The Gryphon in Literature

Statue of a Griffin, in front of the Austrian Parliament Building, Vienna. Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 4.0 (cropped)

This is the "meat and potatoes" of the Gryphon Pages. Throughout time men have marveled at the world around them and it's vast wealth of creatures, lands and cultures. Fortunately for us, there were those who were wise enough to know that should future generations ever wish to behold what they have seen, it must be written down and chronicled. Many authors however, have tried to pass off fiction as truth, and then there are those who try to copy those before them, and present the work as their own. One man writes of a lie as though it were true. Then another man comes, reads the lie, and tries to pass it off as his truth, embellishing the original lie to make it seem more like his own, then another man comes, and so on turns this vicious circle. (The phrase "History doesn't repeat itself; historians merely repeat each other" comes to mind.) Nevertheless, we still regard these works as ancient art, and doors to eras long past. Herein you shall find references to a variety of authors spanning over two thousand years of Gryphon lore. Where possible I have provided links to online versions of the texts.

For information about how the Gryphon has invaded the literature of our more modern times, please view my Gryphons In Modern Literature page.

This page very well may not have been possible were it not for the amazing books of Joe Nigg, author of The Book of Gryphons, Wonder Beasts, and The Book of Fabulous Beasts. Learn more about Joe Nigg on my Modern Literature page.

Aristeas | Aeschylos | Herodotus | Ctesias | Alexander | Lucretius | Mela | Pliny | Pausanias | Aelian | Philostratos | Solinus | St. Isidore | St. Brendan | Pahlavi | Albertus Magnus | Dante | Prester John | Benjamin of Tudela | Mandeville | Ariosto | Bourchier | Nostradamus | du Bartas | Chester | Shakespeare | Swan | Browne | Ross | Milton | Timbs | Carroll | Gubernatis

Aristeas - The Arimaspia - c. 7th Century BC

Aristeas is the first person that we know of who has written about Gryphons, immortalizing them in his poem, Arimaspia, one of the first tales from a Greek of far eastern lands. Not only was Aristeas the first person to document Gryphons, but he was also the first to write of the Issedones (the furthest North he traveled), and the Arimaspians, the one-eyed adversaries of Gryphons. A subject of note is that Aristeas was supposedly dead when he wrote his poem. Let me explain. Herodotus writes in his Histories, that while in a shop in Proconessus, Aristeas had suddenly dropped stone dead, disappeared for six years, returned to Proconessus and wrote his poem, then disappeared again. (He turned up 250 years later to demand that a statue be built of him.) Unfortunately, much like its creator, Arimaspia has been lost to Time and is no longer extant. However, if you would like an entertaining look at Aristeas' life, and what MAY have happened to him, then check out Gillian Bradshaw's wonderful book, Beyond the North Wind. For a more scholarly outlook of Aristeas however, not to mention the Armiaspia, look to Aristeas of Proconessus, by J.D.P. Bolton.

Aeschylos - Prometheus Desmotes (Prometheus Bound) - c. 5th Century BC

The legend of Prometheus goes that as punishment for stealing fire from Olympus to give to the mortals, Prometheus was shackled to a mountain and every day an eagle would come to eat his liver, and in the night his liver would grow back, thus he was condemned to a life of eternal pain. (It is also interesting to note that in some versions of the Prometheus myth, Gryphons eat his liver every day, not eagles or vultures. This is plausible since Perseus was chained to a mountain in Scythia, a location reputed to harbor Gryphons.) In Aeschylus' play about the myth, Prometheus Desmotes, Prometheus warns Io, a visitor:

"Be on thy guard against the Gryphons, the keen-mouthed unbarking hounds of Zeus, and the one-eyed Arimaspian host, who dwell around the stream flowing-with-gold, the ferry of Plouton."

Prometheus Desmotes at the Perseus Digital Library

Herodotus - The History - c. 5th Century BC

"The Father of History", so called by Cicero, traveled through much of the ancient world and meticulously recorded all that he saw and heard into nine volumes of one of the first prose histories of the Western world, simply called, The History. It is from his work that most of our knowledge of Aristeas of Proconessus is derived, and it also contains one of the earliest accounts of Gryphons that remains today. Note that Herodotus gives no physical description of Gryphons and only speaks of their gold-hoarding nature. To learn more of Herodotus and his History, below are links to the Perseus Digital Library. The links will bring you to the main page as well as the sections of the work that contain Gryphons.

The History at the Perseus Digital Library | Section 3.116 | Section 4.13 | Section 4.27

Ctesias - Indika - c. Late 5th Century BC

Ctesias (Ktesias) the Cnidian was a physician at the royal Persian court for seventeen years, during which period he wrote two books, Persica, a history of Persia, and Indika, a collection of tales of the distant land which he most likely heard of while at court. He does his best to defend himself though, as he writes:

"Ktesias thus writing and romancing professes that his narrative is all perfect truth, and, to assure us of this, asservates that he has recorded nothing but what he either saw with his own eyes, or learned from the testimony of credible eye-witnesses."

It is in his second book, Indika, which we find a menagerie of fabulous beasts, such as the martikhora (manticore), the wild ass of India (unicorn), and Gryphons. Ctesias provides us with a very fine (and colorful) description of the beasts, but note that Aristeas placed the Gryphons beyond the Issedones, which is far north of India. Translation from Joe Nigg's Book of Fabulous Beasts.

"There is much silver in their part of the country, and the silver-mines though not deep are deeper than those in Baktria. Gold also is a product of India. It is not found in rivers and washed from the sands like the gold of the river Paktolos, but is found on those many high-towering mountains which are inhabited by the Griffons, a race of four-footed birds, about as large as wolves, having legs and claws like those of the lion, and covered all over the body with black feathers except only on the breast where they are red. On account of those birds the gold with which the mountains abound is difficult to be got."

The Romance of Alexander - c. 356-323 BC

Although Alexander the Great was a real person, the various tales of his exploits and adventures have elevated him to a legendary status. The Romance of Alexander is a compilation of stories centering around the great conqueror, collected over hundreds of years, and developed into favored romance tales in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Note that there is no "true" version of Alexander's feats, but rather a myriad of tales from all over the world. One of the many tales is Alexander's Gryphon Flight, or Celestial Journey. After conquering all of the earth, (which he never actually did of course) Alexander attempts to seize the realm of the sky. To do so, he yokes two (or four, depending on the tale) Gryphons to a chariot and holds lances of meat above their heads. As the Gryphons fly towards the food, they lift Alexander into the air. The excerpt below is from the Thornton Manuscript and is taken from Joe Nigg's Book of Gryphons.

"...When he came down the mountain, he ordered his master workers to build a chair with iron bars on each side. And four Gryphons were tied to the chair with iron chains, and over the chair he put meat, just far enough from the Gryphons that they flew upward and carried Alexander into the air. The earth seemed so small, and the sea looked like a dragon encircling the earth. Then, suddenly, God's mysterious veil enveloped the Gryphons and forced them to land in a field, a ten day march from the army, but Alexander was not hurt."

Lucretius - De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) - c. 28-55 BC

I place Lucretius here only because he gives a novel (to say the least) idea of the origin of chimerical (combination) creatures, which may be of interest to Gryph fans. His De Rerum Natura is highly influenced by the Greek philosopher Epicurus (c. 341-270 BC) and is one of the first looks at the atomistic theory of matter. Translation from Joe Nigg's Book of Fabulous Beasts.

"Let me now explain briefly what it is that stimulates the imagination and where those images come from that enter the mind.
My first point is this. There are a great many flimsy films from the surface of objects flying about in a great many ways in all directions. When these encounter one another in the air, they easily amalgamate, like gossamer or goldleaf. In comparison with those films that take possession of the eye and provoke sight, these are certainly of a much flimsier texture, since they penetrate through the chinks of the body and set in motion the delicate substance of the mind within and there provoke sensation. So it is that we see the composite shapes of Centaurs and Mermaids and dogs with as many heads as Cerberus, and phantoms of the dead whose bones lie in the embrace of the earth. The fact is that the films flying about everywhere are of all sorts: some are produced spontaneously in the air itself; others are derived from various objects and composed by the amalgamation of their shapes. The image of a Centaur, for instance, is certainly not formed from the life, since no living creature of this sort ever existed. But, as I have just explained, where surface films from a horse and a man accidentally come into contact, they may easily stick together on the spot, because of the delicacy and flimsiness of their texture. So also with other such chimerical creatures. Since, as I have shown above, these delicate films move with the utmost nimbleness and mobility, any one of them may easily set our mind in motion with a single touch; for the mind itself is delicate and marvelously mobile."

Pomponius Mela - De Situ Orbis (The Situation of the World) - c. 44AD

De Situ Orbis is a general geographical work of the known world written by the first Latin geographer, Pomponius Mela. The work is comprised into three different books, with the far off places of Scythia, India, Arabia and Ethiopia comprising mostly the last book. Mela moves the Gryphons again, this time west of the Issedones to the mountain Riphey, in Scythia. Like Herodotus though, he provides no descriptions of the creatures, yet remarks on their animal nature. Translation from Joe Nigg's Book of Fabulous Beasts.

"The boundaries and location of Asia, extending to our Sea and the river Tanais, are such as I have shown before. Now to them that row back again down the same river into Maeotis, on the right hand is Europe, which was directly on the left side of them as they sailed up the stream. The river borders the mountain Riphey. The snow which falls continually makes the country inaccessible to travel. Beyond is a country of very rich soil, but it is uninhabitable because the Griffons (a cruel and unyielding kind of wild beast) jealously love the gold which lies above the ground and are very hostile to anyone who approaches it. The first men are Scythians, and of the Scythians, the first are the Arimaspians: which are reported to have but one eye apiece. From there up to Maeotis are the Issedones..."

Pliny the Elder - Naturalis Historia (Natural History) - c. 23-79AD

One of the most influential and monumental works of the ancient age, the Naturalis Historia was compiled by Pliny the Elder from over 2000 tomes and hundreds of authorities, and is the only book of the many which Pliny had written which has withstood the test of Time. It was considered "the" standard work of natural science until it was discredited sometime in the seventeenth century. It is interesting to note that Pliny writes more of the Arimaspians and their flesh-eating monstrous nature than of the Gryphons, which again receive very little description. He also casts doubt upon the credulity of what he is reporting, but he seems determined to tell the world what he knows. There is a link below to an online version of the work at LacusCurtius, but alas, it is only available in its original Latin. Translation from Joe Nigg's Book of Fabulous Beasts.

"We have pointed out that some Scythian tribes, and in fact a good many, feed on human bodies - a statement that perhaps may seem incredible if we do not reflect that races of this portentous character have existed in the central region of the world, named Cyclopes and Laestrygones, and that quite recently the tribes of the parts beyond the Alps habitually practiced human sacrifice, which is not far removed from eating human flesh. But also a tribe is reported next to these, towards the North, not far from the actual quarter whence the North Wind rises and the cave that bears its name, the place called the Earth's Door-Bolt - the Arimaspi whom we have spoken of already, people remarkable for having one eye in the centre of the forehead. Many authorities, the most distinguished being Herodotus and Aristeas of Proconessus, write that these people wage continual war around their mines with the griffins, a kind of wild beast with wings, as commonly reported, that digs gold out of mines, which the creatures guard and the Arimaspi try to take from them, both with remarkable covetousness."

Naturalis Historia online | Section on Gryphons

Pausanias - Description of Greece - c. 150 AD

Description of Greece, a collection of Pausanias's "first hand accounts" of the entire country, provides a remarkable look at that ancient world, and is still used today as a relative guidebook by archaeologists and historians. In the work, Pausanias notices Gryphons on the helmet of a statue of Athena and then refers to Aristeas's Arimaspia, much like Herodotus before him. At least here he also provides a general description of them. Later on in the book he again writes of Gryphons, dispersing a rumor about them:

"I have also heard that the griffins have spots like the leopard, and that the Tritons speak with a human voice... Those who like to listen to the miraculous are themselves apt to add to the marvel, and so they ruin the truth by mixing it with falsehood."

Anyone else see the irony in this statement? To read more, below are links to the Description of Greece at the Perseus Digital Library, and the sections of that work containing Gryphons.

Description of Greece at the Perseus Digital Library | Section (1.24.6) | Section (8.2.7)

Aelian - De Natura Animalium (On Animals) - c. 170-235 AD

The De Natura Animalium is Claudius Aelianus's compilation of stories and tales from others before him, borrowing heavily from sources like Ctesias, Herodotus, Pliny, Aristotle (c. 384-322 BC) and others. His lengthy description of Gryphons is one of the most detailed and informative of all of the ancient writers, and essentially holds all of the common information known about the creatures: their description, their gold hoarding nature, their fight with other people for that gold. Note however that Aelian makes no mention of the Arimaspians. (Nor did Ctesias for that matter.) Translation from Joe Nigg's Book of Fabulous Beasts.

"I have heard that the Indian animal the Gryphon is a quadruped like a lion; that it has claws of enormous strength and that they resemble those of a lion. Men commonly report that it is winged and that the feathers along its back are black, and those on its front are red, while the actual wings are neither but are white. And Ctesias records that its neck is variegated with feathers of a dark blue; that it has a beak like an eagle's, and a head too, just as artists portray it in pictures and sculpture. Its eyes, he says, are like fire. It builds its lair among the mountains, and although it is not possible to capture the full-grown animal, they do take the young ones. And the people of Bactria, who are neighbors of the Indians, say that the Gryphons guard the gold in those parts; that they dig it up and build their nests with it, and that the Indians carry off any that falls from them. The Indians however deny that they guard the aforesaid gold, for the Gryphons have no need of it (and if that is what they say, then I at any rate think that they speak the truth), but that they themselves come to collect the gold, while the Gryphons fearing for their young ones fight with the invaders. They engage too with other beasts and overcome them without difficulty, but they will not face the lion or the elephant. Accordingly the natives, dreading the strength of these animals, do not set out in quest of the gold by day, but arrive by night, for at that season they are less likely to be detected. Now the region where the Gryphons live and where the gold is mined is a dreary wilderness. And the seekers after the aforesaid substance arrive, a thousand or two strong, armed and bringing spades and sack; and watching for a moonless night they begin to dig. Now if they contrive to elude the Gryphons they reap a double advantage, for they not only escape with their lives but they also take home their freight, and when those who have acquired a special skill in the smelting of gold have refined it, they possess immense wealth to requite them for the dangers described above. If however they are caught in the act, they are lost. And they return home, I am told, after an interval of three or four years."

Philostratos - The Life of Apollonius of Tyana - c. 170-245

Flavius Philostratus wrote that Empress Julia Doma, of whose literary circle he was a part of, (along with his friend, Aelian) presented him with the memoirs of a wandering prophet, Apollonius, and ordered him to write the life history of Apollonius in order to increase that prophet's decreasing credibility. The memoirs, in turn, were written by one of Apollonius' disciples, Damis. The result of Philostratos' work is The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, a rousing tale of marvel and mysticism. The way Philostratos writes of the Gryphons is remarkable in that he hits on the three major symbolic elements of the Gryphon: gold, the Sun, and chariots. Note however the exceptional "wings" which he attributes to Gryphons. The link below will bring you to an online translation of the work, and to the section on Gryphons.

Apollonius of Tyana online | Section on Gryphons

Solinus - Collectanea Rerum Memorabilium (Collection of Remarkable Facts) - c. 200

The opus of Gaius Julias Solinus, Collectanea Rerum Memorabilium, was one of the most frequently cited books for over a thousand years, yet is now considered nothing more than a poorly written and compiled collection of interesting tales. Solinus borrowed heavily from Pliny and Mela's works (earning him the name "Pliny's ape"), as well as other authors before him. Note that he places the homeland of the Gryphons in the mountain Riphey, just as Mela had done over one hundred years earlier. It is also interesting that he turns the Gryphon from a colorful animal protecting its young from outsiders (as Aelian wrote) into fierce beasts, "cruel beyond all cruelty", a symbol of punishment for those controlled by avarice. Translation from Joe Nigg's Book of Fabulous Beasts.

"The Arimaspes, which are situated about Gesglithron, are a people that have but one eye. Beyond them and the Mountain Riphey is a country continually covered with snow, called Pteropheron. For the incessant falling of the hoarfrost and snow makes it look like feathers. A damned part of the world is it, and drowned by nature itself in the cloud of endless darkness, and utterly shut up in extreme cold as in a prison, even under the very North Pole. Only of all lands it knows no distinction of times, neither receives it anything else of the air than everlasting winter. In the Asiatik Scythia are rich lands, but notwithstanding the uninhabitable.
For whereas they abound in gold and precious stones, the Gryffons possess all, a most fierce kind of fowl, cruel beyond all cruelty, whose outrageousness stops all comers, so that hardly and seldom arrive any there. For as soon as they see them they tear them in pieces, as creatures made of purpose to punish the rashness of covetous folk.
The Arimaspes fight with them to get away their precious stones..."

Isidore of Seville - Etymologies - c. 560-636

The prototype of traditional medieval bestiaries, St. Isidore's Etymologies was also a major reference and influence upon similar later works. A highlight of the Etymologies was that it presented creatures in a straightforward, almost scientific approach, as opposed to the usual Christian allegorical and emblematic method of the time. In the work, St. Isidore classifies the Gryphon under "beasts of prey". Translation from Joe Nigg's Book of Fabulous Beasts.

"The Gryphes are so called because they are winged quadrupeds. This kind of wild beast is found in the Hyperborean Mts. In every part of their body they are lions, and in wings and head are like eagles, and they are fierce enemies of horses. Moreover they tear men to pieces."

(I laughed hard when I read that last sentence for the first time. Perhaps it was just because it is so blunt without any buildup at all, not to mention totally wrong.)

The Voyage of St. Brendan - c. 9th Century

The Voyage of St. Brendan is an account of an Irish monk's 7 year sea voyage to discover the Promised Land of the Saints. Saint Brendan, who lived from 484 to 578, is said to have traveled about Ireland and the Scottish islands, and possibly Wales on his expedition. Many other Irish monks sailed on various quests, but St. Brendan was the most famous, and he quickly rose to legendary status. During his voyage, he and his crew were attacked by a lone Gryphon, although are saved by another large bird. (For another account of Gryphons attacking sailors, see Benjamin of Tudela.) Translation from Joe Nigg's Book of Fabulous Beasts.

"When they had gone on board the boat's sail was hoisted to steer where the wind directed. After they had sailed, the bird called they Gryphon appeared to them, flying from far away towards them. When his brothers saw it they started saying to the holy father: 'That beast has come to devour us.'
The man of God said to them:
'Do not be afraid. God is our helper. He will defend us on this occasion too.'
The bird stretched her talons to seize the servants of God. Just then, suddenly, the bird which on the earlier occasion brought them the branch with the fruits, flew swiftly up to the Gryphon, which immediately made to devour her. But this bird defended herself until she overcame and tore out the eyes of the Gryphon. The Gryphon then flew high up into the sky so that the brothers could scarcely see her. But her killer pursued her until she killed her. For the Gryphon's body fell into the sea near the boat before the eyes of the brothers. The other bird returned to her own place."

Bundahis (Cosmogony) - c. 1178

The Bundahis is a Pahlavi text, meaning that it was written in the Middle Persian language. (300 B.C. - 950 A.D.) It is one of two great works about the ancient prophetic religion, Zoroastrianism, which was founded around the 12th century B.C. The work itself took an extraordinary amount of time to come together, having finally stopped growing in 1178. There are three subjects that the Bundahis covers; creation, the nature of earthly creatures, and the Kayanians (an ancient dynasty of Iran). According to the Bundahis, Gryphons were the largest and the first of all birds upon creation, and is associated with the bat. There are also remarks of "the griffin of three natures". These three natures, I can only presume to mean those of the eagle, lion, and the monstrous (chimerical).

Bundahis Online | Chapter 14 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 24

Albertus Magnus - De Animalibus - c. 1200-1280

Not only was Albert of Cologne (or Albertus Magnus - "Albert the Great") a noted student and teacher of alchemy, chemistry, and possibly magic, he was also an expert zoologist, and his exceptional work, De Animalibus proves it. Unlike many books of the period, he did not hold back his cynicism towards many "fantastic" creatures, including the Gryphon. This is also the first (and only) reference that I can find about the agate egg associated with Gryphons. Translation from Joe Nigg's Book of Fabulous Beasts.

"GRIFES according to folk tales are said to be birds, but their credibility as real animals is not based on he experience of philosophers nor the evidence of natural science. The tales relate how the foreparts of these birds - i.e. their head, beak, wings, and forefeet - resemble an eagle, though on a much larger scale. The posterior portion of the animal, including the tail and rear legs, looks like a lion. The forefeet have long aquiline talons, while the rear feet have short but massive leonine claws which they use as cups for drinking; thus griffins are said to have both long and short claws. They are supposed to live in the mountains of the extreme North, are especially inimical to horses and men, and are so strong they can carry off a horse and its rider. Their mountain aeries are claimed to be laden with gold and gems, particularly emeralds. The stories also tell that griffins deposit agates in their nests because of the agate's special beneficial properties."

Dante Algheri - The Divine Comedy - c. 1265-1321

The Gryphon was portrayed through much of the early Middle Ages as a voracious monster, yet it was also during that period in which the Gryphon becomes exalted in the highest, and turns into the symbol of Christ's dual nature in Dante's Purgatory, a part of the Divine Comedy. According to Joe Nigg;

"... Isidore of Seville had suggested similar correspondences in his Etymologies, declaring, 'Christ is a lion because he reigns and has great strength; and an eagle because, after the Resurrection, he ascended to heaven.'"

After descending through Hell and climbing the mountain of Purgatory, Dante and his guide, the poet Virgil, witness a divine procession which has come to greet them, at the end of which is the Sacred Gryphon, pulling the Chariot of the Church. The Sacred Gryphon appears in Cantos 29, 31 and 32, and I have provided links to all.

Purgatiorio | Canto 29 | Canto 31 | Canto 32

The Letter of Prester John - c. 12th-14th Centuries

The kingdom of Prester John was a most magnificent one. He claimed to be the Christian king of India (later the kingdom moved to Africa), and in his kingdom could be found "every kind of beast that is under heaven", a river of gems flowing from Paradise, provinces that knew not of poverty or war, and a palace of ebony, ivory and crystal. Although all of these claims are false, and no one really knows who wrote the Letters, they are still a wonderful source of medieval folklore and most likely influenced another false account of the world, Mandeville's Travels. Translation from Joe Nigg's Wonder Beasts.

"Also in our land are gryffons. It is a great bird and a mighty, for he will carry to his nest an ox or a horse for his young birds to eat. In a town called Grounzwyk, in Saxony, is one of its claws which is as great as the horn of an ox."

The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela - c. 1159-1173

Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela was a "Wandering Jew", a man who wished to make contact with his far spread brethren, traveling for trade and money, or possibly both. Yet whatever his reasons, it is true that Benjamin traversed through Egypt, Persia, the Near East, India (noting that it was the land of Prester John), and is quite possibly the first European to travel to and write of China, which he calls "Zin". It is in that country where he hears of an interesting tale of the stormy Sea of Nikpa (Ning-po). When sailors are accidentally blown into the Sea, they manage to escape by hiding in animal skins and being snatched up by Gryphons. Below is a link to a great online translation provided by the Colorado State University at Pueblo.

Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela online

Sir John Mandeville - Travels - c. 1356

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville is probably one of the most celebrated works of "Traveler's Tales" of the Middle ages. (Akin to The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, Marco Polo's Travels, The Voyage of St. Brendan, etc.) It can only now be regarded as little more than a remarkable fiction however, since the book and it's author were rejected as elaborate fabrications centuries after the book was published, much like the fabulous animals represented therein. The author of the book, whoever he was, used such sources as Herodotus, Pliny and Solinus, and even claimed to have traveled through the Kingdom of Prester John. There are a few items to note of his description of Gryphons. First, he locates them in the country of Bactria, "...where be full evil folk and full cruel...", which is a neighbor of India, one of the traditional Gryphon homelands. Secondly, he makes no mention of the beast's gold hoarding nature, although he does hint at their animosity towards horses. In fact, the only amazing trait that he ascribes to the Gryphons aside from their appearance is their enormous strength and size. Below is a link to The Travels of Sir John Mandeville online.

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville

Ludovico Ariosto - Orlando Furioso - c. 1474-1533

Although there are no Gryphons in Ariosto's epic poem (46 cantos!) of fantasy, adventure and chivalry, there is a very close relative, the Hippogryph. It was once thought that Ariosto was the creature's creator, which we now know to be false, although it is true that Orlando Furioso is the Hippogryph's most famous appearance. In fact, Ariosto may have been motivated to use the Hippogryph (or "horse-Gryphon") as a symbol of impossible love from a line in Virgil's Eclogues (c. 37 BC);

"...soon shall we see mate Gryphons with mares, and in the coming age shy deer and hounds together come to drink..."

It is also interesting to note that Ariosto writes that the Hippogryph's homeland is "Ryfee", since both Mela and Solinus identify the Mountain Riphey as the Gryphon's place of origin. Below is a link to an online version of Orlando Furioso.

Orland Furioso

Sir John Bourchier - The Boke of Duke Huon of Burdeux - c. 1469-1533

Although not actually composed by Sir John Bourchier, he is the one who transposed The Boke of Duke Huon of Burdeux, a thirteenth century epic, from it's original French into English in 1534. Here is Joe Nigg's summary of the Boke:

"One of the cycle of Charlemagne romances, the Huon tale begins with court treachery that leads to Huon's murder of the Emperor's son and Huon being sent on a mission to Babylon, from which he is not expected to return. Often aided by Oberon, the dwarf king of the fairies, Huon survives a series of adventures in the East and triumphantly returns to the court of Charlemagne. Among those adventures is his shipwreck on a magnetic island which draws the nails from passing ships. To escape from the castle of the Adamant, Huon, like Sindbad and Eastern sailors, uses deceit to be carried off by a gigantic bird. After battling and killing five young birds in the griffin's eyrie, Huon is attacked by the vengeful mother. Later in the romance, Huon presents to the King of France a foot of one of the griffins he slew, and it is hung for prosperity in the holy chapel."

If that is not enough for you however, then below is a link to the book itself.

The Boke of Duke Huon of Burdeux

Nostradamus - Propheties - c. 1503-1566

Physician, astrologer, prophet and legend in his own time, Michel de Nostradame is more commonly known to us simply as "Nostradamus". When he published his first 353 prophetic verses in 1555 in the Propheties, Nostradamus was immediately summoned to attend Queen Catherine de Medicis and thus began his tumultuous career until he finally propheciesed his own death in 1566. He uses the Gryphon in three of his verses to apparently symbolize a future northern European leader of a massive counter invasion against occupying Muslim forces in World War III.

Century X.86 | Sixains 29 and 56

Guilliaume de Salluste du Bartas - The Divine Weeks - c. 1544-1590

The Divine Weeks (La Semaine ou Creation du Monde) is an epic and controversial (during it's time) poem about the Creation of the world, written by the French Huguenot poet Guilliaume de Sallust du Bartas in 1578. It is during the fifth and sixth days of Creation that we see a plethora of fabulous creatures being created, with the creation of birds beginning with the Phoenix, and the Gryphon following close behind. Translation from Joe Nigg's Book of Fabulous Beasts.

"The Phoenix, cutting th'unfrequented Aire,
Forth-with is followed by a thousand paire
Of wings, in th'instant by th'Almighty wrought,
With divers Size, Colour, and Motion fraught...

The rav'ning Kite, whose traine doth well supplie
A Rudders place; the Falcon mounting high,
The Marline, Lanar, and the gentle - Tercell,
Th'Ospray, and Saker, with a nimble Sarcell
Follow the Phoenix, from the Clouds (almost)
At once discovering many an unknowne Coast:
In the swift Ranke of these fell Rovers, flies
The Indian Griffin with the glistring eyes,
Beake Eagle-like, backe sable, Sanguine brest,
White (Swan-like) wings, fierce tallents, alwaies prest
For bloody Battailes; for, with these he teares
Boares, Lyons, Horses, Tigres, Bulls, and Beares:
With these, our Grandames fruitfull panch he pulls,
Whence many an Ingot of pure Gold he culls,
To floore his proud nest, builded strong and steepe
On a high Rock better his thefts to keepe:
With these, he guards against an Armie bold,
The hollow Mines where first he findeth gold,
As wroath, that men upon his right should rove.
Or theevish hands usurp his Tresor-trove.
O! ever may'st thou fight so (valiant Foule)
For this dire bane of our seduced soule,
And (with thee) may the Dardane ants, so ward
The Gold committed to their carefull Guard,
That hence-forth hope-less, mans fraile mind may rest-her
From seeking that, which doth it's Maisters maister..."

Robert Chester - Love's Martyr - c. 1601

In Robert Chester's large diverse book of allegorical love, there is a poetical bestiary presented within a dialogue between Nature and the Phoenix, the section about the Gryphon represented below. Although in Love's Martyr Chester's own poems were ridiculed, the book is significant in that it contains the first published poem attributed to Shakespeare, The Phoenix and the Turtle. Excerpt from Joe Nigg's Book of Fabulous Beasts.

"The Griffon is a bird rich feathered,
His head is like a Lion, and his flight
Is like the Eagles, much for to be feared,
For why he kills men in the ugly night:
Some say he keepes the Smaragd and the Jasper,
And in pursute of Man is monstrous eager."

William Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream and Henry IV - c. 1564 -1616

Fantastic animals were favorite metaphors of the Bard, and are used in over two thirds of his 37 plays. Dragons, phoenixes, basilisks, unicorns, Gryphons and more all made verbal appearances. One such instance of the Gryphon metaphor is in Act II, Scene I of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Here Demetrius has just told the love stricken Helena that he will run away and leaver her in the forest, to which she replies:

"The wildest hath not such a heart as you.
Run when you will, the story shall be chang'd;
Apollo flies, and Daphne holds the chase;
The dove pursues the griffin; the mild hind
Makes speed to catch the tiger,--bootless speed,
When cowardice pursues and valour flies."

(Note that Apollo, who is associated with Gryphons, is jointly mentioned.) A Gryphon is spoken of again in Act II, Scene I of Henry IV, although this time as a flight of fancy, a tremble of the earthquake that is soon to come from Sir Thomas Browne. Here the hot-tempered Henry Percy, or "Hotspur", is speaking to Edmund Mortimer about his dislike for Mortimer's father-in-law.

"I cannot choose: sometimes he angers me
With telling me of the moldwarp and the ant,
Of the dreamer Merlin and his prophesies,
And of a dragon and finless fish,
A clip-winged griffin and a moulten raven,
A couching lion and a ramping cat,
And such a deal of skimble-skamble stuff
As puts me from my faith..."

John Swan - Speculum Mundi - c. 1635

John Swan's sundry Speculum Mundi; or A Glasse Representing the Face of the World portrays the growing doubt of certain fantastic creatures. A clergyman by profession, Swan uses some biblical references to cast uncertainty upon some beasts, yet accepts a variety of others. The Gryphon is not one of the latter however, as he states that belief in such "shall be left to every man's liberty." Excerpt from Joe Nigg's Book of Fabulous Beasts.

"The Griffon is a creature (if there be any such, for many doubt it) which whether I may reckon amongst the birds or beasts, I cannot tell. Howbeit as I find him marked by Aelianus, he is thus described; namely that he is a kind of beast with four feet, keeping most of all in India, being as mighty in strength as a lion: he hath wings and crooked talons, black on the back, and in the forepart purple. His wings be somewhat white, his bill and mouth like an eagles bill, his eyes fiery; he is hard to be taken except he be young, he maketh his nest in the high mountains, and fighteth with every kind of beast, saving the Lion and Elephant: he diggeth up gold in desert places, and giveth repulse to those that come near him. But (as I said) some doubt whether there be any such creature or no: which, for my part, shall be left to every mans liberty."

Sir Thomas Browne - Pseudodoxia Epidemica ("Vulgar Errors") - c. 1605-1682

Even before the seventeenth century people were skeptic of certain beliefs and creatures, but popular belief reigned on because no one had written an authoritive work specifically saying that the old ways were wrong. No one until physician Sir Thomas Browne that is. Tired of the guessing game about certain traditions, Browne took it upon himself to create a fastidious work that would permanently dispel all misgivings through the ways of Reason and scientific Proof. The culmination of his work was the Pseudodoxia Epidemica; or Enquiries into Very Many Received Tenents and Commonly Presumed Truths, more commonly known as Browne's Vulgar Errors, first published in 1646. Aside from the Gryphon, Browne also attacks the centaur, basilisk (cockatrice), phoenix, unicorn, and amphisbaena (a snake with a head on each end). Below is a link to an online version of the Vulgar Errors, as well as a link to the section pertaining to Gryphons.

Vulgar Errors online | "Of Gryphins"

Alexander Ross - Arcana Microcosmi - c. 1591-1654

Although he was a schoolmaster and chaplain to Charles I, after reading Vulgar Errors Alexander Ross became enraged with the defense of the popular beliefs which he held dear. Passionately so, 6 years after Browne attacked the old ways, Ross fired back with his own devoted work, Arcana Microcosmi, which fought against not only Browne, but other advocates of New Science at the time. The little known Ross soon became the "Champion of the Ancients". Yet despite his amusing epithet, Ross and his Traditions lost the war against Browne and Science, and the populace found a "reason" to finally forsake their old beliefs. Below is a link to an online version of the Arcana Micocosmi, as well as a link to the section pertaining to Gryphons.

Arcana Microcosmi online | "What the Ancients have written of griffins may be true..."

John Milton - Paradise Lost - c. 1608-1674

An epic in every sense of the word, John Milton's Paradise Lost is considered one of the greatest works of English literature of all time. Even though most of the fantastic animals had recently been denounced as flights of fancy, Milton makes use of their very wondrous nature in a variety of metaphors and similes through his retelling of Man's downfall in the Garden of Eden (first published in 1667), although mostly to represent Satan. In point of fact, Satan's movement towards Earth is described as such (Book II, lines 943-950):

"As when a Gryfon through the Wilderness
With winged course ore Hill or moarie Dale,
Pursues the Arimaspian, who by stealth
Had from his wakeful custody purloined
The guarded Gold: So eagerly the fiend
Ore bog or steep, through strait, rough, dense, or rare,
With head, hands, wings, or feet pursues his way,"

Below is a link to an online version of Book II of Paradise Lost.

Book II of Paradise Lost

John Timbs - Popular Errors Explained and Illustrated - c. 1801-1875

The gryphon stayed in relative hiding after the battle between Browne and Ross, until 1856 when John Timbs, F.S.A. published his Popular Errors Explained and Illustrated, which closely followed the same vein as Browne's Pseudodoxia Epidemica. Timbs was an English antiquarian and writer, having written and edited over 150 works since he was 19. And though Timbs did not want to instruct in any of his works, "...but to contribute to the intellectual chat of the fireside", it should be noted that he tended to go off in tangents which sometimes caused more errors than he was trying to correct. In this particular work he makes great reference to Browne, as well another person to suggest the idea of the origin of the Gryphon myth stemming from a misinterpretation of the South American animal the Tapir. Timbs doesn't even really seem to add anything of his own to the discussion, but it is still an interesting, if not farfetched, idea. The excerpt below is provided by James Eason of the University of Chicago.

Timbs On Gryphons

Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures In Wonderland - c. 1832-1898

Thanks to Walt Disney, most of us are already familiar with one of Lewis Carroll's masterpieces, Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, (first published in 1865) not to be confused with the sequel, Through the Looking Glass (published in 1872). However, for whatever reasons, the Disney movie cut out a rather important scene in which the Queen rudely introduces Alice to a creature sleeping in the sun. I say important, because this creature is none other than a Gryphon, in it's most noted appearance in more than 200 years. Yet time has taken it's toll on the Gryphon, who is recognizable as the mythical creature of yore from it's appearance and first words. ("'What fun!' said the Gryphon, half to itself, half to Alice," befitting the creature's own Dual Nature.) Below is a link to an online version of Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, as well as a link to the scenes with the Gryphon.

Alice's Adventures In Wonderland online | Gryphon scenes

Angelo de Gubernatis - Zoological Mythology - c. 1840-1913

Zoological Mythology: or, The Legends of Animals is according to Joe Nigg, "one of the earliest full-length studies of animals in comparative mythology..." Written by the Italian professor Angelo de Gubernatis, and published in 1872, the book is an extensive mythological and symbolical history of a wide variety of animals, most real, some not. He catalogues Gryphons as "birds of prey", who in turn are placed under the classification of "Solar Birds". Excerpt from Joe Nigg's Book of Fabulous Beasts.

"The gryphes are represented as of double nature, now propitious, now malignant. Solinus calls them, "Alites forocissimae et ultra raviem saevientes." Ktesias declares that India possesses gold in mountains inhabited by griffins, quadrupeds, as large as wolves, which have the legs and claws of a lion, red feathers on their breasts and in their other parts, eyes of fire and golden nests. For the sake of the gold, the Arimaspi, one-eyed men, fight with the griffins. As the latter have long ears, they easily hear the robbers of the gold; and if they capture them, they invariably kill them. In Hellenic antiquity, the griffins were sacred to Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance, and were represented in sepulchres in the act of pressing down a bull's head; but they were far more celebrated as sacred to the golden sun, Apollo, whose chariot they drew (the hippogriff, which, in mediaeval chevaleresque poems, carries the hero, is their exact equivalent). And as Apollo is the prophetical and divining deity, whose oracle, when consulted, delivers itself in enigmas, the word griffin, too, meant enigma, logogriph being an enigmatical speech, and griffonage an entangled, confused, and embarrassing handwriting."

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