Shrouded in mystery, dragons are the most spectacular creatures of fable and mythology.
In the West, they are huge, they spit fire, live in caves, guard secrets and treasures, kidnap women and fight knights. In the East, they are supernatural beings that even take part in stories of creation. You must have read a lot about them. “But what did they actually eat,” you may ask? In fact, this is the most common doubt people ask about dragons.
So, What do Dragons eat? What is their diet according to various mythologies and folklore? Are they carnivores? Do they eat veggies? What else did they eat? Let us find out everything today..
What do Dragons eat? Everything to know
One of the most famous dragons in Western folklore is Grendel, killed by Beowulf in the saga that carries his name. This mythological monster was a direct descendant of Cain, and when people went to sleep at night in their wooden huts, or in the hall of the chieftain, as the fire of the hearth went out, this huge and ravenous creature would sneak in from the wilderness… Hidden by mist and night, it would break the doors of the little homes with its superhuman strength and eat people. Yes, people!
The world is full of stories of man-eating dragons, in fact. Back in the Dark Ages, it looks like you were never safe from a dragon. The story of St. Germanus in the Fifth Century is one of horror and courage; he went to a Scottish cave where a dragon that frightened the nearby villagers lived and killed it by luring the huge reptile into a bottomless pit.
These tales are all rooted not just in folklore, not just in the risks that people actually ran daily when forests were huge and filled with danger. They also came straight from a popular reading of the Bible, which made its way into everyday life; it is in Genesis 3:14 that God curses the serpent for tempting Adam and Eve: “Cursed are you above all livestock and all beasts in the field; on your belly you shall go and dust you will eat all the days of your life.”
The step from dust eating snake to man-eating dragon only took a bit of imagination from people whose only light at night was a candle, and where winters were long and eerie.
Even Paris was once haunted by a dragon who would eat its citizens; this beautiful city you will associate more with romance and art was freed from a dragon by St. Marcel in 136 AD who knocked it unconscious with a cross, draped it in his mantle and brought it into the city where the citizens could take their revenge on it and kill it.
But dragons had a good appetite for human flesh even in the Near East. Azi Dahaka may sound new to you, but if you come from Persia, or modern-day Iran, you will know of this fierce monster with three mouths and six eyes and wings big enough to “hide the stars,” as we read in the Avesta, or Zoroastrian Texts. Created directly by the Principal of Evil, this dragon also added a “few veggies” to his human diet. In fact, it was meant to bring about the destruction of a whopping one-third of the human species and of all plants on the planet. A good appetite indeed!
But you know, sometimes it is difficult to find exactly what you like in life… So dragons did not disdain cattle and livestock if they could not find a juicy human to chew on… Azhdaya, a spitting fire dragon from Slavic folklore with three heads, managed to live up to one hundred years on a diet of sheep, cows, goats, and humans.
But if you lived in the past, you wouldn’t be safe from dragons even as a sailor. In Norse folklore, there’s a famous sea dragon called Jörmungandr. This was so big that sailors often confused it for an island when crossing the seas. Stories collected in History of the Norther Peoples written back in 1555 by Olanus Magunstalk, of creatures that could reach 200 feet in length, which is 70 metres, and it would live in the sea.
We know quite a lot about the diet of this dragon because, not happy with sea creatures, it also crawled out of the sea at night and feasted on cows, pigs and lambs and, well you guessed, even people. On the other hand, it also fed on some sea plants, maybe waiting for you to set sail on a wood ship which it would just grab and swallow its crew. But don’t worry, you would be fairly safe from this dragon on land; this scary animal would only come out of the sea during the summer months, and as you know, they are pretty short in Scandinavia!
So far, you see, we have seen dragons eat humans, land animals and fish with the odd side dish of vegetables to help their digestion. But this is not all. Oh, no, dragons have a massive appetite indeed, much bigger than you can even imagine.
If in the West dragons come from folklore especially in the last thousand years, in the East, they are as old as civilization itself. Dragons are more than big winged reptiles and a massive appetite in countries like India, Thailand, China, Korea, and Japan… They are part of a cosmic story of celestial beings that take part in the history of the world not as somewhat troublesome neighbours of humans, but as protagonists of the story of creation itself.
If you live in the East, you may have heard of “dragons that eat the Sun,” in fact. Yes, you heard well, the Sun! Why? Well, this is a common description for what happens when there is a solar eclipse. This idea comes from the very, very dawn of civilisation. Of course, seeing the Sun disappear all of a sudden must have been quite an impressive phenomenon. And who better to blame for this than a huge creature with wings and the appetite of, well – a dragon?
Stories of creation are full of mythical creatures; you may know many versions of this narrative, but something that you will find unites East and West is a clash between good on one side and evil on the other side, in many shapes and forms. So, in both Hindu tradition and Judaeo-Christian tradition, we find that dragons are primarily defined, at their origin, as “poisonous snake-like monsters”. And guess whose side they are on?
But in these myths, there’s something strange. In the Bible they appear in Deuteronomy 32:33 and Psalms 41:13 as sea creatures, created together with the fish by God in Genesis 1:21. They cause floods and are identified with them. God overwhelmed the dragons in creation, which represents the hemming of the River Nile, which is its taming to use it for irrigation.
But in the Hindu tradition, Vritra, a dragon, is related to drought as well as fertility. This creature in fact blocks the rivers. In the story from the Rigveda, it is then killed by the deity Indra, not before the dragon actually eats Indra himself and then Tvashta makes him vomit him of course. This symbolises the invention of irrigation. So, when the two myths come to the end, both give us the same result.
So, Whichever story you like best, you should not be surprised that dragons could drink whole rivers, in the end, after a meal of humans, livestock, even the Sun and a deity, and with just a few vegetables to swallow them down, no wonder these creatures were not just voracious, but a bit thirsty as well!