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Statue of a sophist from the reign of Septimius Severus. Archaeological museum of Izmir (Turkey).

Flavius Philostratus:

The Life of Apollonius

Translated by F.C. Conybeare

 
[§6] Now as they descended the mountain, they say they came in for a dragon hunt, which I must needs describe. For it is utterly absurd for those who are amateurs of hare-hunting to spin yarns about the hare as to how it is caught or ought to be caught, and yet that we should omit to describe a chase as bold as it is wonderful, and in which the sage, of whom I have written this account, was careful to set on record:

The whole of India is girt with dragons of enormous size; for not only the marshes are full of them, but the mountains as well, and there is not a single ridge without one. Now the marsh kind are sluggish in their habits and are thirty cubits long, and they have no crest standing up on their heads, but in this respect resemble the she-dragons. Their backs however are very black, with fewer scales on them than the other kinds; and Homer has described them with deeper insight than have most poets, for he says that the dragon that lived hard by the spring in Aulis had a tawny back [Iliad 2.308]; but other poets declare that the congener of this one in the grove of Nemea also had a crest, a feature which we could not verify in regard to the marsh dragons.

[§7] And the dragons along the foothills and the mountain crests make their way into the plains after their quarry, and get the better all round of those in the marshes; for indeed they reach a greater length, and move faster than the swiftest rivers, so that nothing escapes them. These actually have a crest, of moderate extent and height when they are young; but as they reach their full size, it grows with them and extends to a considerable height, at which time also they turn red and get serrated backs. This kind also have beards, and lift their necks on high, while their scales glitter like silver; and the pupils of their eyes consist of a fiery stone, and they say that this has an uncanny power for many secret purposes. The plain specimen falls the prize of the hunters whenever it draws into its folds an elephant; for the destruction of both creatures is the result, and those who capture the dragons are rewarded by getting the eyes and skin and teeth. 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.

[§8] Now the dragons of the mountains have scales of a golden color, and in length excel those of the plain, and they have bushy beards, which also are of a golden hue; and their eyebrows are more prominent than those of the plain, and their eye is sunk deep under the eyebrow, and emits a terrible and ruthless glance. And they give off a noise like the clashing of brass whenever they are burrowing under the earth, and from their crests, which are all fiery red, there flashes a fire brighter than a torch.

They also can catch the elephants, though they are themselves caught by the Indians in the following manner. They embroider golden runes on a scarlet cloak, which they lay in front of the animal's burrow after charming them the runes to cause sleep; for this is the only way to overcome the eyes of the dragon, which are otherwise inflexible, and much mysterious lore is sung by them to overcome him. These runes induce the dragon to stretch his neck out of his burrow and fall asleep over them: then the Indians fall upon him as he lies there, and dispatch him with blows of their axes, and having cut off the head they despoil it of its gems.

And they say that in the heads of the mountain dragons there are stored away stones of flowery color, which flash out all kinds of hues, and possess a mystical power as resided in the ring, which they say belonged to Gyges.[1] But often the Indian, in spite of his axe and his cunning, is caught by the dragon, who carries him off into his burrow, and almost shakes the mountains as he disappears. These are also said to inhabit the mountains in the neighborhood of the Red Sea, and they say that they heard them hissing terribly and that they saw them go down to the shore and swim far out into the sea. It was impossible however to ascertain the number of years that this creature lives, nor would my statements be believed. This is all I know about dragons.

[§9] They tell us that the city under the mountain is of great size and is called Paraca, and that in the center of it are enshrined a great many heads of dragons, for the Indians who inhabit it are trained from their boyhood in this form of sport. And they are also said to acquire an understanding of the language and ideas of animals by feeding either on the heart or the liver of the dragon.

And as they advanced they thought they heard the pipe of some shepherd marshaling his flock, but it turned out to be a man looking after a herd of white hinds, for the Indians use these for milking, and find their milk very nutritious.

[§10] From this point their road led for four days across a rich and well cultivated country, till they approached the castle of the sages, when their guide bade his camel crouch down, and leapt off it in such an agony of fear that he was bathed in perspiration. Apollonius however quite understood where he was come to, and smiling at the panic of the Indian, said: "It seems to me that this fellow, were he a mariner who had reached harbor after a long sea voyage, would worry at being on land and tremble at being in dock."

And as he said this he ordered his camel to kneel down, for indeed he was by now well accustomed to do so. And it seems that what scared the guide so much was that he was now close to the sages; for the Indians fear these people more than they do their own king, because the very king to whom the land is subject consults them about everything that he has to say or do, just as people who send to an oracle of a god; and the sages indicate to him what it is expedient for him to do, and what is inexpedient, and dissuade and warn him off with signs.[2]

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Note 1:
A fairy tale told by Plato. Gyges was able to make himself invisible and became king of Lydia.

Note 2:
An accurate description of the board of Brahman advisers of an Indian raja.

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