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Traditions And Developments Of The Medieval English Dragon
Lesley Catherine Kordecki
Toronto: University Of Toronto, 1980

PhD dissertation at the University Of Toronto.

"This study documents the major occurrences of the dragon motif influential to its development in medieval English literature. The organizational principle is also my method of interpretation of the material, that is, I see the motif operating in either the non-symbolic capacity of animal, the polyvalent level of symbol or the sign level in which the motif evokes a single meaning. A valid estimation of the medieval perception of the dragon, be it substantial creature or poetic image, requires an investigation of the commonly held beliefs about and literary uses of that class of fabulous creatures to which the dragon belonged. The medieval aesthetic embraced the figure of the monstrous animal in certain genres and I trace a number of recurring monsters historically through the most influential travel writings, encyclopedias, bestiaries and biblical exegeses. Quite clearly, the material presents instances of both literal and metaphorical uses of the motifs. After acquiring this more general feeling for the medieval monster's place in the language and learning of these centuries, I return to the important, expansive, controversial or in any way helpful witnesses. From them, a detailed, comprehensive understanding of the dragon itself perceived as an animal becomes visible. Similarly, authoritative writings reveal the creature's symbolic essence as much in its contrived and imaginative attributes as in its varied and carefully construed meanings. Shades of meaning and shifting portrayals of the creature in the plastic arts are examined briefly at each interpretive level--animal, symbol and sign. These traditions provide insight and background to the dragon image found in secular literature, especially with regard to its physical attributes, habitat and possible symbolic intonations. Other traditions, however, are known to have influenced not only these aspects but the role the dragon plays in the narrative. For these, I turn to the areas of folklore and mythology and gather the oftentimes ancient dragon stories which may have found their way into the writings of medieval English authors. Armed with weaponry of these investigations, I approach selected genres of Old and Middle English literature with an eye to following, documenting and, at times, theorizing about the development of the dragon motif over the centuries." - abstract

Language: English

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