Volume 16, Number 22
March 23, 2010

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This Week

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Alper ÖzkanHere Be Dragons

Here I stand, right after a midterm that I spent about 3 hours studying (compare to 12 hours spent on playing a recently released game in the same time period. At least I'm about to finish it. ) , wondering what to write for this week's column. I remember that there was talk of dragons just before the exam - odd, given that the exam clearly did not contain any dragons. But they do make as fitting a topic as any. So be it. Dragons.

...What is a dragon, anyway? The European image of a dragon is clear: four legs, wings, long tail, reptilian body, fire breath. If you look into the Far East, the dragon resembles what would have happened if Noah somehow crossed together every animal in his Ark, but generally looks like a serpent. But as far as reptilian beasts go, there are deviations from the norm - cat-faced, serpentine tatzelwurm; spiny, poisonous Peluda or the many-headed Lernaean Hydra are all rather unlike the usual image of dragons. Are any of those dragons, if so, why; if not, why not? Perhaps it would be handier to look into mythological serpents (or even, reptiles) in general and not have to worry about what constitutes a dragon.

And you'll never find yourself lacking large, mythological serpents. Vasuki is an example I'm rather fond of. Unlike European dragons, Vasuki was benevolent, or at least tolerant enough to go along with blatantly insane plans that involved tying his body to a mountain and spinning him into an ocean until the nectar of immortality was formed out of it. As you would expect, using a snake for a rope does not bode well for the snake, and indeed Vasuki was soon almost torn in half.

But Vasuki is no ordinary snake - he is a giant one, and giant snakes have giant venoms. In Vasuki's case, the venom is called halahala, and it is potent enough to destroy Earth itself. Fearing for his life, Vasuki forgot all precaution and began spilling his venom, and the world could have ended had Shiva not disposed of the poison by drinking it. And that's far from the most thoughtless acts the deva have pulled off - a sizeable portion of Brahma's time is apparently spent granting wishes to anyone who asks for it, which led to more than one asura obtaining invincibility and raging around until the deva figure a loophole around the boon granted and go put the offender down.

It appears I'm running out of space already, so here's something I want to get in. In the West, the humble olm, actually a cave salamander, was thought to be a larval dragon. And in the East, carp strong enough to swim up a waterfall were thought to ascend as dragons. The life of our ancestors must have been a fearful one - it seems anything may suddenly turn into a dragon and devour you before you know it.

And a small note: as you may have noticed, I set no clear boundaries on what I write on, other than attempting to alternate between odd animals and odd myths. In the process, I spend a good deal of time on Wikipedia and any other handy source I may have. In fact, research is what makes the process fun - I learn something, and whomever reads this column learns something (hopefully! )

Long story short, if there is any idea you deem interesting, please do mail me and state it, so that I may look it up and not have to think of what to write for another week! Of course, be fairly easy on me. Do not send me your homework, but otherwise anything goes.


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