The British Library is commemorating St. George's Day with an extraordinary gallery of dragon illustrations culled from its digitized medieval manuscript collection.

The online bestiary reveals dragons in all their forms, ranging from the familiar Smaug variety to lizard-like animals with duck feet to winged leonine creatures. Dragons were near-ubiquitous in medieval manuscripts, serving as the nemesis of a saint or angel, as representations of demons and as heraldic devices.


As the library notes:

The idea of the dragon as a fearsome foe for all godly and righteous beings stretches back to the late-antique source material that later developed into the 12th and 13th century text of the bestiary. The book of beasts tells us that the dragon is a variety of serpent, is 'larger than all other animals in the world', lives in caves, and possesses great strength in its tail. Nothing, 'not even the elephant' is safe from the dragon, which lies in wait and suffocates the elephant within its coils.

It would be too simplistic, though, to claim that dragons were universally objects of horror and loathing. They were not even always enemies. Dragons make appearances in discussions of astronomy and natural history, as elements of decoration, and even within the Tudor coat of arms.

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