Dr Diane Heath is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Kent History & Heritage at Canterbury Christ Church University and general editor for University of Wales Press series on Medieval Animals. She was one of the editors for Gender in Medieval Spaces, Places and Thresholds (IHR, 2019) and has published articles on the medieval bestiary.
Medieval dragons were designed not only to frighten but also to fire the imagination – and provide a suitably huge and evil creature for the hero to battle. Yet there is far more to these medieval creatures than just reptilian adversaries. In the medieval bestiary, the dragon is the king of serpents who stalks the elephant on its way to Eden but nevertheless hides down a hole from the sweet breath of the panther which represents the Word of God; and dragons were used as metaphors for the pain of childbirth in the hagiographies of St Margaret. Despite their mostly bad press dragons had a good side – for they also represented wisdom and the art of logical argument. Dragons continue to enthral us: constantly reinvented, they remain dangerous, potent, and polyvalent.