Friday, October 26, 2012

The Linguistic Connection between a Dragon, Draconian Law and a Constellation

No, it’s not all Greek to me! The Greek word “Drakōn” means “snake, monster” and hence entered many Western languages such as dragon (English, French), Drache (German), dragón (Spanish), dragão (Portuguese), dragone (Italian), and draak (Dutch). It also inspired names of fictional characters such as Dracula and Draco Malfoy.
But Δράκων (Drakōn or Draco) was also a Greek legislator who was notorious for his severe laws. He lived in the 7th century BCE. He wrote laws that allowed liberal use of the death penalty, even for minor offences.  Due to its harshness it became know as “draconian”, which is used nowadays to refer to similarly unforgiving rules or laws.

And for the stargazers among you –Draco is also a constellation in the far northern sky! Dragons in Greek mythology quite likely have inspired the constellation's name, including Ladon, the dragon who guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides, and was killed by Hercules as part of his 12 labors. According to Greco-Roman legend, the dragon Draco was killed by the goddess Minerva and tossed into the sky upon his defeat.

Furthermore, in the 1620s, the French word “dragon” referring to a carbine or  also made its way into the English language as "dragoon" since the guns the soldiers carried "breathed fire" like a dragon.
It makes you wonder – would Draco the Lawmaker be amazed at the impact he had on so many languages for millennia? We will never now…

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