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Mythological Fire Creatures

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  • 0:33 Dragons
  • 1:16 The Chimera
  • 2:00 The Phoenix
  • 2:38 Salamanders
  • 3:27 Fire Giants
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Waguespack

Jason has taught Political Science courses for college. He has a doctorate in Political Science.

In this lesson, we will discuss various creatures in world mythology that are associated with fire. We will explore some notable myths that tell of their origins, appearance, and adventures.

Mythical Creatures and Fire

Fire is one of the most exciting and dangerous elements known to man. The image of blazing orange flames can be both beautiful and horrifying. It's no surprise that in human mythology, fire creatures are some of the most famous. Some use it simply as a weapon. Others for greater destructive ends, like ending the world. In some cases, destruction by fire sets the stage for rebirth, whether of a creature or even the world itself. For this lesson, we're going to meet some of mythology's most famous fire denizens.

Dragons

When people think of dragons, they usually imagine a large, wing-flapping reptilian creature with lots of teeth and breath that produces flames. Most cultures in the world have their own myths of dragons. The word 'dragon' has its roots in the Greek word drakonta, which means 'to look at' or 'to watch.' In many myths and legends, dragons are portrayed as guardians. In Greek mythology, a dragon guards the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. In British folklore, these creatures are frequently depicted as guarding great mountains of treasure. Dragons are also characterized as powerful entities that mythical heroes must slay or defeat. Apollo defeating the dragon Python in Greek myth and Marduk slaying Tiamat in Babylonian myth are two such examples.

The Chimera

The chimera is a fearsome, female creature from Greek mythology that is known for being a combination of three different creatures. Her bottom half is that of a dragon, her torso is a goat, and her head is a lion. However, in some works of art the chimera actually also has a goat and a dragon head. The chimera is also a fire breather; but even in Greek tradition where it has multiple heads, the dragon head almost never breathes fire. Frequently, it is the goat or lion head that breathes fire, although in one instance the chimera does shoot fire from all three heads. In spite of the all this, it is not invincible. According to Greek myth, the hero Bellerophon rode the winged horse Pegasus high enough to evade the Chimera's flames before killing the beast by thrusting his spear into the creature's mouth.

The Phoenix

The phoenix is a bird depicted in many mythologies. It first arose from Egyptian myth where it was shown as a heron, before the Greeks depicted it as an eagle or peacock. When the phoenix perceives that its death is imminent, it builds a nest made of aromatic wood. The bird then sets the nest ablaze and is engulfed in the fire. After three days, a new phoenix arises from the ashes. This story has made the phoenix a symbol of death, resurrection, and immortality. In the Roman Empire, the image of the phoenix was placed on mosaics and coins as a symbol of the empire's immortality. Also, Christian iconography identified the three-day rebirth of the phoenix with Christ's resurrection.

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