Since the days of the cave man home has been more than the structure that gives us shelter from the elements. We abhor the emptiness of bare surfaces and strive to make our living space into something that expresses our individuality, a place that defines us as much as it displays our tastes and accomplishments. Sometimes what has started as decoration, or as a means of passing on our tastes to our descendants, becomes a tool of a man’s pride and takes on a life of its own. Mankind’s pride is limitless and his expression of his self-worth is only limited by his riches. Buildings become a measure of a man’s achievements and the expression of his own taste.
Here’s a perfect illustration, the amusing ancient tale of Duke Yeh retold (as Duke Coquaigne, with certain liberties taken):
Long after Rome had fallen, when Europe was beginning to dig itself out from centuries of barbarism, the continent was split up into a multitude of feudal states, each under the control of its local ruler. One of these states was the fiefdom of the Duke of Coquaigne, a strong leader who had increased the agricultural production of his estates, traded successfully with his neighbours and vanquished other, less amenable, nobles with his well-trained army. He rebuilt his ancestral castle and gathered a small army of the most skilled artisans, stonemasons, carpenters, cooks and blacksmiths; setting them to work on monumental structures that vastly improved his patrimony.
The Duke held an unusual fascination for Dragons ever since he was a child and had spent many an hour perusing the scrolls of heraldry. Every night before going to sleep, at his urging, his nanny had filled his head and imagination with wondrous accounts of the regal Dragons that had once roamed the world. In the time before they had been chased away by the present Religious hierarchy, who had also succeeded in permanently abolishing the last vestiges of the Old Religions.
During this successful reign, as the Duke Coquaigne’s prestige and wealth grew he began to identify with the Dragon and so began collecting anything and everything to do with the fearsome beasts. He filled his entire castle with Dragons: illustrated manuscripts and scrolls, statues, tapestries and frescoes. Every nook and cranny was soon adorned with images of Dragons; bejewelled Dragons guarding their hoards, fire-breathing Dragons despoiling villages and terrifying maidens, countless depictions of various Knights fighting a Dragon, ships menaced by Water Dragons, and even paintings on rice paper from far-off Cathay of their Serpent-Dragon coiled across the sky. Dragons were embroidered on his court clothes and carved on his furniture, each one carefully crafted to inspire awe in anyone who beheld them. He even acquired stone Dragon eggs from traders who had discovered them lying in the rock of the Great Desert, along with the bones of their mother. The Duke had dispatched several expeditions to retrieve those bones, but none had ever returned from the wasteland.
The eccentric Duke even began to imitate the Dragon’s roar (or what he imagined the roar to sound like) whenever he was enraged, and lived his life the way he thought a Dragon would.
So enthusiastically did he carry out this Dragon worship, for he did view it as an almost Holy quest, that he became famous throughout Europe for being a Dragon lover. People would comment, ``the Duke loves Dragons, `` with as much veracity and nodding of heads as if they had said, ``the sky is blue.”
It was bound to happen that the story of the Duke who loved Dragons would finally reach the ears of the last colony of Dragons left in the world. On the highest mountains, far away from even the remotest trails they had sought refuge where their roars and fiery breath were often mistaken for mountain storms. Such adulation that the Duke espoused stoked their curiosity and they decided to send out one of their number, a youngster only eleven centuries old, to visit the Duke and discern the truth. ``Perhaps mankind has matured over these past centuries and may once more welcome us among them.`` they speculated. With this, the young Dragon took flight and headed towards civilized lands.
On a rather sweltering afternoon, the Duke was sipping cool refreshments after his extensive lunch as he admired his latest acquisition; an exquisitely carved marble Dragon perched atop a model of his own castle.
Suddenly an explosive roar was heard that shook the palace down to the deepest dungeons. A blinding flash of lightning lit up the room just before clouds of roiling smoke obscured the view. The Great Dragon had just crashed through part of the roof and, with a small twitch of his mighty tail, demolished the outside stone wall. When the dust and debris settled the Dragon looked out over the fallen tapestries, broken statues and splintered furniture trying to find the Duke.
The Duke was nowhere to be seen. In his terror he had scuttled under his throne and remained there frozen, shaking like a leaf.
“There you are!” The dragon puffed the throne aside, uncovering the paralyzed, cowering Duke among the shattered remains of his Dragon treasure, his face hidden and eyes averted from the real Dragon that towered over him.
The Dragon sighed, as much as Dragons could sigh, let out a mighty roar, and then took to the air. Mankind had not changed, the Duke`s admiration was but a sham. He loved the idea of Dragons, the hollow tales and images of Dragons, but he panicked when presented with the real thing. He was unmanned and his pretense exposed.
Despite all his efforts to suppress the story, the news of the Dragon`s visit and its unfortunate effect upon the Duke spread like wildfire. There were whispers in the dark corners that spread to the alehouse and then out into the street where laughter at the Duke`s folly ran rampant. People still said, ``The Duke Loves Dragons. `` But now they used it to refer to a poseur or someone who puts up a false front. His riches and army were still with him, but the Duke was no longer respected in his own country, or abroad. Soon an invading army put an end to his reign and their cannons completed the devastation the Dragon inflicted on the castle.