St. George Decoded - The Legend of St. George, page 5

The Legend of St. George

The legend was first recorded in the sixth century AD. It may have been around orally before then, but if so, earlier written records have not survived. Certainly, by the twelfth century AD it was recorded in the form that we know today. You will find many variants of this legend. It would cloud the issue completely if we were to examine all the variations, so let me summarise the main features:

  1. A pagan town is beset by a troublesome pest, a dragon.
  2. The townspeople offer it two sheep each day to appease it. Running out of sheep they offer a maiden, drawn by lot, to be devoured.
  3. On one occasion it is the king's own daughter who has drawn the unlucky vote to feed the beast. She is taken out and chained to a stake (or sometimes a rock) there to await her gruesome fate. Some variants omit the stake/rock, or the chain.
  4. But lo, a brave knight, St. George, cantors into sight. He asks the princess why she is chained in such a fashion, and she tells him the whole sorry story. Our hero is suitably disgusted. Who wouldn't be, at such a dreadful waste of a maiden?
  5. At that, the dragon appears. St. George does his warrior stuff, gives battle and wins, freeing the princess. In some variants, the dragon is merely overcome, then the princess puts her girdle around the dragon's neck and they lead him into town where he calms down and becomes great friends with the townspeople. Presumably, eating maidens was all a big misunderstanding now happily forgotten, except of course for the previously-devoured maidens who could not be uneaten.
  6. St. George converts the pagan town to Christianity.

But what is the meaning of this legend.? The conventional interpretation is:

The legend is thus a metaphor for the battle of good against evil, saving the Church and all it stands for from the clutches of Satan. However there are no such creatures as dragons. If you follow the conventional reading, the compilers of the legend needed an evil and loathsome creature for our good knight to fight. Whoever heard of a knight jousting a snake, a lizard, a spider, or some other scary creature? Nature simply doesn't make them big enough for such a challenge. But dragons - well, we all know how fearsome they come. They breathe fire, fly around the sky, seem to be invincible, and have a fine taste for maidens. But again, there are no such creatures as dragons, although there was indeed a good knight called George, so what were the compilers expecting us to believe?

This legend was not totally original. For centuries beforehand people knew a similar legend, that of the goddess Andromeda. She had been chained to a rock on the sea shore as a sacrifice to a sea monster that the god Poseidon had sent to ravage the land. She was rescued by a hero who battled with, and defeated, the monster. The hero was the Greek demigod Perseus. We'll be meeting him later.