Saint George and the Dragon: Saintly and Othered Bodies

Lorinda Fraser

Abstract


During the late-medieval and early-modern period, increasing travel, trade, and contact with peoples of different cultures, religions, and ethnicities within Western European territories challenged Christian understandings of the human body. This paper investigates whether such contemplations and fears, as established in the legend of Saint George and the Dragon, were a reflection of such changing conceptions about bodies. I consider how the legend reinforced the superiority of Caucasian, Christian, masculine ideals and argue that representations of the dragon reflected expanding cultural notions which marginalized anyone outside of those norms as Other.

Within Europe, the Christian church was the ultimate authority for determining and controlling who was considered ‘normal.’ Religious, physical, and cultural judgments became dangerous for those with nonnormative bodies. Feminization through the punishment of the beast is a natural extension of systems which served to control active female sexuality as a threat to purity and holiness. Ethnic differences were also used to establish political and religious control based on stereotyped physical characteristics and skin colour. I argue that the dragon symbolized those human bodies deemed unqualified for belonging to ‘humankind’ and, therefore, ineligible for religious conversion and salvation.


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