This is a griffin.
A griffin is a mythical beast with head and wings of an eagle
and the body of a lion.


Hans Biedermann's Dictionary of Symbolism has this to say about the gryphon:

A fabulous animal, symbolically significant for its domination of both the earth and the sky - because of its lion's body and eagle's head and wings. It has typological antecedents in ancient Asia, especially in the Assyrian k'rub, which is also the source of the Hebrew cherub. The frequent representations of griffin-like creatures in Persian art made them symbolize ancient Persia for the Jews. In Greece the griffin was a symbol of vigilant strength; Apollo rode one, and griffins guarded the gold of the Hyperboreans of the far north. The griffin was also an embodiment of Nemesis, the goddess of retribution, and turned her wheel of fortune. In legend the creature was a symbol of superbia (arrogant pride), because Alexander the Great was said to have tried to fly on the backs of griffins to the edge of the sky. At first also protrayed as a satanic figure entrapping human souls, the creature later became (from Dante onward) a symbol of the dual nature (divine and human) of Jesus Christ, precisely because of its mastery of earth and sky. The solar associations of both the lion and the eagle favored this positive reading. The griffin thus also became the adversary of serpents and basilisks, both of which were seen as embodiments of satanic demons. Even Christ's Ascension came to be associated with the griffin. The creature appeared as frequently in the applied arts (tapestries, the work of goldsmiths) as in heraldry. In the latter domain, Boeckler (1688) offered the following interpretation: "Griffins are protrayed with a lion's body, an eagle's head, long ears, and an eagle's claws, to indicate that one must combine intelligence and strength."


HERALDIC DEFINITION OF GRIFFIN:

The griffin (or gryphon) a quadruped having the tail and hindquarters of a lion and the eagle's fore limbs, wings and head, to which a pair of ears is added, 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. It is blazoned either as armed or as beaked and forelegged, and it assumes all the heraldic postures; but when in the rampant attitude the term segreant is applied. The wings in all positions are addorsed unless otherwise stated-- which is rare.

The entire griffin is possibly seen less often than is the demi-griffin, or the griffin's head; and the latter would be indistinguishable from that of the eagle were it not for the addition of the pair of ears.

The male griffin is without wings, and has rays protruding from every joint. The origin and meaning of these golden spikes is unknown. The horned griffin seems to have an existence in theory only; nevertheless he must be catalogued, together with the word alce, which is accepted (though not without dissent) as the individual name for the horned griffin.

The griffin is very popular, for it has numerous virtues and apparently no vices. Notable among the former are vigilance, courage and strength. It is sharp of eye, keen of ear, and, it is reasonable to assume, faithful as a dog. Perhaps, when emitting smoke and fire from its nostrils--blazoned, sometimes, as fumant, although purists maintain that this term should apply only to such things as brick-kilns--it is in the act of protecting its master.

A debased griffin, that was evolved in the sixteenth century and named opinicus, has the limbs of a lion, the tail of a camel, the ear-bedecked head of an eagle, a neck on which there is a difference of opinion--it is either that of an eagle, or is scaly, rather snake-like and long--and a pair of wings giving scholars an opportunity again for disagreement: they are either those of the eagle, or are not bird-like at all, but membranous, like the wing of the bat. No blood need be shed in settling these anatomical problems, as opinici are of little importance, there being barely a dozen examples.

The griffin, the wyvern, and the dragon, albeit three of a kind, seem to have preserved their individuality in heraldry, although they are very old inhabitants of the armorial shield.


Here are some more images of griffins:

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Last Modified: Saturday, March 23, 2002