Sunday, March 22, 2015

Persian Dragons

Dragon porcelain dish in "Islamic Blue', a product of Persian cobalt and Chinese artisans (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA)

     Dragons in the Persian tradition differ from both the Western conception of an evil, flying monster breathing fire and the Far Eastern image of a powerful but often benevolent creature resembling a giant snake. Although Persian dragons more closely resemble Chinese dragons in description, they are usually seen as malevolent, and possessing both human intellect and often, a lust for power.
    The source of the modern Persian word for dragon, ezhdeha (اژدها) is Azi Dahaka. a three-headed monster mentioned in the early religious texts of Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrian scripture also mentions other dragons, or Azi, including a yellow dragon who spat venom, and a red dragon who brought on a deadly winter.
     In the Persian epic the Shahnameh, Azi Dahaka’s legend was transformed into that of Zahhak, a handsome Arab prince who fell under the influence of evil and grew a snake from each shoulder, each of which could only be satisfied by eating human brains daily.
Miniature of Rostam of The Shahmaneh slaying a dragon

     Even though Persian dragons were a negative force, they were sometimes used as a symbol on war banners, to frighten the enemy.