Episode 19: Dragons of Central Europe

Hello, hello, Mythsters! For this episode, Anike and Jaz took a closer look at the dragons found in Central Europe. Of course our old pal, Saint George, had to make another appearance, but we also found a few interesting stories that certainly debunk the popular Western take on dragons, as being flying, flamey virgin eaters. So go on and grab that MythsterMap of yours and let’s mark out the region.

Outtakes this week are mostly made up of disruptions of canine origin, although Jaz’s mush-for-brains certainly contributed as well.

But without further ado, onwards!

Dragons of Central Europe Transcript

Jaz: Hello, hello, Mythsters, and welcome to episode 19 of the Mythsterhood of the Travelling Tales. Hello, Anike!

Anike: Hiya, Jaz! How’re you doing?

Jaz: Ah, so and so. I guess we all, all three of us know what that feels like and, because, yeah, we’ve all been dealing with some random stuff outside of podcasting and writing and your art. Which brings us, Mythsters, to the first point we wanted to discuss, which is the blog. So far, we’ve been running on a weekly release schedule where we alternate an episode and a blog post, but we’re struggling to keep up with that because, well, life can only throw you so many lemons before you get really, really sick of lemonade

Anike: Ya.

Jaz: Anike laughs because she’s sick of lemonade, too

Anike: So sick of it.

Jaz: Yeah, yeah. So what we did was we asked the people on our Discord server, where everyone is still welcome to join of course, what they thought about, what they would prefer in terms of us dialing back the release schedule and so far, responses have been quite unanimous in that people prefer the podcast episode to the blog posts. So we’ve decided for now to focus on those, which means you’ll still get your podcast episode every two weeks, but the blog posts with the random side-quests and rabbit hole dives will not be coming along anymore inbetween.

Anike: But we can consolidate that this may mean that podcast episodes will be a bit longer.

Jaz: Yeah! Because all the fun stuff we find, we can no longer shift into a blog post. Which means we’ll just have to discuss it on the podcast.

Anike: We just have to.

Jaz: And such a hardship it is. Anyway, I say we move to our usual disclaimer episode.

Anike: Yes. Because we can’t guarantee that our pronunciations will be on target or anywhere near the target. Although we do Europe, which because both of us have a germanic language as a first language and second language, that doesn’t mean that we’ll get it right.

Jaz: Yeah. Yeah. We’ve got a bit of a home advantage but that is never a guarantee.

Anike: No.

Jaz: So, as Anike already said, this week, we’re delving into Central Europe. Yeah, you heard it right. The place where all the virgin-eating dragons apparently come from. Except, they don’t, at all. Same with the other tropic characteristics.

Anike: Ooh, dispelling myths isn’t something we’ve actively gone out to accomplish before.

Jaz: Until now!

Anike: So, where do we start?

Jaz: I would think the usual east to west, which would have us make our first stop in Austria, through to France. But I have to admit, it’s a bit hard to like follow the modern borders and like state lines. Because things were not always delineated as they are now.

Anike: Well, where have we not seen that?

Jaz: Good point, good point. But in continental Europe, that lack of defined borders is more pronounced. Mostly due to like migrations of people and subsequent conquests of the Romans and later Christianity. Basically, Europe is one big smorgasbord of mythology.

Anike: Right. Many of the germanic myths are actually variations of what most people would think of as Viking mythology, with Odin as Wotun and so on. Though Norse myth is technically Germanic mythology with other flavours mixed in. But surely there are more exclusively continental pretties involved with the various cultures?

Jaz: Fortunately, yes! Quite a lot of dragons in Europe, aside from those known in Norse mythology, which is being reserved for when we get to Scandinavia. One of which we probably know well by now. (sigh)  Here comes Saint George.

Anike: Again! This guy just does not let sleeping dragons lie.

Jaz: No, he doesn’t. He pops up all over Europe, including in my lovely home of Belgium. As usual, he battles the dragon to prevent the maiden sacrifices.

Anike: Not quite the way to dispel the myth of European dragons and their virgin-eating ways…

Jaz: Well, no, but have faith, which is, I’m sorry to stay, that is a very meta thing for me to say, considering. George’s dragon is only one of the few dragons that have that nasty little habit for this episode.

Anike: Good, because I’m in dire need of some happy dragon stories.

Jaz: Oh, for sure! Well, there aren’t any happy ones, per se. Just some not-so-dreadful ones. Still want them?

Anike: I think that will have to do. 

Jaz: Yeah… Yeah. Beggars can’t be choosers. Speaking of beggars, here’s the story of one from Austria who led a dragon on a revenge rampage, using nothing but a red cord.

Anike: Hold up, just… strode through, dragon in tow?

Jaz: This beggar wasn’t what he seemed. In the mountains in the north of Austria, this man was asking for help, food or coin, but was turned away by a prominent farmer. Apparently, very rudely at that. Well, the beggar returned to teach the farmer and the village a lesson in humility. He brought his dragon through! The dragon’s tail gathered the rocks and logs from a storm that preceded them and, basically, packed it all up on the farm. Then, he and the dragon disappeared.

Anike: Just like that? No snacking, no gathering a hoard, no… sacrificial demands?

Jaz: Nope, nothing. Zilch. Not much in the way of description of the dragon, either, sadly. And he’s not the only one.

Anike: Yeah. Unsurprisingly, there are several stories of dragons harassing villages in Austria, each vague and nondescript, but some are moral tales. And, of course, these dragons hoard treasure. But for some change, the heroes always don’t get the treasure!

Jaz: Well, good for those unnamed dragons. They’ve worked hard to get their treasures amassed and guarded, after all. But it’s also in Austria that we encounter our second dragon-rider. This guy isn’t named, only titled as “man from Venice”. The dragon was apparently a menace to the village and no one could stop it. But this Venediger just mounted the dragon and flew off, waving his hat. At least he had style.

Anike: What do they breed in Venice, then?!

Jaz: From all the dragon motifs and sculptures there, they seem to breed dragon-slayers. Saint George, Saint Theodore… Where this Venediger came from in taking to riding one instead, is anyone’s guess.

Anike: Well, many dragon-slayers in this part of the world, aren’t there? And not all were knights, or heroes. They could even be farmers! The area of Pilates, Switzerland, was apparently very much plagued by dragons, with a few stories describing some encounters with them. And, from what we’ve gleaned, poison is a pretty common feature in European dragons, either in their blood or in their breaths.

Jaz: Not fire? That wasn’t what I was expecting. The people of the Pilates, in the Middle Ages actually, thought that dragons could heal, one way or another. A vast contrast to most of Europe’s views since the rise of Christianity.

Anike: Definitely odd in the continent. But also such a relief to hear. I know we said east to west, but seeing as we’ve jumped to Switzerland, we might as well stay a while. They have a really neat dragon there, called the Stollenwurm, or “tunnel worm”.

Jaz: Oh, yeah! Finally, a dragon described! This dragon carries a face like a cat, with a stout lizard body up to 6 feet long.

Anike: And a gnarly poison breath to boot.

Jaz: Not just that, the stollenwurm can hiss or scream.

Anike: Oe, can I have one, like yesterday, please?

Jaz: Make that a double! And they’re not only found in Switzerland. The dragon can be found in Austria and Germany as well, where it’s known as the tatzelwurm.

Anike: Speaking of Germany, we again encounter those adorable dragons, the puk! The little cuties on four legs who steal treasures for the owner of the house they’re attached to. While we covered them in our blog post on the Baltic dragons, these adorable little thieves are germanic in origin. So, two-for-two on cute small dragons!

Jaz: Aww. But Germany isn’t all cuties, noooo. There we also come across another worm, that is dragon worm, not earth. Probably the more well known of European dragons is the lindwurm. These beauties are usually wingless, quite like many of the dragons on the continent.

Anike: Ha! Another myth dispelled, unintentionally. Most European dragons are wingless, don’t breath fire, and don’t chase after virgins.

Jaz: And the lindwurm is one of them. It has a dragon’s head, scales, serpentine body, and two fore legs. But they sort of slither when they move instead of hopping about like a wyvern with a broken arm. Unfortunately, the Lindwurm tended to meet fatal fates after being blamed for natural disasters.

Anike: Ugh, typical. And to add salt to the wound as far as incentive to kill them goes, the skin of a lindwurm can supposedly gift the owner knowledge of nature and medicine. Which really made them a sought-after prize during the Middle Ages when such knowledge was invaluable.

Jaz: And on the topic of invaluable, we need to head over to France, hon. I promise, we’ll get more germanic dragons.

Anike: Oh, alright. And we will be seeing lindwurm in Scandinavia, as well!

Jaz: But for now, how about we discuss the tarasque?

Anike: The… what?

Jaz: Oh, you’re going to love this. Close your eyes and imagine a turtle with a lion’s head, bull horns, bear claws, a serpent tail, sometimes with two great wings, and a body longer than a horse. And the obligatory poison breath, of course.

Anike: Wow. And I thought we travelled too far from the animal combos of the East.

Jaz: Right? Unlike most germanic dragons, the tarasque is actually a man-eating one. Saint Martha-

Anike: Wait, wait, St. Martha, as in sister of Lazarus?

Jaz: The very same. She found the tarasque in the act of swallowing a person whole! With some holy water and the cross, she subdued the beast, girdled it, and brought it to its death at the hands of the villagers.

Anike: Ouch. Not something I think anyone is prepared to witness. How far back does the tarasque go in mythology?

Jaz: You’d think ‘til Biblical times, right? But the earliest written recording of one is in the 12th Century AD. The tarasque dwelt in the river Rhone, where St Martha found it. However, the earliest sculpture of the dragon dates between the 3rd and 1st century BCE in Provence, France.

Anike: Ohh. Southern France. This dragon is wildly different from other germanics, though., is it perhaps the influence of the celts we’re seeing here?

Jaz: And I think you’d be right! The celto-ligurian people who settled in the area, where Noves, and that sculpture, was found. According to the story of Saint Martha, the tarasque was apparently the offspring of the Leviathan and a bull creature called the bonacho of Galicia.

Anike: Leviathan travelled mighty far to get busy. What with his mate destroyed and all that, I can’t say I blame him. But back to the tarasque. The dragon didn’t die with nothing left behind to show for it. The village where he was slain was named after it, now known as Tarascon.

Jaz: Oh, well, that is something we don’t see all the time. At least it wasn’t a kill and dump scenario. The dragon must have made quite the impact on the people back then. And, if our Mythsters remember our previous episode, it made an impact on more than just the people in the region, because the tarasque also led to the naming of like an entire class of dragons, what was it, Galicia? With the mule dragons?

Anike: I think so, if I remember correctly. My brain is fuzzy right now.

Jaz: Yeah, yeah. You’re not alone. But if you missed that episode, do go and check that out because we found some awesome dragons…

Anike: Yes!

Jaz: In the Mediterranean and Iberian regions. But, ooh, there we go with the side quests.

Anike: Yeah. I reckon it would definitely make an impact. Though, I must break it to you, a hop-skip and a jump we must go, still in the southern regions. There where we find the germanic story of Emperor Ortnit of Lombardy and his encounter with dragons. During Ortnit’s conquests, he is made the victim of a little… subterfuge. He was gifted two dragon eggs but he thought it was a baby elephant and a magical gem-producing toad.

Jaz: Well, you should never look a gift egg in the mouth, but, you know. That makes no sense, but whatever. So Ortnit showed the huntsman a cave to raise the presumed elephant in and gave provisions for it. But as the dragons grew, the food ran out and they began to ravage the country. I mean, what did he expect? Dragons need to eat a lot.

Anike: Yeah. Well, needless to say, his knights were no match for the beasts, and Ortnit had to face them himself. Aaaand… ends up falling asleep during the hunt only to be swallowed whole by one of the dragons and fed to its young. Sucked through his armour to be specific.

Jaz: Ew! That’s, that’s interesting. Well, that’s what you get when facing dragons. And I can’t say I feel sorry for the guy because, honestly, who falls asleep on the hunt? A dragon hunt, no less. But then again, he wasn’t exactly like the antagonizer in this case, he was kind of trying to protect his kingdom, I suppose.

Anike: Yes. Fair enough. This episode was full of dragon hunting and slaying and I’ve had enough of that. I feel icky.

Jaz: Better get through a shower, then. I’m pretty sure there’ll be more to face in future episodes.

Anike: Is it that time already?!

Jaz: Well… yes and no. Germanic dragons are rarely named or described, mostly appearing as a plot device for some hero or other. There isn’t much we can go into, unless we start delving in the dragons we know from Norse and British mythology and folklore. 

Anike: Oh, alrighty then!

Jaz: Too soon, hon. That has to wait for the next episodes.

Anike: Ugh, a fortnight seems so far away. Well, until we meet again in Scandinavia.

Jaz: May you have days like dragons greeting clouds. Later, Mythsters!



Theme music: Wanderer by Alexander Nakarada (serpentsoundstudios.com) Licensed under Creative Commons BY Attribution 4.0 License


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