Today is Saint George’s Day, when the English celebrate the killing of exotic mega-fauna on the dubious theological grounds that they represent Satan and all his Works. Or, for the political Right, the non-white hordes sweeping in like a tsunami to steal our jobs and housing. I’ve no idea if the gentleman below feels the same way, but if you crave a tattoo like this, then you have strong feelings about being English.
Saint George is reputed to be a Roman centurion from Greece, tortured and executed by Diocletian in the last great persecution of Christianity. The legend states that the Empress Alexandra and a pagan priest, Athanasius, were so impressed they converted on the spot and were also martyred. Crusaders brought the legend back to Europe, along with a story drawn from Greek Orthodox iconography, which portrays George slaying Satan, represented by the Dragon.
So all the elements were there for the standard artistic iconography. George is of course a knight, mounted on a rearing horse, stabbing downwards with his lance at the cowering beast. Who isn’t very big. Frankly, it doesn’t seem like a fair fight. The captive Maiden represents Alexandra, but Athanasius doesn’t get a look in. Here’s Paolo Uccello’s portrayal, in which the inherent unfairness is highlighted by the Maiden seeming to lead the Dragon on a leash. Far from being under threat, she is actually inviting Saint George to stab her pet through the eye.
There was always the possibility of romantic involvement in this scenario, and it took the sentimental Victorians to bring that into the art. Here is Edward Burne-Jones’ take on the situation. The Maiden is clearly besotted by her Hero.
It took those filthy-minded Surrealists, and a Johnny Foreigner, to really open up the can of worms lurking inside the symbolism. Giorgio de Chirico’s Maiden is naked and lusting after her saviour. There are even waves crashing on the shore to go with the whole lance thing.
But is she? Could it be a look of apprehension at being caught up once more in the Patriarchy, after a blissful respite with the Dragon? Here is Silvia Pastore on the benefits of an absence of George.
The legend of Saint George and the Dragon carries a lot of interpretations. For me, the Dragon represents every wild and natural thing in this world, a world with no place or tolerance for anything unregulated, unprofitable, or without an official purpose. We’re the monsters, and the Dragons are defenceless against us.