The griffin or gryphon is a mythical quadruped with the foreparts of an eagle and the rear, tail and hindquarters of a lion.
Its eagle-like head had pointed, upstanding ears like those of an ass. Feathers grew upon its head, neck and chest and the rest of the griffinís body was covered in leonine fur, subtly colored in shades of tawny brown.
Aelian said the wings of griffins were white and their necks were variegated in colour with blue feathers. The griffin claws were especially valuable as they were reputed to change color in the presence of poison, which is why they made useful drinking vessels. 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. It is supposed to be of gigantic proportions, the morphology being left to our own deduction after we have been informed that one claw is the size of a cow's horn.
There are a number of different types of griffins;
- the snake-griffin has a lionís body, a snakeís head and a birdís legs;
- the lion-griffin is lion-like but has hind legs shaped like those of a bird.
- The hippogryph, living far beyond the seas in the Rhiphaean Mountains, is the result of the rare breeding of a male gryphon and a filly. It has the head, wings and front legs of a gryphon, and the back and hind legs of a horse. It is a large powerful creature that can move through the air more swiftly than ligthning. It figured in several of the legends of Charlemagne as a mount for some of the knights. The Hypogriffin is a mix of a griffin and a horse.
The Griffin was known in Egypt before 3300 BC and is possibly more ancient still.
Pliny believed griffins came from Northern Russia; Aeschylus thought they originated in Ethiopia; and Bulfinch wrote that their native country was India. Herodotus said that legends of griffins came from the Issedonians who lived beyond the Oural Mountains. Biedermann wrote later that it has typological antecedents in ancient Asia, especially in the Assyrian k'rub, which is also the source of the Hebrew cherub.
Because of the griffin's strength and powers of sight, it was believed to guard hidden treasures and in particular the vast gold mines of India and Scythia. The Arimaspians, a bold, one-eyed race of humans, constantly tried to steal their treasure and eventually drove the griffins away the mountains. Because of its association with the Holy Grail, one of the treasures most commonly guarded by griffins was emeralds.
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.
The griffin also became the adversary of serpents and basilisks, both of which were seen as embodiments of satanic demons.
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.