COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in September 2018 with all known ATU Classifications.

Why is the fly called the devil's horse?

The Fight of St. George and the Devil. 
In Rumania, the dragon-fly is known as the devil's horse or perhaps the dragon's horse. It is also known as St. George's horse. The following legends explain this peculiar name.


WE ARE told that in olden times there was continual strife between God and the devil. God, however, who is peacefully inclined, let the devil play his game as long as possible. He thought that perhaps after some time the devil might become better behaved. But what can you expect of the devil? He is what he is, and neither good nor bad treatment will change him. And so it proved even to God. He waited a very long time to see him quiet down and become more satisfied. But no sooner had God granted him one thing, than the devil asked for another, and so he went on asking continually. When at last God saw that nothing could be done with Satan, he armed his host of angels and gave each one a beautiful horse to ride on. One morning, at early dawn, they all mounted their horses and, led by St. George, who was riding at the head of the host, they started the fight with the devil.

               After a time St. George--who rode a horse, which was like unto none of the others, wondrously beautiful--felt suddenly that his horse was backing instead of going ahead. So St. George found himself involved among his own host, and some other horses following his example, started moving backwards and hitting those who were riding behind them. He then suddenly heard the voice of God telling him to dismount, for his horse had been bewitched by the devil. "If that is the case," said St. George, "then be it the devil's own," and he let it go. And so it happened. Scarcely had it made three steps when it was changed into a flying insect, which we, upon this earth, call the devil's horse (libellula depressa).


A similar legend must have been current in West Europe and in England, as otherwise the English name of Dragon-fly could not be explained. At the root of it there must be some legend of St. George and the Dragon, in addition to the fight between the hosts of heaven and the army of Satan. This part must have entirely dropped out, and the knowledge and recollection of the part which St. George played was connected either with the worm, i.e. dragon probably transformed into an insect, or the horse of St. George, believed to have been a winged horse. To us here, however, the first part of the legend is of the utmost interest, for it is nothing less than the Biblical legend of the rebellion of Satan which led to the combat and to the fall. Satan had lost Paradise, and ever since then he had been yearning for the light of Paradise, either by attempting to steal the heavenly fire, as in the Goat stories, or by stealing the sun and moon as in some of the Christmas carols. Thereby he entered into a contest with the heavenly power. Though these variants do not contain much of the legendary fauna, they form an important part in the mythological conception which lies at the root of many of these creation-tales and legends.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Why is the fly called the devil's horse?
Tale Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Book Title: Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories
Book Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1915
Country of Origin: Romania
Classification: unclassified

Back to Top