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The Gryphon In Different Cultures

Updated on February 28, 2012

Stone Gryphon

Gryphon By Arenamontanus
Gryphon By Arenamontanus

The Gryphon

The gryphon was a mystical creature that had an exquisite lion's body, the wings and head of an eagle and feathers covering its back. Gryphons, like a bird, would build eyries, nests belonging to birds of prey. Instead of an egg it laid an agate and made its nest out of gold that it found in the mountains. This gold made their nest very tempting to hunters so they were always forced to keep a vigilant guard.

The gryphon, known for guarding treasure, was a symbol representing divine power as well as a guardian of the divine.

Many modern illustrations gave the gryphon an eagle's legs with talons however; in older illustrations it had forelimbs of a lion. Its eagle head was given lion's ears only they were a bit elongated like a horse and often feathered.

Another alteration is the gryphon being portrayed with no wings. An eagle-headed lion without wings was called a keythongor or an alce in the 15th century.

The myth of the gryphon originated either in or near the Middle East. It was depicted in ancient Persian, Babylonian and Assyrian sculptures and paintings. It was believed that the myths were born around 3,000 BC and the gryphon was the Pharaoh's companion and later became a sacred guardian.


The Gryphon In Greek Mythology

In Greek mythology, gryphon neighbored the Hyperboreans and belonged to Zeus. They were believed to take gold out of the Arimaspias stream and Pomponius Mela wrote that there was a certain area that was uninhabited because the gryphon, an eager and cruel beast loved the gold that lied above the ground and fiercely guarded it.

Their love for gold was a representation of sun's wealth at dawn and the gold in the east. In Greek mythology, the gryphon lined their nest with gold and woe was warned to any traveler thinking about stealing it.

Golden Gryphon

Gryphon By Sebastian Niedlich (Grabthar)
Gryphon By Sebastian Niedlich (Grabthar)

The Gryphon In Indian Mythology

The gryphon originated in India so the dwellers of the land often made the gryphon's talons into drinking cups since they were of such a massive size. Similar to the unicorn and other mythological creatures, talons were linked to magical traits. The horn or alicorn from the unicorn was believed to be an aphrodisiac and the gryphon's talons were believed to have the ability to detect the presence of poison in a drinking cup. This was very important for nobility since poison was a popular method for assassination.


Gryphon In Flight

gryphon_003 By kenwalters2
gryphon_003 By kenwalters2

The Gryphon In Christian Mythology

The gryphon motif appeared in Christian times. It originally represented evil and Satan but ironically, later became a representation of Christ.

It represented the dual nature of Christ of both the earthly and divine characteristics as well as being the master of land and sky and noble and majestic. Gryphons were believed to kill basilisks and serpents and protected mankind.

The eagle part of the gryphon signified the divinity of Christ and the lion half was a representation of his humanity. Since no one was capable of blocking the gryphon's path, the creature was also associated with Gospel's passage that records Christ's passage through the Nazareth crowd who wanted to throw him from a cliff. They became a symbol of Christ's resurrection during the Middle Ages and the lion's strength combined with the eagle's wisdom to make the gryphon a symbol of God.

The duality of strengths from both animals posed logical difficulties. It was said that a lion and eagle's body parts would cripple the gryphon and deprive him of being able to soar like an eagle or walk like the noble lion. This theory was used to persecute the Christians and there was even an imaginary creature, the gryphon-dragon that had a dragon's tail and represented evil.

Gryphons, being a symbol of wisdom, were used as gargoyles on medieval buildings as great stone guardians.

Since the gryphon could soar like an eagle, it made it a poetic emblem of spiritual inspiration. The eagle body parts represented thoughts, souls and aspirations of the saints while the lion part stood for the courage and struggle against evil, sin and the Devil. As a symbol, the gryphon was often shown in pictures eating fruit off the Tree of Life.

When Israelites were held in captivity, they became very familiar with the gryphon. The Assyrians and Persians decorated with gryphon images and in the Persian religion, two gryphons drinking together out of a flaming cup were common. Later, the cup of fire was a representation of the Holy Grail.


hippogriff By stephensb4
hippogriff By stephensb4


The hippogriff was the only known relative to the gryphon, being the offspring of a gryphon and a horse. This was a rare union since the horse was usually considered a prey of the gryphon.

The hippogriff was a winged horse that had the claws and head of an eagle. It was an elusive creature that had the ability to fly at very high altitudes for very long distances.

The meaning behind the hippogriff was that horses and gryphons were supposed to be mortal enemies; therefore, it is a representation of an impossible thing.


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    • cfin profile image

      cfin 4 years ago from The World we live in

      I have two griffins each side of a sword on my family coat of arms.