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Mythical Creatures - Gryphons and Hippogriffs

Updated on May 11, 2014

Gryphons—or Griffins/Griffons—are legendary creatures that are part lion and part eagle, and are considered to be extremely majestic and powerful creatures.

A hippogriff is a creature that is born of a gryphon and a mare, which would be extremely unusual because gryphons would normally consider mares to be food.

Gryphon

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Appearance

Griffins had the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. It isn't clear whether the forelimbs were those of an lion or an eagle, but it is more likely that it was the latter, and that is favored by most illustrations.

Symbolism

Griffons mated for life, and if either one died, they would never seek out another mate, instead remaining single forever. This reflected the Church's opposition to remarriage.

Because Griffons were creatures of both the air and earth, they often symbolized Jesus, because he was both human and divine.


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Origin

Adrienne Mayor proposed a theory that that the legend of the griffon was caused by Protoceratops skeletons that had become uncovered along the Silk Roads in the Gobi desert of Mongolia and seen by long-distance traders. These skeletons may have given the impression of a half-bird half-beast creature, and through repeated retelling and drawing the skeletons, the Griffon was born.

Its bony neck frill was fragile and may have broken off the skeleton, which would have given the impression of large mammal-like ears. Its beak-like mouth may have given the impression of a bird, and caused the addition of wings to the creature.

Hippogriff

A hippogriff was the offspring of a gryphon and a mare. It had the head, wings, and forelegs of an eagle and the body of a horse. It was extremely rare because gryphons typically hunted mares rather than mating with them. This idea may have been the cause of the phrase "to mate gryphons with horses", which is similar to the modern saying "when pigs fly". Because of the impossibility of the hippogriff, it symbolized the impossibility and the power of love.

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