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In antiquity, dragons were mostly envisaged as serpents.
Since the Middle Ages, however, it has become common to depict dragons with legs, resembling a lizard.
In some cultures, they are also said to be capable of human speech.
In some traditions dragons are said to have taught humans to talk. Illuyanka, etc.; the Biblical Leviathan presumably reflects a corresponding opponent of an early version of Yahweh).
Some dragons are said to breathe fire or to be poisonous, such as in the Old English poem Beowulf.
They are commonly portrayed as serpentine or reptilian, hatching from eggs and possessing typically scaly or feathered bodies. Some myths portray them with a row of dorsal spines.
The theme survives into medieval legend and folklore, with dragon slayers such as Beowulf, Sigurd, Tristan, Margaret the Virgin, Heinrich von Winkelried, Dobrynya Nikitich, Skuba Dratewka/Krakus.
In the Bible, the archetype is alluded to in the descendants of Adam crushing the head of the Serpent, and in Christian mythology, this was interpreted as corresponding to Christ as the Last Adam crushing the Devil.
The two most well-known cultural traditions of dragon are: The two traditions may have evolved separately, but have influenced each other to a certain extent, particularly with the cross-cultural contact of recent centuries.
Humbaba, the fire-breathing dragon-fanged beast first described in the Epic of Gilgamesh, is sometimes described as a dragon with Gilgamesh playing the part of dragon-slayer.
In most stories, the hero is some kind of thunder-god.
Examples include Indra, who, according to the Rigveda, slew the serpent Vritra, Zeus, who, according to Hesiod's Theogony, slew the serpent Typhon, and Thor, who, according to the Eddas, slew the Midgard serpent.
Although dragons occur in many legends around the world, different cultures have varying stories about monsters that have been grouped together under the dragon label.
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The Greek and Latin term referred to any great serpent, not necessarily mythological, and this usage was also current in English up to the 18th century.