Greek Mythology >> Bestiary >> Dragons >> Nemean Dragon (Drakon Nemeios)


Greek Name

Δρακων Νεμειος


Drakôn Nemeios

Latin Spelling

Draco Nemeum


Dragon of Nemea

THE DRAKON NEMEIOS (Nemean Dragon) was a monstrous serpent which was set to guard the sacred grove of Zeus at Nemea. When the infant prince Opheltes was lain the grass by his nurse as she directed the army of the Seven Against Thebes towards a nearby spring, the dragon found and killed him. Adrastos and his company then slew the beast and established the Nemeian Games in honour of the child and the god Zeus.



GAIA (Statius Thebaid 5.505)


Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 64 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"When they [the army of the Seven Against Thebes] reached Nemea, where Lykourgos (Lycurgus) ruled, they looked for water. Hypsipyle, led them along the way to a spring, leaving behind the infant Opheltes, son of Eurydike (Eurydice) and Lykourgos, for whom she was the nurse . . . While she was showing them the spring, the abandoned child was destroyed by a Serpent [the Drakon Nemeios]. When Adrastos (Adrastus) and this company returned, they killed the Serpent and buried the boy; but Amphiaraus told them that the sign foretold events to come, and so they titled the boy Arkhemoros (Archemorus). In his honour they inaugurated the Nemean Games."

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 3. 6 - 9 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"Homer has described them [the Drakones (Dragons)] with deeper insight than have most poets, for he says that the Drakon (Dragon) that lived hard by the spring in Aulis had a tawny back; but other poets declare that the congener of this one in the grove of Nemea also had a crest."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 74 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"When the seven leaders [of the army of the Seven Against Thebes] who were going to Thebes came to Hypsipyle in their search for water, and asked her to show them some, she, fearing to put the boy [Archemorus or Ophites] on the ground, found some very thick parsley near the spring, and placed the child in it. But while she was giving them water, a Dracon (Dragon), guardian of the spring, devoured the child. Adrastus and the others killed the Dracon and interceded for Hypsipyle to Lycus [the father of the child], and established funeral games in honour of the boy [the Nemean Games]. They take place every fifth year, and the victors receive a wreath of parsley."

Statius, Thebaid 4. 741 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"[The Nemean spring of] Langia alone--and she by the god's [Dionysos'] command--preserves her waters [in a drought] in the silence of a secret shade. Not yet had slaughtered Archemorus [i.e. Opheltes killed by the Drakon (Dragon) of the Nemean Grove beside the spring] brought her sorrowful renown [i.e. the Nemean Games were founded in his honour], no fame had come to the goddess; nevertheless, in far seclusion, she maintains her spring and grove. Great glory awaits the Nympha, when the toiling contests of Achaean princes and the four-yearly festival of woe [the Nemean Games] shall do honour to sad [nurse] Hypsipyle and holy Opheltes."

Statius, Thebaid 5. 505 ff :
"An earth-born Serpent (Serpens Terrigena), the accursed terror of the Achaean grove, arises on the mead [the grove of Nemea], and loosely dragging his huge bulk now bears it forward, now leaves it behind him. A livid gleam is in his eyes, the green spume of foaming poison in his fangs, and a threefold quivering tongue, with three rows of hooked teeth, and a cruel blazonry rises high upon his gilded forehead. The Inachian countrymen held him sacred to the Thunderer [Zeus], who has the guardianship of the place and the scant worship of the woodland altars; and now he glides with trailing coils about the shrines, now grinds the hapless forest oaks and crushes huge ash-trees in his embrace; oft he lies in continuous length from bank to bank across the streams, and the river sundered by his scales swells high. But fiercer now, when all the land is panting at the command of the Ogygian god [Dionysos who has caused a drought] and the Nymphae (Nymphs) are hurrying to the hiding of their dusty beds, he twists his tortuous writhing frame upon the ground, and the fire of his parched venom fills him with a baneful rage. Over pools and arid lakes and stifled springs he winds his way, and wanders in the riverless valleys, and consumed by burning thirst now flings back his head and laps the liquid air, now brushing o'er the groaning fields cleaves downward to the earth, should there be any sap or moisture in the grasses; but the herbage falls stricken by his hot breath, whereso'er he turns his head, and the mead shrivels at the hissing of his jaws; vast is he as the [Constellation] Snake that divides the pole from the Northern Wain . . . or as he that shook the horns of sacred Parnassus [Python], twining his coils among them, until pierced by a hundred wounds he bore, O Delian [Apollon], a forest of thy arrows.
What god appointed for thee, little one [the infant prince Opheltes], the burden of so dire a fate? Scarce on thy life's earliest threshold, art thou slain by such a foe? Was it that thus thou mightest be sacred for ever to the peoples of Greece and dying merit so glorious a burial [the Nemean Games were founded in his honour]? Thou diest, O babe, struck by the end of the unwitting Serpent's tail, and straightway the sleep left thy limbs and thine eyes opened but to death alone. But when thy frightened dying wail rose upon the air and the broken cry fell silent on thy lips, like the half-finished accents of a dream, Hypsipyle [his nurse] heard it and sped with faint and failing limbs and stumbling gait; her mind forebodes sure disaster, and with gaze turned to every quarter she scans the ground in search, vainly repeating words the babe would know; but he is nowhere, and the recent tracks are vanished from the meadows. Gathered in a green circle lies the sluggish foe and fills many an acre round, so lies he with his head slantwise on his belly. Struck with horror at the sight the unhappy woman roused the forest's depths with shriek on shriek; yet still he lies unmoved.
Her sorrowful wail reached the Argives' ears [the encamped army of the Seven against Thebes] : forthwith the Arcadian knight [Parthenopaeus] at his chief's word flies thither in eager hast and reports the cause. Then at last, at the glint of armour and the shouting of the men he rears his scaly neck in wrath: with a vast effort tall Hippomedon seizes a stone, the boundary mark of a field, and hurls it through the empty air; with such a whirlwind do the poised boulders fly forth against the barred gates in time of war. Vain was the chieftain's might, in a moment had the Snake bent back his supple neck and foiled the coming blow. The earth re-echoes and in the pathless woods the close-knit boughs are rent and torn. ‘But never shalt thou escape my stroke,’ cries Capaneus, and makes for him with an ashen spear, ‘whether thou be the savage inmate of the trembling grove, or a delight granted to the gods--ay, would it were to the gods!--never even if thou broughtest a Gigante (Giant) to battle with me upon those limbs.’ The quivering spear flies, and enters the monster's gaping mouth and cleaves the rough fastenings of the triple tongue, then through the upright crest and the adornment of his darting head it issues forth, and fouled with the brain's black gore sinks deep into the soil. Scarce has the pain run the length of his whole frame, with lightning speed he twines his coils around the weapon, and tears it out and carries it to his lair in the dark temple of the god; there measuring his mighty bulk along the ground he gasps and hisses out his life at his patron's shrine. Him did the sorrowing marsh of kindred Lerna mourn, and the Nymphae (Nymphs) who were wont to strew him with vernal flowers, and Nemea's fields whereon he crawled; ye too, ye woodland Fauni [Satyroi (Satyrs)], bewailing him in every grove with broken reeds. Jupiter [Zeus] himself had already called for his weapons from the height of air, and long had clouds and storms been gathering, had not the god allayed his wrath and Capaneus been preserved to merit a direr punishment; yet the wind of the stirred thunderbolt sped and swayed the summit of his crested helm.
And now the unhappy Lemnian [the nurse Hypsipyle], wandering o'er the fields when the place was rid of the serpent, grows pale to behold on a low mound afar the herbage stained with streams of blood. Thither frantic in her grief she hastens, and recognising the horror falls . . . on the offending earth . . . breathlessly searches the yet warm limbs for traces of vanished life. Nor face nor breast remain, the skin is torn away and the frail bones are exposed to view, and the sinews are drenched in fresh streams of blood: the whole body is one wound."





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