This tale is taken from Marion Florence Lansing, Esquire, and Knight, 1910.
Illustration by Zach Franzen
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How St. George Fought the Dragon
“And by my pen I will recite
St. George’s deeds, an English knight.”
Away back in the second century after Christ, many hundred years before the coming of King Arthur, the ancient city of Coventry gave birth to St. George, the first Christian hero of England, who was also the first knight-errant that ever sought adventure in foreign lands. He deemed it dishonorable, when he grew to be a man, to spend his time at home in idleness, and not achieve somewhat by valor and prowess, so he set out from England in search of worthy adventure.
After many months of travel by sea and land George came in his journeyings to Egypt, which country was then greatly annoyed by a dangerous dragon. It is a fearsome description of him that the minstrel of that day gives.
“Within that country there did rest
A dreadful dragon, fierce and fell,
Whereby they were full sore oppressed.
Who by his poisonous breath each day
Did many of the city slay.
His skin more hard than brass was found,
That sword nor lance could pierce nor wound.”
This terrible dragon had ranged up and down the country for twenty-four years, killing many and leaving devastation in his path.
George, seeking for shelter one night, was told this tale by an old hermit at whose door he knocked. Only on days when an innocent maiden was offered up to be swallowed alive, the old man told him, did the dragon cease to give forth this poisonous breath, against which no man living could stand. But now, alas! all the maidens had been offered up. In all Egypt there was none left but the king’s daughter, and on the morrow she must give herself to the dragon unless some brave knight could be found who should have courage to encounter him and kill him. To such a knight the king had promised to give his daughter in marriage and the crown of Egypt after his death.
The tale of this terrible monster and the news of the royal reward so fired the English knight that he vowed that he would either save the king’s daughter or lose his own life in so glorious an enterprise. He took his repose with the old hermit that night, and at sunrise buckled on his armor and journeyed to the valley where the king’s daughter was to be offered up. The bold knight had scarce entered the valley where the dragon had his abode, when the fiery monster caught sight of him and sent forth from his leathern throat a sound more terrible than thunder. George turned and beheld the dreadful sight. The size of this fell dragon was fearful to behold, for his length from his shoulder to his tail was more than fifty feet, and the scales on his body shone like glittering brass. The knight rode against him with all his speed, thrusting his spear straight at the fiery dragon’s jaws, but it broke to splinters against those brass-like scales.
“The dragon then ‘gan him assail,
And smote our hero with his tail;
Then down before him went horse and man,
Two ribs of George were bruised then.
Up started George with right good will,
And after ran the dragon still.
The dragon was aggrieved sore,
And smote at George more and more.
Long and hard was the fight
Between the dragon and the knight.”
At last George hit him under the right wing, which was the only place where there were no scales. He smote so hard with his sword that it went in up to the hilt, and the dragon fell lifeless on the ground.
Thus within the view of the maiden who was waiting to be offered up he slew the dragon.
“When as the valiant champion there
Had slain the dragon in the field,
To court he brought the lady fair,
Which to all hearts much joy did yield.”
When the people of the city saw him coming with the dragon’s head upon his spear, they began to ring the bells, and brought him into town with great procession. Not only in Egypt but in all the world he was held in great honor, and was made welcome in every place wherever he journeyed for that brave deed. In those days he was reckoned one of the seven great champions of the world, and so dearly did all knights hold him in remembrance in later days that they called upon him for aid in battle, thinking of him as a saint in heaven; and the story goes, as you have read, that when the knights were in great danger at Jerusalem, he did appear to Godfrey and the army and signed them on to enter and conquer the Holy City. Many times the soldiers returned from battle with the tale of how, when the day was going against them and they had prayed for aid, they had seen St. George appear in white armor, with the blood-red cross on his and the dragon on his shield, and always thereafter the soldiers pushed forward with fresh enthusiasm and won the day, shouting,
“St. George of merry England,
The sign of victory.”