Wales, Dragons, and the Book of Esther

Okay, Geoffrey of Monmouth fans, what does this sound like?

“….Mordecai… a great man and among the first of the king’s court, had a dream… And this was his dream:

“Behold, there were voices, and tumults, and thunders, and earthquakes, and a disturbance upon the earth.

“And behold, two great dragons came forth ready to fight one against another. And at their cry all nations were stirred up to fight against the nation of the just. And that was a day of darkness and danger, of tribulation and distress, and great fear upon the earth.

“And the nation of the just was troubled fearing their own evils, and was prepared for death. And they cried to God, and as they were crying, a little spring grew into a very great river, and abounded into many waters. The light and the sun rose up, and the humble were exalted, and they devoured the glorious.

“And when Mordecai had seen this, and arose out of his bed, he was thinking what God would do; and he kept it fixed in his mind, desirous to know what the dream should signify.” (Esther 11:2-12, or Esther Prologue A:2-12, depending on Bible)

In the Greek epilogue to Esther contained in some Bibles, there’s more dragon talk:

“And Mordecai said, “These things have come from God; for I remember the dream that I had concerning these matters, and none of them has failed to be fulfilled. There was the little spring that became a river, and there was light and sun and abundant water. The river is Esther, whom the king married and made queen. The two dragons are Haman and myself.”

Ha! Another good Jewish/Christian dragon!

UPDATE: So that explains why Madonna thought her Purim costume should be the dragon lady from Game of Thrones with two shoulder dragons. Well played!

And here’s Merlin and King Vortigern, in Regum Historia Britanniae, Bk. 2, chapter 3:

“As Vortigern, king of the Britons, was sitting upon the bank of the drained pond, two dragons… came forth, and approaching each other, began a terrible fight… After this battle of the dragons, the king commanded Ambrosius Merlin to tell him what it portended. Upon which, bursting into tears, he delivered what his prophetical spirit suggested to him….”

Some versions of the story do more with the pond. Most versions of the story make a big point of mentioning how big a racket the dragons were making. This probably comes from Esther, but it becomes an important part of the story in the Welsh dragon prequel, “Lludd and Llevelys.” As Charlotte Guest translated it in the Mabinogion:

“The second plague [of Britain] was a shriek which came on every May-eve, over every hearth in the Island of Britain. And this went through people’s hearts, and so scared them, that the men lost their hue and their strength, and the women their children, and the young men and the maidens lost their senses, and all the animals and trees and the earth and the waters, were left barren…

“And thereupon King Lludd felt great sorrow and care, because that he knew not how he might be freed from these plagues… Lludd the son of Beli went to Llevelys his brother, king of France, for he was a man great of counsel and wisdom, to seek his advice…

“And the second plague,” said [Llevelys], “that is in thy dominion – behold, it is a dragon. And another dragon of a foreign race is fighting with it, and striving to overcome it. And therefore does your dragon make a fearful outcry… thou wilt see the dragon fighting in the form of terrific animals. And at length they will take the form of dragons in the air. And last of all, after wearying themselves with fierce and furious fighting, they will fall… And they will drink up the whole of the mead; and after that they will sleep. Thereupon do thou immediately… bury them… in the strongest place thou hast in thy dominions, and hide them in the earth. And as long as they shall bide in that strong place no plague shall come to the Island of Britain from elsewhere.”

“…And thus the fierce outcry ceased in his dominions.”

In the History of the Kings of Britain, Merlin acts an awful lot like Joseph and Daniel and Solomon, and not much at all like a pagan druid. This is why it’s explicitly said that Vortigern and his advisors thought Merlin’s prophecies (which appear later in Book II at the request of the Bishop of Lincoln, and try hard to sound like the Book of Revelation processed through Welsh poetry) were based on “divine inspiration.”

This kind of Biblical reference is something that was more obvious to people in the past than to us: because we aren’t as big of Bible readers, or because our favorite books are different from theirs, or because our spelling is different. For them it’s obvious that Iona = Jonah = Columba = Colm [Cille] = dove, but to us it’s totally non-obvious and hidden from our sight.

Of course, a lot of times Biblical references are even hidden from us by our nice modern Bibles! Very few sources deign to notice that the Mary in the Magnificat is quoting Esther 11:11, which is (horrors!) from the Greek Septuagint!

2 Comments

Filed under Bad Christian Dragons, Good Christian Dragons

2 responses to “Wales, Dragons, and the Book of Esther

  1. Pingback: More Good Dragons in Christianity | Aliens in This World

  2. Pingback: The Dream of Mordecai Referenced Again in the Alliterative Morte Arthure | Aliens in This World

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