Drake is the Middle English word for dragon, stemming from the Old English Draca (Dracan plural). The term itself is derived from Dracō in Latin – which in turn was derived from the Ancient Greek Drákōn – with connotations of a malevolent, serpentine nature. It is argued that the origins of the word are found in Indo-European language, and that an early description may have been close to “monster with the evil eye”. While Drake has survived into Modern English – particularly in fantasy literature – the generic “dragon” is far more commonly used. The reason for this is that what much of the Western World understands a dragon to be is based on the medieval accounts of Dracan, despite numerous other examples predating them by thousands of years. The earliest written appearance does not actually occur until the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, Beowulf, whose manuscript dates between the 8th and 11th centuries AD.
While similar to other Germanic dragons such as Lindwurmen and Wyverns with scales and horns and reptilian bodies, Drakes are defined as having four legs separate from their bat-like wings, a muscular tail and the ability to breathe fire. Said to dwell in underground lairs and caves, they are generally portrayed as evil and destructive, but also cunning and greedy; many stories involve them hoarding ancient or cursed treasure. An attribute that further lends itself to the association with snakes is that their bite can be venomous, or that their movement is “bendy”.
There are many fascinating aspects regarding the evolution of Drakes in the folklore of what is now the British Isles. The invasion of the Saxons in the 5th century brought with it their Germanic beliefs in the existence of wicked dragons, transferring the qualities of their monstrous, water-dwelling Lindwurmen onto native poison-breathing Wyrmas. In the traditions of the indigenous Celts, Ddreigiau were powerful and benevolent creatures with four legs and wings, as old and as natural as the mountains. Y Ddraig Goch – The Red Dragon (now synonymous with Wales) – became a symbol for the Britons in their fight against the Saxons, who in turn were represented by a menacing White Dragon: the foul hybrid of a Ddraig and a Wyrm.
By medieval times, they were considered ill omens, and became a symbol of trouble and infertility that could only be appeased by offering maidens as a sacrifice. In the Bible, Satan is described as a dragon, and several tales involved Christian heroes slaying Drakes gained popularity throughout Europe, the most famous of them being that of Saint George.