Where Do Gryphons Come From?

The myth of the Gryphon just gets more and more confusing, doesn't it? As if multiple forms and multiple names weren't enough, there are also a multitude of places where the Gryphon is said to have come from, although I shall deal with only the four main regions here.

"...It is from the Issedones that the tale comes of the one-eyed men and the griffins that guard gold..."

So wrote Herodotus, the first man that we know of (whose work still survives) to write of Gryphons. The Issedones was an ancient culture in Asia, far North and East of Greece. Pausanias also places the Gryphons there, as well as Pliny, although he does not specifically note the Issedones. According to Pliny, the Arimaspians (and hence, Gryphons) are located,

"...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..."

In other words, the Issedones.

Then Ctesias grabs ahold of the Gryphons and moves them south, into India.

"Gold is also a product of India... found on those many high-towering mountains which are inhabited by the Griffons..."

Following Ctesias, Aelian and Philostratos both attribute India as the Gryphon's homeland. (As well as the mythical king Prester John, whose kingdom was supposed to have been India, then later on, Africa.)

There are also many accounts of Gryphons living on or by the Mountain Riphey, located in Scythia, just west of the Issedones and above the Black Sea. According to Mela,

"The river borders the mountain Riphey... but it is uninhabitable because the Griffons (a cruel and unyielding kind of wild beast) jealously love the gold which lies above the ground..."

Solinus also ascribes Riphey to the Gryphons.

"Beyond them and the Montain Riphey...For whereas they abound in gold and precious stones, the Gryffons possess all.."

The exact location of mountain Riphey, or the Riphean Mountains, is subject to debate, as many classical authors placed them in different locations.

In the Afterword to her modern fantasy novel, Beyond the North Wind, Gillian Bradshaw admits that if Gryphons ever existed, they may have lived in the Altai mountain range, in Mongolia, which is definitely in the far East, and is known for being rich in gold. (Even the name "Altai" means "golden".)

Nonetheless, in all of these descriptions we find two similarities: Gryphons are located in the eastern and northern areas of Asia; and they are always found in the mountains.

There are, of course, exceptions to this, which tend to raise doubts about the credulity of certain accounts. Such as in the Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, where Rabbi Benjamin reports of a land called Zin, which is actually China, where Gryphons dwelt near the sea. However, there are no other tales or accounts of Gryphons being seen near or in China.

© 2019 James Spaid. All rights reserved.