A Case Study in Byzantine Dragon-Slaying: Digenes and the Serpent


The Byzantine epic Digenes Akrites has similarities with ancient and medieval Iranian traditions that, in consideration of the epic’s Eastern settings, suggest Iranian influences. Digenes resembles dragon-slaying heroes of other Indo-European traditions. He also resembles the Irish hero Cú Chulainn in that he is not psychologically fit to live in the midst of the community that depends on his protection. Freudian readings of Digenes’ encounters with the dragon and the Amazon Maximou are proposed.



“Digenes and the dragon” from the Athenian agora excavations (late twelfth or early thirteenth century).

Photo: M. Alison Frantz. “Akritas and the Dragons.” Hesperia, 10.1:9-13.

Digenes and the dragon, reconstructed by J. Travlos based on fragments from Corinth and Athens.

Illustration: M. Alison Frantz. “Akritas and the Dragons.” Hesperia, 10.1:9-13.

Naked dragon slayer (twelfth century), excavated at Thebes.

Photo: Papanikola-Bakirtze 1999, image no. 50 (reproduced with permission of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism-Archaeological Receipts Fund).

Hero (Herakles?) slaying a serpent, from an Etruscan vase at Perugia.

Illustration: Hans Schmidt. Jona: Eine Untersuchung zur vergleichenden Religions-geschichte. Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments, 9.

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