Myths and Folklore Wiki
Myths and Folklore Wiki

The Griffin (Greek gryphos, Persian شیردال‌ shirdal "lion-eagle" Arabic: فتخاء Fatkha' one of the names of eagle عقاب 'Uqab in Arabic.) (also very often spelled gryphon and, less commonly, gryphen, griffon, griffen, or gryphin) is a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. Since the lion was considered the "King of the Beasts" and the eagle the "King of the Air", the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature.

Additionally, in the real world some large species of Old World vultures are called gryphons, including the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), as are some breeds of dog (griffons).

Myths & Legends

Tales of griffins and the Arimaspi of distant Scythia near the cave of Boreas, the North Wind (Geskleithron) were elaborated in the lost archaic poem of Aristeas of Proconnesus, Arimaspea, and eagerly reported by Herodotus and in Pliny's Natural History. The griffin was said to build a nest, like an eagle.

Griffin was consecrated to the Sun; and ancient painters represented the chariot of the Sun as drawn by griffins.

In some stories, instead of regular eggs, it lays agates.

The animal was supposed to watch over gold mines and hidden treasures, and to be the enemy of the horse. As such, the incredibly rare offspring of griffin and horse would be called hippogriff.

The griffin was a common feature of "animal style" Scythian gold; it was said to inhabit the Scythia steppes that reached from the modern Ukraine to central Asia; there gold and precious stones were abundant; and when strangers approached to gather the stones, the creatures would leap on them and tear them to pieces. The Scythians used giant petrified bones found in this area as proof of the existence of griffins and to keep outsiders away from the gold and precious stones. It has recently been suggested that these "griffin bones" were actually dinosaur fossils, which are common in this part of the world.


Some traditions say that only female griffins have wings. The griffin is usually depicted as a large creature with four legs, wings and a beak. Its eagle head and neck are covered in fluffy white feathers that fade into the tawny fur of a lion, and its forelegs are eagle talons. It has a lion body with brown fur and a tufted furry tail. It also possesses feathered eagle wings and prominent, horse-like ears. Some writers describe the tail as a serpent.

Behavior and Habitat

A modernist, Washington D.C.A 9th century Irish writer by the name of Stephen Scotus asserted that griffins were highly monogamous. Not only did they mate for life, but if one partner died, the other would continue throughout the rest of its life alone, never to search out for a new mate. The griffin was thus made an emblem of the Church's views on remarriage.

The egg-laying habits of the female were first clearly described by St. Hildegard of Bingen, a German nun author of the 12th century. She outlined how the expectant mother would search out a cave with a very narrow entrance but plenty of room inside, sheltered from the elements. Here she would lay her 3 eggs (about the size of Ostrich eggs), and stand guard over them.


Adrienne Mayor, a classical folklorist, has made tentative connections, in Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times, between the rich fossil beds around the Mediterranean and across the steppes to the Gobi Desert and the myths of griffins, centaurs and archaic giants originating in the classical world. Mayor draws upon striking similarities that exist between the Protoceratops skulls of the steppes leading to the Gobi Desert, and the legends of the gold-hoarding griffin told by nomadic Scythians of the region; among the artistic evidence, the 6th century Greek vase on the book's cover is incontrovertible. The size of that fossil skull may be the source of the claim that a griffin is eight times the size of a lion.


The symbolism of the lion-eagle combination was also the subject of a quotation attributed to Chassaneus by Alexander Nisbet in his System of Heraldry (1722; p 343 of Vol I of the 1816 edn): "Gryphus significat sapientiam jungendam fortitudini, sed sapientiam debere praeire, fortitudinem sequi." This translates as: “The griffin represents wisdom joined to fortitude, but wisdom should lead, and fortitude follow".

In architectural decoration the griffin is usually represented as a four-footed beast with wings and the head of a leopard or tiger with horns, or with the head and beak of an eagle. The griffin is the symbol of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and you can see bronze castings of them perched on each corner of the museum's roof, protecting its collection. The griffin is said to be the king of mythical creatures because the lion is the "king of the beasts" and the eagle is "king of the sky". It symbolizes power and wisdom.

According to, "Some cultures, like the Achaemenids of Asia, thought of the griffin as a “protector from evil, witchcraft and secret slander."

In Persian mythology, in particular during Achaemenid Persians Griffins under name Homa was used widely as statues and symbols in palaces. Homa has also an special place in Persian literature as a guardian of light.

Heralds & Coats of Arms

Classical and heraldic griffins are only female, while "male" griffonsare called a Keythong and is an anomaly that belongs strictly to a late phase of English heraldry. The Keythong resembles the Male Griffin, which has no wings, but rays or spikes of gold proceeding from several parts of his body, and sometimes with two long straight horns.

A standard heraldic griffin (or gryphon) has the hind parts (including legs and tail) of a lion, the upper parts (including feathered neck, wings, claws, and head with beak) of an eagle and also ears. It is the ears which distinguish the griffin's head from an eagle's head in heraldry, which is important because, as well as the full griffin, the griffin's head is also often found in heraldry and would otherwise be identical to the head of the eagle. As both the eagle and the lion were found in heraldry individually, it was not surprising that a combination would be used.

Heraldic griffins are usually shown rearing up, facing left, and standing on one hind leg with the other leg and the claws raised: this posture is described in the Norman-French language of heraldry as "segreant", a word uniquely applied to griffins, and which is the exact equivalent of the description of lions and other creatures in heraldry as "rampant".

  • A heraldic griffin was included as one of the ten Queen's Beasts sculpted for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 (following the model of the King’s Beasts at Hampton Court) and this is now on display at Kew Gardens.
  • The City of London adopted a creature similar to a scaled griffin for its coat of arms, and at each road leading into the City of London it marks its city boundaries with statues of a single "griffin" carrying the City coat of arms.

Modern Depictions


  • In the Harry Potter series, one of the four class houses is called "Gryffindor" ("Gryffon d'or" means "golden griffon" in French)
  • A character in The Mage Wars Trilogy named Skandranon is a griffon.
  • The Griffin and the Minor Canon by Frank R Stockton, illustrated by Maurice Sendak (1968)
  • The Crossroads series by Nick O'Donohoe is a series about veterinary students called upon to help mythological creatures including griffons.
  • A griffin (spelled "gryphon") is featured in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland in which the Queen of Hearts' orders the gryphon to take Alice to see the Mock Turtle and hear its story.
  • A griffin is featured in the Chronicles of Narnia.
  • In Mark of the Thief, there is a griffin named Caela who befriends the main character, Nic.