Aelian records the following tale of an elephant fighting a dragon:

In India, I am told, the Elephant and the Drakon (Dragon-Serpent) are the bitterest enemies. Now Elephants draw down the branches of trees and feed upon them. And the Drakones, knowing this, crawl up the trees and envelop the lower half of their bodies in the foliage, but the upper portion extending to the head they allow to hang loose like a rope. And the Elephant approaches to pluck the twigs, whereat the Drakon springs at its eyes and gouges them out. Next the Drakon winds round the Elephant's neck, and as it clings to the tree with the lower part of its body, it tightens its hold with the upper part and strangles the Elephant with an unusual and singular noose.

Source: Aelian, On Animals, Book 6. Translated by Scholfield, A. F.

Does the story appear in Indian sources? Do we know the reason for the animosity between the two beasts?

  • 2
    Very interesting question! One tends to think of Carthage in relation to war elephants in the antiquity, so the India angle is cool. I don't know much about conflicts with the sub-continent prior to Alexander stopping on the border, but the Roman Empire never extended to that border. Possibly ingrained, Hellenistic animosity?
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 0:19
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    @DukeZhou Now that you mention it, the way the dragon utilizes stealth and mobility against raw power could perhaps serve as poetic reminder of Alexander's tactics in the Hydaspes.
    – yannis
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 0:46
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    @Yannis Does the term "Indian dragons" in this question refer to dragons in Hinduism?
    – user1385
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 4:20
  • Not necessarily @KVickneshvara. I'm using Indian more as a geographical term than a cultural one. Do you think that should be clarified in the question?
    – yannis
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 7:59
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    Your question reminded me of a very popular story of Elephant and a crocodile.- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gajendra_Moksha - The crocodile is called as Makara in this story. Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 17:01

2 Answers 2


This sounds to me like a (very exaggerated) description of Python molurus, the Indian python; they will sometimes climb trees and kill by constriction, but I don't think they've ever been known to eat an elephant. I think De Natura Animalium was intended as a natural history book, so even if I'm wrong, I think you're more likely to get to the right answer by look at other animals (such as the Asian water monitor, Varanus salvator) instead of mythological beasts.

Additionally, I just realized that your quote "whereat the Drakon springs at its eyes and gouges them out" does correspond to Indian pythons, which Wikipedia reports without a citation as "Roused to activity on sighting prey, the snake will advance with a quivering tail and lunge with an open mouth". So this is starting to sound like a pretty good match!


According to Indian mythology,the demon Vritra( an indian dragon) representing drought is enemy of Indra (the king of gods and god of rain). Indra rides elephant named Airavata. So elephant representing Indra and dragon representing vritra are enemies.

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