Created | Updated Mar 26, 2007
Gryphons are mythological creatures, made up from feline and bird parts. Usually the front part is avian, and the back part is feline. There are many ways to spell gryphon, but the three most common are gryphon, griffin and griffon.
The average mythological gryphon had the head, wings and front talons of an eagle, and the body of a lion. They usually had external ears, and sometimes they would have the tail of a serpent. These gryphons were huge - big enough to block out the sun.
The original gryphons lived in the mountains and made nests of gold, called eyries or aeries. The Arimaspi, the one-eyed tribe of Scythia, often attempted to steal the gryphons' gold, so the gryphons had to be very vigilant. In some myths, the gryphons laid an egg of agate in these nests. In others, the gryphons placed agate in their nests for its medicinal value. Some say that the gryphons also guarded jasper and emeralds as well as gold. They preyed on dead men, and devoured horses.
In Greece, the gryphon was sacred to Apollo as solar, Athene as wisdom, and Nemesis as retribution. These themes are also shown in other cultures. In Egyptian hieroglyphs, the gryphon represents heat and summer. In Assyria the gryphon, along with the dragon, was a symbol of wisdom. In Roman art, a gryphon is often depicted pulling the chariot of Nemesis.
The gryphon commonly appears in heraldry, where it represents strength and vigilance. In English heraldry, male gryphons were sometimes depicted without wings; they had spikes were the wings would usually be.
Modern gryphons are more diverse than mythological gryphons. As well as the classic lion and eagle gryphon, many other types of feline and avian are used. One of the best known examples of modern gryphon fiction is the Mage War series by Mercedes Lackey.
Relatives of the Gryphon
Hippogriffins have the wings, head, plumage, and front talons of a gryphon, and the lower part of a horse. The hippogriffin first appeared in Ariosto's 'Orlando Furioso', as the uncontrollable steed of the wizard Atlantis. The idea of the hippogriffin came from Virgil's metaphor 'Iungeant iam grypes equis' ('to cross gryphons with horses'), meaning to attempt the impossible. Ariosto's hippogriffin was a symbol of love. The hippogriffin appears mostly in medieval legends and heraldry. Hippogriffins are also known as hippogriffs, hippogryphs or hippogripps.
Lupogriffins have canine parts instead of feline parts. They are a more modern creation, though there are a few canine/bird chimera that could be classed as lupogriffins. Early accounts of the Persian bird Simurgh depicted it as half dog and half bird.