Jon MacNair // "Jon MacNair - The Sirinean Water Dragon
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18" x 24"// India ink on paper // **SOLD**
Jon MacNair created this painting for Antler Gallery's 2015 group show "Unfathomable."
The Sirinean water dragon was a water dwelling creature of monstrous proportions and fearsome appearance. This legendary beast has appeared in tales dating back centuries, mainly in countries bordering the Aegean Sea. The name itself was derived from the word "siren" because of the manner in which the creature lured it's victims to their doom. The etymology of the name has led some scholars to postulate the country of origin to be Greece, however this theory has never been fully proven.
The Sirinean water dragon had a broad, barrel-chested abdomen (bespeckled with dark spots) ending in a long scaly fish tail. While it possessed a strong set of back flippers used primarily for swimming, it also had a powerful pair of scaly forearms outfitted with sharp claws, mainly used to move about on land. It accomplished this by pushing off the ground with it's flippers and dragging it's body with the front claws. Due to this shortcoming of mobility, it rarely traveled anything but short distances and only when necessary. The most striking physical feature of the Sirinean water dragon was it's three long necks, each capped off with a different ghastly head. The first head was that of a spotted, bearded dragon with a single horn on the snout and bat-like ears. The second head was bird-like in appearance with a sharp beak, lined with small, razor-sharp teeth. It had the ears of a goat and several tentacle-like appendages that sprouted from the top of the cranium. The most disturbing feature of this particular head was the serpent that emerged from it's mouth in place of a tongue. The third head was that of a dark-haired, young maiden. However, unlike the other two heads, this one was a decoy. It was controlled by the nerve centers in the other heads, much like an appendage. It was used for one purpose only; to lure men to their watery graves.
It did this by one of two methods. When it sensed a traveler approaching, it submerged itself down into the small lagoon it inhabited. Although this pool of water was meager in diameter, it was quite deep and descended down several miles, maintaining a frigid temperature despite the warm climate of the surrounding environment. Once the entire body was fully submerged, it would raise it's decoy head and allow it to protrude up out of the water. It would either pretend to be a woman bathing or swimming in the pool, or it would pretend to be a drowning victim in need of help. Either way, it usually only allowed the head to protrude from the water from above the chin. Sometimes it would sink down further to just below the nose. Whether it decided to show itself from the front or the back, it made certain to keep it's eyelids and mouth closed. This decoy head did not actually contain eyeballs, but instead two horrid black holes, thus the sinister moniker "The Dark-Eyed Maiden". In addition to the hollow eyes, the mouth was equally unsettling, containing sharply pointed teeth. Revealing these traits would certainly have scared off potential victims, which is why the creature cleverly hid these features. In both luring methods, the beast would emit a noise from a voice box housed in the base of the neck. It was able to manipulate the reverberations of sound as they traveled up through the neck and out of the nose. Having the sound travel out of the nose allowed it to keep it's eyes and mouth closed when necessary. Given the situation, it could imitate sounds that closely resembled weeping, cries for help or seductive humming.
Once a traveler had been lured close to the edge of the lagoon, the beast would suddenly raise it's remaining two heads out of the water and each would attack the victim. With their jagged teeth, they would savagely rip it in two and pull it into the watery depths below to devour it. Some victims miraculously survived the initial attack and escaped, often losing limbs in the process. Because the bodies were always consumed deep below the surface, no trace of the victims was ever discernible. The Sirinean water dragon was said to only feed on the bodies of humans. Because it lived in a fairly isolated environment, it adapted to survive long periods of time without feeding, sometimes up to a year.
According to legend, the Sirinean water dragon was finally slain by a metalsmith named Tekkinos who was endowed with the gift of prophecy and often saw strange visions. One such vision foretold how the beast would ultimately be defeated by his own hand, and one day he set out to fulfill that prophecy. Armed with only a calfskin bag, some provisions, a bow, and a quiver containing a few arrows, he traveled for days until he came to the beast's lagoon. As was it's method, the creature allowed it's decoy head to bob up and down in the water and attempted to lure Tekkinos closer by singing sweetly seductive melodies. But Tekkinos had foreseen this in his vision and tread no further. Sensing that tactic was not working, the creature next began to utter pained cries of anguish, as if needing help, in a second attempt to lure Tekkinos to the water's edge. This also failed. As a last resort, it began to sob softly in pitifully mournful tones. But Tekkinos did not fall for this ruse. Instead he picked up some stones near the edge of the lagoon and flung them at the head bobbing in the water. This infuriated the creature and it rose up out of the water completely with it's three necks writhing about wildly. Just as it was lunging forward to devour Tekkinos alive, he reached into his calfskin bag and pulled out a small mechanical bird he had fashioned from scraps of copper. Activating the mechanism in the contraption, it took flight from his hand and flew around the creature's three heads, weaving in and out and pecking at their faces. Aggravated and enraged, the beast tried it's best to catch the bird, but in it's efforts it became entangled in it's own necks until they were one giant knot. Seizing the opportunity, Tekkinos reached for his bow, and carefully aiming, shot the creature deep in it's heart with an arrow and killed it. According to legend, upon it's death the beast let out a horrific sound like that of 1,000 vultures screeching and wailing.
In 1827, the earliest presumed representation of the legendary creature was discovered off the coast of Izmir Turkey. Credited for the find was noted British archeologist Edward Morley and his longtime benefactor James Harcourt, Earl of Kenton. This representation was in the form of a limestone sculpture 3 meters in height, depicting a three-headed aquatic monster being slain by an archer. This object appears to have been used as the decorative base of a stone column for an ancient structure of some kind, possibly a temple. Some archeologists still debate whether this object depicts the famed Sirinean water dragon. Because the artifact was discovered in Turkey, many historians now question whether Greece is the country of origin of the legend, as originally thought.