Here be dragons  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"Here be dragons" is a phrase used to denote dangerous or unexplored territories, in imitation of the medieval practice of putting sea serpents and other mythological creatures in blank areas of maps.



The only known historical use of this phrase is in the Latin form "HC SVNT DRACONES" (i.e. hic sunt dracones) on the Lenox Globe (ca. 1503-07). Earlier maps contain a variety of references to mythical and real creatures, but the Lenox Globe is the only known surviving map to bear this phrase.

The term appeared on the Lenox Globe around the east coast of Asia, and might be related to the komodo dragons in the Indonesian islands, tales of which were quite common throughout East Asia.Template:Ref

The classical phrase utilized by ancient Roman and Medieval cartographers used to be HIC SVNT LEONES (literally, Here are lions) when denoting unknown territories on maps.

Dragons on maps

Dragons appear on a few other historical maps.

  • The T-O Psalter map (ca. 1250 AD) has dragons, as symbols of sin, in a lower "frame" below the world, balancing Jesus and angels on the top, but the dragons do not appear on the map proper.
  • The Borgia map (ca. 1430 AD), in the Vatican Library, states, over a dragon-like figure in Asia (in the upper left quadrant of the map), "Hic etiam homines magna cornua habentes longitudine quatuor pedum, et sunt etiam serpentes tante magnitudinis, ut unum bovem comedant integrum." ("Here, indeed, are men who have large horns of the length of four feet, and there are even serpents so large, that they could eat an ox whole.") The latter may refer to the dragons of the Chinese dragon dance.
  • A 19th-century Japanese map, the Jishin-no-ben, depicts a dragon associated with causing earthquakes.

Other creatures on maps

  • Ptolemy's atlas in Geographia (originally 2nd century, taken up again in the 15th century) warns of elephants, hippos and cannibals.
  • Tabula Peutingeriana (medieval copy of Roman map) has "in his locis elephanti nascuntur", "in his locis scorpiones nascuntur" and "hic cenocephali nascuntur" ("in these places elephants are born, in these places scorpions are born, here dog-headed beings are born").
  • Cotton MS. Tiberius B.V. fol. 58v (10th century), British Library Manuscript Collection, has "hic abundant leones" ("here lions abound"), along with a picture of a lion, near the east coast of Asia (at the top of the map towards the left); this map also has a text-only serpent reference in southernmost Africa (bottom left of the map): "Zugis regio ipsa est et Affrica. est enim fertilis. sed ulterior bestiis et serpentibus plena" ("This region of Zugis is in Africa, it is truly fertile, however it is full of beasts and serpents.")
  • The Ebstorf map (13th c.) has a dragon in the extreme south-eastern part of Africa, together with an asp and a basilisk.
  • Giovanni Leardo's map (1442) has, in southernmost Africa, "Dixerto dexabitado p. chaldo e p. serpent".
  • Martin Waldseemüller's Carta marina navigatoria (1516) has "an elephant-like creature in northernmost Norway, accompanied by a legend explaining that this 'morsus' with two long and quadrangular teeth congregated there", i.e. a walrus, which would have seemed monstrous at the time.
  • Waldseemüller's Carta marina navigatoria (1522), revised by Laurentius Fries, has the morsus moved to the Davis Strait.
  • Bishop Olaus Magnus's Carta Marina map of Scandinavia (1539) has many monsters in the northern sea, as well as a winged, bipedal, predatory land animal resembling a dragon in northern Lapland.

Cultural references

  • The title of a short science fiction story by Ray Bradbury, "Here There Be Tygers" is an allusion to this expression.
  • On the map of the MMORPG RuneScape, there are a few locations on the map with reference to the phrase, including "Here be penguins" and "Here be sand".
  • On the ABC television show Lost, a map found inside one bunker has the Latin notation "Hic sunt dracones" near the map location of another bunker. [1]
  • In the Silicon Knights game Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, the phrase is found on a globe in the wooden observatory of the Roivas Mansion.
  • In Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, going to any corner of the map greets the player with the message 'Here be Dragons'.
  • The phrase is the mantra of the blog by Mark Shuttleworth, founder of the Ubuntu Linux Distribution.
  • The title of the James A. Owen book Here, There Be Dragons is a reference to the phrase shown at one end of all of the maps in the Imaginarium Geographica, an atlas of the fantasy realms.
  • On the map of the Warhammer world, the Southern Wastes has the description "Here be Daemons"
  • trivia articles sometimes contain the tag "Here be spoilers".
  • In some Firefox 3 versions the phrase appears as a warning when the user goes to modify the about:config settings.
  • The phrase "HC SVNT DRACONES" appears as part of the META warning in the HTML source code on Vimeo.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Where Silence Has Lease" (1988) captain Jean-Luc Picard muses "Beyond this place there be dragons" when confronted with an empty void in space.
  • The phrase was the title for the first book in a historical fiction trilogy about medieval Wales by Sharon Kay Penman.
  • The phrase is found at the bottom of some source code files of the Solaris operating system.
  • It appears on a map drawn by the GM in the 2002 cult film The Gamers.
  • In OpenStreetMap the term Here be dragons territory is used for unmapped areas.
  • A new movie set for release in 2010 is There Be Dragons which is set during the Spanish Civil war and includes the life of St. Josemaria Escriva.
  • "Here be dragons: The scientific quest for extraterrestrial life" is the title of a book about exobiology by scientists David Koerner and Simon LeVay.
  • "Here Be Dragons" is the motto of the Chaos Communication Congress 2009
  • In Divinity 2: Ego Draconis, a few notes inside the game refers to "Hic Sunt Dracones".
  • "Here Be Dragons" is the name of a free short film presented by Brian Dunning (Skeptic) on critical thinking. It refers to our natural tendency to assume magical explanations for the unknown.
  • "Here Be Dragons / How the study of animal and plant distributions revolutionized our views of life and Earth" by Dennis McCarthy is the name of the first popular science book on biogeography, the subject that led Darwin to the theory of evolution and Wegener to the theory of continental drift.
  • In the PC strategy game Lords of the Realm II, double-clicking on a non-explorable area of the campaign map will sometimes generate a message that says "Here be dragons!"

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Here be dragons" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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