1902 Encyclopedia > Griffin (Gryphon)


GRIFFIN, or GRYPHON (gryphus, ypvtf), in the natural history of the ancients, the name of an imaginary rapacious creature of the eagle species, represented with four legs, wings, and a beak,—the fore part resembling an eagle, and the hinder a lion. In addition, some writers describe the tail as a serpent. This animal, which was supposed to watch over gold mines and hidden treasures, and to be the enemy of the horse, was consecrated to the Sun; and the ancient painters represented the chariot of the Sun as drawn by griffins. According to Spanheim, those of Jupiter and Nemesis were similarly provided. The griffin of Scripture is probably that species of the eagle called in Latin Ossifraga, or osprey. The griffin is related to inhabit Asiatic Scythia, where the lands abound in gold and precious stones ; and when strangers approach to gather these the creatures leap upon them and tear them in pieces, thus showing their use in chastising human avarice and greed. The one-eyed Arimaspi wage constant war with them, according to Herodotus (iii. 16). The celebrated Sir John de Mandeville, in his Travels, described a griffin as eight times larger than a lion; The griffin is frequently seen on early seals and medals, and is still borne as a favourite device on seals and as a charge in heraldry. Papworth, in his laborious Ordinary of British Armorials, ascribes this creature to several hundred family coats, as a single charge, and in connexion with other heraldic devices the griffin was con-stantly borne in English and especially in Welsh armoury. Berry in his Encyclopaedia Heraldica declares that the combination of the eagle and lion signified strength and swiftness conjoined ; if this be so, the reason of its almost universal adoption as an emblem by a military and chivalric people is not far to seek. The seals of Baldwin de Redvers, second earl of Devon (1137-1155), and his son William de Vernun, sixth earl, exhibit two most curious examples of the griffin, and being anterior to the consolidation of heraldic rules and a succession of heraldic devices from father to son, are yet proofs that particular devices or emblems were in use with powerful lords of the 12th and 13th centuries, and retained by the members of the family as carefully and as conventionally as the true heraldic bearings of the following century were. Guillim blazons this monster as rampant, alleging that any very fierce animal may be so blazoned as well as the lion ; but Sylvester, Morgan, Burke, Berry, and other writers upon heraldic subjects, use the term segreant, i.e., se greant, pluming or arranging himself by lifting himself up and flapping his wings, as all birds do occasionally, instead of rampant. Palliot, one of the most interesting of all writers on arms, in his Vraye et Parfaite Science des Armoires, describes this creature as generally rampant, and points out its connexion with the Minotaur, Centaurs, and Chimaera, " fronte Leo, postremo Draco, medioque Chimaera." The same writer, in reference to the possibility of such productions of nature, describes a curious monster of similar character, called a hippocervus, presented in 1534 by Frederick, duke of Mantua, to Frauds the Great, the fore part being that of a horse, the hind part that of a stag, which could be saddled and bridled, but always threw his rider and trampled on him. Much might be written on the subject of hybrids and fabulous monsters such as these, but the various aspects of natural history and archaeology which they illustrate have never been yet worked out. The griffin was also an architectural ornament among the Greeks, and was copied from them, with other architectural embellishments, by the Romans. A fine example of the Assyrian griffin occurs on the sculptured slabs from Kouyunjik, now in the British Museum. The Dictionary of Early Drawings and Illuminations, by W. de Gray Birch and H. Jenner, gives a collection of references to the finest examples of these creatures among the manu-scripts from the Saxon age to the close of the 15th century.

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