October 13, 2017

Of Mountains and Monsters

        The true measure of a mountain’s greatness is not its height but whether it is charming enough to attract dragons.

        This line appears in Caspar Henderson’s The Book of Barely Imagined Beings (2013) as a quotation “from a Chinese poem.”  As no other citation for it appears, I have to wonder whether Henderson didn’t make it up himself.  No matter - whether the words of Henderson or some anonymous Chinese poet, I love the sentiment.  After all, it’s true of so many things in this world that we tend to value them as they can be measured and given numerical status when we should be valuing them for their beauty, or their spiritual significance, or other intangible, unquantifiable attributes.
        This wood block print of a dragon that has found its home is rather charming in itself.  The dragon looks more sly and roguish than downright fierce, and the sheep seem fairly unconcerned, although the poor shepherd boy is certainly terrified.  Not everyone is in agreement as to whether the presence of a dragon improves a mountain or not.  The print is the dragon of Wawel Castle from Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographia Universalis and I think the artist must have had a little fun with this dragon.

[Picture: The dragon of Kraków, wood block print from Cosmographia Universalis by Sebastian Münster, 1544 (Image from Arte Lisa).]

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