What is a Griffin in Greek Mythology?


     The Griffin, in Greek Mythology, is a mystical creature with the body of a lion and an eagle's head. Unlike the Greek sphinxes (which are perverse and treacherous), Griffins are good creatures and often help demigods.

Griffin in Greek Mythology:

     The Griffin is a legendary creature in Greek Mythology: with the body, tail and hind legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and sometimes the talons of an eagle for its forelegs. As the lion was traditionally considered the king of beasts and the eagle the king of birds, in the Middle Ages, the griffin was considered an especially powerful and majestic creature. Since classical antiquity, griffins have been known for guarding priceless treasures and possessions.

     In Greek and Roman texts, griffins and Arimaspians were associated with central Asian gold deposits. Indeed, as Pliny the Elder wrote, "it was said that griffins laid eggs in burrows on the ground and these nests contained nuggets of gold."

In medieval heraldry, the griffin became a Christian symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine.


     Most statues of griffins depict them with birdlike claws, although in some earlier illustrations griffins have lion-like forelegs; usually have lion hindquarters. Your eagle's head is usually given prominent ears; they are sometimes described as lion's ears, but they are often elongated (more like a horse's) and sometimes feathered.

     Rarely, a griffin is depicted without wings, or a wingless eagle-headed lion is identified as a griffin. In 15th century and later heraldry, such a beast may be called an alke or keythong.

     When depicted on coats of arms, the griffin is called Opinicus, which can be derived from the Greek name Ophinicus, referring to the astronomical constellation of the serpent. In these representations, he has the body of a lion with two or four legs, the head of an eagle or dragon, an eagle's wings and a camel's tail.


     Representations of griffin-like hybrids with four legs and a beak head have appeared in ancient Iranian and Egyptian art dating back to before 3000 BC. In Egypt, a griffin-like animal can be seen on a Hierakonpolis cosmetic palette, known as the "Two Dog Palette", which is dated c. 3300-3100 BC

     In Iranian mythology, the griffin is called Shirdal, meaning "Eagle-Lion". The Shirdal has appeared in ancient Iranian art since the end of the second millennium BC. Shirdals appeared on Susa's cylinder seals as far back as 3000 BC. Shirdal s are also common motifs in Luristan art, in northern and northwestern Iran in the Iron Age, and in Achaemenid art.

     Griffin-like creatures combining raptor heads and mammal bodies were depicted in Levant, Syria, and Anatolia in the Middle Bronze Age, dating to circa 1950-1550 BC. The earliest depictions of griffin types in Minoan art are found in 15th century BC frescoes in the Throne Room of the Bronze Age Palace of Knossos, restored by Sir Arthur Evans.

     Composites of birds and mammals were a decorative theme in archaic and classical Greek art, but they became quite popular in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, when the Greeks began to record accounts of the creature "gryps" of travelers to Asia, such as Aristeas of Proconnesus. In Central Asia, the griffin image was included in Scythian "animal style" artifacts from the 6th to 4th centuries BC, but no writing explains its meaning.

Old parallels:

     Several ancient mythological creatures are similar to the griffin. This includes the Lamassu, an Assyrian protective deity, often depicted with the body of a bull or lion, eagle wings and human head.

     Sumerian and Akkadian mythology presents the demon Anzu, half man and half bird, associated with the main god of the sky, Enlil. This was a divine storm bird connected to the south wind and thunder clouds.

     Jewish mythology speaks of Ziz, who resembles Anzu, as well as the ancient Greek Phoenix. The Bible mentions Ziz in Psalm 50:11. This is also similar to a cherub. The cherub, or sphinx, was very popular in Phoenician iconography.

     In ancient Crete, griffins became very popular and were portrayed in various media. A similar creature is the Minoan Genius.

     In the Hindu religion, Garuda is a large bird-like creature that serves as a mound (vahana) of Lord Vishnu. It is also the name of the constellation Aquila.

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