A Wyvern is a dragon that most recognizably has two legs as opposed to four. In modern fantasy, Wyverns are distinguished as smaller, more animalistic variants of the modern dragon that may or may not have a poisonous stinger at the end of their tail.
Depictions of dragons that match the wyvern's physique have been around since Late Antiquity, although the term Wyvern would only be conceived of during the early 17th century. The term was created to distinguish four-legged dragons and two legged dragons across various mythologies, notably English and French mythology, in British Heraldry. Outside of British Heraldry, the distinction would not become prevalent until the late 20th century when fantasy media fully separated the Dragon and Wyvern into two distinct creatures.
The word Wyvern is derived from the Middle English wyver, a deviation of the Old French guivre (poisonous snake), which itself is a variation of the Old French voivure, both terms originating from the Latin vipera (viper).
Alternatively, Medievalist William Sawyers theorizes that the word Wyvern could've been influenced by the other meaning of guivre (written as wigre): "javelin" or "light spear". Noting the similarity between a snake and a javelin in shape and how javelins were often fletched (thus had avian features), Sawyers concludes that when light javelins fell out of favor in the Middle Ages and the usual meaning of guivre was replaced by vipere in French, the two meanings were melded together into a mythological creature not thought of before that evolved into the wyvern.
The wyvern is displayed in British heraldry frequently as a charge, and occasionally as a crest or supporter. They are usually depicted as resting on their "eagle feet" and tail, the latter of which is curved, although some have been drawn wingless. The Wyvern represents triumph over a draconic enemy, war, power, or pestilence depending on depiction.
The wyvern is regarded as the personal crest of Thomas Crouchback (1278-1322), an earl of Leicester, Lancaster, and other cities who could be said to be Leicester and the county of Leicestershire's "political saint". In the present, a myriad of Wyvern monuments and relief can be found in Leicester, built with Thomas in mind.
Wyverns have been fully fleshed out in modern fantasy media as a separate species. As mentioned, they are typically weaker, smaller, and less intelligent in comparison to the modern dragon, overall having animalistic tendencies and serving as apex predators. Wyverns are also commonly, although not universally, associated with poison. This is usually shown through having a poisonous stinger at the end of their tail. They may or may not have a breath weapon.
Additionally, a new classification of Wyvern, the pseudowyvern, which are wyverns that use their wings as forelegs, has been been coined by fans of Monster Hunter. The term however remains primarily used only in the Monster Hunter fanbase.
Beginning in the twenty-first century, dragons with two legs as opposed to four would begin to see an upsurge in popularity, mainstream fantasy series such as Harry Potter, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Game of Thrones depicting such dragons. The reason why is uncertain, possible reasons being it being a convivence for animators or as suggested by Wikipedia, recent discoveries in paleontology. In particular, George R.R. Martian depicted his dragons with two legs in Game of Thrones in order to make them more scientifically accurate.
Wyverns are discussed among a couple of cryptozoologists such as Dale A Drinnon, with sightings of late-surviving pterosaurs being attributed to wyverns. Any sightings however can likely be traced back to large birds.
- Sexting in George Dawe's "Genevieve" pt.II - Scoop
- Wyvern - Online Etymology Dictionary
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- Sawyers, William (2008) "The Wyvern" Neuphilologische Mitteilungen pg.640
- Friar, Stephan, Ferguson, John (1993) Basic Heraldry pg.168. W W Norton & Co Inc
- What is the origin of the Leicester Wyvern? - ThiswasLieceshetershire.co.uk
- Dragon - Wikipedia
- The Anthropology of Game of Thrones - Trey the Explainer
- Wyvern/Western Dragon-Bird Information - Frontiers of Zoology