Yesterday, I did some digging into the meaning behind one of the most distinctive and puzzling car maker logos around: the Alfa Romeo 'dragon-eating-a-dude' crest. I was curious about Alfa's official company line on the badge, and, happily, they told me.
Here's what I was sent from Automobilismo Storico Alfa Romeo:
Alfa Romeo has one of the most ancient and historical emblem among all car brands in the world. This emblem was born on 1910, a few months after the Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (ALFA) foundation, on June 24th 1910.
On the left: the red cross on white field is the symbol of Milan, the hometown of Alfa Romeo.
On the right: the symbol of one of the most important families in the history of Milan (and Italy), the Visconti family – the family that ruled Milan. There are a lot of legends about the origins of this heraldic symbol, representing a mythological animal with a human in his mouth (some believe it to be a dragon, but most likely a snake). During the time of the crusades, Otone Visconti , the founder of Visconti Family and a knight, fought against a noble Saracen knight (nomad from the Syrian Desert that bordered the Roman Empire). Otone beat the Saracen knight and, following the tradition, took the symbols the Saracen carried on his shield: a snake with a human in his mouth. At first glance, it looks like the snake is eating the human. Instead, the human is coming out of the snake a "new man," purified and renewed.
The meaning: The snake is a circular animal (a snake can assume a circular position) and is an animal of the changing – able to change his skin regularly and totally renew or rebirth himself.
So, not shockingly, Alfa is avoiding the question of whether the snake/dragon is eating a Muslim man or just some baby (the two options symbol traditionally has) entirely. That's probably a smart PR move. Instead, they're taking advantage of the fact that the symbol isn't animated by suggesting that the man in the snake's mouth isn't going in, but rather coming out.
I did mention this possibility in the original article, and some sources corroborated this possibility in the symbol as well. Though, really, the outstretched arms of the figure in the Alfa badge remind me a bit more of a panicked, I'm-being-eaten-by-a-snake flailing than the gestures of a person freshly reborn, but what do I know. I've never been eaten by a snake and, unless my mom is a really good liar, never been born from one's mouth.
The bit about the snake being circular and being constantly reborn sounds a lot more like another snake symbol, the ouroboros, than the biscione, but I guess after a while all these symbolic snakes start to look alike.
Besides, the symbol is Alfa's to decide the meaning of, in the end. I mean, sure, symbols have history that you can't always ignore — that's why car companies with swastika hood ornaments are so rare — but if Alfa Romeo wants to focus on the aching beauty of being born anew via vomiting from a colossal snake's mouth, who am I to argue.
Glad that's cleared up.