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from Suzetta Tucker's
The griffin is a mythical creature with the face, beak, talons and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. At times, it is portrayed with a long snake-like tail. In some traditions, only the female has wings. Its nests are made of gold and its eggs resemble agates. Pliny believed griffins came from Northern Russia; Aeschylus thought they originated in Ethiopia; and Bullfinch wrote that their native country was India. In its body, the griffin is blessed with the speed, flight, and penetrating vision of the eagle and the strength, courage, and majesty of the lion.
In symbolism, the griffin combines the symbolic qualities of both the lion and the eagle. It is the king of birds and lord of the air united with the king of beasts and lord of the earth.
The griffin's dual nature led it to be associated with Jesus Christ, God and man, king of heaven and earth. The eagle half of the griffin signified Christ's divinity and the lion half represented His humanity. Because no one could block the path of a griffin, this creature was especially associated with that passage in the Gospel which records Christ's marvelous passage through the crowd at Nazareth who were determined to throw Him off a cliff. [Luke 4:28-30] During the Middle Ages, griffins were symbols of Christ's resurrection. The strength of the lion and the wisdom of the eagle combined in the griffin symbolized the strength and wisdom of God.
The logical difficulties of duality, led some people to see in the griffin the perversion of the strengths of both animals. Gevaert theorized that the combination of lion and eagle parts would more or less cripple the griffin, depriving him of the ability to fly unencumbered like the eagle or walk nobly like the lion. It was associated with those who used their powers to persecute the Christians, evil personified, the Antichrist, and the Devil. There was even an imaginary creature called the griffin-dragon who had the tail of a dragon or a snake. This one always represented evil.
One legend involving griffins is the Ascension of Alexander the great. According to this story, Alexander captured a pair of griffins and, having starved them for three days, hitched them to his throne and, teasing them with chunks of roast beef held above their heads on lances, flew heavenward for seven days. Alexander would've stolen a peek at God Himself if an angel had not asked him why he wanted to see the things of heaven when he did not yet understand the things of earth. Chastised for his presumptuousness, Alexander flew back to earth. Representations of Alexander's ascension were placed in French and Italian cathedrals during the 12th century.
The griffin's ability to soar like an eagle made him an emblem of poetic and spiritual inspiration. The eagle parts of the griffin represented the saints with their thoughts, aspirations, and souls lifted towards God. Its lion half stood for their courage in the arena and in the continuing struggle against sin, evil, and the Devil. As emblems of the saints, griffins are sometimes pictured eating fruit picked from the Tree of Life. [see Rev 2:7]
During captivity, Israelites would have become familiar with the griffin image. Both Persians and Assyrians decorated with images of this magical beast. Images of two griffins drinking from a flaming cup were common in the Persian religion, Zorastrianism. Later, the Crusaders, coming across this image, would be reminded of the Eucharist and the cup of fire became associated with the Holy Grail.
During the Middle Ages, Christian nobles searched for griffin's eggs or "grypeseye" which they mounted and used for cups, believing they brought health to any beverage..
Because of the griffin's strength and powers of sight, it was believed to guard hidden treasures and hide them in their nests with their young. Because of its association with the Holy Grail, one of the treasures most commonly guarded by griffins was emeralds. (The Holy Grail was carved from a single emerald. It was used to hold the wine at the Last Supper and believed to have magical powers.) Other popular treasures guarded by griffins were the Tree of Life, knowledge, and the roads to salvation. Greeks and Romans used griffin images to guard tombs.
Griffins are a symbol of the sun, wisdom, vengeance, strength, and salvation.
Excerpted from Suzetta Tucker's
THE GRIFFIN, OR GRYPHON
The Griffin is a monster with the body of a lion, the head and wings of an eagle, and back covered with feathers. Like birds it builds its nest, and instead of an egg lays an agate therein. It has long claws and talons of such a size that the people of that country make them into drinking-cups. India was assigned as the native country of the Griffins. They found gold in the mountains and built their nests of it, for which reason their nests were very tempting to the hunters, and they were forced to keep vigilant guard over them. Their instinct led them to know where buried treasures lay, and they did their best to keep plunderers at a distance. The Arimaspians, among whom the Griffins flourished, were a one-eyed people of Scythia. Milton borrows a simile from the Griffins, "Paradise Lost," Book II.:
"As when a Gryphon
Thank you Thomas Bullfinch!
Gryphon's Eyrie "is dedicated to gryphons - mythological beasts commonly depicted as having the head, forelegs and wings of an eagle, and the hindquarters, tail and occasionally ears of a lion. They have been known for centuries as symbols of strength and vigilance, and have been called "The Hounds of Zeus". In some mythologies, they represent the wealth of the sun. In others, they are said to have hoardes of fabulous treasure, which they guard endlessly. The Dictionary of Symbolism quotes Boeckler as offering the following interpretation of this fabulous animal:
Griffins are portrayed with a lion's body, an eagle's head, long ears, and an eagle's claws, to indicate that one must combine intelligence and strength.
A fabulous animal, symbolically significant for its domination of both the earth and the sky - because of its lion's body and eagle's head and wings. It has typological antecedents in ancient Asia, especially in the Assyrian k'rub, which is also the source of the Hebrew cherub.
The frequent representations of griffin-like creatures in Persian art made them symbolize ancient Persia for the Jews. In Greece the griffin was a symbol of vigilant strength; Apollo rode one, and griffins guarded the gold of the Hyperboreans of the far north. The griffin was also an embodiment of Nemesis, the goddess of retribution, and turned her wheel of fortune.
In legend the creature was a symbol of superbia (arrogant pride), because Alexander the Great was said to have tried to fly on the backs of griffins to the edge of the sky. At first also portrayed as a satanic figure entrapping human souls, the creature later became (from Dante onward) a symbol of the dual nature (divine and human) of Jesus Christ, precisely because of its mastery of earth and sky. The solar associations of both the lion and the eagle favored this positive reading. The griffin thus also became the adversary of serpents and basilisks, both of which were seen as embodiments of satanic demons.
Even Christ's Ascension came to be associated with the griffin. The creature appeared as frequently in the applied arts (tapestries, the work of goldsmiths) as in heraldry. In the latter domain, Boeckler (1688) offered the following interpretation: "Griffins are portrayed with a lion's body, an eagle's head, long ears, and an eagle's claws, to indicate that one must combine intelligence and strength."
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