Learning the Language of the Birds

by Esteban

” … In other dragon stories the heroes devise their plans after eating the dragon’s heart. According to Philostratus, Apollonius of Tyana was worthy of being remembered for two things–his bravery in traveling among fierce robber tribes, not then subject to Rome, and his wisdom in learning the language of birds and other animals as the Arabs do.

This accomplishment the Arabs acquired, Philostratus explains, by eating the hearts of dragons. The “animals” who utter magic words are, of course, the Fates. Siegfried of the Nibelungenlied, after slaying the Regin dragon, makes himself invulnerable by bathing in its blood.

He obtains wisdom by eating the heart: as soon as he tastes it he can understand the language of birds, and the birds reveal to him that Mimer is waiting to slay him.

Sigurd similarly makes his plans after eating the heart of the Fafner dragon. In Scottish legend Finn-mac-Coul obtains the power to divine secrets by partaking of a small portion of the seventh salmon associated with the “well dragon,” and Michael Scott and other folk heroes become great physicians after tasting the juices of the middle part of the body of the white snake.

The hero of an Egyptian folk tale slays a “deathless snake” by cutting it in two parts and putting sand between the parts. He then obtains from the box, of which it is the guardian, the book of spells; when he reads a page of the spells he knows what the birds of the sky, the fish of the deep, and the beasts of the hill say; the book gives him power to enchant “the heaven and the earth, the abyss, the mountains and the sea.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.