Monster of the Week: The Griffin

Griffin mosaic from the Acropolis of Rhodes, ca. 200 BCE

Griffin mosaic, Acropolis of Rhodes, ca 200 BCE

…but the Griffin hath a body bigger than eight Lions, and stronger than 100 Eagles, for certainly he will bear to his Nest flying, a Horse and a Man upon his Back, or two Oxen yoked together as they go to Plow, for he hath long Nails on his Feet as great as Horns of Oxen, and of those they make Cups there to drink with, and of his Ribs they do make Bows to shoot with.
—John Mandeville, The Voyages and Travels, 1357

The Griffin (also Griffon, Gryphon, or Grype, among other variants) is a legendary creature with the body of a lion, and the head, wings, and talons of an eagle. Depictions of the griffin date back to 3rd millennium BCE Egypt and earlier, but are also found in ancient Greece, India, and elsewhere around the world. It is said that the feather of a Griffin can cure blindness, and poison will change color when served in a cup fashioned from a Griffin’s talon.

Griffin statue in Gustav Adolfs torg, Malmö, Sweden. The Friffin is Malmö's heraldic animal.

Griffin statue in Gustav Adolfs torg, Malmö, Sweden. The Griffin is Malmö’s heraldic animal.

Griffins are a very popular symbol in heraldry, representing wisdom, strength and majesty. They continue to be a frequent symbol or mascot of schools, businesses and municipalities.

… Griffons in Nature, that is a Mixt and dubious animall, in the fore-part resembling an Eagle, and behinde the shape of a Lion, with erected eares, foure feet, and a long taile …
—Sir Thomas Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, ca. 1646

Griffins, like eagles, mate for life and lay eggs. The 13th-century alchemist Albertus Magnus claimed that Griffin eggshells are made of agate.

Griffins are protective, and are sometimes trained to serve as guardians (the Griffin’s cousin, the Hippogryph, is one of the three guardians of the gates of the Dreaming in the Sandman comic books). Griffins, like dragons, love gold, although this may not be for its value, but for its shininess (another bird-like trait).

Gilda the Griffin from MLP:FiM

Gilda the Griffin from MLP:FiM

Literature mentioning Griffins can be found throughout the history of the written word.  Griffins are mentioned in the works of Dante, Milton, and Carroll, as well as in the universes of Percy Jackson, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and Harry Potter. “The Griffin” is also a story among the Brothers Grimm’s collected fairy tales (read the story here).

In the swift Rank of these fell Rovers, flies
The Indian Griffin with the glistring eyes.
—Joshua Sylvester’s translation (1608) of Du Bartas (1578)

Gryphon by Akeiron on deviantART. Griffins maintain a love/hate relationship with horses.

Gryphon by Akeiron on deviantART. Griffins maintain a love/hate relationship with horses.

 Read the Brothers Grimm story “The Griffin”

Further reading:
Borges, Jorge Luis. The Book of Imaginary Beings. 1967.
Nigg, Joe.  The Book of Gryphons: A History of the Most Majestic of All Mythical Creatures. 1982.

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