Saint George and the dragon.
Cult, culture and foundation of the city.
by Pasquale Maria Morabito Messina University Italy
Sacrificium civitas est.
St. Augustinus, De Civitate Dei.
Sacrifice is the City
St. Augustine, The City of God
Super aspidem et basiliscum ambulabis, et conculcabis leonem et draconem.
Psalm 91, 9-16
9- If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 -no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.
11- For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;
12- they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 – You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
14-“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15- He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.
16- With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
The figure of St. George fighting the dragon is an icon in the Eastern and Western world: the topos of the glorious and sacred image, the Saint on horseback with shield and spear, opposite to the winged monster comes from ancient times and places, subject to devotion and dedication.
From Palestine to England, from the Balkans – the sources agree that George was born in Cappadocia – to Catalonia (San Jordi), the figure of the saint also defines morphologically one of the most important martyrological cults in Mediterranean area.
Following the insights of René Girard, which describes the violent origins of human culture, I propose to analyze through the traditional image of St. George, the foundation of the “enclosed city”, model of the Mediterranean city during the Middle Ages, with particular reference sacrificial origins of living space.
The term “enclosed city” refers, specifically, the priority establishment of the Mediterranean city in the sacral area Christian. We recall, among other things, that the cult, the culture of the people who grow and the civilization of who builds the city limits are linked from the common reference to the cult, and not just etymologically.
Worship, cult and culture are, in fact, even the mythical-ritual moments of a single human being on earth, in its anthropological, historical and institutional and political-symbolic.
The continuity between the ancient world, medieval and modern can be analyzed and understood through the cults, the stories and legends of the patron saints and the rituals related to the different moments of the organization of the medieval city space, and their persistence politico-religious in the modern city.
The construction of the city is symbolically oriented toward a centre, the centre of forces and the centre from which it receives direction and strength. The town we are dealing with is enclosed, “strengthened” in a double sense: as an area defended by walls erected in a perimeter boundaries, and as a place founded by a collective force. Thus, from the ancient rite of moenia signare aratro, yet there was no distinction between the figure as supreme military chief, king and priest, the first form of a built space defines, unambiguously, the peaceful order that, within walls, exercises control over nature undifferentiated.
With Romano Guardini we can read the figure of an area that needs to be put into shape, “hardened” looking the physys connected to nature on one hand, and blind to the power inherent cratos on the other. It connects, therefore, the theme of the city and the fear. Here culture is changing the nature (logos, kultur, but bildung, civilization, education, construction) and maintenance of an antinomian dimension in which the culture intersect with nature, it returns to a possible morphology of the city. “Pure culture would be without a place, artificiality, cessation of instinct, corruption of blood, separation from the land, disease and destruction. Pure Nature, by contrast, opacity, easements, dismay in impulse and construction”.( R. Guardini, Natura, Cultura, Cristianesimo, Morcelliana, Brescia, 1983. About the concept of culture and logos, see also Giuseppe Fornari, Da Dioniso a Cristo, Marietti, Genova, 2006.)
- The city
In Judeo-Christian tradition, the city is considered as a negative reality.
After his crime, Cain is presented as the ultimate wanderer who tries to mend its ties with the earth and the human community cut off from his violent act. ( See R. Girard, La Violence et le sacré, Paris, Grasset, 1972. On Cain and Abel, see also M. S. Barberi, Adamo ed Eva avevano due figli, in D. Mazzù (editor), Politiche di Caino. Il paradigma conflittuale del potere, Transeuropa, Ancona-Massa, 2006, and id. Misteryum e ministerium. Figure della sovranità, Giappichelli, Torino, 2002. On violence and Bible, see Giuseppe Fornari, L’albero della colpa e della salvezza. La rivelazione biblica della violenza in D. Mazzù (editor), Politiche di Caino. Il paradigma conflittuale del potere, cit. p. 159 ss. See also Enzo Bianchi, Adamo, dove sei?, Qiqajon, Bose, 1990. Couriously, the legend of ROme foudation tells about two brothers, Romulus and Remo. The history is so well known, but the collective memory of a violent city’s foundation bring back to a sort of geological stratification, where ritual, tale and myth are postponed continually. See the insights of Michel Serres, on: Roma, il libro delle fondazioni, Hopefulmonster, Firenze, 1991.)
Instead of being considered the place where humans reside, the city is presented as an artificial product, made by men to protect themselves, following a transgression that has destroyed the organic bonds of community. This view becomes explicit in the second quotation of a biblical city.
This view becomes explicit in the second quotation of a biblical city. Figures of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11, 1-9) and the city of Sodom (Genesis 18-19) we have a situation similar to the story of the garden of Eden, in which human beings aspire to build their fate entirely, hence moving away from the precepts of the Lord. Later, another city made its appearance.
This is Jerusalem, the city of God, based not on human wisdom but on the divine promise. But even here, in the practice of injustice, the holy city can become a prostitute, just like in the cities of pagans, Babylon the Great. (See Isaia, 2, 2-4. The book of Revelation, by St. John, will take back the image of Babylon as a satanic model of the city. and Surate 2 Al Baqrah, the Cow)
In the New Testament, the disciples recognize Jesus as a righteous king. But Jesus himself dies thrown out of the city (Heb. 13, 12-14), and confirm with his death shocking not belong to the Kingdom of this world.
Christians staying since then as “strangers and pilgrims” in the city of man. (See. 1 Pt 2,11). S. Augustinus will be to clarify, through the doctrine of two cities, the relationship between membership in human community and sequela Christi: the Civitas Dei and the Civitas homini, opposite, but not conflicting, in hoc saecula.
This image of the two cities is crystallized in Rome: the Eternal City will be an expression of a conflict, that between the new Babylon – home of disorder, chaos, the Antichrist – and the new Jerusalem, the Universal Church, the heaven, the patria beata.
Just from Book X of De Civitate Dei we can trace a genealogy of the city. From Cain and Abel to the martyr, as mediator and life-giving of urban medieval centre, ordered from the new worship’s places. Writes Peter Brown: “The Mediterranean Christian and its eastern and northwestern foothills came to be dotted loci clearly indicated where they met the sky and earth. The shrine contains a tomb, or, more often, a relic in the form of fragments, was often called simply ‘the place’ loca sanctorum, O to ος”( P. Brown, The cult of the Saints. Its rise and functcion in Latin Christianity, University of Chicago Press, 1980.)
Thus, the transition from pagan to Christian worship is dedicated to adaptation to local conditions. In particular, for urban areas, we can speak about a “mythical-ritual graft” of Christian foundation upon the pagan; of “political achievement” of the extra-urban areas characterized by religious superstition, “process of acculturation” – which includes a number of stations intermediate, which lasts for centuries, and which is marked by more than direct confrontation with paganism, the demystification through evangelization.
In a massive production of paintings and images, the cycle of Carpaccio at the Scuola di San Giorgio Schiavoni in Venice, is the occasion for a reflection on the anthropological and theological-political figure of the Holy Knight in battle with the dragon on the foundations of space, in his sense of ritual, political and cultural. Example of the sixteenth century, the large canvases of St. George is a model of representation plans.
The series of paintings – made between 1502 and 1507 – includes, in addition to the well known panel of
St. George fighting the dragon (Fig. 1), and
the Triumph of St. George (Fig. 2)
The baptism of Selenitis (Fig. 3),
St. Tryphon tames the basilisk (Fig. 4),
St. Jerome and the lion in the monastery (Fig. 5),
The funeral of St. Jerome (Fig. 6),
The Calling of St. Matthew (fig. 7),
The Agony in the Garden (Fig. 8) and
St. Augustine’s vision (Fig. 9).
The story of George is directly inspired by medieval hagiographical texts of the martyrs, especially by the Passiones (around the year 1000), the records of the Acta Sanctorum, and especially the story of the Legenda Aurea by Jacopo da Varagine (1293). The epic of Holy Martyr on horseback in the act of defeating the dragon and saving the girl, with the fortified town standing in the background, is a recurring theme since the ancient iconographic applicant.
Over time and places, many similarities are found in the iconography of Saint Micheal (its begin in Gargano, south of Italy, then that spread throughout Europe), St Mercurial (or St. Mercurius, of oriental origin), Saint Theodorus (as is documented in the same Acta Sanctorum) and going backward, the legend of St. George could recall similar images in the Egyptian cosmogonythe solar god Horus in the shape of a knight’s head hawk while stabbing a crocodile, a symbol, like the dragon devil, the destructive energies of chaos.
This figure connected to chaos, undifferentiated sea is present in many stories of origin. The dragon, the crocodile, depicting the sea monster, in the cosmogony of Phoenician origin, the enemy that the deity can repel the abyss during creation. The fight with the dragon, the depiction of evil, brings us back to biblical themes, Egyptian and Mesopotamian, and before that, but it is an image that we find, moreover, also in sagas and Indian and Chinese cosmologies is for this reason that ‘ icon of Saint George and the Dragon speaks of man, and more specifically of human culture, not just of some traditions and devotions, scattered randomly in various parts of the world. The two canvases of St. George and St. Tryphon are elongated, as if to emphasize the character of the epic story that is going to tell: the first “step” of reading is described.
- Violent foundation
The desolate landscape, symbolizing a space not treated, undifferentiated, marks the morphology of an intra and extra Moenia, a determinatio negatio, in Baruch Spinoza’s definition. ( B. Spinoza, Epistola L (edited by C. Gebhardt): “Quia ergo figura non aliud, quam determinatio, et determinatio negatio est; non poterit, ut dictum, aliud quid, quam negatio, esse”. Every thing because of its existence is a negation of something else, writes the philosopher. Equally, the dimension of intra moenia exists as a negation of extra moenia.)
The work of the man on himself, this slow dressage described by Nietzsche in Zur Genealogie der Moral, comes here by a spatial form: the founding of the city, its places bearers of meaning, its lines, its boundaries and walls. A defined space, determined through dialectical oppositions: inside-out, order-chaos, sacred-profane, differentiated-undifferentiated. An absolute negation, saving, exclusive, definitive. Interior space exists only differing from the outside. As mentioned, the outdoors and nature areas in the strict sense, not reached, namely, no civilization, nor any Zivilitation process.
Our culture, represented in the image of the bridge, it is summarized in this figure. George, we have seen, Saint, martyr and soldier. But his name means “farmer”. A farmer in arms to defend the faith. Or, a soldier of Christ, cleric devoted to the cultivation of fields. Culture comes from colere, same root of religion and culture: the act of defining the ground, creating an enclosed space, bounded, a boundary sacred. And ‘here we find the original relationship between employment and demarcation of land, religious rituals and birth culture. Following Carl Schmitt, “the creation of a primordial nomos, a law, but also a well-defined spatial location, with their own cults and rites: this is the first meaning of culture”. A culture that has had, “needs its martyrdoms”. The morphology of the area brings us so close to the triple figure commemorated in George, the farmer’s myth of the soldier of God, bearer of the three fundamental aspects of our culture, presented emblem. Is well known, of course, the theory by George Dumézil, that the institutions of the Indo-European civilization can be summarized into three major functions: Jupiter, the priest and the saint; Mars, the warrior, and Quirinus, the manufacturer. Dumézil writes: “The main elements and gears of the world and society are broken down into three areas that are harmoniously related, in descending order of dignity, sovereignty with its magical aspects and legal ceiling in a kind of expression of the sacred, the physical strength and value, whose most visible manifestation is the war victory, fertility and prosperity, with all sorts of conditions and consequences, almost always meticulously analyzed and represented by a large number of related but different deities, including one or the other by enumerating briefly describe the divine worth of formula. The grouping Jupiter Mars Quirinus, with nuances peculiar to Rome, corresponds to the lists prototypical observable in Scandinavia as in Vedic India and predictable.” The Holy Knight puts them together in one person, articulating with its image as a composite expression combat with spear and shield, protect the ritual function and production, the “three needs that are everywhere the essential: the power and sacred knowledge, the attack and defences, nutrition and well-being for all”.
- “How can violence stop violence”?
Mutilated bodies, skulls, bones, human and animal – they have pierced my hands and feet, I can count all my bones Psalm 22, 16-17 – the remains of an apparent fight violent or repeated violence, located in this space extra gradually turns into the swamp, then into the sea. From above, the impregnable fortress seems impassive to the call that violence itself is unique to that enclosed space, sure. As safe as we see the face of the girl, the daughter of the king himself – according to the legend – collapsed in his armour, similar to that of the knight his saviour, and similar – a closer look – even the armour of the dragon.
This, at first glance, it seems the message conveyed by the bridge: yes, because it is a bridge. The two figures – the dragon on the left, the rider and the horse on the right – are held in balance with each other, in the tension of the duel. Posture mirrored armour against armour, teeth against spear, dark against dark, with evidence indicate a clash between double. Similia similibus curantur. Certainly, the resulting image is a sagittalis shape, the tip was under assault, the vector of the conquest, is to affect the open space. Definition more wins here the two possible models of culture that Carpaccio vehicles through the bridge.
Bridge that is synonymous with change, but also mediation: the lineage of pontifex is to Romulus (Cain), but also to Saint Peter. The bridge is therefore a symbol of the foundation, the foundation of a cultural order, the transition from a state of nature – how can we fail to define Hobbesian homo homini lupus terrified contemplating the remains scattered on the unholy ground? Homo homini draco – to a state of culture, the violent process of humanization (the longest time in human history, it will define Nietzsche) caught on the canvas as a frame ever. This exercise of contemplation brought by Carpaccio, concerns like this, in this first moment, in this first “level” of reading, a meditation about violence. “How can violence cast out violence?” asks René Girard, paraphrasing the Gospel apocopation “How can Satan cast out Satan?”. The image of the battle immortalized in the paint, the bridge between nature and culture, between man and beast, is not sufficient for Carpaccio, to represent the history of the human community. It ‘must therefore turn to the second picture, that of the Triumph of the Holy Knight. But first, a further reflection on the icon of the reciprocity’s duel. The legend of providential intervention of George is connected with the consumption of a sacrificial rite: the girl, the daughter of the king, is the victim who is about to be swallowed by the dragon, which periodically becomes the gift of a young citizen for quench his thirst for violence. When he faces the dragon, totemic animal ritually fed by the community, the traditional guardian of the threshold between the realm of the living and the dead’s kingdom, (Dracon belongs, according to Macrobius, from the greek derkeim, to see, to watch. Because of that, in ancient time people believes that the eye of the dragon belongs to the nature of the sun. The dragon is often descrive as a guardian of temples, oracles, public buildings and treasures. (Macrobius, Saturnales, I, XXI).
George qualifies himself as a magician and exorcist, but also as a doctor and priest. The graft of the archaic worship of reveals the wisdom of the Fathers: the figure of George and the dragon is an example of the process of Christianization.
Returning to the cycle of Carpaccio, the second teliere that occurs in the church to the Slavs and the Triumph of St. George. Besides meditation on violence, the knight and the demon now entering the space of the cultured city of Silene. The dragon, “noontide demon” is now defeated, not killed, nor torn by the lance of Saint.
Note:Roger Caillois on the “noontide demon”. According to the Bible, in fact, the South would be conducive to the demons: Do not fear the terror of night nor the arrow that flies by day, the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor the demon of noon (Psalm 91, 5-6.). The fatigue of the day did the time approaching warmer, the need for the rest of afternoon, would create a “lower” level of tension by man in perpetual struggle with lurking evil. “Complexe du midi (…), the abandonment of the action and will weaken from the heat of noon, dozing senses and consciousness, liabilities and general tedium of life (acedia), while meanwhile the spectra of thirst blood of living in the hour when the shadow will fall over their zenith covers the nature of abstraction with the high tide of death”. (R. Caillois, Le Myth et l’homme, Gallimard, Paris, 1938). At midday, the intensity of supervision is minimal, as is the minimum length of the shadow, the passage of the sun at its zenith, decisive hour which marks the culmination of the ascent of the sun, now passing, terrible critical moment, defines it the author. The time, as attested to Homer, “which usually offered the sacrifices.” The south, in ancient Greece, the day seems to divide into two parts, and those dedicated to the chthonic deities uranic. Probable, therefore, that the sacrificial rites (the time of the sacred sacrum facere), and those of transition takes place effectively at noon. This tradition has since been undermined by the demon night, which is around midnight, taken from medieval times. See R. Caillois, Les démons du Midi, in Revue d’Histoire des Religions, LVIII, 1937.
The wound apparently healed, in contrast to the posture of the terrible monster that seems to tame the animal. Lies on his back, ears, under the double threat of the sword of George and geometric architecture of the palace in the centre of Silene. Again, two determinatio-negatio, sword and perimeter, violence and institutional power. The beast is in no way killed, expelled, refused, but linked, held at bay. The step forward in the process of hominization is recruited, the element of intra moenia kept at bay chaotic violence.
The vision of the Fathers of the Church (see, in the next step that Carpaccio takes us to this location ideal illustrations for the third and the fourth players in the saga are St. Jerome and St. Augustine), after the first period against the iconoclast mythic themes, collects, in the sense of re-accommodate, and the wisdom that shone from the dark background of those pagan images. Violence misleading violence is then interpreted in the figure of order taking disorder, the city hosting the tamed dragon, the monastery giving asylum to the lion. This seems the sense of successive painting: in addition to the Baptism, which George imparts to the converted Selenites, by the miracle at St. Tryphon that tames the basilisk – yet another version of the Holy Child, which releases a city tamed the beast, violence, chaos and undifferentiated. Is the meaning of the cycle of St. Jerome beside St. George dragon or lion, it makes no difference. George is the beginning, the foundation, the bridge of acculturation and hominization process: expulsion of violence through a series of mythical-ritual fight with the dragon and the baptism of the citizens. Jerome lets the lion into the monastery, among the terrified monks: after taking care of him – the legend tells that the old hermit cured the king of the animals remove a plug from the leg wound, thus ensuring himself by his eternal loyalty.
The cultural rights stabilizes so within safe walls, but leaving the possibility of chaos to be put in shape, restrained, controlled within them. The cultural is enhanced by an additional element. Action against the enemy as if it were an ally here is the wisdom of the Fathers, that re-use the mythical foundation so instrumental to the greater glory homini. After the image of the “double” represented by the bridge dragon rider, here is the attempt to domesticated the animal part of man. The fulfilment of this attempt is made concrete historical event of the Incarnation. Christ, true God and true man, leading mankind towards striving for perfection, from animal to man (hominization, George) from man to man (domestication, Jerome) from man to God (Christ). Paul writes to the community in Corintum: “And all the promises of God in Him have become yes” (2 Cor 1, 20a).
The painting of the Agony in the garden is so much cut horizontally into two parts: the apostles lie asleep in the bottom half of the painting, while in higher education we find the figure of Jesus in prayer and agony (his robe is red to remember his sacrifice forthcoming). The middle-man is asleep, while the divine is already projected in a vertical dimension. The last painting, the Vision of St. Augustine thus represent the last stage of the journey, that of understanding. The Doctor of the Church, seems to contemplate the mystery of human and divine, in his study, the page of an open book, pen raised in the act of someone trying to write the appropriate word. Her dress is white, but beneath it spots the crush Episcopal purple, red cloth that recalls the end of the room, behind the glorious Christ.
The contemplative dimension introduces us into new times, those of the Civitas Dei, founded on the blood of Christ and the martyrs. The three degrees of the iconographic path proposed by Carpaccio may be so coordinated: from the battlefield (the time of the Sacred, the bridge between animal and man, the violence that expels violence, the double derminatio–negatio) of San George, the mystery of Incarnation (Christ in the garden) to the understanding of the Scriptures (Jerome is, among other things, the author of the Vulgate), the contemplative vision of Augustine. But the last painting, next to the figure of the saint, a small white dog was painted by Carpaccio. Sign and memory, perhaps, that the beast is inside of us, still.
- Victor quia victima
Liberation of the princess – and the city – from the yoke of civil order in the dragon represents Christianity. The basis of this process emerges a vision of space derived from myth, showing the sacrificial dimension of the foundation of the town.
The political balance-sacred ritual stemmed from a scheme, we can take the example of Cain, as stated by St. Augustine, or the suggestions given by the labyrinth in the palace of Knossos on Crete, where the format of this balance is exemplified in the bond between the throne room and underground cavern, where the Minotaur awaits the sacrificial victims. In archaic ritual repetition, which draws from paganism, are taking place so the pattern Order – chaos – sacrifice – order, in a circular loop seamlessly. Returning to the Legenda Aurea, the balance between intra and extra moenia, is broken by the intervention of St. George, which restores new life – in baptism – the city of Silene. The scheme therefore interpretation of the law refers here to a new Christian ritual, which takes over the manner and timing of this is to replace religion. The story told and depicted in paintings and icons is simply a description of a model that Van Gennep called an “entrance rite, a rite of passage and taking of local possession.”( A. Van Gennep, Les rites de passages, Paris, Picard, 1909. Marcel Mauss writes about this kind of rite, describing it as a simbolic migration: the myth of young hero or a god versus a monster. Is a sobstitution rite (the old divinity substituted by a young one); a sacrifice; a renovation rite. See H. Hubert and M. Mauss, Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice, on M. Mauss, Ouvres, I, Les fonctiones sociales du sacré, éd. V. Karady, Paris, Minuit, 1968, pp. 291-293.)
But the new religio of the bearer reveals an absolutely new. (For the semantic richness of the word, is obligatory the reference to St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei, X, 1-2-3. In his work, Augustine distinguish on two kind of religio: the cultual system on which the identity of a community is founded (a “teological-political face), and the gift of grace (the “caritas”). About that, see also J. Speigl, Der Religionsbegriff Augustinus, AHC 27/28 (1995-1996), 29-60.)
The site of chaos, of undifferentiated, is freed by a new kind of hero. We have already listed the stories and sagas similar to those of St. George. The epics of Horus, Baal, Tamouz, Mithra Varathegua, Pegasus just to reiterate some. In Christian hagiography, in fact, the moment of glory is secondary to the cult of the martyr and functional. The legends are victorious credible only from the Acta Sanctorum and Passiones. The city of Silene is freed and restored from Saint George only after he has suffered for Christ, appalling torture and violent death. Besides the production most celebrated painting of the Holy Knight fighting the dragon, there are indeed many icons of the martyrdom of St. George, where is shown a series of improbable tortures after refusing to renounce the Christian faith. No coincidence that George is defined by the Greek tradition as a megalomartire. The same tradition designates the Holy Knight as tropàiophoros, the one who brings the trophy, the winner.
Victor quia victima, winner because victim, is a definition of Augustine that makes this character perfectly adherent of martyrdom to the figure of Christ himself. ( St. Augustinus, Confessiones, X, 43.)
The martyr, figura of Christ, is capable of helping the city as a victim. Saint Paul to delineates this aspect of victimizing theology: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”( Heb 2, 18.) Worryingly, this character we find him in the famous Song of the Suffering Servant from the book of Isaiah: “By his wounds we are healed”.(Is 53, 5.) St. Augustine juxtaposes still the concept of martyrdom with that of hero: the Miles Christi is not just moralizing allegory. The armour depicted in the images is not revered symbolic tinsel. George the Martyr rejects the military Roman model, flattering the suffering Christianitas that becomes empire, the Church itself. ( The theological-political features of St. George figure would return as the foundation of the Church, born under the Roman Empire and heir of legal representative force, acknowledged by Thomas Hobbes. He writes: “The papacy is but the ghost of the Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof.” (Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan p. 463, Oxford University Press, 1998). About the interpretation of this quotation, Carl Schmitt writes: “In Hobbes there is no idea about succession.” (Carl Schmitt, Glossarium) Hobbes, with his “anti-roman sentiment” (Carl Schmitt, Römischer Katholizismus und Politische Form) didn’t recognizes the tradition of Katechon, the “braking power” described in St. Paul, 2 Ts. The conscious rejection of the Hobbesian tradition katechon brings up ghosts and does not see the universality of personal principle that it hands down. About this insight, see Wolfgang Palaver: Hobbes and the Katéchon: The Secularization of Sacrificial Christianity. In: Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture, Vol. 2 (Spring 1995) 37-54. See also Maria Stella Barberi, Mysterium e Ministerium, Giappichelli, Torino, 2002.)