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Study information

The Western Dragon in Lore, Literature and Art

Module titleThe Western Dragon in Lore, Literature and Art
Module codeCLAM101
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Professor Daniel Ogden (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

The module surveys the development of the dragon in the western tradition. All aspects are considered, but particular attention is paid to the themes, motifs and meanings of dragon-slaying narratives. We begin with the western dragon’s Near-Eastern forbears, concentrate heavily on the copious and rich dragon-slaying narratives of Classical antiquity and of late-antique and medieval hagiography, and move on to the dragon’s role in Germanic literature and international folklore, including British. There will be defined opportunities to investigate matters of the dragon’s more recent reception (i.e. nothing infra dig). The module is suitable for both specialist Classics and non-specialist students. There are no pre- or co-requisites, but if you bring to the module experience in Classics/Ancient History, Medieval History, Theology, History of Art, Comparative Literature or Herpetology you may find yourself able to engage particularly deeply with aspects of it. The module is eminently suitable for those of interdisciplinary bent.

Module aims - intentions of the module

  • The module introduces you to a wide range of literary texts and allows you to get a grasp of and engage with the texts’ particularities through the comparative study of a tight theme within them. It also asks you to engage with iconographic traditions and to consider the relationships between these and literary ones. You will have the opportunity to grapple with the characteristics and issues of ‘myth’, ‘tradition’ and ‘folklore’. The teaching arises directly from research. The central tool of the course will be DO’s OUP USA sourcebook, Dragons, Serpents and Slayers in the Classical and Early Christian Worlds, and it will be supported by DO’s substantial OUP UK monograph Drakon: Dragon Myth and Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman Worlds and related publications.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate close knowledge of the sources for a wide range of dragon lore and dragon-slaying narratives
  • 2. Demonstrate understanding of the multifarious functions of dragon-lore
  • 3. Demonstrate understanding of the problems in analysing its (inter-)cultural transmission

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Collate and analyse widely different types of evidence, much of which is incomplete and ambiguous in its significance
  • 5. Draw independent inferences about the relationship of myths to their cultural and historical contexts
  • 6. Reflect critically on the origins, development and significance of traditional stories in one's own and other cultures

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Apply key bibliographical skills and the latest forms of information retrieval, as well as word-processing skills
  • 8. Think autonomously and analytically on the basis of written and visual sources and secondary literature; to construct and defend a sustained argument (both in written form and orally)
  • 9. Work with instructor and peers in an independent, constructive and responsive way

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • World-foundational dragon-slaying tales from the Ancient Near East and India, including Sumerian Azag, Egyptian Apophis, Babylonian Tiamat, Indian Vritra, Ugaritic Litan, Hurrian Hedammu, Hittite Illuyanka, Iranian Azi Dahaka, Biblical Leviathan.
  • The Classical dragon-slaying tales, including Typhon, Python, the Heracliscus serpents, Hydra, Lamias, Dragon of Ares, Dragon of Nemea, Dragon of Colchis, Dragon of Thespiae, the Laocoon serpents, Dragon of the river Bagrada, Sea-monster of Troy, Sea-monster of Ethiopia, Chimaera, Cerberus, Medusa.
  • Early Christian dragon-slaying tales, including those of the slayers SS. Thomas, Philip Silvester, Hilarion of Gaza, Ammon, Donatus, Victoria, Andrew, Caluppan, Marcellus of Paris, Hilary of Poitiers, Florentius of Valcastoria, Samson of Dol, Narcissus of Gerundum, Clement of Metz, Margaret of Antioch, Patrick George.
  • Germanic dragon-slaying tales, including Beowulf’s Firedrake, Sigurd-Siegfried and Fafnir (in many different tellings), the Dragon of Wexford (Tristan), the Midgard Worm, the Dragon of Thidrek and Fasold, the vipers of Ragnarr Lodbrok.
  • ‘Folkloric’ dragon-slaying tales, including the Sanskrit Takshaka, the Syriac dragon of Prasiake, the Midddle Persian Worm of Haftvad, the Old Irish muirdris, the Polish Smok Wawelski, the dragon of Jean Gobi, Tyrolean white snakes, British tales of the Stoor Worm, the Worm of Cnoc-na-Cnoimh, the Worm of Wormistone, the Lambton Worm, the White Snake of Mote Hill.
  • Nachleben and Reception: specific topics to be determined by the students taking the course in negotiation with DO.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching15Intensive seminar and reading group teaching
Guided independent study135Working independently and in groups in preparation for seminars and essays

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay 804000 words1-9Mark; written and oral comment
Presentation2015-20 minutes1-6, 8-9Mark; written and oral comment

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-9Referral/Deferral period
PresentationEssay1-6, 8-9Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 50%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 50%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Fontenrose, J. 1959. Python. A Study of the Delphic Myth and its Origins. Berkeley.
  • Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth. A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore. Continuous pagination.
  • Jones, D.E. 2000. An Instinct for Dragons. London and New York.
  • Lane Fox, R. 2008. Travelling Heroes. Greeks and their Myths in the Epic Age of Homer. London.
  • Lapatin, K.D.S. 2002. Mysteries of the Snake Goddess. Art, Desire and the Forging of History. Boston.
  • Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae 1981-99. 9 vols in 18 parts. Zurich and Munich.
  • Mayor, A., 2000. The First Fossil Hunters. Palaeontology in Greek and Roman Times. Princeton.
  • Mitropoulou, E. 1977. Deities and Heroes in the Form of Snakes. 2nd ed. Athens.
  • Ogden, D. 2013a. Drakon: Dragon Myth and Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Oxford.
  • — 2013b. Dragons, Serpents and Slayers in the Classical and Early Christian Worlds: A Sourcebook. New York.
  • Privat, J.-M., ed. 2000. Dans la gueule du dragon. Histoire – ethnologie – littérature. Metz.
  • Rauer, C. 2000. Beowulf and the Dragon. Cambridge.
  • Simpson, J. 1978. 1980. British Dragons. London.
  • Vogel, J.P. 1926. Indian Serpent Lore or the Nagas in Hindu Legend and Art. London.
  • Wakeman, M.K. 1973. God’s Battle with the Monster: a Study in Biblical Imagery. Leiden.
  • Watkins, C. 1995. How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics. Oxford.
  • West, M.L. 1966. Hesiod. Theogony. Oxford.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Dragons, Imagery, Heroes

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date

Feb 2013

Last revision date