Close your eyes and imagine a familiar scene, that of St. George slaying the dragon. In your mind’s eye picture the dragon. What gender is it? A ridiculous question? One could be forgiven for thinking so, imagining a fire-breathing, mythological and neutrally gendered dragon, as indeed is depicted in the vast majority of images and narratives that feature the scene. What, though, if one discovered a significant amount of images where the dragon had been given a gender?
In her contribution to Pawns or Players – Studies on Medieval and Early Modern Women [Four Courts Press 2003], Dr. Samantha Riches outlines a significant and intriguing tradition of gendering dragons.
In many of the images of St George and a feminised dragon the gendering is anything but casual, with the eye cleverly being drawn from St. George to the dragon’s sex, as Riches explains. “The images are quite carefully constructed. The dragon is always on its back, it’s always facing away from St. George, and it’s in a position of maximum exposure. The idea of subjugation and the use of phallic weaponry are very, very strong.