Articles

TABLE 1. Sources of transcripts of ancient Greek and Roman literature, with abbreviations of titles in parentheses. Titles of Latin works are given in Latin, and titles of Greek works are given in English.

Author, title, and abbreviation  Source 
Aelian (Claudius Aelianus), On the Characteristics of Animals (ChA) Scholfield 1958 
Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum Perseus 2012
anonymous, Hymn to Apollo West 2003
Apollodorus, Library Perseus 2012
Aristotle, History of Animals (HA) Remacle 2012
Arrian, Indika Perseus 2012
Augustine of Hippo, On Psalm 148 Schaff 2012
Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae Perseus 2012
Berossus, collected surviving works Cory 1828
Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero), De Natura Deorum  Stickney 1881 
Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica Perseus 2012
Florus (Lucius Annaeus Florus), Epitome Rerum Romanorum Perseus 2012
Herodotus, Histories Hare 2010
Hesiod, The Shield of Herakles Perseus 2012
Hesiod, Theogony Perseus 2012
Homer, Iliad Perseus 2012
Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae Thayer 2003
John of Damascus, On Dragons Migne 1865
Josephus (Flavius Josephus), Jewish Antiquities Perseus 2012
Justin (Marcus Junianus Justinus), Historiarum Philippicarum (HPh) Latin Library 2012
Orosius (Paulus Orosius), Historiae Adversum Paganos Latin Library 2012
Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia (NH) Perseus 2012
Plutarch, Alexander Perseus 2012
Pomponius Mela, De Chorographica Parthey 1867
Quintus Curtius Rufus, Historiae Alexandri Magni (HAM) Perseus 2012
Sextus Empiricis, Adversus Mathematicos I Blank 1998
Solinus (Gaius Julius Solinus), De Mirabilibus Mundi (MM) Latin Library 2012
Strabo, Geography Perseus 2012
Valerius Maximus, Factorum et Dictorum Memorabilium Perseus 2012

 

 

 
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Dinosaurs and pterosaurs in Greek and Roman art and literature? An investigation of young-earth creationist claims

Phil Senter

Plain Language Abstract

Many young-Earth creationist (YEC) authors claim that ancient Greek and Roman writings describe dinosaurs and pterosaurs, and that Greco-Roman art illustrates Mesozoic reptiles. Such claims are used as "evidence" against evolutionary theory in an attempt to cast doubt on the separation of humans and such animals by millions of years. However, examination of the Greco-Roman materials in question reveals that none of them actually depict Mesozoic reptiles. In descriptions of "dragons" (Greek drakōn; Latin draco) in Greco-Roman literature—which YEC authors claim are dinosaurs—coils and the epithets ophis, serpens, and anguis reveal that the ancient authors are describing snakes, often large constrictors. This is the case for the draco described by Pliny (the python), Phrygian dragons described by Aelian, the Vatican Hill child-eater mentioned by Pliny, the Bagradas River dragon, the legendary dragons that Alexander the Great supposedly encountered, and dragons in Greek mythology. An alleged theropod dinosaur in the Nile Mosaic of Palestrina is a mammal, possibly an otter. An alleged dinosaur in a Pompeii fresco is a crocodile. Herodotus' description of winged snakes is anatomically incompatible with pterosaurs and possibly refers to cobras. Alleged pterosaurs on an Alexandrian coin are winged snakes. An alleged Etruscan pterosaur head sculpture depicts a mammal. Two alleged Tanystropheus in a Roman mosaic from Lydney Park, England are mythical sea monsters. These YEC claims now join the ranks of discredited "evidence" against evolutionary theory.

Resumen en Español

¿Dinosaurios en el arte y la literatura de los griegos y los romanos? Una investigación sobre las alegaciones de los creacionistas defensores de una Tierra joven

Muchos creacionistas que defienden la idea de un origen reciente de la Tierra alegan que antiguos textos griegos y romanos describen dinosaurios y pterosaurios, y que en el arte clásico hay ilustraciones de reptiles mesozoicos. Esas afirmaciones han sido empleadas como "pruebas" contra la teoría evolutiva en un intento de sembrar dudas sobre la separación de millones de años entre los humanos y dichos animales. Sin embargo, el examen de los documentos greco-romanos en cuestión revela que, en realidad, ninguno de ellos representa reptiles mesozoicos. En las descripciones de los 'dragones' (drakōn en griego; draco en latín) –que los autores creacionistas afirman que son dinosaurios- los enroscamientos y los epítetos ophis, serpens y anguis revelan que los autores clásicos hablaban de serpientes, a menudo de grandes formas constrictoras. Este es el caso del draco descrito por Plinio (Pitón), de los dragones frigios de los que habla Eliano, del come-niños de la Colina Vaticana mencionado por Plinio, del dragón del río Bragadas, de los legendarios dragones que teóricamente encontró Alejandro Magno y de los dragones de la mitología griega. Un supuesto dinosaurio terópodo representado en el mosaico del Nilo, en Palestrina, es un mamífero, posiblemente una nutria. Un pretendido dinosaurio en un fresco de Pompeya es un cocodrilo. La descripción de Heródoto de serpientes aladas es anatómicamente incompatible con los pterosaurios y posiblemente se trate de cobras. Los supuestos pterosaurios en una moneda de Alejandría son serpientes aladas. Una escultura etrusca de la cabeza de un teórico pterosaurio representa, en realidad a un mamífero. Dos pretendidos Tanystropheus en un mosaico romano de Lydney Park, Inglaterra, son fantásticos monstruos marinos. Estas alegaciones de los creacionistas defensores de una Tierra joven se unen así a las filas de las "pruebas" en contra de la teoría evolutiva desacreditadas.

PALABRAS CLAVE: creacionismo; dragones; dinosaurios; pterosaurios; Plinio; Heródoto; krokodilopardalis; Tanystropheus

Traducción: Miguel Company

Résumé en Français

Des dinosaures et des ptérosaures dans l'art et la littérature gréco-romaine? Une étude des affirmations des créationnistes Jeune-Terre

De nombreux auteurs créationnistes Jeune-Terre (young-Earth creationist : YEC) affirment que les écrits de la Grèce et de la Rome antique décrivent des dinosaures et des ptérosaures, et que l'art gréco-romains illustre des reptiles mésozoïques. De telles affirmations sont utilisées comme autant de « preuves » contre la théorie de l'évolution dans le but de jeter le doute sur la séparation par des millions d'années entres les humains et ces animaux. Toutefois l'étude des documents en question révèle en fait qu'aucun d'entre eux n'illustre des reptiles mésozoïques. Dans les descriptions des « dragons » (Grecque drakōn; Latin draco) de la littérature gréco-romaine —que les auteurs YEC affirment être des dinosaures— les enroulements et les épithètes ophis, serpens, et anguis révèlent que les auteurs de l'antiquité décrivent des serpents, souvent de grands constricteurs. C'est le cas du draco décrit par Pliny (le python), des dragons Phrygiens décrits par Aelian, du dévoreur d'enfants de la colline du Vatican mentionné par Pliny, du dragon de la rivières Bagradas, des légendaires dragons que Alexandre le Grand aurait soi-disant rencontrés, et des dragons de la mythologie grecque. Un prétendu dinosaure théropode dans la mosaïque du Nil à Palestrina est en fait un mammifère, probablement une loutre. Un prétendu dinosaure dans une fresque de Pompéi est un crocodile. La description par Hérodote d'un serpent ailé est anatomiquement incompatible avec un ptérosaure et fait probablement référence à un cobra. Les prétendus ptérosaures sur une pièce Alexandrienne sont des serpents ailés. Une prétendue sculpture de tête de ptérosaure étrusque représente un mammifère. Et deux prétendus Tanystropheus dans une mosaïque romaine du parc Lydney en Angleterre sont en fait des monstres marins mythiques. Ces affirmations des YEC rejoignent maintenant les rangs des « preuves » discrédités s'opposant à la théorie de l'évolution.

Mots clés : créationnisme ; dragon(s) ; dinosaure(s) ; ptérosaure(s) ; Pliny ; Hérodote ; krokodilopardalis; Tanystropheus

Translator: Olivier Maridet

Deutsche Zusammenfassung

Dinosaurier und Pterosaurier in der griechischen und römischen Kunst und Literatur? Eine Untersuchung der Behauptungen von Young-Earth Kreationisten

Viele der Young-Earth Kreationisten (YEC) behaupten, dass in antiken griechischen und römischen Schriften Dinosaurier und Pterosaurier beschrieben werden und dass griechisch-römische Kunst mesozoische Reptilien abbildet. Diese Behauptungen werden als „Beweis" gegen die Evolutionstheorie genutzt im Versuch Zweifel an der zeitlichen Separation von Millionen von Jahren von Mensch und solchen Tieren aufkommen zu lassen. Jedoch zeigen Untersuchungen des betreffenden griechisch- römischen Materials, dass keine mesozoische Reptilien abgebildet sind. In Beschreibungen über „Drachen" (griechisch drakōn; lateinisch draco) in der griechisch-römischen Literatur – bei denen die YEC-Autoren behaupten, dass es sich um Dinosaurier handelt – zeigen Windungen und die Beiworte ophis, serpens und anguis, dass die antiken Autoren Schlangen, oft große Würgeschlangen beschreiben. Das ist der Fall für den von Plinius beschriebenen draco, die von Aelian beschriebenen phrygischen Drachen, den von Plinius erwähnten Kindsfresser vom Vatikanischen Hügel, die Bagradas Flußdrachen, die legendären Drachen denen Alexander der Große angeblich begegnete und die Drachen in der griechischen Mythologie. Ein angeblicher theropoder Dinosaurier im Nilmosaik von Palestria ist ein Säugetier, möglicherweise ein Otter. Ein angeblicher Dinosaurier in einem pompeijanischen Fresko ist ein Alligator. Herodots Beschreibung von geflügelten Schlangen ist anatomisch nicht mit Pterosauriern vereinbar und bezieht sich möglicherweise auf Kobras. Angebliche Pterosaurier auf alexandrinischen Münzen sind geflügelte Schlangen. Eine etruskische Skulptur eines angeblichen Pterosaurierschädels zeigt ein Säugetier. Zwei angebliche Tanystropheus in einem römischen Mosaik aus Lydney Park, England, sind sagenhafte Meeresungeheuer. Diese YEC Behauptungen reihen sich nun in die übrigen diskreditierten „Beweise" gegen die Evolutionstheorie ein.

SCHLÜSSELWÖRTER: Kreationismus; Drache (n); Dinosaurier; Pterosaurier; Plinius; Herodot; krokodilo pardalis; Tanystropheus

Translator: Eva Gebauer

Arabic

403 arab

Translator: Ashraf M.T. Elewa

 

 

FIGURE 1. Tail skeletons of a theropod dinosaur and a pterosaur, showing the bony processes that restrict lateral bending and therefore prevent tail coiling; anterior is to the left. 1.1. The theropod dinosaur Allosaurus fragilis. 1.2. The long-tailed pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus gemmingi, modified from a published illustration Wellnhofer (1975, Figure 7). 1.3. A single tail vertebra and hemal arch of R. gemmingi. prz = prezygapophysis, ha = hemal arch.

figure 1

FIGURE 2. The draco of Pliny: African and Indian pythons. 2.1. African rock python (Python sebae). 2.2. Indian rock python (Python molurus).

figure 2

FIGURE 3. Snakes in Roman wall paintings, with the crests and wattles of roosters, from two houses in Pompeii (from Grant, 1979, unnumbered figures).

figure 3

FIGURE 4. Examples of the drak?n in ancient Greek art depicting scenes from mythology. Note that they are all snakes, and that the ancient Greeks often added beards and occasionally rooster crests to snake depictions. 4.1. The drak?n of the Hesperides, which was slain by Herakles, from a Greek vase from ca. 500 B.C. (Carpenter, 1991, Figure 212). 4.2. The drak?n of the Hesperides, from a Greek vase from the fifth century B.C. (Carpenter, 1991, Figure 213) 4.3. The drakontes that made up the belt of a gorgon, from a Greek jug from the sixth century B.C. (Woodford, 2003, Figure 95). 4.4. The drakontes that made up the belt of a gorgon, from a Greek temple relief from the sixth century B.C. (Carpenter, 1991, Figure 155). 4.5. The drak?n that was the tail of the Chimaera, from a relief on a shield band panel from the sixth century B.C. (Carpenter, 1991, Figure 164). 4.6. The drak?n that was the tail of the Chimaera, from a Greek relief from the fifth century B.C. (Buxton, 2004, unnumbered figure). 4.7. The drak?n slain by Kadmos, from a Greek vase from the fifth century B.C. (Buxton, unnumbered figure). 4.8. The drakaina slain by Apollo, from a Greek coin from the fifth century B.C. (Carpenter,1991 Figure 104).

figure 4

FIGURE 5. The krokodilopardalis in the Nile mosaic of Palestrina, compared to an otter and to three representative theropod dinosaurs. Note the resemblance between the krokodilopardalis and the otter, and the marked difference between the body plan of the krokodilopardalis and the theropod body plan. 5.1. The krokodilopardalis (Meyboom, 1995, Figure 18). 5.2. An otter (Lontra canadensis). 5.3. Reconstruction of he dromaeosaurid theropod Microraptor gui. 5.4. Skeleton of the carnosaurian theropod Acrocanthosaurus atokensis. 5.5. Reconstruction of the compsognathid theropod Compsognathus longipes.

figure 5

FIGURE 6. An alleged dinosaur (actually a crocodile) in a Pompeii wall painting, compared with other crocodiles in Roman wall paintings. Note that in all cases, the crocodiles are not portrayed with great realism but are dumpy and almost cartoonish. 6.1. The alleged dinosaur (Zillmer, 1998, Figure 91). 6.2. Crocodile in a Roman relief from the first century B.C (Meyboom, 1995, Figure 38). 6.3. Crocodile in a Roman mosaic from the first century B.C (Meyboom, 1995, Figure 28).

figure 6

FIGURE 7. A long-tailed pterosaur, a short-tailed toothed pterosaur, and a short-tailed toothless pterosaur. These pictures show that pterosaurs of all three sorts do not have the form of a water snake, and that in all three the body plan is more birdlike than snakelike, even without wings. 7.1. Scaphognathus crassirostris, skeleton as preserved and illustrated by Goldfuss (1831). 7.2. Haopterus gracilis, reconstructed according to a complete skeleton. 7.3. Sinopterus dongi, reconstructed according to a complete skeleton. 7.4. The previous three pterosaurs, with wings removed, to show that they are not snakelike at all and therefore Herodotus' description of flying serpents as "having the form of the water snake" is inapplicable to pterosaurs; the bodily form of S. crassirostris is reconstructed according to the complete skeleton of a juvenile (Wellnhofer, 1991, unnumbered figure), with the proportions altered to match those of the adult of a closely related species: Rhamphorhynchus gemmingi.

figure 7

FIGURE 8. Two alleged representations of the pterosaur Scaphognathus crassirostris, and scenes of snakes pulling chariots in classical art. Note that the chariot-pulling "pterosaurs" are winged snakes with crests and wattles that resemble those of the chariot-pulling snakes in 8.5. Note also the lack of resemblance between S. crassirostris itself (in Figure 7.1) and the alleged S. crassirostris representations in 8.1 and 8.2. 8.1. A pair of alleged S. crassirostris pulling the chariot of Triptolemos in a Roman-Alexandrian coin (Goertzen, 1998, Figure 7). 8.2.Head of an Etruscan statue, allegedly of S. crassirostris (Goertzen, 1998, Figure 11). 8.3. Winged snakes pulling Triptolemos' chariot, on a Thracian coin from the second or third century A.D. (Sayles, 1998, unnumbered figure). 8.4. Wingless snakes pulling Triptolemos' chariot, on a Roman sarcophagus from the third century (Robert, 1919, Figure 433). 8.5. Wingless snakes pulling the chariot of the Roman goddess Ceres, on a Roman coin from the first century B.C. (Spaeth, 1996, figure 5).

figure 8

FIGURE 9. An alleged pair of Tanystropheus (actually a mythical sea monster called a cetus) in a second-century Roman mosaic in Lydney Park, England, compared with Tanystropheus and other examples of cete. Note that different artists portrayed the cetus with different, creative flourishes of anatomical interpretation, but the basic form of the cetus remains relatively uniform: a long-necked, long-eared, fluke-tailed marine creature with two fore-paws or fore-flippers and no hind appendages, often with a coiled tail and a tufted nose. 9.1. The Lydney Park creatures (Taylor, 1987, unnumbered figure). 9.2. the Triassic reptile Tanystropheus longobardicus. 9.3. Cetus in a fourth-century mosaic from Syria (Dunbabin, 1999, Figure 173). 9.4. Cetus in a fourth-century Roman mosaic (Poeschke, 2010, Figure 1). 9.5. Cetus on a third-century Roman sarcophagus (Jensen, 2004, Figure 29). 9.6. Cetus on a fourth- or fifth-century tray from Carthage (Lazaridou, 2011, Figure 14). 9.7. Cetus in a first-century Roman fresco (Woodford, 2004, figure 8.9).

figure 9 

 

senterPhil Senter
Department of Biological Sciences
Fayetteville State University, 1200 Murchison Road
Fayetteville, North Carolina 28301 USA
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Phil Senter is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville, North Carolina. He has published over 50 peer-reviewed articles on dinosaur paleobiology, herpetology, and investigation of creationist claims.