The griffin, griffon, or gryphon (Greek: γρύφων, grýphōn, or γρύπων, grýpōn, early formγρύψ, grýps; Latin: gryphus) is a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. As the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle was the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. The griffin was also thought of as king of the creatures. Griffins are known for guarding treasure and priceless possessions. Adrienne Mayor, a classical folklorist, proposes that the griffin was an ancient misconception derived from the fossilized remains of the Protoceratops found in gold mines in the Altai mountains of Scythia, in present day southeastern Kazakhstan. In antiquity it was a symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine. Some have suggested that the word griffin is cognate withCherub.
While Griffins are most common in Ancient Greece, there is evidence of Griffins in Ancient Egyptian art as far back as 3,300 BC. Most statues have bird-like talons, although in some older illustrations griffins have a lion's forelimbs; they generally have a lion's hindquarters. Its eagle's head is conventionally given prominent ears; these are sometimes described as the lion's ears, but are often elongated (more like a horse's), and are sometimes feathered. The earliest depiction of griffins are the 15th century BC frescoes in the Throne Room of the Bronze Age Palace of Knossos, as restored by Sir Arthur Evans. It continued being a favored decorative theme in Archaic and Classical Greek art. In Central Asia the griffin appears about a thousand years after Bronze Age Crete, in the 5th-4th centuries BC, probably originating from the Achaemenid Persian Empire. The Achaemenids considered the griffin "a protector from evil, witchcraft and secret slander". The modern generalist calls it the lion-griffin, as for example, Robin Lane Fox, in Alexander the Great,1973:31 and notes p. 506, who remarks a lion-griffin attacking a stag in a pebble mosaicDartmouth College expedition at Pella, perhaps as an emblem of the kingdom of Macedon or a personal one of Alexander's successor Antipater.
The Pisa Griffin is a large bronze sculpture which has been in Pisa in Italy since the Middle Ages, though it is of Islamic origin. It is the largest bronze medieval Islamic sculpture known, at over three feet tall (42.5 inches, or 1.08 m.), and was probably created in the 11th century in Al-Andaluz (Islamic Spain). From about 1100 it was placed on a column on the roof of Pisa Cathedral until replaced by a replica in 1832; the original is now in the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo (Cathedral Museum), Pisa.
Infrequently, a griffin is portrayed 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 alce or akeythong. In heraldry, a griffin always has forelegs like an eagle's; the beast with forelimbs like a lion's forelegs was distinguished by perhaps only one English herald of later heraldry as the opinicus.
Griffins not only mated for life, but also, if either partner died, then the other would continue throughout the rest of its life alone, never to search for a new mate. The griffin was thus made an emblem of the Church's views on remarriage. A Hippogriff is a legendary creature, supposedly the offspring of a griffin and a mare. Being a union of a terrestrial beast and an aerial bird, it was seen inChristendom to be a symbol of Jesus, who was both human and divine. As such it can be found sculpted on some churches.