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The Gryphon/Griffin

Updated on March 15, 2017

The Gryphon

The gryphon (from the Greek, meaning "hooked") is a mythical animal with the body of a lion and the wings, head and sometimes the forelegs of a giant eagle. The gryphon represent royalty or powerful leaders (just as the lion is king of the animals, and the eagle is the king of the birds). Gryphons were considered protectors of sacred sites or great treasures, and pulled the chariots of gods such as Zeus's wife Hera.

Also Known As:

  • Griffin / Gryphin / Griffon
  • Gryphus
  • Lion-Gryphon (distinguishing this form from other variants such as the dog gryphon).

Gryphons in Mythology

Gryphons appear in a range of ancient mythologies including Persian, Minoan and Egyptian. They way they are depicted varies geographically and across time but the main features fo the lion body and eagle head and wings are preserved.

Gryphons are often represented as guardians of important treasures and tombs. Gryphons also embodied or represented the power of great leaders such as Pharaohs and Alexander the Great.

 Roman fresco (60-50 BC)--Pompeii, Italy.
Roman fresco (60-50 BC)--Pompeii, Italy.

Gryphon Symbolism

Gryphon appear in Greek, Celtic and Asian art and ornament and seem to take on a range of meanings before becoming primarily ornamental. It could be used to represent irresistible strength, or supernatural might such as the blessing of Athena in battle.

The gryphon is often used on talisman's as it was seen as a being that could protect a person from spells, curses and even slander.

The Gryphon Asleep, from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865)

Gryphons in Literature

Gryphons are popular characters in fantasy novels including the work of Mercedes Lackey, Lewis Carroll and Candace Sams.

See also:

Grypons in Art

  • Beatrice Addressing Dante (1824) William Blake--below.

Famous Gryphons

The 1880 Temple Bar Gryphon

On of the most famous sculptures of a gryphon tops the Temple Bar marker in downtown London and is the work of Charles Bell Birch. The Gryphon, Birch's most famous work, was erected in 1880--the same year that he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy.

Because of its unusual design the statue is sometimes described as a dragon--but there is no doubt that Burch intended it to be a gryphon. It does however have webbed wings and a body plates that do not originated in the lion or eagle. So it must be considered a rather non-traditional version of this chimera.

The 1552 Cosmographia Gryphon

Book Five of the Cosmographiais devoted to animal reputed to live in india. This includes the Indian gryphon which is described as having the body of a lion, talons on all fett, the head, wings and feathered back of an eagle. The gryphon is reported to nest and lay stone eggs and that of all the animals only lions and elephants could defeat them in combat.

1071: Basilica di San Marco

A gryphon appears on the external statuary of the Basilica di San Marco (St Mark's Basilica) in Venice. See photographs here.

Animal Species and Breeds Named after Gryphons

Griffon Dogs

Several dog breeds include the designation 'griffin' in their name including the Brussels Griffon and Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen Griffon in this case indicates a dog traditionally used for hunting. They are said to descend from "Griffons d"Ecurie"--wiry haired dogs of the stable so in this case the "griffon" is a coat description and not a reference to the mythological beast.

The Griffin Vulture

The griffin vulture is a particularly large bird with a broad wingspan. It has a bald head with a distinguished, eagle-like profile.

Gryphon Brands and Logos

The role of Gryphons in heraldry has led to its used an many modern brands.

Sports Logos

The griffin is the official sports mascot of Westminster College (Salt Lake City), Canisius College, Fontbonne Univerity, William and Mary University (see right) and Missouri Western Sate University.

Other

The griffin is the logo of Vauxhall Motors (see below).

Sources

  • Hill, G. F. (1923). Alexander the Great and the Persian Lion-Gryphon. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 43, 156-161.
  • Neva, E. D. (2007). Central Asian Jewelry and Their Symbols in Ancient Time. Transoxiana, 12.

Comments

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    • gryphin423 profile image

      gryphin423 

      6 years ago from Florida

      Thank you for this great hub. My maiden name is Griffin and so I've always had a fascination with gryphons. Voted up!

    • JLaszlo profile image

      JLaszlo 

      7 years ago from Northwest

      Great article. I also have one on Gryphons you and your readers might like: https://hubpages.com/literature/The-Gryphon-In-Dif...

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