially large eyes or watching treasure very diligently, a feature that is the origin of the word dragon (Greek drakeîn meaning "to see clearly"). Some myths portray them with a row of dorsal spines. European dragons are more often winged, while Chinese dragons resemble large snakes. Dragons can have a variable number of legs: none, two, four, or more when it comes to early European literature.
Dragons are often held to have major spiritual significance in various religions and cultures around the world. In many Asian cultures dragons were, and in some cultures still are, revered as representative of the primal forces of nature, religion and the universe. They are associated with wisdom—often said to be wiser than humans—and longevity. They are commonly said to possess some form of magic or other supernatural power, and are often associated with wells, rain, and rivers. In some cultures, they are also said to be capable of human speech. In some traditions dragons are said to have taught humans to talk.
In Ancient Greece the first mention of a "dragon" is derived from the Iliad whereAgamemnon is described as having a blue dragon motif on his sword belt and a three-headed dragon emblem on his breast plate. However, the Greek word used (δράκων drákōn, genitive δράκοντοϛ drákontos) could also mean "snake". δράκων drákōn is a form of the aorist participle active of Greek δέρκομαι dérkomai = "I see", derkeîn = "to see", and originally likely meant "that which sees", or "that which flashes or gleams" (perhaps referring to reflective scales). This is the origin of the word "dragon".
In 217 A.D., Philostratus discussed dragons (δράκων, drákōn) in India in The Life of Apollonius of Tyana (II,17 and III,6-8). The Loeb Classical Library translation (by F.C. Conybeare) mentions (III,7) that “In most respects the tusks resemble the largest swine’s, but they are slighter in build and twisted, and have a point as unabraded as sharks’ teeth.”
According to Aelian's On Animals, Ethiopia was inhabited by a species of dragon that hunted elephants. It could grow to a length of 180 feet and had a lifespan rivaling that of the most enduring of animals.
Chinese & Japanese
Chinese dragons (simplified Chinese: 龙; traditional Chinese: 龍; pinyin: lóng) can take on human form and are usually seen as benevolent. Dragons are particularly popular in China and the five-clawed dragon was a symbol of the Chinese emperors, with the mythical bird fenghuang the symbol of the Chinese empress. Dragon costumes manipulated by several people are a common sight at Chinese festivals.
Japanese dragon myths amalgamate native legends with imported stories about dragons from China, Korea and India. Like these other Asian dragons, most Japanese ones are water deities associated with rainfall and bodies of water, and are typically depicted as large, wingless, serpentine creatures with clawed feet. Gould writes (1896:248), the Japanese dragon is "invariably figured as possessing three claws".
Aži Dahāka is the source of the modern Persian word azhdahā or ezhdehā اژده ها (Middle Persian azdahāg) meaning "dragon", often used of a dragon depicted upon a banner of war. The Persians believed that the baby of a dragon will be the same color as the mother's eyes. In Middle Persian he is called Dahāg or Bēvar-Asp, the latter meaning "[he who has] 10,000 horses." Several other dragons and dragon-like creatures, all of them malevolent, are mentioned in Zoroastrian scripture.
Some modern pseudo-biological accounts of dragons give them the generic name Draco, although the generic name Draco is used in real-world biology for a genus of small gliding agamid lizard. An infectious disease called Dracunculiasis, caused by infection with the Guinea worm which grows up to 3 feet (0.91 m) long before emerging from its host, also derives its name from dragons (literally "infestation with little dragons"), based on the burning pain experienced by sufferers.