Lately I’ve been pondering this question. Are the dragons of legend and folklore beings of this Earth or beings of the spirit? Of course, there are so many legends that it’s hard to make general statements. And then you add in the ones authors create for our own stories! Still, it’s something I wonder about.
Based on many tales, it does seem that dragons are fairly physical. They have an animal form, usually terrifying. Dragons do battle with knights and other challengers. They have physical appetites. Dragons hunger for food, whether that be human virgins, milk, or saki. For some writers, they consume the metals of their hoards in order to strengthen their scales. Dragons need to sleep. It’s the lucky thief or knight who enters the dragon’s lair while it’s wrapped in dreams. Dragons are shown to care for nests and eggs, so they must have a drive to reproduce.
At the same time, mythological dragons often have a higher purpose. Hydra, for example, guarded an entrance to the Greek netherworld. Many of the Asian dragons act as nature spirits and either protect nature or help nature to function. Both the African deity Aido-Hwedo and the Norse Jurmundandr were believed to loop around the world and keep it all together. These types of dragons are not shown to eat or sleep, but maintain a ceaseless vigil.
Dragons often are depicted as having great magical powers. They live a long time, and accumulate much knowledge during their lives. In many games, the most dangerous opponents are ancient dragons with spell-casting powers far beyond a lowly adventurer.
To bring this all together, perhaps dragons are like humans in that we are born with great energy, grow into our strength, and strive to make our mark in the world. As time moves on we learn wisdom and often become more spiritual. So perhaps the wisest dragons are those which survive beyond the fury of their youth and become truly mystical beings.