The Official Collection of Fantastical Creature Information--Updated Randomly

For all your fantastical creature needs! This is the beginning of my encyclopedia, and I'm collecting as much information as I can on various fantasy creatures. Most of my stuff can be found on wikipedia. However, no source is perfect, so the stuff that is my input is often italicized. Help me by sending me more information at Questkid13@gmail.com

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Griffin


The griffin, also spelled Gryphon, is a creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. As the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. In antiquity it was a symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine.
Note on Spelling
Griffin and Gryphon are acceptable in either spelling. However, it has been noted that the more serious, noble creature is considered a Gryphon while the less graceful animal is considered a Griffin. This particular entry uses Griffin more for convenience than anything else.

Description
Griffins have the forelegs of an eagle, with an eagle's legs and talons and has a lion's hindquarters. A griffin always has aquiline forelimbs! Don't confuse it with the Opinicus that has leonine forelimbs, once again, these are a distinct species. Its eagle's head is conventionally given prominent ears; these are sometimes described as the lion's ears, but are often elongated (more like a horse's), and are typically feathered.


Griffins are often enemies of horses and unicorns because, when desperate, the griffins use the animals as a supplementary source of food. The incredibly rare offspring of griffin and horse was called a hippogriff.


Eggs
A 9th-century Irish writer by the name of Stephen Scotus asserted that griffins were strictly monogamous. Not only did they mate for life, but if one partner died, the other would continue throughout the rest of its life alone, never to search for a new mate.


The egg-laying habits of the female were first clearly described by St. Hildegard of Bingen, a German nun author of the 12th century. She outlined how the expectant mother would search out a cave with a very narrow entrance but plenty of room inside, sheltered from the elements. Here she would lay her three eggs (about the size of ostrich eggs), and stand guard over them.


Medieval rumors mention that the Griffin was said to build a nest, like an eagle: instead of eggs, it lays sapphires. However, these gems were in fact a rare form of griffin egg, not actual sapphires. Rare griffin breeds lay eggs that have a gemlike luster. However, the some animals were called to watch over gold mines and hidden treasures, and griffins were often very constant in such a mission. Oftentimes the griffins would count and recount the number of gems they saw within the mine, and on occasion the sparkling dust would cling to their feathers and then fall off upon reaching the nest, which may have been where the myth of laying saphires instead of eggs originated.


History
All throughout history, griffins and their cousin species were regarded as royal animals, and often their courtly manners confirm such regards. In Minoan Crete, such creatures were even guardians of throne rooms.

In Ancient Egypt, a similar creature was depicted with a slender, feline body and the head of a falcon; this is tentatively identified as an axex, but such creatures may have been one of the griffins early ancestors. Hieroglyphic Data is often hard to analyze in this instance, but early statuary depicts them with wings that are horizontal and parallel along the back of the body, similiar to the more modern griffin.

Of the two sacred "birds" of persian origin, the homa and the simurgh, the homa is often described as griffin-like. Ancient Elamites used such a creature extensively in their architecture. During the Achaemenid Empire, homa were used widely as statues and symbols in palaces. Homa also had a special place in Persian literature as guardians of light.


Scythia
The griffin was a common feature of "animal style" Scythian gold. It was said to inhabit the Scythian steppes that reached from the modern Ukraine to central Asia; there gold and precious stones were abundant and when strangers approached to gather the stones, the creatures would leap on them and tear them to pieces. The Scythians used giant petrified bones found in this area as proof of the existence of these griffins and thus keep outsiders away from the gold and precious stones.
Ancient Greece
In archaic Greek art bronze cauldrons fitted with apotropaic bronze griffon heads ("protomes") with gaping beaks, prominent upstanding ears and often a finial knop on the skull appear with such regularity that they are considered a genre, the Griefenkessel, by specialists. The "griffin cauldrons" are discussed by Ulf Jantzen, Griechische Griefenkessel (Berlin) 1955. Based on Anatolian prototypes for bronze cauldrons with animal heads, Jantzen concluded that the griffon cauldron was a Greek invention of c.700 BC, the earliest examples hammered over moulds rather than cast. Such griffon cauldrons were developed simultaneously in Samos and in Etruscan territories from the earliest 7th through the 6th centuries BC. The earliest Etruscan example is the famous griffon protomes from the Barberini Tomb.

In Greek literature, Scythian legends are reflected by Hellenic writers' tales of griffins and the Arimaspi of distant Scythia near the cave of Boreas, the North Wind (Geskleithron), such as were elaborated in the lost archaic poem of aristeas of Proconnesus (7th century BC), Arimaspea. Bedingfeld and Gwynn-Jones infer that Aristeas's griffin , "had a wingspan of nearly three metres (ten feet), and nests in inaccessible cliffs in the Asiatic mountains. ... The gold of the region is real enough and is still mined today."

In any case, Aristeas's tales were eagerly reported by Herodotus (484 BC–c.425 BC) and in Pliny the Elder's Natural History (77 AD), among others. Aeschylus (525–456 BC), in Prometheus Bound (804), has Prometheus warn Io: "Beware of the sharp-beaked hounds of Zeus that do not bark, the gryphons."

In his Description of Greece (1.24.6), Pausanias (2nd century AD) says, "griffins are beasts like lions, but with the beak and wings of an eagle."

Medieval lore
According to Stephen Friar, a griffin's claw was believed to have medicinal properties and one of its feathers could restore sight to the blind. Goblets fashioned from griffin claws (actually antelope horns) and griffin eggs (actually ostrich eggs) were highly prized in medieval European courts. Such myths caused extreme hunting at the time period and it nearly depleted the griffin population to almost extinction.

In heraldry
The griffin is often seen as a charge in heraldry. According to the Tractatus de armis of John de Bado Aureo (late fourteenth century), "A griffin borne in arms signifies that the first to bear it was a strong pugnacious man in whom were found two distinct natures and qualities, those of the eagle and the lion." Since the lion and the eagle were both important charges in heraldry, it is perhaps surprising that their combination, the griffin, was also a frequent choice.


Bedingfeld and Gwynn-Jones suggest a far more bellicose reason for its choice as a charge: That because of the bitter antipathy between griffins and horses, a griffin borne on a shield would instill fear in the horses of his opponents. They also note the first appearance of the griffin in English heraldry, in a 1167 seal of Richard de Redvers, Earl of Essex. (However, other writers quote later dates for its first appearance.)

Heraldic griffins are usually shown rearing up, facing dexter (to the right of the bearer of the shield)*, standing on one hind leg with the other hind leg and both forelegs raised (as shown in the image on the right and those in the gallery below). This posture is described in the Norman-French heraldic blazon as segreant, a term usually applied only to griffins (but sometimes also to dragons). The generic term for this posture, used to describe lions and other beasts, is rampant.
A griffin's head is also seen as a charge in its own right, and it is distinguished from an eagle's head solely by its ears.

A special thanks to wikipedia and to chipset of deviantart.com for this slightly stolen but excellent image!

3 comments:

Nerd Goddess said...

I prefer Gryphon spelled with a "y" myself, thank you very much. ;)

Jekka Goaty Senoj said...

midieval lore has a funny misspelling: their feathers are believed to restore sight to the bling? ^_~ *bling bling*

And you heard my take on the spelling: the serious gryphons are spelled gryphons. And the funny, trouble-maker ones like griffin.

Anonymous said...

I wuv Gyrphons. I want to give them a smooch right on their beaks!