Origins of "A Dragon Sleeping on a Dragon's Hoard"

You know, the iconic scene and picture from the Hobbit of Smaug sleeping on his bed of gold and jewels?

All I can think of is Fafnir guarding his own hoard. Was there any references to this idea before Fafnir? Was it ever said that Fafnir slept on his hoard or did he just guard it?

WAG here, but I think it would be pretty clear to whoever originated those old stories that most creatures have to sleep at some point, including reptiles of most descriptions. If a solitary dragon has to guard its hoard, and it has to sleep, where else is it going to sleep? :wink: It’s a natural progression. Sorry that I can’t come up with a specific example.

The dragon in Beowulf has a horde. There the horde is a stash from some forgotten race, and the text makes it seem like dragons just have a natural inclination to find and guard such stashes. Flipping through the text, I don’t see any mention that he explicitly slept on the horde though

Man, I miss EEBO and some of the other literature databases I had access to in college. I imagine typing in the words dragon and gold would produce a great number of stories containing dragons on heaps of gold in a matter of seconds . . . but alas, I can no longer put this to the test. :frowning:

I do know that Beowulf’s playmate wasn’t the only European dragon who horded treasure. Big scary monsters guarding precious somethings and others abound in the world’s art and literature, though I’m having trouble coming up with examples of medieval European style dragons sleeping on piles of gold. A wikipedia search, however, yields Cuélebre, a creature that seems likely to have had such habits. Also, I know the ancient Greeks had dragons–or at least dragon-like creatures–protecting such treasures as golden apples and the golden fleece. Not the same thing, exactly, but at least similar.

I guess dracology isn’t my strong suit, but I think I’ll keep looking for the answer to this. Somehow I know the image in question derives from more than just Beowulf, The Hobbit, and a couple old Dungeons and Dragons game books.

Now I guess I’ll have to spend my afternoon reading up on dragons instead of cleaning out the station wagon. Man, will my wife be pissed. Thanks a lot, guys. :mad:

You need a dragon in your garage, like Carl Sagan. Put him to work.

In The Flight of Dragons, Peter Dickinson speculates that a dragon was a living lighter-than-airship with a body cavity filled with hydrogen by some unique biochemical processes – processes which produced waste-products that tended to dissolve anything a dragon slept/nested on that was not stone or metallic. So, a dragon would instinctively collect such things and there might be precious stones or metals among them.

Yes, he slept on his hoard.

From ‘Siegfried’ by Richard Wagner.

Act II, scene 1

That’s excellent Le Ministre de l’au-delà though it does not specifically say he slept on his golden treasure even there.

Gil-Martin, I thought about the Greek Dragons and Great Serpents and none of them seem to fit the idea though I wondered if there were any pieces of classical art that depicted a dragon in such a pose.

I was rereading the Hobbit and got to thinking this might be another standard Fantasy trope that Tolkien created, he at least made it popular I know. But then I figured something must predate it in old legends or the colored Fairy Tale books.

Tolkien , although he denied it, pretty clearly got Smaug and his hoard from Beowulf. Tolkien was a professor of Anglo Saxon and wrote a book called Beowulf and the Critics, fer cryin’ out loud. In that poem, the dragon sleeps on a pile of treasure and is disturbed from his sleep by a thief who steals a two-handled cup, which rouses him to a murderous rage and leads to him pillaging the countryside (so that Beowulf is called in). But Tolkien never took any of that for The Hobbit. Nope. Not a chance.

AFAIK, that’s the earliest appearance of the Dragon Guarding the Hoard of Gold in literature. All other cases, although they may come from earlier sources, are dated after Beowulf.

There were cases of Guardians of other individual things earlier – there’s a great serpent guarding the Golden Fleece in the legend of Jason, for instance. But it’s not a hoard.

“Aaaalberich! Remember him?”

Anna Russell seriously ruined Wagner for me. In the funniest possible way, but still…

Tolkein’s friend C.S. Lewis also used the image in Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Eustace, having turned into a dragon in his sleep, wakes up in the dragon’s cave atop a pile of treasure. This was published 15 years after The Hobbit, and the authors were close friends, so Lewis was probably influenced by both Beowulf (he was a Classics professor after all) and his friend’s imagery in The Hobbit.

Tolkien and Lewis were both members of a group called The Inklings, and knew and read each others’ work in manuscript. Tolkien probably knew about Lewis’ use of the trope while he was writing it.

Does Beowulf’s dragon explicitly sleep on top of his horde? I flipped through my copy and while the dragon was obviously sleeping nearby, my translation didn’t mention anything that made it clear he was sleeping on the treasure Smaug style.

It was undoubtedly the other way around. The Hobbit was published in 1937 and Dawn Treader was not published until 1952. It was the second sequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe which itself wasn’t published until 1950. There’s no way that Tolkien could have been influenced by Lewis’ story (although the Inklings did share and critique each other’s works and Lewis probably had some influence on Tolkien’s writings).

Just like “Leaf by Niggle” wasn’t an allegory, oh no, it was a fairy story, no, really.

Between these two scenes - Siegfried, Act II, sc. 1 Siegfried, Act II, sc. 2 - the picture is pretty firmly established that the hoard is in the cave -

the dragon is in the cave and the dragon is asleep. It’s implied that most of what the dragon does is sleep, though if that’s explicitly stated anywhere, I can’t remember what scene. It might even get a specific mention somewhere in Die Walküre, now that I’m thinking of it… I’ll have a rummage through that libretto and see if I can spot it.

Of course not. That would squish them…

You have what I said turned completely around. I clearly meant that Tolkien knew about Lewis’ use when he (Lewis) was writing it.
I can’t believe that you misunderstood that.

FTR, I read it the same way Skammer did.

You people are clearly not trying to get into my good graces if, confronted with what you see as an ambiguous phrase, you decide that I must have meant the wrong one.