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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

Dragons Exist In Nearly Every Culture’s Mythology As a Mirror of Their Fears. What Are Ours?

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We live in the golden age of dragons – they appear in Game of Thrones, most film adaptations of the works of J.R.R. Tolkein, and nearly everything tangentially related to fantasy. They date back millennia, appearing in every cultures mythology, from ancient Greece and India to medieval Europe and China to the badlands of modern America.

But what do they represent? Today’s guest is Scott Bruce, a medievalist and author of the Penguin Book of Dragons. He’s here to explain the meaning of dragons in myth and legend. We discuss their origins in the deserts of Africa; their struggles with their mortal enemies, elephants, in the jungles of South Asia; their fear of lightning; the world’s first dragon slayer, in an ancient collection of Sanskrit hymns; the colossal sea monster Leviathan; the seven-headed “great red dragon” of the Book of Revelation; the Loch Ness monster; the dragon in Beowulf, who inspired Smaug in Tolkien’s The Hobbit; the dragons in the prophecies of the wizard Merlin; a dragon saved from a centipede in Japan who gifts his human savior a magical bag of rice; the supernatural feathered serpent of ancient Mesoamerica; and a flatulent dragon the size of the Trojan Horse.
Nearly a quarter of the selections are translated into English for the first time, from medieval European sources translated directly from the Latin, to medieval Greek stories. Bruce also dug deeply into obscure early modern and 19th century sources, like the reports of dragon sightings from two American newspapers around the turn of the 20th century.

I’ll conclude with a cautionary quote from Ursula K. Le Guin: “People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.”
January 27, 2022
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to
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