Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Feats that pass into legend.


I saw a news story the other day about a giant crocodile.  On 3 September, trappers and local farmers in Agusan del Sur in the Philippines ended a three-week hunt for the creature.  The crocodile had killed a water buffalo and maybe a local farmer, and broken four traps before it was finally caught.  Rough measurements put the animal at 21 feet (6.4 meters) and 2,370 pounds (1,075 kilograms), which is the weight of a small car.

As I read the story and looked at the picture of the massive creature, I thought about the Christian story of Saint George.  In the story, George was a soldier who saved a girl and her village from a dragon by killing the monster with a lance.  He then encouraged the villagers to turn to God. 

Over the centuries, the story passed into legend, and various groups, including the medieval Crusaders, revered the saint for his courage and faith.  These days many people look on stories like this as allegories for the defeat of evil, or even as pure fiction.  But sometimes legends contain a kernel of truth.

There isn't a great deal of information about George, but Pope Gelasius mentioned him in 495 AD, and he may have lived quite a bit earlier in the Roman Empire.  In the story about the dragon, George was traveling in Libya near the city of Silena when he learned about a dragon in a nearby swamp.  According to the legend, the locals fed the dragon goats to keep it placated, but they eventually gave it people, until George killed the dragon and urged them to convert to Christianity and end the practice of human sacrifice.

The crocodiles of the Nile River in Egypt are famous for their size.  I don't think it's much of a stretch to consider that in the third or fourth century, the range of these creatures may have included swamps in Libya, which is next to Egypt.  Crocodiles that become used to being fed lose their fear of humans, and it's quite possible a particularly large crocodile had killed local farm animals and villagers.  In art, Saint George is usually depicted wielding a lance or a spear, often on horseback.  Using a weapon with some reach--like a spear or lance--would make great sense when battling a large crocodile.  Although I suspect a trained soldier like George would have dismounted to fight the creature, since swamps are treacherous footing for horses.

When you consider it this way, the legend of Saint George and the dragon is a lot more plausible.  And really, the heart of the story is that a brave man fought to protect others.  That act is something we can all admire.

(Data about Saint George is from a detailed article in newadvent.org.  The crocodile information is from batangastoday.com.  The picture is from pinoypower.com.)

2 comments:

  1. Wow that is a huge alligator!

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  2. Actually it's a crocodile, but you're right, it is huge! The good news is that they captured it alive and it's on display for people to visit.

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