...........ByRobert Denethon

One of my gryphons, drawn with chalks (i.e. oil pastels) and ink. (Used with the publisher's permission) See below

My Four-Footed Winged Raptor Is Ready To Skim The Pathways Of The Aether.... Prometheus Bound, Aeschylus, 395-397

CONTENTS. (hide the table of contents)

What is a gryphon?

Source Texts About Gryphons

Gryphons and Arimaspeans in the North.
The Few Extant Fragments of the Arimaspea.
The Playwright Aeschylus and Gryphons ........from the play, Prometheus Bound
Herodotus' Assessment of the Arimaspea's Account of Gryphons...........the first true historian, Herodotus
Ktesias’ Account of Gryphons, as Reported in Photios' Bibliotheca or Myrobiblion 72, ινδικα ..........a lost manuscript
Strabo’s Geography - Talking About the Black Sea and the Scythians
Pliny the Elder - the Natural History (Latin).
The Gryphons in Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius
Pausanias Gryphons from a Description of Greece ..........Athena's temple - the Parthenon. Concerning Gryphons, enough said. The Prasaian temple of Apollo.
Apuleius, The Golden Ass
Aelian’s Detailed Description of Gryphons and Gold Hunters ..........the most detailed description of gryphons, in all of the Greek descriptions.
Nonnus’ Gryphons - from Dionysica book 48
A Comment on Adrienne Mayor. ..........The First Fossil Hunters.
Rukh, Rok, Simurgh ..........Extended footnote from Yule and Cordier's Marco Polo.
Thoughts on the word, Gryphon, Griffon, Griffin, γρύπας etc. etc..

Closer to our own time: Medieval Gryphons...
The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela ..........A Medieval Jew reports hearing tales of gryphons.
John Mandeville's Travelogue.
The Prose Life Of Alexander. ..........Early Sci-fi - Giant Crabs, gryphon-powered flight, and a submarine.
Geoffrey Chaucer.
The Wycliffe Bible. ..........Gryphons in the Bible?

Milton Paradise Lost. ..........Book II 916-950

Gryphons in Ancient Egypt &Amp; Sefer/Seref - an Egyptian word meaning ‘gryphon’, and its relationship to a Hebrew word, Seraphim...
ꜥḫḫ: Another Egyptian Word Meaning Gryphon.
A Syrian Gryphon - Beatrice Teissier ..........Gryphons on cylinder seals from Syria and elsewhere in the Near East.
Old Babylonian Gryphon.
Mitannian Gryphon.

Peres - Are Gryphons mentioned in the Bible in the section on unclean birds?..........What Were The Neshar, the Peres and the Ozniyah? And Don’t Forget the Four-Footed Winged Fowl?
Leviticus 11:13 ..........In the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, and translations.
Deuteronomy 14:11-12
So What Does Peres Really Mean?
Leviticus 11:13 - Early English translations
So What Are These Birds? What do the Modern Translations say?
Deuteronomy 14:12-13 - Early English translations.
So Could It Be A Gryphon?
Another Puzzling Section: Fowls That Creep On All Fours...!
Pterodactyls, Ropen and Seraphim...???
What are the Cherubim?
Cherubim put on guard to stop people getting back into the Garden of Eden.
Cherubim around the mercy seat; i.e. the seat of God on the Ark of the Covenant.
God speaks to people from the space above the mercy seat.
The tent curtains leading into the most holy place have cherubim embroidered upon them.
Solomon put cherubim inside the temple, in the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was to be stored, and upon the doors of the temple.
They put the Ark of the Covenant under Cherubim wings
Description of the same thing from Chronicles.
In heaven God sits above cherubim...
The Vision Of Ezekiel..........A Hyper-Gryphon, with four faces and six wings.
A vision of the new temple
In the New Testament
Cherubim - Cognate to Gryphon? ..........Various historical opinions on the topic.

How to reuse material from this site.
Who is Robert Denethon?

What is a Gryphon?

Gríffon. n.s. [This should rather be written gryfon, or gryphon, gryps, γρὺψ; but it is generally written griffon.] A fabled animal, said to be generated between the lion and eagle, and to have the head and paws of the lion, and the wings of the eagle.

Of all bearing among these winged creatures, the griffin is the most ancient.

Peacham on Blazoning.

Aristeus, a poet of Proconesus, affirmed, that near the one-eyed nations griffins defended the mines of gold.


(The Dictionary Entry for griffon in Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1755)

In the Graeco-Roman tradition gryphon is a four-footed animal with the wings, feathers, foretalons, head and beak of an eagle and the hind-quarters, body and tail of a lion. Graeco-Roman gryphons also have ears like a lion’s ears, although perhaps a little larger, and higher - sometimes as long as a horse’s ears.

In Graeco-Roman art and literature gryphons were the beasts that pulled the chariots of the gods and the Titans. According to legend (or history?) they could be found in the country of Arimaspea or Hyperborea, both of which were located to the north of the Black Sea. Thrones, as well, were often depicted as being carried by gryphons or other winged creatures.

Gryphons in the earliest representations are shown without wings. This picture is from the wall in the throne room of the palace of Knossos on Crete.

The Scythians, a people reputed to be barbarians who actually lived in the country to the north of the Black Sea, are actually known to have tattooed pictures of gryphons on their bodies. And their tattooed gryphons have no wings, and they bear a large frill at the back of the neck - in fact they resemble modern scientific estimates of what the dinosaur Protoceratops might have looked like - the fossils of which litter the ground in the mountains. This has led to one scholar, Adrienne Mayor, suggesting that the Scythians based their traditions about gryphons on the fossils.

But, who really knows? Perhaps there really were gryphons living to the north of the black sea. For many years people thought the ancient fish, the Coelacanth, was extinct, but in 1938 living examples of this fish were found. Perhaps even today there are gryphons living in some distant part of Turkey...

It has been suggested that the word, gryphon, is very ancient, for it is apparently cognate with words in almost every tongue in the world – in Akkadian, Kuribu , in Hebrew, Kerubim, in Assyrian, Kerup, in Persian, Griffen, in German, Greif, in English, griffon, and the words grasp, grab, and grip are probably related too; even in American Indian, a geographically isolated language, at a stretch, Caribou, a Caribou being an animal that claws at (grips?) the snow.

One Greek idea of an Arimaspian riding a gryphon - or is it a hippogriff? The offspring of a gryphon and a horse was considered so unlikely, since horses and gryphons are the worst of enemies, that the hippogriff became a byword for an impossibilty in Latin.Krater neck griffin Antikensammlung Berlin 1984.42

Source Texts about Gryphons, translated and annotated.

Gryphons and Arimaspeans in the North.

Here I have collected the extant source texts that mention gryphons, from the ancient Graeco-Roman world, including a few of the passages concerning the Arimaspeans, Hyperboreans and Scythians who lived to the north of the Black Sea, who fought the gryphons for their gold, according to legend (or ancient history; perhaps...?). I have also collected the medieval texts, below, and as much as I could find about the Near Eastern and Egyptian Art, including the words that (might) mean gryphon in Egyptian, Akkadian, and Hebrew.
In the Greek section I have tried to provide some context for each passage in my glosses beforehand, and also by taking a larger ‘chunk’ of the text than in some other online sources, and where I am able to retranslate the passage I have done so (if you wish to use my translations elsewhere, or any of the content or glosses, I would love you to, but please acknowledge my work and include a reasonably visible link to this site.)

Where possible I have used public domain sources that are freely available on the internet, so that anyone who is reading this may easily do further research on their own.

The Greek texts are mostly taken from Perseus Tufts, an absolutely excellent resource for ancient Latin and Greek source texts. I have borrowed some Latin translations from other sources but the translations of the Greek texts are all mine - and any suggestions for improvements, criticisms or corrections of my more-than-likely imperfect efforts would be most welcome!

The Few Extant Fragments of The Arimaspea.

The earliest piece of Greek literature that mentioned gryphons was a travelogue/history written in the form of an epic poem called “The Arimaspea,” written by a poet called Aristeas in the 7th century B.C.; though in latter centuries the identity of the author of “The Arimaspea” was disputed by Greek scholars. Nonetheless the greatest Greek historian of all, Herodotus, accepted Aristeas’ authorship, although he disputes some details of Aristeas’ account.

Unfortunately, most of “The Arimaspea” has been lost, but a few fragments remain, embedded in other extant works - none of these fragments, unfortunately, mention gryphons. Nonetheless, there are some facts we can glean about the Greek view of the early Scythians from these fragments when we combine them with what later writers say about gryphons in “The Arimaspea.”

On one point in particular Herodotus expresses doubt about Aristeas - there are other monsters than gryphons mentioned in “The Arimaspea”; Aristeas mentions the one-eyed men of Arimaspea, ‘andras monophthalmous’ - and Herodotus doubts that there could possibly be men with one eye who are in all other respects the same as other men. But Herodotus seems to accept the existence of gryphons without question, and he accepts the gist of Aristeas’ account, that in the north live the Issedonians, and to the north of the Issedonians live the Arimaspeans, and the ‘gold-hoarding’ gryphons live to the north of them.

Odysseus tied to the mast of his ship - the sirens are troubling him. (These are not gryphons! ) From a vase in the British Museum. The illustration is included to show the kind of boat, πλοιον, ‘ploion’ in Greek, that was used to cross the storm-wracked black sea.Odysseus Sirens BM E440 n2 - source Wikimedia

According to Adrienne Mayor, in “The First Fossil Hunters,” the Arimaspeans were probably Scythian nomads living to the north of the Black Sea, and the first extant fragment may bear this out. I tried to render the style of Aristeas, which is strangely distant, descriptive, yet peculiarly disconnected.

To us this is a wonder, and it moves our hearts mightily:

Upon the waters men make their dwelling place,

From earth into the sea. Wretched ones, they go,

For they have toilsome work, eyes to the stars,

For their lives in the sea are borne up.

And somewhere the wretches are holding out their hands,

seeking gut-wrenching pity, puking out their guts*,

Visibly racked with foreboding, whose floating lily

bears their words and terror.

(*or more literally seeking gut-wrenching pity in terrible puking; or puking terribly)

θαῦμ̓ ἡμῖν καὶ τοῦτο μέγα φρεσὶν ἡμετέρῃσιν. ἄνδρες ὕδωρ ναίουσιν ἀπὸ χθονὸς ἐν πελάγεσσι: δύστηνοί τινές εἰσιν, ἔχουσι γὰρ ἔργα πονηρά, ὄμματ̓ ἐν ἄστροισι, ψυχὴν δ̓ ἐνὶ πόντῳ ἔχουσιν. ἦ που πολλὰ θεοῖσι φίλας ἀνὰ χεῖρας ἔχοντες εὔχονται σπλάγχνοισι κακῶς ἀναβαλλομένοισι. παντὶ οἶμαι δῆλον, ὡς πλέον ἄνθος ἔχει τὰ λεγόμενα ἢ δέος.Longinus, De Sublimitate 10.4

This passage, which appears to report the experience of sailors on an ocean, may well be referring to those sailors who travel across the Black Sea, notorious even today for its terrible storms and violent weather. Indeed, in contemporary times there were terrible storms on the Black Sea in November of 2007 and January 2008; one of the January storms even sank an oil tanker.

In Ancient Greece the Black Sea was called, Axenon, ‘Inhospitable,’ according to Strabo, in a passage quoted further below.

The ‘floating lily’ or perhaps, ‘boat-flower’ is a rather striking image, and implies the fragility of the boat.

This passage actually comes from Longinus’ ‘On the Sublime’, an instruction book on writing, and he uses Aristeas’ fragment as an example of bad, undramatic writing, comparing it disfavourably to a passage about a sea voyage in Homer; and the Homeric passage is undeniably better, in that sense.

Of the other extant passages, the following four individual lines appear to refer to the Arimaspeans, the ‘one-eyed men.’ Aristeas makes them not only shaggy, but gives them the quality of graceful brows above their single eye as well, a rather strange, descriptive opposition, that to me both makes them more real and accentuates their alienness.

These are shaggy ones, all sturdy men.

Χαιτῃσιν λάσιοι, πάντων στιβαρώτατοι ἀνδρῶν

Wealthy horsemen, with many sheep, many oxen.

ἀφνειοὺς ἴπποισι, πολύρρηνας, πολυβούτας.

In the brow above his single eye each of them bears grace.

ὀφθαλμὸν δ᾽ ἒν᾽ ἒκαστος ἒκει χαρίεντι μετωπῳ.

But a man gazes ahead, graceful his brow

ἀλλ᾽ ἀνδρὸς θείοιο κάρη χαρίεν τε μέτωπον

According to Herodotus, Aristeas did not travel any further north than Issedonia. This is Aristeas’ surviving fragment that describes the Issedonians:

The Issedonians’ graceful long hair comes to a point

Ίσσηδοὶ χαίτῃσιν ἀγαλλόμενοι ταναῇσι

The word ταναῇσι, meaning ‘a point’, is also used of arrows. The Scythians apparently had long, blond or red, hair, and may have also been the ancestors of the Picts, i.e. the Scottish tribes.

And there is one more fragment, a fuller description of the Arimaspeans. ‘Rich horsemen,’ in the quote below, means literally something like ‘rich, ones with horses’, i.e. meaning both horse-owners and men who ride horses.

And after these men are those above them sharing their border

From the north*, many there are, faithful, extremely strong,

rich horsemen, sheep owners, with many oxen

καί σφεας ἀνθροπους εἲναι καθυπερθεν ὀμοὐρους

πρὸς Βορέω, πολλούς τε καὶ ἐσθλοὺς κάρτα μαχητάς,

ἀφνειοὺς ΐπποισι, πολυρρηνας, πολθβουτας.

Note - apart from the section above attributed to Perseus Tufts, the Greek text for these sections comes from A Fragment of the Arimaspea CM Bowra,, attributed fully in the ‘Webliography’. This essay was also very helpful in making my translations.

*or ‘From the north wind’

The Playwright Aeschylus and Gryphons.

A very striking gryphon, from a Klazomenian sarcophagus c.480-470 BC. The wings are very reminiscent of the neck frill of the Protoceratops, and the Scythian style of gryphon from the Altai burials (5th to 3th century BC)

Aeschylus was a famous Greek playwright of the fifth and sixth century BC, writing perhaps a generation before Herodotus the historian, whom we will look at next. Clearly Aeschylus the playwright’s geography is not as reliable as Herodotus the historian’s, for he places Ethiopia near Arimaspia. (Ethiopia is in Africa, southwest of Greece; whereas Arimaspia, if it is actually north of the Black Sea, is to the north-east.) Nevertheless Aeschylus clearly knows that the gryphons lived in ‘gold-drenched lands’, Pluto’s ‘flowing pores’ might mean rivers of sand, or so others have translated it - or it might be a sort of pun, because Ploutwnos might also mean plentiful, giving riches. In this passage it almost sounds as the gryphons were the mounts of the Arimaspians, which is a possible interpretation.

And you all must watch out for this as well, I tell you!

Yet another - listen - another difficulty to behold:

Watch for Zeus’ sharp-beaked unbarking hounds!

The Arimaspians’ mounts, in the gold-drenched lands,

Fenced in on both sides by Pluto’s flowing pores.

These you must not approach! But at the end of the earth

The black race abides, who spring forth from the sun

By the Ethiopian River.

τοιοῦτο μέν σοι τοῦτο φρούριον λέγω:

ἄλλην δ᾽ ἄκουσον δυσχερῆ θεωρίαν:

ὀξυστόμους γὰρ Ζηνὸς ἀκραγεῖς κύνας

γρῦπας φύλαξαι, τόν τε μουνῶπα στρατὸν

Ἀριμασπὸν ἱπποβάμον᾽, οἳ χρυσόρρυτον

οἰκοῦσιν ἀμφὶ νᾶμα Πλούτωνος πόρου:

τούτοις σὺ μὴ πέλαζε. τηλουρὸν δὲ γῆν

ἥξεις, κελαινὸν φῦλον, οἳ πρὸς ἡλίου

ναίουσι πηγαῖς, ἔνθα ποταμὸς Αἰθίοψ.

Aeschylus Prometheus Bound, lines 801-809,0085,003:790&lang=original

There is another passage in Aeschylus that refers to gryphons, or a gryphon. It also occurs in the same play, Prometheus Bound.

To give some background: Prometheus is a Titan, the original rulers of the Cosmos. Zeus and the younger gods have usurped his power, and Prometheus is chained up and condemned to have his liver eaten out every day by an eagle. This is the end of one of the scenes - Oceanus, another Titan, the ruler of the distant seas, has come to meet Prometheus, and Prometheus is urging him to leave.


Clearly you are trying to tell me I should return home


Lest this dirge of mine thrust you in front of the path of the wrath...


...of the young power, seated on his throne?


Keep watch, lest his heart end up aggrieved at you.


I am with you, Prometheus. Your lesson I grasp...


Be off, take care, keep on your present path.


I will get going, as your urging meets my desire,

My four-footed winged raptor

is ready to skim the pathways of the aether,

Then gladly will he bend his knees again in his stalls at home.


σαφῶς μ᾽ ἐς οἶκον σὸς λόγος στέλλει πάλιν.


μὴ γάρ σε θρῆνος οὑμὸς εἰς ἔχθραν βάλῃ.


ἦ τῷ νέον θακοῦντι παγκρατεῖς ἕδρας;


τούτου φυλάσσου μή ποτ᾽ ἀχθεσθῇ κέαρ.


ἡ σή, Προμηθεῦ, συμφορὰ διδάσκαλος.


στέλλου, κομίζου, σῷζε τὸν παρόντα νοῦν.


395ὁρμωμένῳ μοι τόνδ᾽ ἐθώυξας λόγον.

λευρὸν γὰρ οἷμον αἰθέρος ψαίρει πτεροῖς

τετρασκελὴς οἰωνός: ἄσμενος δέ τἂν

σταθμοῖς ἐν οἰκείοισι κάμψειεν γόνυ.

Prometheus Bound, 387-397

And so ends the scene.

This is probably one of the most poetic of all of these gryphon passages that I have collected together. “Skim the pathways of the aether” is a wonderful phrase of Aeschylus’1.

A gryphon from an ancient Bell Krater from the Antalya Archaeological Museum (5th - 4th century BC)

This isn’t the only time that gryphons are depicted as the animals that pull the chariots of the gods in Greek myth, or indeed, in the mythology or religious iconology of certain near-Eastern countries as well. Apollo is depicted in Greek literature and painting as riding in a chariot pulled by gryphons, Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance, is depicted as riding on a chariot pulled by gryphons, and the goddess Artemis wears a helmet with a sphinx depicted in the middle and gryphons on the sides.

The vision of the prophet Ezekiel, in the Hebrew scriptures, seems to indicate that the God of Israel Himself also rides in a kind of chariot, in this case pulled by a cherub - not the nineteenth century cute baby-angel variety, but a six-winged creature with the faces of a bull, a man, an eagle and a lion - a kind of hyper-gryphon, perhaps.

Indeed, it has often been suggested that the word Cherubim in the Hebrew Scriptures has a shared etymology with the Greek word gryps - i.e. gryphon - more about this later.

Herodotus’ Assessment of The Arimaspea’s Account of Gryphons.

Herodotus lived in the fifth century B.C. Scholars have often said that he was the first true historian, for he tried to assess his source materials in terms of accuracy and reliability and organised his material in a logical form2. Subsequent historians modelled their histories on Herodotus’ writing, such as Thucidydes, Xenophon, Arrian, Josephus, and the writer of Luke's gospel.

Herodotus always he mentions his sources and weighs their veracity. Here is what he says about the Arimaspians and gryphons:

But in the north of Europe there is by far the most gold, this much I can reveal: but how the gold comes to be there, I do not know with any certainty. But it is said that one-eyed men called Arimaspians steal it from gryphons. But this I do not trust: that one-eyed men could be born who have a nature that is otherwise the same as other men! Nevertheless the most distant habitations - enclosing the other places and surrounding them completely - have the greater and rarer things, I expect.

πρὸς δὲ ἄρκτου τῆς Εὐρώπης πολλῷ τι πλεῖστος χρυσὸς φαίνεται ἐών· ὅκως μὲν γινόμενος, οὐκ ἔχω οὐδὲ τοῦτο ἀτρεκέως εἶπαι, λέγεται δὲ ὑπὲκ τῶν γρυπῶν ἁρπάζειν Ἀριμασποὺς ἄνδρας μουνοφθάλμους. πείθομαι δὲ οὐδὲ τοῦτο ὅκως μουνόφθαλμοι ἄνδρες φύονται, φύσιν ἔχοντες τὴν ἄλλην ὁμοίην τοῖσι ἄλλοισι ἀνθρώποισι· αἱ δὲ ὦν ἐσχατιαὶ οἴκασι, περικληίουσαι τὴν ἄλλην χώρην καὶ ἐντὸς ἀπέργουσαι, τὰ κάλλιστα δοκέοντα ἡμῖν εἶναι καὶ σπανιώτατα ἔχειν αὗται. 

Herodotus Histories 3.116.1-3

And here is the passage telling of “The Arimaspea,” and the poet Aristeas.

But Aristeas son of Kaustrobios, a Proconnesian man, creating an epic, claimed that, Phoibos-possessed, he went as far as Issedone, but beyond the Issedones were the Arimaspians, men with one eye, but beyond them were the gold-hoarding gryphons, and beyond them the Hyperborean lands, reaching right to the sea. But really all these except the Hyperboreans, (and first the Arimaspeans), they were always being put to by the neighbouring countries, and underneath with the Arimaspeans were thrusting the Issedonians out of the country, the Scythians by the Issedonians, but the Cimmerians lived by the southern sea under the Scythians being pressed tightly and pushed out of the country. But all this disagrees with what the account of the country of the Scythians.

εφη δὲ Ἀριστεης ό Καυστροβιος ἀνὴρ Προκοννήσιος ποιέων ἔπεα, ἀπικέσθαι ἐς ᾽ Ισσηδόνας φοιβόλαμπτος γενόμενος, ᾽ Ισσηδόνων δὲ ΅υπεροικεειν Αριμασπους ἂνδρας μοθνοφθάλμους ὔπερ δε τούτων τοὺς χρυσοφύλακας γρῦπας, τούτων δε τοὺς ‘Υπερβορέους κατήκοντας επι θάλασσαν. τούτους ὦν πάντας πλὴν Ὑπερβορέων, ἀρξάντων Ἀριμασπῶν, αἰεὶ τοῖσι πλησιοχώροισι ἐπιτίθεσθαι, καὶ ὑπὸ μὲν Ἀριμασπῶν ἐξωθέεσθαι ἐκ τῆς χώρης Ἰσσηδόνας, ὑπὸ δὲ Ἰσσηδόνων Σκύθας, Κιμμερίους δὲ οἰκέοντας ἐπὶ τῇ νοτίῃ θαλάσσῃ ὑπὸ Σκυθέων πιεζομένους ἐκλείπειν τὴν χώρην. οὕτω οὐδὲ οὗτος συμφέρεται περὶ τῆς χώρης ταύτης Σκύθῃσι.

Herodotus Histories 4.13

Here Herodotus sounds a little sceptical - but considering the barbaric reputation of Scythians, perhaps he is less sceptical about Aristeus’ account than about what the Scythians are saying - Scythians were said to eat human flesh, and were accounted as a barbaric and uncultured people, an opinion that survived even into the first century AD, which the apostle Paul seems to be referring to in Colossians 3:11, ‘Here there is no Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, but Christ is all and in all’3.

A slightly cryptic part of Herodotus’ quotation is the word φοιβόλαμπτος phoibolamptos which I have translated as ‘Phoibos-possessed.’ Does it mean that a dream or a vision or some other sort of possession of him by the god Phoibos set Aristeas on his journey and kept him on it? Or does it mean that the entire journey was conducted in a vision of some sort? Both are possible, for there are wild accounts of people ‘astral travelling’ in Classical Greece, and sometimes they report their visions as fact. Without having access to the original it is very hard to surmise what φοιβόλαμπτος might mean.

Of course this causes a problem for a modern person interested in facts - was Aristeas telling a story we might regard as true? Did Aristeas, in saying he was Phoibos-possessed, merely mean to suggest that he had travelled to Scythia whilst in fact it had all happened in some sort of vision? Perhaps Herodotus considers this possibility; I wonder if, in the next passage, he is suggesting that if Aristeas had dreamed or invented the whole thing he would hardly need to make the distinction between going as far as Issedone, and not all the way to where the Arimaspians and the gryphons dwelled?

But this land, concerning which this work has begun to speak; no one can know with any certainty what lies north of it; for I have been able to learn of no reputable scholar who claims to have witnessed it: for not even Aristeus, who, remember, in the previous passage, wrote, “I did not go further than the Issedones in these, my poetic utterances;” he said, ‘reaching,’ but about what lies to he north he said, ‘heard,’ stating that Issedone was what he was actually talking about. But everything that can be said with any precision about the more distant lands that we began to hear about, shall be told.

τῆς δὲ γῆς, τῆς πέρι ὅδε ὁ λόγος ὅρμηται λέγεσθαι, οὐδεὶς οἶδε ἀτρεκέως ὃ τι τὸ κατύπερθε ἐστί: οὐδενὸς γὰρ δὴ αὐτόπτεω εἰδέναι φαμένου δύναμαι πυθέσθαι: οὐδὲ γὰρ οὐδὲ Ἀριστέης, τοῦ περ ὀλίγῳ πρότερον τούτων μνήμην ἐποιεύμην, οὐδὲ οὗτος προσωτέρω Ἰσσηδόνων ἐν αὐτοῖσι τοῖσι ἔπεσι ποιέων ἔφησε ἀπικέσθαι, ἀλλὰ τὰ κατύπερθε ἔλεγε ἀκοῇ, φασ᾽ Ἰσσηδόνας εἶναι τοὺς ταῦτα λέγοντας. [2] ἀλλ᾽ ὅσον μὲν ἡμεῖς ἀτρεκέως ἐπὶ μακρότατον οἷοι τε ἐγενόμεθα ἀκοῇ ἐξικέσθαι, πᾶν εἰρήσεται.

But on the one hand, knowing this, that the Issedonians come down from the north and they say there are one-eyed men and gold-guarding gryphons living there; but from the Scythians we have received this: that the other name the Scythians call themselves is Arimaspians. For Arima means Scythian, and Spia means ‘Eye.’

γινώσκονται μὲν δὴ καὶ οὗτοι, τὸ δὲ ἀπὸ τούτων τὸ κατύπερθε Ἰσσηδόνες εἰσὶ οἱ λέγοντες μουνοφθάλμους ἀνθρώπους καὶ χρυσοφύλακας γρῦπας εἶναι: παρὰ δὲ τούτων Σκύθαι παραλαβόντες λέγουσι, παρὰ δὲ Σκυθέων ἡμεῖς οἱ ἄλλοι νενομίκαμεν καὶ ὀνομάζομεν αὐτοὺς σκυθιστὶ Ἀριμασπούς: ἄριμα γὰρ ἓν καλέουσι Σκύθαι, σποῦ δὲ ὀφθαλμόν.

Herodotus 4.27.1

Stone statues of gryphons and sphinxes were fixtures in a house, and copper gryphon heads in a temple, in the following passages:

For he had in the city of the Borysthenites a large, expensive house, around a courtyard, and what little memory of the front of it I have, there were all around it stone sphinxes and upright gryphons; into this God hurled a missile. It was all completely burned down, not one thing was left standing, because of inferior workmanship when it was made.

ἦν οἱ ἐν Βορυσθενεϊτέων τῇ πόλι οἰκίης μεγάλης καὶ πολυτελέος περιβολή, τῆς καὶ ὀλίγῳ τι πρότερον τούτων μνήμην εἶχον, τὴν πέριξ λευκοῦ λίθου σφίγγες τε καὶ γρῦπες ἕστασαν: ἐς ταύτην ὁ θεὸς ἐνέσκηψε βέλος. καὶ ἣ μὲν κατεκάη πᾶσα, Σκύλης δὲ οὐδὲν τούτου εἵνεκα ἧσσον ἐπετέλεσε τὴν τελετήν.

Herodotus 4.79.2

But the Samians took a tenth of their profits out of the balance and made a copper Argolic cauldron out of it: around it were gryphon heads projecting from it. And this temple they dedicated to Hera, putting upon it three copper Colossus’s, each seven cubits long, propped up on their knees.

οἱ δὲ Σάμιοι τὴν δεκάτην τῶν ἐπικερδίων ἐξελόντες ἓξ τάλαντα ἐποιήσαντο χαλκήιον κρητῆρος Ἀργολικοῦ τρόπον: πέριξ δὲ αὐτοῦ γρυπῶν κεφαλαὶ πρόκροσσοί εἰσι. καὶ ἀνέθηκαν ἐς τὸ Ἥραιον, ὑποστήσαντες αὐτῶ τρεῖς χαλκέους κολοσσοὺς ἑπταπήχεας τοῖσι γούνασι ἐρηρεισμένους.

Herodotus 4.152.4

A sculpted gryphon from the Archaeological Museum in Kos.

Ktesias’ Account of Gryphons, as Reported in Photios' Bibliotheca or Myrobiblion 72, ινδικα4

Here is a wonderful description of gryphons from Photios, an 8th century AD author, in his ‘Bibliotheca or Myrobiblion’, possibly the first book review in history. Photios summarises a vast number of books, and this passage is from Photios’ summary of the books of Ktesias (sometimes spelled Ctesias), another lost author who was writing in the 5th century BC. My source for the Greek was a scan of a nineteenth century book, and I’ve done my best to transcribe the Greek correctly, but I’m pretty sure a few words are wrong. Nonetheless, it seems to make sense.

In all these texts gryphons are accounted to be a very real danger when one is seeking gold.

There is much gold in Indica (India) also, not found much in rivers, except in the Pactolo5 river, but in the mountains there is a very great amount. In these, gryphons live; four footed birds, as big as a fully-grown wolf; legs and claws resembling a lion's; and otherwise their body feathers are very red, but the others, peacock-coloured6. But consider this: there is much gold in this district, but it is hard to come by because of these (creatures).

Ες ι κ'κρυσος έν τη ινδικα χώρα, ωκ έν ποταμόις ευρισκομενος, κ'πλυρομενος, ωςπερ έν τω πακτωλω ποταμώ: αλλ' ορη πολλά ? μεγάλα. έν οίς οικωσι γρυπες, ορνεα τετράποδα, μέγεθος όλον λύκος. σκέλη κ'ονυχες, οιαπζ Λέων. Τα έν τω άλλω σωματιπτερα, μεγάλα ´ερυθρα η τα έν τω σήθει. Δι αυτώς δε, ´ο έν τις ορεσι χρυσός πολύς ων, γίνε' δύσορις ος.7

Strabo’s Geography - Talking About the Black Sea and the Scythians.

Here is Strabo the first century scholar (his Geography was finished during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius) talking about the area surrounding the Black Sea and the great Greek poet Homer’s legendary take on the area, but he doesn’t mention gryphons. He does mention the Scythians however and the old and new names the Greeks had for the Black Sea. Strabo also mentions the stormy winters. And the fact that the Scythians were apparently not very welcoming towards Greeks; or perhaps they were, for when they saw a Greek coming, according to Strabo they thought, ‘here comes dinner.’ ‘Scythian’ became a term in Greek meaning ‘Barbarian.’

But (in Homer) the Scythians are not remembered, but instead he makes up these noble Hippemolgans, and Galactophagi, and Abii - but as for those Paphlagonians in the interior - his reports come from questioning those who approached the areas on foot, but of sea-journeys he is ignorant, and that’s reasonable, for at that time that ocean was unfit for sailing. They called it Axenon (Inhospitable) because of the terrible stormy winters and the savageness of the peoples living around it; worst were the Scythians, sacrificing strangers, eating their flesh and using their skulls as drinking-cups. But lately it was called Euxinon, (Welcoming) when the Ionians peopled the seaboard with cities.

A gryphon fighting an Arimaspian on his horse; from the Louvre.

τι δ Σκυθν μν μ μεμνσθαι, πλάττειν δ γαυούς τινας ππημολγος κα γαλακτοφάγους βίους τε, Παφλαγόνας τε τος ν τ μεσογαί στορηκέναι παρ τν πεζ τος τόποις πλησιασάντων, τν παραλίαν δ γνοεν· κα εκότως γε. πλουν γρ εναι τότε τν θάλατταν ταύτην κα καλεσθαι ξενον δι τ δυσχείμερον κα τν γριότητα τν περιοικούντων θνν κα μάλιστα τν Σκυθικν, ξενοθυτούντων κα σαρκοφαγούντων κα τος κρανίοις κπώμασι χρωμένων· στερον δ’ Εξεινον κεκλσθαι τν ώνων ν τ παραλί πόλεις κτισάντων·

Strabo 7.3.6

Pliny the Elder - The Natural History (Latin)

In ‘The Natural History’ Pliny attempted to summarise the entire body of ancient knowledge at the time he wrote, sometime in the 1st century A.D.; he wrote in Latin, a language I cannot translate reliably. So this is a quote from the translation of John Bostock and H.T.Riley of 1855.


We have already stated, that there are certain tribes of the Scythians, and, indeed, many other nations, which feed upon human flesh.8 This fact itself might, perhaps, appear incredible, did we not recollect, that in the very centre of the earth, in Italy and Sicily, nations formerly existed with these monstrous propensities, the Cyclopes,2 and the Læstrygones, for example; and that, very recently, on the other side of the Alps, it was the custom to offer human sacrifices, after the manner of those nations;3 and the difference is but small between sacrificing human beings and eating them.9

In the vicinity also of those who dwell in the northern re- gions, and not far from the spot from which the north wind arises, and the place which is called its cave,10 and is known by the name of Geskleithron, the Arimaspi are said to exist, whom I have previously mentioned,11 a nation remarkable for having but one eye, and that placed in the middle of the forehead. This race is said to carry on a perpetual warfare with the Griffins, a kind of monster, with wings, as they are commonly12 represented, for the gold which they dig out of the mines, and which these wild beasts retain and keep watch over with a singular degree of cupidity, while the Arimaspi are equally desirous to get possession of it.13Many authors have stated to this effect, among the most illustrious of whom are Herodotus and Aristeas of Proconnesus.14

Beyond the other Scythian Anthropophagi, there is a country called Abarimon, situate in a certain great valley of Mount Imaus,15 the inhabitants of which are a savage race, whose feet are turned backwards,16relatively to their legs: they possess wonderful velocity, and wander about indiscriminately with the wild beasts. We learn from Bæton, whose duty it was to take the measurements of the routes of Alexander the Great, that this people cannot breathe in any climate except their own, for which reason it is impossible to take them before any of the neighbouring kings; nor could any of them be brought before Alexander himself.

The Anthropophagi, whom we have previously mentioned as dwelling ten days' journey beyond the Borysthenes, according to the account of Isigonus of Nicæa, were in the habit of drinking out of human skulls,17 and placing the scalps, with the hair attached, upon their breasts, like so many napkins. The same author relates, that there is, in Albania, a certain race of men, whose eyes are of a sea-green colour, and who have white hair from their earliest childhood,14 and that these people see better in the night than in the day. He states also that the Sauromatæ, who dwell ten days' journey beyond the Borysthenes, only take food every other day.

The Natural History. Pliny the Elder.

The Gryphons in Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius

Philostratus was a follower of Apollonius, a Roman sage or itinerant sect-leader, really, who purported to do miracles and magic and about whom Philostratus recorded certain miracles, prophecies, and dream fulfilments. Philostratus wrote down the following section about gryphons in the part of the book that records Apollonius’ travels in India.

My version of the passage concerning the gryphons’ flight differs from earlier translations - I think I have translated it correctly, and it does seem to make more sense.

And as I was saying, that, working with as many men as they can, they themselves bring the rocks up to daylight. And the pygmies live underground, but they sleep above the course of the Ganges’ where they live, or so people say. But as to the umbrella-footed men or the long-headed ones or the multitude of singing dogs that also live in India, I will write about these things at another time.

But concerning the gryphons that dig up the gold, they go to the rocks to spark them by scratching, following the drops of gold, for the beasts are able to quarry the stone using their bent beaks. For these beasts that live in India are accounted sacred to the sun, yoked four abreast to pull the glory of the sun, as many Indian writings say (or, pictures show), and their strength is depicted as equal to that of the lion, and they depict the greed of these winged creatures in hoarding treasure, and the fact that they are also able to conquer elephants and dragons. They are capable of flight but not a great distance, only in small circles like birds’ flight, before they have their own feathers that they get from their father, and the membranes on their wings are woven in to the red18; when they are being attacked they are flown to (by their father), who encircles them, and lifts them out of the way. But the tiger is the only one they cannot fight, because her swiftness is great; she is a child of the wind.

ὃν δ᾽ ὀρύττουσι χρυσὸν οἱ γρῦπες, πέτραι εἰσὶν οἷον σπινθῆρσιν ἐστιγμέναι ταῖς τοῦ χρυσοῦ ῥανίσιν, ἃς λιθοτομεῖ τὸ θηρίον τοῦτο τῇ τοῦ ῥάμφους ἰσχύι. τὰ γὰρ θηρία ταῦτα εἶναί τε ἐν Ἰνδοῖς καὶ ἱεροὺς νομίζεσθαι τοῦ Ἡλίου τέθριππά τε αὐτῶν ὑποζευγνύναι τοῖς ἀγάλμασι τοὺς τὸν Ἥλιον ἐν Ἰνδοῖς γράφοντας μέγεθός τε καὶ ἀλκὴν εἰκάσθαι αὐτοὺς τοῖς λέουσιν, ὑπὸ δὲ πλεονεξίας τῶν πτερῶν αὐτοῖς τε ἐκείνοις ἐπιτίθεσθαι καὶ τῶν ἐλεφάντων δὲ καὶ δρακόντων ὑπερτέρους εἶναι. πέτονται δὲ οὔπω μέγα, ἀλλ᾽ ὅσον οἱ βραχύποροι ὄρνιθες, μὴ γὰρ ἐπτιλῶσθαι σφᾶς, ὡς ὄρνισι πάτριον, ἀλλ᾽ ὑμέσι τοὺς ταρσοὺς ὑφάνθαι πυρσοῖς, ὡς εἶναι κυκλώσαντας πέτεσθαί τε καὶ ἐκ μετεώρου μάχεσθαι, τὴν τίγριν δὲ αὐτοῖς ἀνάλωτον εἶναι μόνην, ἐπειδὴ τὸ τάχος αὐτὴν ἐσποιεῖ τοῖς ἀνέμοις.

Philostratus the Athenian, Vita Apollonii, book 3 chapter 47-48.

And the following section, in discussing supposed similarities between Ethiopia and India, mentions gryphons and their propensity for guarding gold, once more:

...but cattle and wild beasts, such as you don’t find on the other side, and giant men, not found in other lands; there are Pygmies in these nations and howlers howling, ‘allo! allé!’19 and other wonders. But the gryphons of India and the Ethiopian Murmeekas20, though not alike in their form, are similar, for this reason: their greed. For they guard gold in groups of two, singing of the golden soil of the land with great fondness. But there is no wealth to be had in this line of thought - I will return to the main point, of the man (i.e. Apollonius...)

βόσκουσι δὲ καὶ θηρία, οἷα οὐχ ἑτέρωθι, καὶ ἀνθρώπους μέλανας, ὃ μὴ ἄλλαι ἤπειροι, Πυγμαίων τε ἐν αὐταῖς ἔθνη καὶ ὑλακτούντων ἄλλο ἄλλῃ καὶ ὧδε θαυμαστά. γρῦπες δὲ Ἰνδῶν καὶ μύρμηκες Αἰθιόπων εἰ καὶ ἀνόμοιοι τὴν ἰδέαν εἰσίν, ἀλλ᾽ ὅμοιά γε, ὥς φασι, βούλονται, χρυσοῦ γὰρ φύλακες ἐν ἑκατέρᾳ ᾄδονται τὸ χρυσόγεων τῶν ἠπείρων ἀσπαζόμενοι. ἀλλὰ μὴ πλείω ὑπὲρ τούτων, [p. 205] ὁ δὲ λόγος ἐς τὸ ἑαυτοῦ ἴτω καὶ ἐχώμεθα τοῦ ἀνδρός.

Pausanias’ Gryphons, from A Description of Greece.

Here is another author from the first to the second century - a Roman author writing in Greek, a sort of travelogue of Greece. This is from the passage describing the Parthenon, the great temple to Athena in Athens.

As many as those who are called in to sacrifice the eagles, all on coming into Athena(‘s temple) are given (behold?) her birth, but at the rear, Poseidon is quarrelling with Athena over the earth; and this (statue) is made out of ivory21 (lit. “the glory of the elephant”) and gold. In the middle of her helmet they have a sphinx - but about the sphinx you will be told, indeed, further along I will elucidate - it is the Boethian one - but borne on the two sides of the helmet are gryphons.

These are the gryphons that Aristea of Proconnesios says fight for their gold, or so they say, with the Arimaspeans north of Issedone. This gold that the gryphons guard comes out of the ground, but the Arimaspians are men with one eye from birth; and the gryphons are beasts that look like lions, but have feathers and beak of an eagle. Concerning gryphons, enough said.

ὁπόσα ἐν τοῖς καλουμένοις ἀετοῖς κεῖται, πάντα ἐς τὴν Ἀθηνᾶς ἔχει γένεσιν, τὰ δὲ ὄπισθεν ἡ Ποσειδῶνος πρὸς Ἀθηνᾶν ἐστιν ἔρις ὑπὲρ τῆς γῆς: αὐτὸ δὲ ἔκ τε ἐλέφαντος τὸ ἄγαλμα καὶ χρησμοῦ πεποίηται. μέσῳ μὲν οὖν ἐπίκειταί οἱ τῷ κράνει Σφιγγὸς εἰκών—ἃ δὲ ἐς τὴν Σφίγγα λέγεται, γράψω προελθόντος ἐς τὰ Βοιώτιά μοι τοῦ λόγου—, καθ᾽ ἑκάτερον δὲ τοῦ κράνους γρῦπές εἰσιν ἐπειργασμένοι.

τούτους τοὺς γρῦπας ἐν τοῖς ἔπεσιν Ἀριστέας ὁ Προκοννήσιος μάχεσθαι περὶ τοῦ χρυσοῦ φησιν Ἀριμασποῖς τοῖς ὑπὲρ Ἰσσηδόνων: τὸν δὲ χρυσόν, ὃν φυλάσσουσιν οἱ γρῦπες, ἀνιέναι τὴν γῆν: εἶναι δὲ Ἀριμασποὺς μὲν ἄνδρας μονοφθάλμους πάντας ἐκ γενετῆς, γρῦπας δὲ θηρία λέουσιν εἰκασμένα, πτερὰ δὲ ἔχειν καὶ στόμα ἀετοῦ. καὶ γρυπῶν μὲν πέρι τοσαῦτα εἰρήσθω:

Pausanias. 1.25.5 and 6 Pausaniae Graeciae Descriptio, 3 vols. Leipzig, Teubner. 1903.

The rear pediment of the Parthenon with Athena quarrelling with Poseidon

At the Prasiaian is a temple of Apollo - in there the Hyberboreans offer their first fruits (i.e. of their gold-digging), so they say, but the Hyperboreans hand them over to the Arimaspians, and the Arimaspians to the Issedonians, from them to the Scythians to the Sinopians, but in the end they are carried through Greek to Prasia, but in Athens they are taken into Delon, but there the first fruits is hidden in straw, but no one knows about it. But at Prasia there is a memorial to Erusichthenus, who died coming out of Delos, after that sea voyage.

[2] ἐν δὲ Πρασιεῦσιν Ἀπόλλωνός ἐστι ναός: ἐνταῦθα τὰς Ὑπερβορέων ἀπαρχὰς ἰέναι λέγεται, παραδιδόναι δὲ αὐτὰς Ὑπερβορέους μὲν Ἀριμασποῖς, Ἀριμασποὺς δ᾽ Ἰσσηδόσι, παρὰ δὲ τούτων Σκύθας ἐς Σινώπην κομίζειν, ἐντεῦθεν δὲ φέρεσθαι διὰ Ἑλλήνων ἐς Πρασιάς, Ἀθηναίους δὲ εἶναι τοὺς ἐς Δῆλον ἄγοντας: τὰς δὲ ἀπαρχὰς κεκρύφθαι μὲν ἐν καλάμῃ πυρῶν, γινώσκεσθαι δὲ ὑπ᾽ οὐδένων. ἔστι δὲ μνῆμα ἐπὶ Πρασιαῖς Ἐρυσίχθονος, ὡς ἐκομίζετο ὀπίσω μετὰ τὴν θεωρίαν ἐκ Δήλου, γενομένης οἱ κατὰ τὸν πλοῦν τῆς τελευτῆς.

Pausanias. Pausaniae Graeciae Descriptio, 3 vols. Leipzig, Teubner. 1903.

In this next section Pausanias seems to express some scepticism about the gryphon having spots like a leopard! This may seem a little humourous - because he certainly doesn’t doubt the existence of gryphons - that is, we would find it humourous if we didn’t believe that gryphons exist. It’s not funny at all.

But it is also said that Niobe on mount Sipylo weeps aloud at the coming of summer. But then again I have also heard that gryphons have spots like the leopard, and that the Tritons utter sounds like a human voice. But some also say they blow through a conch-shell which has holes bored in it. But as much as they take pleasure in hearing invented stories, they expand the marvel themselves, and so they maltreat the truth, mixing it up together with lies. PAUSANIAS Paus. 8.2.7

[7] ὡσαύτως δὲ καὶ Νιόβην λέγουσιν ἐν Σιπύλῳ τῷ ὄρει θέρους ὥρᾳ κλαίειν. ἤδη δὲ καὶ ἄλλα ἤκουσα, τοῖς γρυψὶ στίγματα ὁποῖα καὶ ταῖς παρδάλεσιν εἶναι, καὶ ὡς οἱ Τρίτωνες ἀνθρώπου φωνῇ φθέγγοιντο: οἱ δὲ καὶ φυσᾶν διὰ κόχλου τετρυπημένης φασὶν αὐτούς. ὁπόσοι δὲ μυθολογήμασιν ἀκούοντες ἥδονται, πεφύκασι καὶ αὐτοί τι ἐπιτερατεύεσθαι: καὶ οὕτω τοῖς ἀληθέσιν ἐλυμήναντο, συγκεραννύντες αὐτὰ ἐψευσμένοις. Pausanias. Pausaniae Graeciae Descriptio, 3 vols. Leipzig, Teubner. 1903.

Apuleius’ Golden Ass

This is a section from the Golden Ass, otherwise known as The Metamorphoses, by Apuleius, perhaps the earliest surviving novel, written about 150-180 AD. Apuleius’ fictional story is is written from the point of view of a main character who goes to a town where the people all practice magic. On seeing the wife of his master transformed into a bird, he tries to do the magic himself to turn himsefl into a bird and accidentally gets turned into an Ass. The rest of the story comprises his adventures as he tries to find the correct magic turn himself back into a human. Interestingly, St. Augustine mocked this book mercilessly (perhaps because it was a large part of Augustine’s pagan education, because he studied in M'Daourouch in Algeria, Apuleius’ home town) Despite this, apparently the form of his Confessions is modelled upon it. C.S. Lewis’ book Till We Have Faces, one of his most excellent books, is a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth, which is told in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses.

But enough digressions - back to gryphons. The following section is from Chapter Eleven, the final section of the story, and describes the ceremonies in the temple of Isis where he is finally turned back into a human. It is from the Loeb translation, available on, which is based on the version by William Adlington (1566) by Stephen Gaselee.

When morning came and that the solemnities were finished, I came forth sanctified with twelve stoles and in a religious habit, whereof I am not forbidden to speak, considering that many persons saw me at that time. There I was commanded to stand upon a pulpit of wood which stood in the middle of the temple, before the figure and remembrance of the goddess; my vestment was of fine linen, covered and embroidered with flowers ; I had a precious cope upon my shoulders, hanging down behind me to the ground, whereon were beasts, wrought of divers colours, as Indian dragons, and Hyperborean griffins, whom in form of birds the other part of the world doth engender : the priests commonly call such a habit an Olympian stole.

Apuleius The Golden Ass

Here is another, more modern translation of the same section.

...An expensive cloak hung down my back from my shoulders all the way down to my heels. Moreover, from whichever direction you looked I was conspicuously marked all round with varicolored animals: on one side were Indian dragons and on the other Hyperborean gryphons which look like winged birds and are produced in another world. Initiates call this garment the Olympian stole.

Aspects of Apuleius' Golden Ass: Volume III: the Isis Book. A Collection of Original Papers, edited by W.H. Keulen, Ulrike Egelhaaf-Gaiser, from the essay by Ellen Finkelpearl p. 192

And here is the original Latin:

Namque in ipso aedis sacrae meditullio ante deae simulacrum constitutum tribunal ligneum iussus superstiti byssina quidem sed floride depicta veste conspicuus. Et umeris dependebat pone tergum talorum tenus pretiosa chlamida. Quaqua tamen viseres, colore vario circumnotatis insignibar animalibus; hinc dracones Indici, inde grypes Hyperborei, quos in speciem pinnatae alitis generat mundus alter. Hanc Olympiacam stolam sacrati nuncupant.

The Metamorphoses is a novel, and a certain amount of poetic license is doubtless intended. Nevertheless the idea that the gryphons are produced in another world, the second translation, is rather evocative, although I expect that in ancient times where people didn’t really travel out of their own country much, there wasn’t really much difference between another part of the world and another world.

Aelian’s Detailed Description of Gryphons and Gold Hunters

Aelian was a writer in the second century A.D., a student of Pausanias, actually, whose gryphon passage from ‘A Description of Greece’ was quoted earlier. Aelian’s ‘Of the Nature of Animals’ is an extensive collection of anecdotes and facts about animals from the second century. In book 1 he wrote this vivid description of the habits and appearance of gryphons and the people who hunt for their gold.

The gryphon, I hear, of the creatures of India, is four-footed like a lion, but he has extremely strong claws, and these are indeed comparable with the lion’s: but he has feathers, apparently - and of those the feathers of his spine are coloured black as a crow’s; but the front are red, they say, these, at least; with wings that are not that the same as either, but white. But Ktesias records that his throat is adorned in feathers of a beautiful blue22. But on his head he has the beak of an eagle that executes23 scratches, really terrible ones. His eyes, he says, they are aflame. And they make their nests upon the mountains, and though the fully-grown can’t be captured, the young are taken. And the Bactrioi, who are neighbours of the Indians, say they are guarding their gold on that place, and begin digging where there are signs of it, and out of it they weave their nests, but any run-off the Indians seize. But the Indians do not say they are guarding, as was said beforehand: for gryphons do not want for gold and what they’re saying, I expect that I believe. But upon the same subject, of them being afraid of the heaps of gold being reached, they say that they are afraid for their own young and fight for this reason. And knowing this, both of them keep their strength ready for fighting other creatures, but will not go against lions or elephants. But fearing these beasts‘ strength the people of that place make ready by day to get the gold, but at night they come: for they are more able to escape the trap then. But that place, where the gryphons cry out and where the gold is, is a desert, a place of terror. But in order to get there you must go through the forests as I said beforehand, and there are thousands of them, large, tall hunters. And they bring fur sacks, and begin digging when they see it is a moonless night. For is it not so if they escape the gryphons they get double the advantage: on the one hand being saved and on the other hand of bringing home their prize, and having ‘cleaned out’ they learn the wisdom of the goldsmith in order to secure their own fortune without the hazard of going out as I said beforehand: for if caught in the act, they are killed. But in all they return to their houses and begin learning the trade after about three or four years.

τὸν γρῦπα ἀκούω τὸ ζῷον τὸ Ἰνδικὸν τετράπουν εἶναι κατὰ τοὺς λέοντας, καὶ ἔχειν ὄνυχας καρτεροὺς ὡς ὅτι μάλιστα, καὶ τούτους μέντοι τοῖς τῶν λεόντων παραπλησίους: κατάπτερον δὲ εἶναι, καὶ τῶν μὲν νωτιαίων πτερῶν τὴν χρόαν μέλαιναν ᾄδουσι, [p. 91] τὰ δὲ πρόσθια ἐρυθρά φασι, τάς γε μὴν πτέρυγας αὐτὰς οὐκέτι τοιαύτας, ἀλλὰ λευκάς. τὴν δέρην δὲ αὐτῶν κυανοῖς διηνθίσθαι τοῖς πτεροῖς Κτησίας ἱστορεῖ, στόμα δὲ ἔχειν ἀετῶδες καὶ τὴν κεφαλὴν ὁποίαν οἱ χειρουργοῦντες γράφουσί τε καὶ πλάττουσι. φλογώδεις δὲ τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς φησιν αὐτοῦ. νεοττιὰς δὲ ἐπὶ τῶν ὀρῶν ποιεῖται, καὶ τέλειον μὲν λαβεῖν ἀδύνατόν ἐστι, νεοττοὺς δὲ αἱροῦσι. καὶ Βάκτριοι μὲν γειτνιῶντες Ἰνδοῖς λέγουσιν αὐτοὺς φύλακας εἶναι τοῦ χρυσοῦ τοῦ αὐτόθι, καὶ ὀρύττειν τε αὐτόν φασιν αὐτοὺς καὶ ἐκ τούτου τὰς καλιὰς ὑποπλέκειν, τὸ δὲ ἀπορρέον Ἰνδοὺς λαμβάνειν. Ἰνδοὶ δὲ οὔ φασιν αὐτοὺς φρουροὺς εἶναι τοῦ προειρημένου: μηδὲ γὰρ δεῖσθαι χρυσίου γρῦπας ῾καὶ ταῦτα εἰ λέγουσι, πιστὰ ἔμοιγε δοκοῦσι λέγειν᾽: ἀλλὰ αὐτοὺς μὲν ἐπὶ τὴν τοῦ χρυσίου ἄθροισιν ἀφικνεῖσθαι, τοὺς δὲ ὑπέρ τε τῶν σφετέρων βρεφῶν δεδιέναι καὶ τοῖς ἐπιοῦσι μάχεσθαι. καὶ διαγωνίζεσθαι μὲν πρὸς τὰ ἄλλα ζῷα καὶ κρατεῖν ῥᾷστα, λέοντι δὲ μὴ ἀνθίστασθαι μηδὲ ἐλέφαντι. δεδιότες δὲ ἄρα τὴν τῶνδε τῶν θηρίων ἀλκὴν οἱ ἐπιχώριοι, μεθ᾽ ἡμέραν ἐπὶ τὸν χρυσὸν οὐ στέλλονται, νύκτωρ δὲ ἔρχονται: ἐοίκασι γὰρ τηνικάδε τοῦ καιροῦ λανθάνειν μᾶλλον. ὁ δὲ χῶρος οὗτος, ἔνθα οἵ τε γρῦπες διαιτῶνται καὶ τὰ χρυσεῖά ἐστιν, ἔρημος πέφυκε δεινῶς. ἀφικνοῦνται δὲ οἱ τῆς ὕλης τῆς προειρημένης θηραταὶ κατὰ χιλίους τε καὶ δὶς τοσούτους ὡπλισμένοι, καὶ ἄμας κομίζουσι σάκκους τε, καὶ ὀρύττουσιν ἀσέληνον ἐπιτηροῦντες νύκτα. ἐὰν μὲν οὖν λάθωσι τοὺς γρῦπας, ὤνηνται διπλῆν τὴν ὄνησιν: καὶ γὰρ σώζονται καὶ μέντοι καὶ οἴκαδε τὸν φόρτον κομίζουσι, καὶ ἐκκαθήραντες οἱ μαθόντες χρυσοχοεῖν σοφίᾳ τινὶ σφετέρᾳ πάμπολυν [p. 92] πλοῦτον ὑπὲρ τῶν κινδύνων ἔχουσι τῶν προειρημένων: ἐὰν δὲ κατάφωροι γένωνται, ἀπολώλασιν. ἐπανέρχονται δὲ ἐς τὰ οἰκεῖα ὡς πυνθάνομαι δι᾽ ἔτους τρίτου καὶ τετάρτου.

Claudii Aeliani de natura animalium libri xvii, varia historia, epistolae, fragmenta, Vol 1. Aelian. Rudolf Hercher. In Aedibus B.G. Teubneri. Lipsiae. 1864.

In an interesting aside; in another passage Aelian mentions a flying pig:

The successful artists with nimble fingers always portray the sphinx with wings, when they sculpt them. But I hear that in Klazomenon there was a winged pig, which was causing damage all over Klazomenon, at least that's what Artemon said in 'Klazomenon, the Sights'. From then on it was called 'Place of the Flying Pig', so it was named, and it was celebrated! But if that turns out to be a myth, as I expect, I myself am writing about animals and it would vex me not to include the anecdote.24

τὴν σφίγγα ὑπόπτερον γράφουσί τε καὶ πλάττουσι πᾶν ὅσον περὶ χειρουργίαν σπουδαῖον καὶ πεπονημένον. ἀκούω δὲ καὶ ἐν Κλαζομεναῖς σῦν γενέσθαι πτηνόν, ἥπερ οὖν ἐλυμαίνετο τὴν χώραν τὴν Κλαζομενίαν: καὶ λέγει τοῦτο Ἀρτέμων ἐν τοῖς Ὅροις τοῖς Κλαζομενίων. ἔνθεν τοι καὶ χῶρος ἐκεῖ κέκληται ὑὸς πτερωτῆς ὀνομαζόμενός τε καὶ ᾀδόμενος. τοῦτο δὲ εἴ τῳ δοκεῖ μῦθος εἶναι, δοκείτω, ἐμὲ δ᾽ οὖν περὶ ζῴου λεχθὲν καὶ μὴ λαθὸν οὐκ ἐλύπησεν εἰρημένον.

Perhaps this was the origin of the saying in English, “Pigs might fly.”

What is rather interesting about this passage, of course, is that while Aelian often puts a little aside in saying that an anecdote might be myth when it seems to strain his credibility, but Aelian doesn’t use this phrase in the passage about gryphons...

Nonnus’ Gryphons - from Dionysica book 48

Nonnus’ Dionysica is a strange, riotous, chaotic, baroque account of the life of the Greek god of wine and revelry, Dionysius (Roman Bacchus), written as a heroic ode in Homeric Greek, written in the fifth century AD when Homer’s tongue was extremely archaic and the Graeco-Roman world was firmly Christian. There is something desperate and overblown about Nonnus’ writing as if he wants to be a pagan when paganism is dying but can’t quite manage it wholeheartedly. (To illustrate how bizarre it gets - it has women shooting missiles from their breasts (!) Perhaps Nonnus was the Mike Myers of his days, and Dionysica was the contemporary equivalent of the Austin Powers movies...) Even stranger: Nonnus also wrote a theological paraphrase of John’s gospel, also in Homeric Greek - scholars have often said that he wrote that after he became a Christian, but really no one knows anything about him beyond the fact that he wrote these two works.

This is a section where Artemis goes to ask Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance, to avenge her honour, after her maid Aura mocks her as she gets out of the river after bathing:

But she took her plea to Nemesis: she found the girl in Tauron’s highest clouds, saw her beside neighbour Kudros, having ended Typhanius’ haughty, bragging threats. And self-turning wheels went around the queen’s feet signifying that all torn-footed heroines go on high into the light of her righteousness to punish those around them, all-taming goddess, life constantly turning and moving around about her! But on both sides flying hither and thither about her throne horned avengers (lit. escapist-tearers), winged gryphons, with four feet lightly quivering, flying bearers of the message-bringing gods. And going out to the four quarters of the gods’ dominion, their dwelling-places of the world, to men, who are not to be loosed, who are bound fast, bridled to the bit, that is the meaning of the sign, to be whipped for their badness, by her whose self-turning wheel turns against heroic man.

νέμεσιν δὲ μετήιεν: εὗρε δὲ κούρην

ὑψινεφῆ παρὰ Ταῦρον, ὅπῃ παρὰ γείτονι Κύδνῳ

παῦσε Τυφαονίης ὑψαύχενα κόμπον ἀπειλῆς:

καὶ τροχὸς αὐτοκύλιστος ἔην παρὰ ποσσὶν ἀνάσσης

σημαίνων, ὅτι πάντας ἀγήνορας εἰς πέδον ἕλκει

ὑψόθεν εἰλυφόωσα δίκης ποινήτορι κύκλῳ,

δαίμων πανδαμάτειρα, βίου στρωφῶσα πορείην: [p. 452]

ἀμφὶ δέ οἱ πεπότητο παρὰ θρόνον ὄρνις ἀλάοτωρ,

γρὺψ πτερόεις, πισύρων δὲ ποδῶν κουφίζετο παλμῷ

δαίμονος ἱπταμένης αὐτάγγελος, ὅττι καὶ αὐτὴ


τέτραχα μοιρηθέντα διέρχεται ἕδρανα κόσμου:

ἀνέρας ὑψιλόφους ἀλύτῳ σφίγγουσα χαλινῷ,

ἀντίτυπον μίμημα, καὶ ὡς κακότητος ἱμάσθλῃ,

ὡς τροχὸν αὐτοκύλιστον, ἀγήνορα φῶτα κυλίνδει.

Nonnus Dionysica

Here is a later section that mentions gryphons as well - when Nemesis is hunting Aura down in order to avenge Artemis.

With the same zeal the virgin Adresteia (i.e., Nemesis) went after her intransigent enemy Aura, racing-gryphons yoked to her chariot; and with fleet pattering feet through the air keenly went the two-seater, and, holding fast to the race over the peaks of Sipulo, she landed in front of the daughter of Tantalus, stony-eyed before her face, the flying four-footed bent-beaks bound fast, bridled to the bit.

ὁμοζήλῳ πορείῃ

παρθένος Ἀδρήστεια μετήιε δύσμαχον Αὔρην,

γρῦπας ἁμιλλητῆρας ὑποζεύξασα χαλινῷ:

καὶ ταχινὴ πεφόρητο δι᾽ ἠέρος ὀξέι δίφρῳ,

καὶ δρόμον ἐστήριξεν ὑπὲρ Σιπύλοιο καρήνων

Τανταλίδος προπάροιθε λιθογλήνοιο προσώπου,

πτηνῶν τετραπόδων σκολιοὺς σφίγγουσα χαλινούς.

Corinthian oinochoe scale decor 630 BC Staatliche Antikensammlungen - the wings in this case resemble the Scythian gryphon's neck frills.

A Comment on Adrienne Mayor

Adrienne Mayor’s book “The First Fossil Hunters” is an outstanding piece of detective work, and well worth reading if you are interested in gryphons. In it she makes a very credible case for the stories of gryphons in the area north of the Black Sea being an early example of reasoning from fossil records - and she demonstrates convincingly that the Scythian gryphon tattoos resemble dinosaur skeletons of Protoceratops - indeed, as artistic representations of gryphons get closer to this area, they more closely resemble the Protoceratops.

In fact, she is not the first person to suggest that Gryphon-related legends might be based upon fossils. In 1902 Henry Yule and Henri Cordier in a very extended footnote in "The Travels of Marco Polo" volume 2 suggested that legends of the Roc might based on fossils of the Aepyornis (Elephant-bird) a large flightless bird that inhabited Madagascar:

The Simurgh on the wall of church Samtavisi. A Simurgh is a kind of bird, in the mythology of Persia, Armenia, Turkey, and areas covered by the Byzantine Empire, perhaps the equivalent of the Roc or Rukh - this one certainly looks like a gryphon.

NOTE 5.-The fable of the RUKH was old and widely spread, like that of the Male and Female Islands, and, just as in that case, one accidental circumstance or another would give it a local habitation, now here now there. The Garuda of the Hindus, the Simurgh of the old Persians, the 'Angka of the Arabs, the Bar Yuchre of the Rabbinical legends, the Gryps of the Greeks, were probably all versions of the same original fable.

Bochart quotes a bitter Arabic proverb which says, "Good-Faith, the Ghul, and the Gryphon ('Angka) are three names of things that exist nowhere." And Mas'udi, after having said that whatever country he visited he always found that the people believed these monstrous creatures to exist in regions as remote as possible from their own, observes: "It is not that our reason absolutely rejects the possibility of the existence of the Nesnás (see vol. i. p. 206) or of the 'Angka, and other beings of that rare and wondrous order; for there is nothing in their existence incompatible with the Divine Power; but we decline to believe in them because their existence has not been manifested to us on any irrefragable authority."

The circumstance which for the time localized the Rukh in the direction of Madagascar was perhaps some rumour of the great fossil Aepyornis and its colossal eggs, found in that island. According to Geoffroy St. Hilaire, the Malagashes assert that the bird which laid those great eggs still exists, that it has an immense power of flight, and preys upon the greater quadrupeds. Indeed the continued existence of the bird has been alleged as late as 1861 and 1863! On the great map of Fra Mauro (1459) near the extreme point of Africa which he calls Cavo de Diab, and which is suggestive of the Cape of Good Hope, but was really perhaps Cape Corrientes, there is a rubric inscribed with the following remarkable story: "About the year of Our Lord 1420 a ship or junk of India in crossing the Indian Sea was driven by way of the Islands of Men and Women beyond the Cape of Diab, and carried between the Green Islands and the Darkness in a westerly and south-westerly direction for 40 days, without seeing anything but sky and sea, during which time they made to the best of their judgment 2000 miles. The gale then ceasing they turned back, and were seventy days in getting to the aforesaid Cape Diab. The ship having touched on the coast to supply its wants, the mariners beheld there the egg of a certain bird called Chrocho, which egg was as big as a butt. And the bigness of the bird is such that between the extremities of the wings is said to be 60 paces. They say too that it carries away an elephant or any other great animal with the greatest ease, and does great injury to the inhabitants of the country, and is most rapid in its flight."

G.-St. Hilaire considered the Aepyornis to be of the Ostrich family; Prince C. Buonaparte classed it with the Inepti or Dodos; Duvernay of Valenciennes with aquatic birds! There was clearly therefore room for difference of opinion, and Professor Bianconi of Bologna, who has written much on the subject, concludes that it was most probably a bird of the vulture family. This would go far, he urges, to justify Polo's account of the Ruc as a bird of prey, though the story of it's lifting any large animal could have had no foundation, as the feet of the vulture kind are unfit for such efforts. Humboldt describes the habit of the condor of the Andes as that of worrying, wearying, and frightening its four-footed prey until it drops; sometimes the condor drives its victim over a precipice.

Bianconi concludes that on the same scale of proportion as the condor's, the great quills of the Aepyornis would be about 10 feet long, and the spread of the wings about 32 feet, whilst the height of the bird would be at least four times that of the condor. These are indeed little more than conjectures. And I must add that in Professor Owen's opinion there is no reasonable doubt that the Aepyornis was a bird allied to the Ostriches.

We gave, in the first edition of this work, a drawing of the great Aepyornis egg in the British Museum of its true size, as the nearest approach we could make to an illustration of the Rukh from nature. The actual contents of this egg will be about 2.35 gallons, which may be compared with Fra Mauro's anfora! Except in this matter of size, his story of the ship and the egg may be true. A passage from Temple's Travels in Peru has been quoted as exhibiting exaggeration in the description of the condor surpassing anything that can be laid to Polo's charge here; but that is, in fact, only somewhat heavy banter directed against our traveller's own narrative. (See Travels in Various Parts of Peru, 1830, II. 414-417.)

Recently fossil bones have been found in New Zealand, which seem to bring us a step nearer to the realization of the Rukh. Dr. Haast discovered in a swamp at Glenmark in the province of Otago, along with remains of the Dinornis or Moa, some bones (femur, ungual phalanges, and rib) of a gigantic bird which he pronounces to be a bird of prey, apparently allied to the Harriers, and calls Harpagornis. He supposes it to have preyed upon the Moa, and as that fowl is calculated to have been 10 feet and upwards in height, we are not so very far from the elephant-devouring Rukh. (See Comptes Rendus, Ac. des Sciences 1872, p. 1782; and Ibis, October 1872, p. 433.) This discovery may possibly throw a new light on the traditions of the New Zealanders. For Professor Owen, in first describing the Dinornis in 1839, mentioned that the natives had a tradition that the bones belonged to a bird of the eagle kind. (See Eng. Cyc. Nat. Hist. sub. v. Dinornis.) And Sir Geo. Grey appears to have read a paper, 23rd October 1872,[4] which was the description by a Maori of the Hokiol, an extinct gigantic bird of prey of which that people have traditions come down from their ancestors, said to have been a black hawk of great size, as large as the Moa.

I have to thank Mr. Arthur Grote for a few words more on that most interesting subject, the discovery of a real fossil Ruc in New Zealand. He informs me (under date 4th December 1874) that Professor Owen is now working on the huge bones sent home by Dr. Haast, "and is convinced that they belonged to a bird of prey, probably (as Dr. Haast suggested) a Harrier, double the weight of the Moa, and quite capable therefore of preying on the young of that species. Indeed, he is disposed to attribute the extinction of the Harpagornis to that of the Moa, which was the only victim in the country which could supply it with a sufficiency of food."

One is tempted to add that if the Moa or Dinornis of New Zealand had its Harpagornis scourge, the still greater Aepyornis of Madagascar may have had a proportionate tyrant, whose bones (and quills ?) time may bring to light. And the description given by Sir Douglas Forsyth on page 542, of the action of the Golden Eagle of Kashgar in dealing with a wild boar, illustrates how such a bird as our imagined Harpagornis Aepyornithon might master the larger pachydermata, even the elephant himself, without having to treat him precisely as the Persian drawing at p. 415 represents.

Sindbad's adventures with the Rukh are too well known for quotation. A variety of stories of the same tenor hitherto unpublished, have been collected by M. Marcel Devic from an Arabic work of the 10th century on the "Marvels of Hind," by an author who professes only to repeat the narratives of merchants and mariners whom he had questioned. A specimen of these will be found under Note 6. The story takes a peculiar form in the Travels of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela. He heard that when ships were in danger of being lost in the stormy sea that led to China the sailors were wont to sew themselves up in hides, and so when cast upon the surface they were snatched up by great eagles called gryphons, which carried their supposed prey ashore, etc. It is curious that this very story occurs in a Latin poem stated to be at least as old as the beginning of the 13th century, which relates the romantic adventures of a certain Duke Ernest of Bavaria; whilst the story embodies more than one other adventure belonging to the History of Sindbad.[5] The Duke and his comrades, navigating in some unknown ramification of the Euxine, fall within the fatal attraction of the Magnet Mountain. Hurried by this augmenting force, their ship is described as crashing through the rotten forest of masts already drawn to their doom:-

"Et ferit impulsus majoris verbere montem Quam si diplosas impingat machina turres."

There they starve, and the dead are deposited on the lofty poop to be carried away by the daily visits of the gryphons:-

-"Quae grifae membra leonis Et pennas aquilae simulantes unguibus atris Tollentes miseranda suis dant prandia pullis."

When only the Duke and six others survive, the wisest of the party suggests the scheme which Rabbi Benjamin has related:-

-"Quaeramus tergora, et armis Vestiti prius, optatis volvamur in illis, Ut nos tollentes mentita cadavera Grifae Pullis objiciant, a queis facientibus armis Et cute dissutâ, nos, si volet, Ille Deorum Optimus eripiet." Which scheme is successfully carried out. The wanderers then make a raft on which they embark on a river which plunges into a cavern in the heart of a mountain; and after a time they emerge in the country of Arimaspia inhabited by the Cyclopes; and so on. The Gryphon story also appears in the romance of Huon de Bordeaux, as well as in the tale called 'Hasan of el-Basrah' in Lane's Version of the Arabian Nights.

It is in the China Seas that Ibn Batuta beheld the Rukh, first like a mountain in the sea where no mountain should be, and then "when the sun rose," says he, "we saw the mountain aloft in the air, and the clear sky between it and the sea. We were in astonishment at this, and I observed that the sailors were weeping and bidding each other adieu, so I called out, 'What is the matter?' They replied, 'What we took for a mountain is "the Rukh." If it sees us, it will send us to destruction.' It was then some 10 miles from the junk. But God Almighty was gracious unto us, and sent us a fair wind, which turned us from the direction in which the Rukh was; so we did not see him well enough to take cognizance of his real shape." In this story we have evidently a case of abnormal refraction, causing an island to appear suspended in the air.[6] The Archipelago was perhaps the legitimate habitat of the Rukh, before circumstances localised it in the direction of Madagascar. In the Indian Sea, says Kazwini, is a bird of size so vast that when it is dead men take the half of its bill and make a ship of it! And there too Pigafetta heard of this bird, under its Hindu name of Garuda, so big that it could fly away with an elephant.[7] Kazwini also says that the 'Angka carries off an elephant as a hawk flies off with a mouse; his flight is like the loud thunder. Whilom he dwelt near the haunts of men, and wrought them great mischief. But once on a time it had carried off a bride in her bridal array, and Hamd Allah, the Prophet of those days, invoked a curse upon the bird. Wherefore the Lord banished it to an inaccessible Island in the Encircling Ocean.

The Simurgh or 'Angka, dwelling behind veils of Light and Darkness on the inaccessible summits of Caucasus, is in Persian mysticism an emblem of the Almighty.

In Northern Siberia the people have a firm belief in the former existence of birds of colossal size, suggested apparently by the fossil bones of great pachyderms which are so abundant there. And the compressed sabre-like horns of Rhinoceros tichorinus are constantly called, even by Russian merchants, birds' claws. Some of the native tribes fancy the vaulted skull of the same rhinoceros to be the bird's head, and the leg-bones of other pachyderms to be its quills; and they relate that their forefathers used to fight wonderful battles with this bird. Erman ingeniously suggests that the Herodotean story of the Gryphons, from under which the Arimaspians drew their gold, grew out of the legends about these fossils.

I may add that the name of our rook in chess is taken from that of this same bird; though first perverted from (Sansk.) rath, a chariot.

Some Eastern authors make the Rukh an enormous beast instead of a bird. (See J.R.A.S. XIII. 64, and Elliot, II. 203.) A Spanish author of the 16th century seems to take the same view of the Gryphon, but he is prudently vague in describing it, which he does among the animals of Africa: "The Grifo which some call CAMELLO PARDAL ... is called by the Arabs Yfrit(!), and is made just in that fashion in which we see it painted in pictures." (Marmol, Descripcion General de Africa, Granada, 1573, I. f. 30.) The Zorafa is described as a different beast, which it certainly is!

(Bochart, Hierozoica, II. 852 seqq.; Mas'udi, IV. 16; Mem. dell' Acad. dell' Instit. di Bologna, III. 174 seqq., V. 112 seqq.; Zurla on Fra Mauro, p. 62; Lane's Arabian Nights, Notes on Sindbad; Benj. of Tudela, p. 117; De Varia Fortuna Ernesti Bavariae Ducis, in Thesaurus Novus Anecdotorum of Martene and Durand, vol. III. col. 353 seqq.; I.B. IV. 305; Gildem. p. 220; Pigafetta, p. 174; Major's Prince Henry, p. 311; Erman, II. 88; Garcin de Tassy, La Poésie philos. etc., chez les Persans, 30 seqq.)

[In a letter to Sir Henry Yule, dated 24th March 1887, Sir (then Dr.) John Kirk writes: "I was speaking with the present Sultan of Zanzibar, Seyyed Barghash, about the great bird which the natives say exists, and in doing so I laughed at the idea. His Highness turned serious and said that indeed he believed it to be quite true that a great bird visited the Udoe country, and that it caused a great shadow to fall upon the country; he added that it let fall at times large rocks. Of course he did not pretend to know these things from his own experience, for he has never been inland, but he considered he had ample grounds to believe these stones from what he had been told of those who travelled. The Udoe country lies north of the River Wami opposite the island of Zanzibar and about two days going inland. The people are jealous of strangers and practise cannibalism in war. They are therefore little visited, and although near the coast we know little of them. The only members of their tribe I have known have been converted to Islam, and not disposed to say much of their native customs, being ashamed of them, while secretly still believing in them. The only thing I noticed was an idea that the tribe came originally from the West, from about Manyema; now the people of that part are cannibals, and cannibalism is almost unknown except among the Wadoe, nearer the east coast. It is also singular that the other story of a gigantic bird comes from near Manyema and that the whalebone that was passed off at Zanzibar as the wing of a bird, came, they said, from Tanganyika. As to rocks falling in East Africa, I think their idea might easily arise from the fall of meteoric stones."]

[M. Alfred Grandidier (Hist. de la Géog. de Madagascar, p. 31) thinks that the Rukh is but an image; it is a personification of water-spouts, cyclones, and typhoons.-H.C.]

NOTE 6.-Sir Thomas Brown says that if any man will say he desires before belief to behold such a creature as is the Rukh in Paulus Venetus, for his own part he will not be angry with his incredulity. But M. Pauthier is of more liberal belief; for he considers that, after all, the dimensions which Marco assigns to the wings and quills of the Rukh are not so extravagant that we should refuse to admit their possibility.

Ludolf will furnish him with corroborative evidence, that of Padre Bolivar, a Jesuit, as communicated to Thévenot; the assigned position will suit well enough with Marco's report: "The bird condor differs in size in different parts of the world. The greater species was seen by many of the Portuguese in their expedition against the Kingdoms of Sofala and Cuama and the Land of the Caffres from Monomotapa to the Kingdom of Angola and the Mountains of Teroa. In some countries I have myself seen the wing-feathers of that enormous fowl, although the bird itself I never beheld. The feather in question, as could be deduced from its form, was one of the middle ones, and it was 28 palms in length and three in breadth. The quill part, from the root to the extremity, was five palms in length, of the thickness of an average man's arm, and of extreme strength and hardness. [M. Alfred Grandidier (Hist. de la Géog. de Madagascar, p. 25) thinks that the quill part of this feather was one of the bamboo shoots formerly brought to Yemen to be used as water-jars and called there feathers of Rukh, the Arabs looking upon these bamboo shoots as the quill part of the feathers of the Rukh.-H.C.] The fibres of the feather were equal in length and closely fitted, so that they could scarcely be parted without some exertion of force; and they were jet black, whilst the quill part was white. Those who had seen the bird stated that it was bigger than the bulk of a couple of elephants, and that hitherto nobody had succeeded in killing one. It rises to the clouds with such extraordinary swiftness that it seems scarcely to stir its wings. In form it is like an eagle. But although its size and swiftness are so extraordinary, it has much trouble in procuring food, on account of the density of the forests with which all that region is clothed. Its own dwelling is in cold and desolate tracts such as the Mountains of Teroa, i.e. of the Moon; and in the valleys of that range it shows itself at certain periods. Its black feathers are held in very high estimation, and it is with the greatest difficulty that one can be got from the natives, for one such serves to fan ten people, and to keep off the terrible heat from them, as well as the wasps and flies" (Ludolf, Hist. Aethiop. Comment, p. 164.)

Abu Mahomed, of Spain, relates that a merchant arrived in Barbary who had lived long among the Chinese. He had with him the quill of a chick Rukh, and this held nine skins of water. He related the story of how he came by this,-a story nearly the same as one of Sindbad's about the Rukh's egg. (Bochart, II. 854.) Another story of a seaman wrecked on the coast of Africa is among those collected by M. Marcel Devic. By a hut that stood in the middle of a field of rice and durra there was a trough. "A man came up leading a pair of oxen, laden with 12 skins of water, and emptied these into the trough. I drew near to drink, and found the trough to be polished like a steel blade, quite different from either glass or pottery. 'It is the hollow of a quill,' said the man. I would not believe a word of the sort, until, after rubbing it inside and outside, I found it to be transparent, and to retain the traces of the barbs." (Comptes Rendus, etc., ut supra; and Livre des Merveilles de L'Inde, p. 99.) Fr. Jordanus also says: "In this India Tertia (Eastern Africa) are certain birds which are called Roc, so big that they easily carry an elephant up into the air. I have seen a certain person who said that he had seen one of those birds, one wing only of which stretched to a length of 80 palms" (p. 42). The Japanese Encyclopaedia states that in the country of the Tsengsz' (Zinjis) in the South-West Ocean, there is a bird called pheng, which in its flight eclipses the sun. It can swallow a camel; and its quills are used for water-casks. This was probably got from the Arabs. (J. As., sèr. 2, tom. xii. 235-236.)

I should note that the Geog. Text in the first passage where the feathers are spoken of says: "e ce qe je en vi voz dirai en autre leu, por ce qe il convient ensi faire à nostre livre,"-"that which I have seen of them I will tell you elsewhere, as it suits the arrangement of our book." No such other detail is found in that text, but we have in Ramusio this passage about the quill brought to the Great Kaan, and I suspect that the phrase, "as I have heard," is an interpolation, and that Polo is here telling ce qe il en vit. What are we to make of the story? I have sometimes thought that possibly some vegetable production, such as a great frond of the Ravenala, may have been cooked to pass as a Rukh's quill. [See App. L.]

The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Travels of Marco Polo, Volume 2, by Marco Polo and Rustichello of Pisa, et al, Edited by Henry Yule and Henri Cordier

In M.N.Adler's footnotes to his 1907 translation of The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela (below) Adler points out that this might also apply to the stories of gryphons abducting men and taking them to their nests that Benjamin of Tudela reports.
In fact, the Aepyornis was alive in historical times - perhaps as late as 1000AD. There were also large eagles in Northern Africa and Madagascar that were known to abduct large monkeys and other mammals: and the Stephanoaetus coronatus, or crowned eagle, still lives in Africa, but the Stephanoaetus mahery, the Madagascan variety, is extinct. Might an eagle not have existed, at a certain time, that could carry off a shorter, lighter man?

Adrienne Mayor makes the point that the Scythians’ reconstruction of gryphon appearance may well be superior to many 19th century fossil reconstructions, perhaps because they were not working from preconceptions.

She also relates the Greek legends about one-eyed giants in the area to Mammoth skeletons and shows how the ancients might have reconstructed these also into something resembling a Cyclops with large facial horns.

A problem with her argument, as to the gryphon representations being based on Scythian gryphons, is the early date of Egyptian gryphons, however. I believe they generally predate the Scythian tattoos... Wouldn't it be nice to believe that Protoceratops were still alive in the times when the Scythian nomads were living in the area, and that these dinosaurs really were the gryphons the Scythians tattoed on themselves, who guarded their hoards of gold? Perhaps the Scythians fought the gryphons to steal their gold, or perhaps the gryphons were simply protecting their young cubs and families and thereby responded to human and equine presence in the area with the kind of hostility animals often show when threatened? There is, unfortunately, no evidence I am aware of that might indicate that this is true.

Then again – at least one Roman writer hypothesized that the Scythians made up the tales of the Protoceratops to keep people away from their gold! This seems more plausible - using the stories of gryphons they had heard from the Greeks, and the fossilised bones in the area, they created a plausible story to keep people away.

Thoughts on the word, Gryphon, Griffon, Griffin, γρύπας etc. etc.

Please note that I use the spelling “gryphon” rather than “griffon” or “griffin” here, because it is closer to γρύπας or γρύψ, the Greek word for gryphon. The word “cherubim” in Hebrew may be cognate with gryphon as well - another reason to use the ‘ph’ spelling, ‘b’ being closer to ‘p’ than ‘f’ - and there are various variations on those same vowels, KRUPS, KRP etc in Assyrian, Egyptian and other near Eastern languages. And in fact, there are many words that appear that they might be cognate, particularly in European languages - in English the words grip, grasp, and grab all may have some relation to the idea of the gryphon using its beak and talons, which in some of the accounts below are very powerful tools. Perhaps this word has a very ancient etymology - could even the Algonquian (North American Indian) word kaliboo, from which we get the word Caribou, be related? According to Etymonline 41 it means ‘animal that scratches the snow’ - this idea also seems not that distant from the idea of gripping something, seen in many European and near Eastern words related to 'gryphon'.

And that leads me to the question - could the word ‘gryphon’ go back to the very dawn of human civilization, in some form, at least? Cherubim guarded the gate to the garden of Eden to prevent Adam and Eve returning, and whatever one might think of the historical truth of this legend, along with the other passages in Genesis, it certainly seems to hearken to some early mythology common to humanity, to say the least, many nations seem to have Adam and Eve stories, gods coming down to marry human women, flood stories... 42

Fragment of a Tapestry, Basel c. 1450 AD.

Closer to our own time: Medieval Gryphons...

The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela

Thence to cross over to the land of Zin (China) is a voyage of forty days. Zin is in the uttermost East, and some say that there is the Sea of Nikpa (Ning-po?), where the star Orion predominates and stormy winds prevail. At times the helmsman cannot govern his ship, as a fierce wind drives her into this Sea of Nikpa, where she cannot move from her place; and the crew have to remain where they are till their stores of food are exhausted and then they die. In this way many a ship has been lost, but men eventually discovered a device by which to escape from this evil place. The crew provide themselves with hides of oxen.
And when this evil wind blows which drives them into the Sea of Nikpa, they wrap themselves up in the skins, which they make waterproof, and, armed with knives, plunge into the sea. A great bird called the griffin spies them out, and in the belief that the sailor is an animal, the griffin seizes hold of him, brings him to dry land, and puts him down on a mountain or in a hollow in order to devour him. The man then quickly thrusts at the bird with a knife and slays him. Then the man issues forth from the skin and walks till he comes to an inhabited place. And in this manner many a man escapes[175].
Thence to Al-Gingaleh is a voyage of fifteen days, and about 1,000 Israelites dwell there. Thence by sea to Chulan is seven days; but no Jews live there. From there it is twelve days to Zebid, where there are a few Jews. From there it is eight days' journey to India which is on the mainland, called the land of Aden, and this is the Eden which is in Thelasar. The country is mountainous. There are many Israelites here, and they are not under the yoke of the Gentiles, but possess cities and castles on the summits of the mountains, from which they make descents into the plain-country called Lybia, which is a Christian Empire. These are the Lybians of the land of Lybia, with whom the Jews are at war. The Jews take spoil and booty and retreat to the mountains, and no man can prevail against them. Many of these Jews of the land of Aden come to Persia and Egypt.

[Footnote 175: Marco Polo has much to say about the bird "gryphon" when speaking of the sea-currents which drive ships from Malabar to Madagascar. He says, vol. II, book III, chap. 33: "It is for all the world like an eagle, but one indeed of enormous size. It is so strong that it will seize an elephant in its talons and carry him high into the air and drop him so that he is smashed to pieces; having so killed him, the gryphon swoops down on him and eats him at leisure. The people of those isles call the bird 'Rukh.'" Yule has an interesting note (vol. II, p. 348) showing how old and widespread the fable of the Rukh was, and is of the opinion that the reason that the legend was localized in the direction of Madagascar was perhaps that some remains of the great fossil Aepyornis and its colossal eggs were found in that island. Professor Sayce states that the Rukh figures much - not only in Chinese folk-lore - but also in the old, Babylonian literature. The bird is of course familiar to readers of 'The Arabian Nights'.]

Gutenberg edition of The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela by 12th cent. Benjamin of Tudela Critical Text, Translation and Commentary by Marcus Nathan Adler

John Mandeville’s Travelogue

From this land men shall go to the land of Bachary, where are many wicked men and fell. In this land are trees that bear wool, as it were of sheep, of which they make clothes25. In this land also are many hippopotamus’s, that dwell some time upon land and some time on the water, and they are half man and half horse. And they eat men wherever they can get them, no meat more gladly. And in that land are many griffons, more than in any other country. And some men say that they have the shape of an eagle in front, and behind the shape of a lyon, and that is truly what they say. Nevertheless the gryphon is greater and stronger than eight lions of these countries, and greater and more stalwart than a hundred eagles. For certainly he will fly bearing his nest, and with a great horse and man on him as well, or two oxen yoked together, the same as they are when they go out to the plough. For he has nails upon his feet as great and as long as if they were oxen horns, but they are wonderfully sharp. And of these nails men make cups to drink out of, as we do of the horns of bulls; and of the backs of his feathers (French version - and of her ribs and of the quills from the feathers on her wings.)They make strong bows for to shoot with.

From the land of Bachary men go many days journey to the land of Prester John, the emperor of India; and his land is called the Isle of Pentoxere.

Fra þis land men sall ga to þe land of Bachary, whare er many wikked men and fell. In þis land er treesse þat berez wolle, as it ware of schepe, of whilke þai make clathe. In þis land also er many ypotams, þat dwellez sun tyme apon land and sum tyme on þe water; and þai er half man and halfe hors. And þai ete men whare so þai may get þam, na mete gladlier. And in þat land er many griffouns, ma þan in any cuntree elles. And sum [folio 111] men saise þat þai hafe þe schappe of ane egle before, and behind þe schappe of a lyoun; and sikerly þai say sothe. Neuerþeles þe griffoun es mare and stranger þan viii. lyouns of þise cuntreez, and gretter and stalworther þan a hundreth egles. For certaynely he will bere til his nest fly and a grete hors and a man apon him, 2. [Cf. French text, note 17; a gret hors ȝif he may fynde him at the poynt or ii. oxen, etc., C.] or twa oxen ȝoked togyder, as þai ga sammen at þe plogh. For he has nailes apon his fete als grete and als lang as þai ware oxen hornes, bot þai er wonder scharpe. And of þase nailes men makez coppez for to drink off, as we do of þe hornes of bugles; and of þe bakkez of his fethers 3. [and of hire ribbes and of the pennes of hire wenges, C.] þai make strang bowes for to schote with.

Fra þe land of Bachary men gase many day iourneez to þe land of Prestre Iohn, þat es emperour of Inde; and his land es called þe Ile of Pentoxere.

John Mandeville’s Travels - the Egerton version;submit=Go;subview=detail;type=simple;view=fulltext;q1=a+gret+hors

The Prose Life of Alexander

The Prose Life of Alexander is a medieval English version of an ancient Greek text, Pseudo-Callisthenes’ Alexander. It is a very fanciful account of Alexander the Great’s adventures. The titles in italics are my interpolations. I have provided my ‘translated’ version, followed by the Middle English original.


From there they removed and came to the great Sea Ocean. In that Sea they saw an Isle, a little way from the land. And in that Isle they heard men speaking Greek. And then Alexander commanded that some of his knights should do off their clothes and swim over to the isle. And they did so. And as soon as they came in the Sea there came great crabs up out of the water and pulled them down to the ground and drowned them.


Then they removed from there and they went away inland (from) the Seaside toward the solstice of winter, travelling 10 days. And at the last they came to a reed Sea, and there they rested. There was, fast by, a Mountain, wondrously high, one that Alexander went up. And when he was about on the peak, far-off, he thought he was nearer the Firmament than the earth; then he imagined in his heart such a craft, how he might make a gryphon bear him up into the air. And anon he came down of the Mountain and caused to come before him his Master wrights and commanded them that they should make him a chair and furnish it with bars of iron, one each side the same, so that he might safely sit therein. And then he caused them to bring four gryphons and tied them fast with Iron chains unto the chair, and in the greater part of the chair he caused them to put meat for the gryphons. And then he went and set himself in the chair. And anon the gryphons bore him up in the air so high that Alexander thought that the earth was no more than a floor where men thresh the corn, and the sea like a dragon about the earth. Then suddenly a special virtue of God unwrapped the gryphons that caused them to descend down to the earth into a field: ten day’s journey from the East, and he had not been hurt nor shaved (harmed) in the chair. But with great distress at the last he came to his East.


After this Alexander imagined in his heart that he would know the secrets that are in the Sea. And anon he caused to come before him all the Master glassers that were in the East, and commanded them to make him a great ton of surpassingly clear glass that he might through it clearly see all manner of thing that were outside of it. And where it was made he caused them to fasten it all about outside with bars of iron and fasten there-to long chains of iron, and caused a certain of the strongest and most trusty knights that belonged to him, to hold the chains. And there he went into the town and caused a big whale to enter where he went in, and there let it dive into the Sea. And there he saw diverse shapes of fishes of diverse colours; and some he saw that had the shape of diverse beasts there on the land, going around on feet as beasts do here, and he ate fruit of trees that grow on the Sea-ground. Their beasts came to him. But anon as they saw him through the glass they fled from him. He saw there also many other miraculous things, but after a while he stayed there no more because men would not have believed them if he had told them, and at a certain hour those that he had assigned (the task) before, his knights, drew him out of the sea.

From them the removed following the banks of the Reed Sea, and stayed there in a place, where there were wild Beasts that had on there heads horns like unto saws, and they were as sharp as swords. And with their horns they slew and hurt many knights of Alexander’s, and clove their shields asunders. Nevertheless Alexander’s knights slew four hundred and fifty one of them. And from there they removed and came into wilderness.

The Original:

Fra þeine þay remowed̛ & come to þe grete See Occeane. In þat See þay sawe ane Ile a littiƚƚ fra þe lande. And in þat Ile þay herde men̛ speke grewe. And þan̛ Alexander commanded̛ þat sum̛ of his knyghts sulde do off þaire clathes and swyme ouer to þe ile. And þay did̛ soo. And als sone als þay come in þe See þare come gret crabbes vp oute of þe water & pullede þam̛ downne to þe grounde & drownned̛ þam̛.

Thanne remowed̛ þay fra thethyn̛ and went ay endlande þe See syde to-warde þe solstice of wynter trauellande xƚ days; and at þe laste þay come to a reede See, and þare þay lugede þam̛. Þare was faste by a Mountayne wonder hye, One þe whilke Alexander went vp. And when̛ he was abown̛ on̛ þe heghte þare-offe, hym thoghte þat he was nerre þe Firmament þan þe erthe; þan̛ he ymagned̛ in his hert swilk a gynn̛ how he myghte make [leaf 45] grippes bere hym vp in-to þe ayere. And onane he come doune of þe Mountayne and garte come bi-fore hym̛ his Maistre wrightes and comandid̛ þam̛ þat þay sulde make hym a chayer and trelesse it wit barreȝ of Iren̛ one ilk a syde so þat he myȝte sauely sitt þare-in. And þan̛ he gart brynge foure gripes and tye þam̛ faste wit Iren̛ cheynes vn-to þe chayere, and in þe ouermare party of þe chayere he gart putt

mete for þe grippes. And pan̛ he wente and sett hym̛ in þe chayere. And onane þe grippes bare hym vp in þe ayer so hye þat Alexander thoghte aƚƚ þe erthe na mare þan̛ a flure þare men̛ thresscheȝ corne, and þe See lyke a dragon̛ abowte þe erthe. Þan̛ sodaynly a specyaƚƚ vertu of godd̛ vmbilapped þe grippes þat gart þam̛ discende douue to þe erthe in a felde: ten .x. day iournee fra þe Oste, and he hadd̛ na hurt ne na schathe in þe chayere. Bot wit grete disesse at þe laste he come tiƚƚ his Oste.

After þis Alexander ymagened in his hert þat he walde knaw þe preuates þat are in þe see. And onane he gart come bifore hym̛ aƚƚ þe Maister glasyers þat ware in þe Oste, And comandede þam̛ to make hym a grete tounne of passandly clere glasse þat he myghte thurgℏ it clerely see aƚƚ maner of thynge þat ware wit-owtten̛ it. And when̛ it was made he gart trelesse it al abowte witowtten̛ wit barres of yren̛ and feste þare-to lang cheynes of yren̛, and gart a certane of þe strangeste & maste tristy knyghtes þat langed̛ vn-tiƚƚ hym halde þir cheynes. And þan̛ he went in-to þe tounne & gart pykke wele þe entree whare he went in, and þan̛ late it doun̛ into þe See. And þare he sawe dyuerse schappes of fisches of dyuerse colours; and sum̛ he sawe hafe þe schappe of dyuerse besteȝ here one þe lande, gangande on fete as besteȝ dose here & etande fruyte of treesse þat groweȝ on þe See grunde. Þir besteȝ come tiƚƚ hym. Bot onane as þay saw hym thorow þe glasse þay fledde fra hym. He sawe þare also many oþer meruaylous thyngeȝ, þe whilke he walde teƚƚ na man̛ bi-cause men̛ walde noghte hafe trowed̛ þam̛ if he had talde þam̛, and at a certayne houre þase þat he hadd̛ assyngned be-fore, his knyghtes drewe hym vp oute of þe See.

Fra þeine þay Remowed̛ Folowande þe bankes of þe Rede See, and luged þam̛ in a place, whare þare ware wylde Besteȝ that hade on̛ þaire heuedis hornes lyke vn-to [leaf 45 bk.] sawes, and þay ware als scharpe als swerdeȝ. And with thire hornes þay slewe & hurte many knyghtis of Alexanders & cloue þaire cheldes in sonder. Neuer-þe-lesse Alexander knyghtis slew of þam̛ ccccli.

And fra beine þay remowed̛ and come in-tiƚƚ wilderness

From the Prose Life of Alexander Edited by JS Westlake pp.106-107;view=fulltext

Geoffrey Chaucer

There may you see coming with Palomon

Ligurge himself, the great king of Trace,

Black was his beard and manly was his face

The circles of his eyes in his head

They glowed betwixt yellow and red

And like a gryphon looked he about

With kemp hairs on his brows stout

His limbs greet his brawns (muscles) hard and strong

And shoulders broad, his arms round and long

And as the custom was in his country

Full high upon a chair of gold stood he

With four white bowls in a tray

Instead of coat armour in his harness

With nails yellow and bright as any gold.

Ther maistow se comyng wiþ Palomoun      2128

ligurge himself þe grete kyng of Trace

Blak was his berd and manly was his face

The cercles of / his eyen in his heed

They gloweden bytwixe ȝolw and reed      2132

And lik a griffoun loked he aboute

with kempe heres on his browes stowte

his lymes greet his brawnes hard and stronge

his schuldres brood his armes rounde and longe      2136

And as þe gyse was in his contre

Ful heye vpon a chare of gold stood he

wiþ foure white boles in a trays

In stede of cote armour in his harnays      2140

wiþ nayles ȝolwe and bright as eny gold

Chaucer the Canterbury Tales;view=fulltext

The Wycliffe Bible

The John Wycliffe Translation of the Bible. Wycliffe died in 1384.

These things are foul which you should not eat, and should be eschewed of you: an eagle and all gryphons, aliete [aliete, that is, a kind of eagle], and a kite, and a vulture by his kind, and all of: raven’s-kind, by his likeness, a starling and night-crow, a lark, and hawk by his kind; an owl, and dippere, and ibis. [ibis, that is, a cicony that eats toads and serpents.]

Leviticus Chapter 11, verse 13-15

These thingis ben of foulis whiche ȝe schulen not ete, and schulen be eschewid of ȝou; an egle, and a grippe, aliete. [aliete, that is, a kynde of egle. ], and a kyte, and a vultur by his kynde; and al of rauyns kynde bi his licnesse; a strucioun, and a nyȝt crowe, a lare, and an hauke bi his kinde; an owle, and dippere, and ibis*. [ibis, that is, a ciconye, that etith paddokis and serpentis.;cc=cme;view=toc;idno=AFZ9170.0001.001

Milton Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost Book II 916-950

Into this wilde Abyss the warie fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and look'd a while,
Pondering his Voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross. Nor was his eare less peal'd
With noises loud and ruinous (to compare
Great things with small) then when Bellona storms,
With all her battering Engines bent to rase
Som Capital City, or less then if this frame
Of Heav'n were falling, and these Elements
In mutinie had from her Axle torn
The stedfast Earth. At last his Sail-broad Vannes
He spreads for flight, and in the surging smoak
Uplifted spurns the ground, thence many a League
As in a cloudy Chair ascending rides
Audacious, but that seat soon failing, meets
A vast vacuitie: all unawares
Fluttring his pennons vain plumb down he drops
Ten thousand fadom deep, and to this hour
Down had been falling, had not by ill chance
The strong rebuff of som tumultuous cloud
Instinct with Fire and Nitre hurried him
As many miles aloft: that furie stay'd,
Quencht in a Boggie Syrtis, neither Sea,
Nor good dry Land: nigh founderd on he fares,
Treading the crude consistence, half on foot,
Half flying; behoves him now both Oare and Saile.
As when a Gryfon through the Wilderness
With winged course ore Hill or moarie Dale,
Pursues the Arimaspian, who by stelth
Had from his wakeful custody purloind
The guarded Gold: So eagerly the fiend
Ore bog or steep, through strait, rough, dense, or rare,
With head, hands, wings, or feet pursues his way,
And swims or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flyes:

Ancient Near Eastern Gryphons.

In ‘The Ancient History of the Near East,’ a classic tome summarising knowledge of the near east at the beginning of the twentieth century, James Henry Breasted claimed that the idea of the gryphon travelled from Persia and the Semitic countries to Egypt, and thence also to Greece. It was noted at the time that, in fact, gryphons were first represented in Ancient Egypt26, and subsequent research seems to bear that out.

So we will start with Egypt in our summary of Gryphons in the Ancient Near East.

Gryphons in Ancient Egypt & Sefer/Seref - an Egyptian word meaning ‘gryphon’, and its relationship to a Hebrew word, Seraphim...

This gryphon from escavations at Lisht, is from Amenemhat I's tomb. Dated at around 2000 BC, the representations of gryphons here predate the Near-Eastern gryphon representations.

Another gryphon from the back of an ivory magical wand from excavations at Lisht, from the Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 1920-21, fig 17.

The Tomb of Pepi II also contains a representation of a gryphon.

At Beni-Hasan tomb number 15 (XI dynasty, it is the tomb of Baqet III, around 2000 BC again) there is also the following representation of a gryphon, along with several other marvellous creatures; something resembling a unicorn or rhinoceros, a long-necked creature that resembled a brachiosaurus, and another whimsical looking creature that might be some sort of dog:

From the Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Egyptian Expedition 1931-32. Figure 8. (From the tomb of Baqet III, tomb number 15 at Beni-Hasan.)

The animals in this picture are labelled in hieroglyphic writing - the gryphon has the following hieroglyphs above it27:

The hieroglyphic alphabet, like many ancient Semitic languages, did not include vowels. These three are the letters for s, f, and r. Sefer – or perhaps seref, is one of the egyptian words meaning ‘gryphon.’ This word is possibly cognate with the Hebrew word seraph . Here is the section from Isaiah that refers to seraphs, in the WEB Bible translation, Isaiah 6:2-6.

Above him stood the seraphim. Each one had six wings. With two he covered his face. With two he covered his feet. With two he flew. One called to another, and said,

Holy, holy, holy, is Yahweh of Armies!

The whole earth is full of his glory!”

The foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me! For I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of Armies!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar. He touched my mouth with it, and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin forgiven.”

Various sources seem to disagree about the correct translation for seraph, but the Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew lexicon28, one of the authorities for Biblical Hebrew, says in one place that it comes from the verb to fly:

I. עוּף vb. fly —

Qal 1. a. fly, of birds, specif. of swallow (in sim.); of seraph (cf. Po‘l.); ’י riding (רכב) on cherub; roll (in vision); arrow; of swift army (under fig. of bird, sq. בְּכָתֵף) (sim. of vulture); fig. of ships (like cloud, or doves); make high to fly, i.e. make their flight high, soar aloft (sim. of irresistible tendency).

b. hover (protectingly) (birds, sim. of ’י).

2. fly away, to a distance (fig.); = vanish, of locusts (fig.); of wicked (כַּחֲלוֹם); end of life, in gen.

Po‘l. 1. fly about, to and fro; of birds; seraphim; Pt. שָׂרָף מְעוֹפֵף flying fiery serpent.

2. cause to fly to and fro, brandish.

Hithpo‘l. fly away. Hiph. Qr, v. Qal.

עוֹף n.m. coll. flying creatures, fowl, insects —

1. fowl, birds; הַשָּׁמַיִם ’ע fowl of the sky, carrion birds; redundantly כָּנָף ’ע fowl of wing; for food, (clean and unclean); for offering.

2. winged insects (clean and unclean).

The reference to a ‘flying fiery serpent’ in the BDB lexicon is to Isaiah 30:6:

The burden of the animals of the South. Through the land of trouble and anguish, from whence come the lioness and the lion, the viper and fiery flying serpent, they carry their riches on the shoulders of young donkeys, and their treasures on the humps of camels, to a people that shall not profit them.

But the B.D.B lexicon also mentions Seraphim in the entry for a word with the same consonants, the verb to burn:


vb. burn —

Qal 1. in making bricks, + לִשְׂרֵפָה (obj. om.).

2. a. c. acc. rei, usu. to destroy, e.g. door, house (both c. עַל pers.), c. pt. pass., chariots (subj. ’י), idols, etc., (acc. om.), roll, wood, (both + בְּמוֹ־אֵשׁ), hair; bones, to lime (as outrage); upon altars (in desecration; bodies, as funeral rite; ’שׂ as funeral rite also (obj. om., prob. spices), c. ל pers. mort., + acc. cogn. שְׂרֵפָה (cf. שְׂרֵפָה); in ceremonial (never of burning sacrif. on altar, הִקְטִיר, cf. הֶעֱלָה, but) chiefly of consuming refuse, esp. unused portions of victims, etc. (to prevent use), and infected objects; also of burning red heifer (to produce ashes for purification).

b. burn, c. acc. pers.,

(1) as penalty, so, אֵשׁ subj., c. acc. cogn. שְׂרֵפָה;

(2) as sacrifice; + ל dei.

Niph. be burned (+ בָּאֵשׁ): of city, idols, etc.; ritually (cf. Qal 2 a ad fin.); of pers., as penalty.

Pi. his burner, usu. one burning him, but prob. burning spices for him, cf. Qal supra.

Pu. of goat it was burnt up (and gone).

I. שָׂרָף n.m. fiery serpent, usu. venomous; a flying serpent, or dragon.

II. [שָׂרָף] n.m. pl. שְׂרָפִים seraphim — in OT. majestic beings with six wings, and human hands and voices, attendant upon ’י.

ꜥḫḫ: Another Egyptian Word Meaning Gryphon

Papyrus Raifet (Louvre) and Papyrus Sallier III (British Museum29 BS.10181) contain a poem about the ‘victory’ of Ramses III over the Hittites. There is a reference to a gryphon in the poem, ꜥḫḫ, ‘ekhekh30. The ꜥ is a gutteral letter, a ‘voiced pharyngeal fricative’, and is pronounced the same as the hebrew ayin/arabic ayn.

And before the king's attack,

Lands fell, and limbs were slack,

They could neither aim the bow, nor thrust the spear,

But just looked at him who came

Charging on them, like a flame,

And the King was as a griffin in the rear.

Behold thus speaks the Pharaoh, let all know,

I struck them down, and there escaped me none

Then I lifted up my voice, and I spake,

Ho! my warriors, charioteers,

Away with craven fears,

Halt, stand, and courage take,

Behold I am alone,

Yet Ammon is my helper, and his hand is with me now."

Ancient History Sourcebook:


The Victory of Ramses II Over the Khita, 1326 BCE

There is a gryphon represented on an axe-head from the treasure of Queen Ahomse Nefertari, the mother (?) of Ahmose I.

The Ahmose axe - source gutenberg file 17324, edited and colorised. .

Here is an outline of the pictures on the Ahmose Axe. Was this the axe of Moses, the biblical figure? It shows a more important person attacking a less important person on one side - Moses killed an Egyptian and was forced to flee into the desert, on the other side of the staff is a picture of someone carries two snake-like staffs. There are strange parallels too, between the life of Ahmose and Moses - Ahmose spent time in Palestine, and rid Egypt of the Hyksos. Could the reported life of Ahmoses be a sanitised, propagandised version of the truth to keep the Egyptian masses in check?

A Syrian Gryphon - Beatrice Teissier

Beatrice Teissier collected a large number of images of cylinder seals showing gryphons in several books that she wrote.

Here is a picture of a Syrian gryphon from 1850-1720 BC, with men standing before it, perhaps kissing the palms of their hands. This is one of the more lifelike Syrian representations of gryphons.

Syrian cylinder seal

(Teissier 1985 Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals number 554)

Old Babylonian Gryphon

This is a sketch of part of a Babylonian cylinder seal from 1850-1700 BC. It is a rather gruesome representation of a gryphon attacking an antelope and a lion attacking a man.

Old Babylonian cylinder seal 1850-1700BC

(Teissier 1985 Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals

number 13331)

Mitannian Gryphon

Mitannian Seal 1500-1300BC

Two gryphons in the sky, with stars, a person, lions? And a horse.

(Teissier 1985 Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals number 592)

Peres - Are Gryphons mentioned in the Bible in the section on unclean birds?

Stained glass window from the synagogue in Enschede, depicting a griffin.
Text is a shortened version of "Blessed are those who listen to me;
watching daily at my doors; waiting at my doorway." (Proverbs 8:34)

What Were The Neshar, the Peres and the Ozniyah? And Don’t Forget the Four-Footed Winged Fowl?

In the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, begun about 323 B.C., around the time of the death of Alexander the great, and completed by 123 B.C., there are two passages in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, in which a Hebrew word פֶּרֶס Peres was translated with the Greek word for gryphon, γρυψ, grups.

It is to be noted that, whereas the Septuagint translation was once considered less authoritative than the Hebrew Masoretic Text, the Dead Sea scrolls have confirmed it as an excellent translation, which reflects earlier versions of the Hebrew text than the Masoretic Text in some places.

So there is an argument for translating the Hebrew word פֶּרֶס Peres, as gryphon or griffon in English - but on the other side of the argument is the obvious question, does the gryphon really exist? The fact is that Peres was translated γρυψ, grups at a time when the Greek translator obviously believed that gryphons did exist. But if you assume that the gryphon does not (and did not) exist, then it would seem more logical and reasonable to assume that, based on context, Peres is another kind of eagle or vulture.

And gryps must have seemed a logical translation of Peres to the ancient Greek speaking Jews who translated the Hebrew Bible into the Septuagint, considering the logical association of Peres with Paras, which means Persia or Persian, the preponderance of representations of gryphons in Persian art, and the meaning of the possibly related word param, to rend or tear - and as we have seen, gryphons’ beaks and talons were believed to be powerful tools for rending or tearing.

Here as in so many arguments involving people’s interpretations of the Bible, a person’s prior assumptions will virtually determine what they think. Of course, the existence or otherwise of gryphons is hardly an important issue in Biblical interpretation! But if you believe that gryphons might have existed then you would be open to the idea that Peres could mean gryphon. On the other side of the argument, however, is the fact that the earliest Persian representations seem to date from the Achaemenid Empire, the empire founded by Cyrus the Persian, which dates from 550BC. The laws in the book of Deuteronomy almost certainly date from earlier than that - thus making it less likely that Peres means gryphon. (Certain scholars seem to think Deuteronomy and Leviticus were collated upon the return from Babylon - i.e. the time of Cyrus - but this collating does not seem to have included changing words whose meaning was unclear.) Of course, there is this possibility - I wonder if anyone has considered it - the possibility that the Persians might have named themselves after the gryphon?....

Persian Gryphons - from Persepolis.

Leviticus 11:13

Here is the section in the Hebrew:

13 וְאֶת־אֵ֙לֶּה֙ תְּשַׁקְּצ֣וּ מִן־הָע֔וֹף לֹ֥א יֵאָכְל֖וּ שֶׁ֣קֶץ הֵ֑ם אֶת־הַנֶּ֙שֶׁר֙ וְאֶת־הַפֶּ֔רֶס וְאֵ֖ת הָעָזְנִיָּֽה׃

(Translation) These you are to detest from among the birds–they must not be eaten, because they are detestable: the neshar, the peres, the ozniyah

The exact species of each of these birds seems to be unknown, perhaps with the exception of neshar, which is usually identified as eagle, although it has been claimed that eagles and vultures were considered to be the same bird, essentially. In fact over the years since the Bible began to be rendered into English all three, the neshare, the peres, and the ozniyah have all been identified with various birds of prey; various kinds of vultures, eagles, buzzards, and sea-eagles.

Neshar is probably eagle

Peres has been identified with the gryphon, perhaps because the related word paras means Persian, Persia (because of the preponderance of representations of gryphons in Persia) and also another possibly related word param means to rend, tear.

Ozniyah is unclear - but was rendered in Greek as sea-eagle or osprey.

A homa, or Persian representation of a griffon, from about 500BC in the Achaemenid period.

Here is the Greek

καὶ ταῦτα βδελύξεσθε ἀπὸ τῶν πετεινῶν καὶ οὐ βρωθήσεται βδέλυγμά ἐστιν τὸν ἀετὸν καὶ τὸν γρύπα καὶ τὸν ἁλιαίετον

(Translation) And these are the detestable winged creatures and you may not eat the detestable: they are the eagle and the gryphon and the sea-eagle.

So, obviously in the 2nd or 3rd centuries BC whoever translated the Septuagint rendered Peres as gryphon, possible for the reasons I stated above.

Here is the Latin Vulgate (St. Jerome’s translation)

haec sunt quae de avibus comedere non debetis et vitanda sunt vobis aquilam et grypem et alietum

(Translation) These are the clean birds you can eat but you must not eat of the birds that are to be avoided, the eagle, and gryphon, and sea-agle.

Deuteronomy 14:11-12

Here is the section in Hebrew:

11 כָּל־צִפּ֥וֹר טְהֹרָ֖ה תֹּאכֵֽלוּ׃ 12 וְזֶ֕ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־תֹאכְל֖וּ מֵהֶ֑ם הַנֶּ֥שֶׁר וְהַפֶּ֖רֶס וְהָֽעָזְנִיָּֽה׃

(Translation) All ritually clean birds you may eat. These are the ones you may not eat: the eagle, the ossifrage, the black vulture.

Here is the Greek Septuagint:

11πᾶν ὄρνεον καθαρὸν φάγεσθε 12καὶ ταῦτα οὐ φάγεσθε ἀπ' αὐτῶν τὸν ἀετὸν καὶ τὸν γρύπα καὶ τὸν ἁλιαίετον

(Translation) All clean birds may be eaten, and these are the ones you may not eat of: the eagle and the gryphon and the sea-eagle (or osprey)

Here is the Latin Vulgate (Jerome’s translation):

omnes aves mundas comedite

inmundas ne comedatis aquilam scilicet et grypem et alietum

(Translation) All clean birds may be eaten,

The unclean you may not eat: namely, the eagle and gryphon and the osprey

A splendid photograph of a bearded vulture, Gypaetus barbatus,
otherwise known as a Lammergeier, from Wikimedia Commons, Richard Bartz.

So What Does Peres Really Mean?

The first complete translation of the Bible, the Wycliffe translation, continued to translate ‘Peres’ as gryphon (grippe) however, all the subsequent english translations used other bird names for the three birds mentioned.

Leviticus 11:13 - Early English translations

Wycliffe Translation (1382-1395) The first complete English language translation: These thingis ben of foulis whiche ȝe schulen not ete, and schulen be eschewid of ȝou; an egle, and a grippe, aliete.

(These kinds of fowl which you should not eat, and should be eschewed by you: an eagle, and a gryphon, and the aliete. )

Tyndale Bible (Pentateuch 1530)

These are the foules which ye shall abhorre and which shall not be eaten, for they are an abhominacion. The egle, the gooshauke, the cormoraunte.

Miles Coverdale Bible (1535)

And these shal ye abhorre amonge ye foules, so that ye eate them not: The Aegle, the Goshauke, the Cormoraunte,

The Bishop's Bible (1568)

These are they whiche ye shall abhorre among the foules, and that ought not to be eaten, for they are an abhomination: The Egle, the Goshauke, and the Ospray,

Douay Rheims Translation (a translation of the Latin Vulgate commissioned by the Catholic Church) (1582-1610): All birds that are clean you shall eat. The unclean eat not: to wit, the eagle, and the grype, and the osprey,

Geneva Bible (1587)

These shal ye haue also in abomination among the foules, they shal not be eaten: for they are an abomination, the egle, and the goshauke, and the osprey

King James Bible (1611)

And these are they which ye shall haue in abomination among the foules, they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: The Eagle, and the Ossifrage, and the Ospray,

So What Are These Birds? What do the Modern Translations say?

Modern translations seem no less confused as to the birds indicated in this passage, although they are certain it does not mean gryphon. Eagle for Neshar is fairly unanimous, although the New Living Translation translates Neshar as griffon vulture! However, Ozniyah could be black vulture, osprey, sea-eagle, or buzzard, and it’s anyone’s guess what Peres is....

New International Version (1984)

eagle, vulture, black vulture

New Living Translation (2007)

griffon vulture, bearded vulture, black vulture

English Standard Version (2001)

eagle, bearded vulture, black vulture

New American Standard Bible (1995)

eagle, vulture, buzzard

God’s Word Translation (1995)

eagles, bearded vultures, black vultures

American Standard Version

eagle, gier-eagle, ospray,

Darby Bible Translation

eagle, ossifrage, sea-eagle,

English Revised Version

eagle, gier eagle, ospray;

World English Bible

eagle, vulture, black vulture,

Young's Literal Translation

eagle, ossifrage, ospray,

Deuteronomy 14:12-13 - Early English translations

And here are the early translations of the passage from Deuteronomy.

Wycliffe Translation (1382-1395)

Alle clene briddis eete ȝe; vnclene eete ȝe not, that is, egle, and griffun, and a merliȝon,

Tyndale Bible (Pentateuch 1530)

but these are they of which ye maye not eate: the egle, the goshauke, the cormerant

Miles Coverdale Bible (1535)

Eate of all cleane foules.

But these are they, wherof ye shal not eate: The Aegle, ye Goshauke, the Cormoraunte,

The Bishop's Bible (1568)

Of all cleane byrdes ye shall eate. But these are they of whiche ye shall not eate: the Egle, the Goshauke, and the Ospray.

Douay Rheims (1582-1610)

The unclean eat not: to wit, the eagle, and the grype, and the osprey

Geneva Bible (1587)

Of all cleane birdes ye shall eate: But these are they, whereof ye shall not eate: the egle, nor the goshawke, nor the osprey,

King James Version (1611)

Of all cleane birds ye shall eate. But these are they of which ye shall not eat: the Eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray,

So Could It Be A Gryphon?

I won’t include all the modern translations for this passage, as they are along the same lines as the passage from Leviticus.

As it really is anybody’s guess what these birds are, could the Peres really have been a gryphon? Who knows....

Another gryphon from one of my books - ink and chalks (oil pastels)....
See below Rights to reuse this image click here

Another Puzzling Section: Fowls That Creep On All Fours...!

In the King James Bible we also find this puzzling verse, which, to those in the seventeenth century and later, seemed to refer to gryphons:

Leviticus 11:20

All foules that creepe, going vpon all foure, shal be an abomination vnto you.

So what on earth are fowls that creep? Seems to apply to gryphons, if gryphons are indeed birds (as they are usually identified in ancient Greek texts!) At first sight this verse could hardly apply to insects, since they have six legs, and it could not apply to vultures, or any other type of bird, that have two legs.

Douay Rheims Bible

Of things that fly, whatsoever goeth upon four feet, shall be abominable to you.

Wycliffe Translation (1382-1395)

And al that crepith, and hath fynnes, shal be vnclene, and not ben eten.


Here is the Hebrew:

כֹּל שֶׁ֣רֶץ הָע֔וֹף הַהֹלֵ֖ךְ עַל־אַרְבַּ֑ע שֶׁ֥קֶץ ה֖וּא לָכֶֽם׃ ס

All the swarming birds that walk upon four, they are detestable to you.

Here is the Septuagint version:

καὶ πάντα τὰ ἑρπετὰ τῶν πετεινῶν ἃ πορεύεται ἐπὶ τέσσαρα βδελύγματά ἐστιν ὑμῖν

And all the winged beasts that go about upon four, they are detestable to you.

I am certain the person who translated the Hebrew into Greek was thinking of the gryphon here - he even seems to missed out the ‘swarming’ part! To me that casts some doubt upon the accuracy of his translation.

Here is the lexicon entry from Liddel Scott for ἑρπετα, erpeta, beasts:

ἑρπετόν , Aeol.perh. ὄρπετον (q.v.), τό, (ἕρπω)

A. beast or animal which goes on all fours, Od.4.418 ; “πᾶν ἑ. πληγῇ νέμεται” Heraclit.11 ; “ἑρπετὰ ὅσσα τρέφει μέλαινα γαῖα” Alcm.60.3; “ὄφις καὶ σαύρας καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα τῶν ἑρπετῶν” Hdt.4.183 ; “τοῖς μὲν ἄλλοις ἑρπετοῖς πόδας ἔδωκεν.., ἀνθρώπῳ δὲ καὶ χεῖρας” X.Mem.1.4.11 ; ἑρπετά, opp. πετεινά, Hdt.1.140, cf. Theoc.15.118, A.R.4.1240: generally, “ἑ. οὐδὲ γυνή” Call.Jov.13 ; πυκινώτατον ἑ., of a hound, Pi.Fr.106 ; of insects, Semon.13, Nic.Fr. 74.46.

II. creeping thing, reptile, esp. snake, E.Andr.269, Theoc. 24.57 ; “περὶ κιναδέων τε καὶ ἑ.” Democr.259 ; “ἑρπετά τε καὶ δάκετα <πάντα>” Ar.Av.1069 ; of the monster Typhoeus, with a snake's body, Pi.P.1.25.

  1. as Adj., creeping, “κακὸν ἑ. πρᾶγμα” POxy.1060.7 (vi A. D.); “τὰ ἑ. θηρία” Philum.Ven.10.1.

I think the person who translated the verse could certainly have been thinking of gryphons when he did the translation - though that certainly doesn’t mean that the original Hebrew was intended to refer to gryphons.

Of course there are two other alternatives - bats is one of them. Bats use their wings as feet sometimes and certainly swarm.

And then there are pterodactyls!

Pterodactyls, Ropen and Seraphim...???

Referring again to the verse from Isaiah mentioned earlier:

The burden of the animals of the South. Through the land of trouble and anguish, from whence come the lioness and the lion, the viper and fiery flying serpent, they carry their riches on the shoulders of young donkeys, and their treasures on the humps of camels, to a people that shall not profit them. (Isaiah 30:6, WEB Bible)

וְשָׂרָ֣ף מְעוֹפֵ֔ף fiery flying serpent

Could the saraph (serpent) meof-ef, which means fiery flying serpent, be the pterodactyl? Did pterodactyls survive, even into the modern era? (A subject I will not explore in depth now, but up until the thirteenth century there have been European reports and representations of two-legged dragons which resemble Pterodactyls in many respects.)

Reports of nocturnal, bioluminescent flying creature, called the Ropen, have surfaced in Papua New Guinea and are being investigated by cryptozoologists. Locals who have seen the creature consistently chose pictures of pterodactyls when given a variety of creatures to choose from. (I wonder if the cryptozoologists asked them if they had seen Jurassic Park?) Pterodactyls, like bats, have four claws, if you include the two claws on the elbows of their wings.

What are the Cherubim?

Many scholars have seen the word gryphon as possibly derived from the word cherubim, or some Near Eastern variation on it.

Before we tackle that question we will ask the question, what are the cherubim? It is a plural Hebrew word, and the singular is כְּרוּב kerub.

The Brown Driver Briggs lexicon32 entry for kerub:

I. כְּרוּב in Babylonia.

II. כְּרוּב n.m. cherub —

1. the living chariot of the theophanic God; possibly identified with the storm-wind.

2. as the guards of the garden of Eden.

3. as the throne of Yahweh Sabaoth, in phrase ישֵׁב הַכְּרוּבִים(צְבָאוֹת) ’י Yahweh Sabaoth throned on the cherubim; the context shews that the cherubim of the ark of the covenant are referred to.

4. a. two cherubim of solid gold upon the slab of gold of the כַּפֹּרֶת facing each other with wings outstretched above, so as to constitute a basis or throne on which the glory of Yahweh appeared, and from whence He spake;

b. numerous cherubim woven into the texture of the inner curtains of the tabernacle and the veils.

5. the cherubim of the temple:

a. two gigantic images of olive wood plated with gold, ten cubits high, standing in the דְּבִיר facing the door, whose wings, five cubits each, extended, two of them meeting in the middle of the room to constitute the throne, two of them extending to the walls; the chariot of Yahweh;

b. images of cherubim were carved on the gold plated cedar planks which constituted the inner walls of the temple, and upon the olive wood doors; and on the bases of the portable lavers, interchanging with lions and oxen; woven in the veil of the דְּבִיר.

6. a. as four living creatures, each with four faces, lion, ox, eagle, and man, having the figure and hands of men, and the feet of calves. Each has four wings, two of which are stretched upward, meeting above and sustaining the throne of Yahweh; two of them stretched downwards so as to cover the creatures themselves. The cherubim never turn but go straight forward, as do the wheels of the cherubic chariot, and they are full of eyes and are like burning coals of fire; the king of Tyre is scornfully compared with one of these, and is assigned a residence in Eden and the mountain of God;

  1. the inner walls of the temple as carved with alternating palm trees and cherubim, each with two faces, the lion looking on one side, the man on the other. It is evident that the number and the form of the cherubim vary in the representations.

Cherubim put on guard to stop people getting back into the Garden of Eden.

Genesis 3:22-24

Yahweh God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand, and also take of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever...” Therefore Yahweh God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed cherubim* at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

Cherubim around the mercy seat; i.e. the seat of God on the Ark of the Covenant.

All the following quotations from the Bible come from the Web Bible:

Exodus 25:18-20

You shall make two cherubim of hammered gold. You shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other end. You shall make the cherubim on its two ends of one piece with the mercy seat. The cherubim shall spread out their wings upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings, with their faces toward one another. The faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat.

Exodus 37:7-9

He made two cherubim of gold. He made them of beaten work them, at the two ends of the mercy seat; one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other end. He made the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. The cherubim spread out their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, with their faces toward one another. The faces of the cherubim were toward the mercy seat.

God speaks to people from the space above the mercy seat.

Exodus 25:22

There I will meet with you, and I will tell you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the testimony, all that I command you for the children of Israel.

(But the people of Israel did not want God to speak to them because it was too fearful an experience, so the task of listening to God speak was given to Moses...)

Numbers 7:89   

When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Yahweh, he heard his voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the Testimony, from between the two cherubim: and he spoke to him.

The tent curtains leading into the most holy place have cherubim embroidered upon them.

Exodus 26:1   

Moreover you shall make the tent with ten curtains; of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, with cherubim. The work of the skillful workman you shall make them.

Exodus 26:31   

You shall make a veil of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cherubim. The work of the skillful workman shall it be made.

Exodus 36:8   

All the wise-hearted men among those who did the work made the tent with ten curtains; of fine twined linen, blue, purple, and scarlet, with cherubim, the work of the skillful workman, they made them.

Exodus 36:35   

He made the veil of blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twined linen: with cherubim. He made it the work of a skillful workman.

Solomon put cherubim inside the temple, in the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was to be stored, and upon the doors the temple.

1Kings 6:27-29

He set the cherubim within the inner house; and the wings of the cherubim were stretched forth, so that the wing of the one touched the one wall, and the wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; and their wings touched one another in the midst of the house. He overlaid the cherubim with gold. He carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, inside and outside.

1Kings 6:32

So he made two doors of olive-wood; and he carved on them carvings of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, and overlaid them with gold; and he spread the gold on the cherubim, and on the palm trees.

1Kings 6:35

He carved thereon cherubim and palm trees and open flowers; and he overlaid them with gold fitted on the engraved work.

1Kings 7:29 and on the panels that were between the ledges were lions, oxen, and cherubim; and on the ledges there was a pedestal above; and beneath the lions and oxen were wreaths of hanging work.

1Kings 7:36

On the plates of the stays of it, and on the panels of it, he engraved cherubim, lions, and palm trees, according to the space of each, with wreaths round about.

They put the Ark of the Covenant under Cherubim wings

1Kings 8:6-7

The priests brought in the ark of the covenant of Yahweh to its place, into the oracle of the house, to the most holy place, even under the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread forth their wings over the place of the ark, and the cherubim covered the ark and the poles of it above.

2Kings 19:15

Hezekiah prayed before Yahweh, and said, Yahweh, the God of Israel, who sit above the cherubim, you are the God, even you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.

Here is the description of the same thing from Chronicles.

2Chronicles 3:7

He overlaid also the house, the beams, the thresholds, and the walls of it, and the doors of it, with gold; and engraved cherubim on the walls.

2Chronicles 3:10 -11

In the most holy house he made two cherubim of image work; and they overlaid them with gold. The wings of the cherubim were twenty cubits long: the wing of the one cherub was five cubits, reaching to the wall of the house; and the other wing was likewise five cubits, reaching to the wing of the other cherub.

2Chronicles 3:13-14

The wings of these cherubim spread themselves forth twenty cubits: and they stood on their feet, and their faces were toward the house. He made the veil of blue, and purple, and crimson, and fine linen, and worked cherubim thereon.

2Chronicles 5:7-8

The priests brought in the ark of the covenant of Yahweh to its place, into the oracle of the house, to the most holy place, even under the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread forth their wings over the place of the ark, and the cherubim covered the ark and the poles of it above.

In heaven God sits above cherubim as well...

Psalm 80:1   

Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,

You who lead Joseph like a flock,

You who sit above the cherubim, shine forth.

Psalm 99:1   

Yahweh reigns! Let the peoples tremble.

He sits enthroned among the cherubim.

Let the earth be moved.

Isaiah 37:16

Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel, who sits above the cherubim, you are the God, even you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.

The Vision of Ezekiel.

The vision of Ezekiel is one of the most amazing, awe-inspiring visions in the Bible.

Ezekiel sees a kind of hyper-gryphon in heaven: a four-faced cherubim, with whirling wheels, lightning and thunder, a storm, and coals of fire. Each of the faces symbolises an aspect of the power of God - the lion is the king of the land animals, the eagle can fly the highest, the man is the most intelligent, and the bull (or cherub) is the strongest animal.

Ezekiel 1:1-28   

Now it happened in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity, the word of Yahweh came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of Yahweh was there on him.

I looked, and, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, a great cloud, with flashing lightning, and a brightness round about it, and out of the midst of it as it were glowing metal, out of the midst of the fire. Out of the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. This was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man. Everyone had four faces, and everyone of them had four wings. Their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot; and they sparkled like burnished brass. They had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings were joined one to another; they didn’t turn when they went; they went everyone straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, they had the face of a man; and they four had the face of a lion on the right side; and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four had also the face of an eagle. Their faces and their wings were separate above; two wings of everyone were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies. They went everyone straight forward: where the spirit was to go, they went; they didn’t turn when they went.

As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches: the fire went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. The living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.

Now as I saw the living creatures, behold, one wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, for each of the four faces of it. The appearance of the wheels and their work was like a beryl: and they four had one likeness; and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in their four directions: they didn’t turn when they went. As for their rims, they were high and dreadful; and they four had their rims full of eyes round about.

When the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Wherever the spirit was to go, they went; there was the spirit to go: and the wheels were lifted up beside them; for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up beside them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. Over the head of the living creature there was the likeness of an expanse, like the awesome crystal to look on, stretched forth over their heads above. Under the expanse were their wings straight, the one toward the other: everyone had two which covered on this side, and every one had two which covered on that side, their bodies. When they went, I heard the noise of their wings like the noise of great waters, like the voice of the Almighty, a noise of tumult like the noise of a host: when they stood, they let down their wings. There was a voice above the expanse that was over their heads: when they stood, they let down their wings. Above the expanse that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphirea stone; and on the likeness of the throne was a likeness as the appearance of a man on it above. I saw as it were glowing metal, as the appearance of fire within it round about, from the appearance of his loins and upward; and from the appearance of his loins and downward I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness round about him. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahweh. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of one that spoke.

Ezekiel 10:1-20   

Then I looked, and see, in the expanse that was over the head of the cherubim there appeared above them as it were a sapphire a stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne. He spoke to the man clothed in linen, and said, Go in between the whirling wheels, even under the cherub, and fill both your hands with coals of fire from between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city. He went in as I watched. Now the cherubim stood on the right side of the house, when the man went in; and the cloud filled the inner court. The glory of Yahweh mounted up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of Yahweh’s glory. The sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of God Almighty when he speaks. It came to pass, when he commanded the man clothed in linen, saying, Take fire from between the whirling wheels, from between the cherubim, that he went in, and stood beside a wheel. 7The cherub stretched forth his hand from between the cherubim to the fire that was between the cherubim, and took of it, and put it into the hands of him who was clothed in linen, who took it and went out. There appeared in the cherubim the form of a man’s hand under their wings. I looked, and behold, four wheels beside the cherubim, one wheel beside one cherub, and another wheel beside another cherub; and the appearance of the wheels was like a beryl stone. As for their appearance, they four had one likeness, as if a wheel have been within a wheel. Their whole body, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, and the wheels, were full of eyes round about, even the wheels that they four had. As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing, the whirling wheels. Every one had four faces: the first face was the face of the cherub, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third face the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle. The cherubim mounted up: this is the living creature that I saw by the river Chebar. When the cherubim went, the wheels went beside them; and when the cherubim lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth, the wheels also didn’t turn from beside them. When they stood, these stood; and when they mounted up, these mounted up with them: for the spirit of the living creature was in them. The glory of Yahweh went forth from over the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. The cherubim lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight when they went forth, and the wheels beside them: and they stood at the door of the east gate of Yahweh’s house; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above. This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river Chebar; and I knew that they were cherubim. Every one had four faces, and every one four wings; and the likeness of the hands of a man was under their wings.

Ezekiel 11:22

Then did the cherubim lift up their wings, and the wheels were beside them; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above. The glory of Yahweh went up from the midst of the city, and stood on the mountain which is on the east side of the city.

A vision of the new temple

Ezekiel 41:17-21 the space above the door, even to the inner house, and outside, and by all the wall round about inside and outside, by measure. It was made with cherubim and palm trees; and a palm tree was between cherub and cherub, and every cherub had two faces; 19 so that there was the face of a man toward the palm tree on the one side, and the face of a young lion toward the palm tree on the other side. thus was it made through all the house round about: from the ground to above the door were cherubim and palm trees made: thus was the wall of the temple. As for the temple, the door-posts were squared; and as for the face of the sanctuary, the appearance of it was as the appearance of the temple.

Ezekiel 41:24-26

The doors had two leaves apiece, two turning leaves: two leaves for the one door, and two leaves for the other. There were made on them, on the doors of the temple, cherubim and palm trees, like as were made on the walls; and there was a threshold of wood on the face of the porch outside. There were closed windows and palm trees on the one side and on the other side, on the sides of the porch: thus were the side-chambers of the house, and the thresholds.

In the New Testament:

Hebrews 9:4-5

...having a golden altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which was a golden pot holding the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; and above it cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat, of which things we can’t now speak in detail.

Cherubim - Cognate to Gryphon?

If a word is cognate with another word, it means the two words may well have a common heritage, and over time the sound and meaning as changed to the other word, as languages evolve. The first description of this tendency was Grimm’s law, named after Jacob Grimm33, who observed the following letter transformations:

hard b -> b -> p -> f

hard d -> d -> t -> th

hard g -> g -> k -> x


Using these rules, it is easy to see how gryphon, γρυπα (Greek, grupa), Greif (German), and kerub (Hebrew) might well have evolved from a single word.

Nonetheless, if a group of words are cognate, it does not mean they necessarily have the same meaning - in fact, hardly any two words in different languages or stages of language have the same meaning, particularly when you take into account the implied associations of a word as well as the dictionary definition. C.S.Lewis in ‘Studies in Words’ makes this point repeatedly - chapter nine looks at the word ‘World’ in English, and the various meanings and transformations of meaning throughout the history of the English language.

When looking at the various words related to gryphon – the Akkadian kuribu, the Hebrew kerub, and onto gryphon, γρυπα (Greek, grupa), Greif, gryphon, griffin, griffoune and griffon, we need to remember that these words have a history of thousands of years of usage – it does not seem un-likely that they might have changed meaning over the centuries.

Cherubim may not be gryphons. But there is a decent argument that they were closely related.

Here is Professor Julius Wellhausen’s paragraph in his great work Prologomena34 in which he first raised the possibility that gryphon might be cognate with kerub.

In the first account we stand before the first beginnings of sober reflection about nature, in the second we are on the ground of marvel and myth. Where reflection found its materials we do not think of asking; ordinary contemplation of things could furnish it. But the materials for myth could not be derived from contemplation, at least so far as regards the view of nature which is chiefly before us here; they came from the many-coloured traditions of the old world of Western Asia. Here we are in the enchanted garden of the ideas of genuine antiquity; the fresh early smell of earth meets us on the breeze. The Hebrews breathed the air which surrounded them; the stories they told on the Jordan, of the land of Eden and the fall, were told in the same way on the Euphrates and the Tigris, on the Oxus and the Arius. The true land of the world, where dwells the Deity, is Eden. It was not removed from the earth after the fall; it is there still, else whence the need of cherubs to guard the access to it? The rivers that proceed from it are real rivers, all well known to the narrator, they and the countries they flow through and the products that come from these countries. Three of them, the Nile, the Euphrates, and the Tigris, are well known to us also; and if we only knew how the narrator conceived their courses to lie, it would be easy to determine the position of their common source and the situation of Paradise. Other peoples of antiquity define the situation of their holy land in a similar manner; the streams have different names, but the thing is the same. The wonderful trees also in the garden of Eden have many analogies even in the Germanic mythology. The belief in the cherubs which guard Paradise is also widely diffused. Krub is perhaps the same name, and certainly represents the same idea, as Gryp in Greek, and Greif in German. We find everywhere these beings wonderfully compounded out of lion, eagle, and man. They are everywhere guardians of the divine and sacred, and then also of gold and of treasures. The ingredients of the story seem certainly to have parted with some of their original colour under the influence of monotheism. The Hebrew people no doubt had something more to tell about the tree of life than now appears. It is said to have been in the midst of the garden, and so it seems to have stood at the point whence the four streams issued, at the fountain of life, which was so important to the faith of the East, and which Alexander marched out to discover. Paradise, moreover, was certainly not planted originally for man, it was the dwelling of the Deity Himself. Traces of this may still be recognised. Jehovah does not descend to it from heaven, but goes out walking in the garden in the evening as if He were at home. The garden of Deity is, however, on the whole somewhat naturalised. A similar weakening down of the mythic element is apparent in the matter of the serpent; it is not seen at once that the serpent is a demon. Yet parting with these foreign elements has made the story no poorer, and it has gained in noble simplicity. The mythic background gives it a tremulous brightness: we feel that we are in the golden age when heaven was still on earth; and yet unintelligible enchantment is avoided, and the limit of a sober chiaroscuro is not transgressed.

But the classicist, Dr. Heinrich Levy, in 'Die Semitischen Fremdwörter im Griechischen'35 disagrees:

The fabulous gryphon was known to the Greeks of ancient times, but the word 'γρυψ' seems to have had a relatively late entrance: it is found first in the Arimaspea of Aristeas, an epic that did not originate until the second half of the sixth century (Helbig, Homer Ep. 388). Yet Prellwitz presents the word 'γρυψ᾽ as coming from ᾽γριπος᾽ (bent), as the crooked beak or four claws after which the bird was named36. The derivation of 'γρυψ᾽ from hebrew cherub is indeed rejected by Friedrich Delitzsch (Paradise 151), which makes more reasonable the (derivation of the) Indo-European root grabh "grip, grab": I think their opinion still stands. On the exploitation of gold in northern Europe Herodotus says, in III:16:

λέγεται δὲ ὑπὲκ τῶν γρυπῶν ἁρπάζειν Ἀριμασποὺς
ἄνδρας μουνοφθάλμους. πείθομαι δὲ
οὐδὲ τοῦτο ὅκως μουνόφθαλμοι ἄνδρες
φύονται, φύσιν ἔχοντες τὴν ἄλλην
ὁμοίην τοῖσι ἄλλοισι ἀνθρώποισι·

But it is said that one-eyed men called Arimaspians steal it from gryphons. But this I do not trust: that one-eyed men could be born who have a nature that is otherwise the same as other men!

Among these 'one-eyed' I understand - pursuing a thought of Keller, Volksetym. 190 – about the miners in the goldmines, mostly enslaved by Phoenicians: these people contributed to the tradition of holding a lantern at the front in order to illuminate the darkness. In Aeschylus, Prom 803 ff, it says this:

ὀξυστόμους γὰρ Ζηνὸς ἀκραγεῖς κύνας

γρῦπας φύλαξαι, τόν τε μουνῶπα στρατὸν

Ἀριμασπὸν ἱπποβάμον᾽, οἳ χρυσόρρυτον

οἰκοῦσιν ἀμφὶ νᾶμα Πλούτωνος πόρου 38

Watch for Zeus’ sharp-beaked unbarking hounds!

The Arimaspians’ mounts, in the gold-drenched lands,
Fenced in on both sides by Pluto’s flowing pores.

And in Genesis 3:24 it is reported of God - "East of the garden of Eden the Cherub lives with his flaming sword flashing to and fro, guarding the way to the tree of life.' Yes, the gryphon is a favorite subject with the ancient Greek, and so also in Phoenician art, as Furtwängler says in 'Broncefunde of Olympia', 49 - and he also speaks there about the initial sound of the Greek word ('γρυψ' instead of 'χρυψ') and 'γρυπος' as well as 'γυψ' "vulture", are also treated.

Der fabelhafte Greif war den Griechen von alters her bekannt, das Wort 'greps' scheint aber verhältnismäßig spät Eingang gefunden zu haben: es findet sich zuerst in den Arimaspeaia des Aristeas, einem Epos, das nicht vor der zweiten Hälfte des 6. Jahrhunderts entstanden ist (Helbig, Hom. Ep. 388). Noch Prellwitz stellt 'grups' zu 'gripos' gekrümmt, so dafs der Vogel nach dem krummen Schnabel oder den vier Krallen benannt wäre. Die Ableitung von 'grups' aus hebrew 'kerub' wird zwar von Friedrich Delitzsch (Paradies 151) verworfen, der die indogermanische Wurzel 'grabh' "greifen, packen" zu Grunde legt: ich halte sie aber trotzdem aufrecht. Über die Gewinnung des Goldes im Norden Europas sagt Herodotus III, 116: 'legetai etc'. Unter diesen Einäugigen verstehe ich - in Verfolg eines Gedaukens von Keller, Volksetym. 190 - die Bergleute in den meist von Phönikern ausgebeuteten Goldgruben: diese Leute trugen nach der Überlieferung oft eine Laterne an der Stirn, um damit das Dunkel zu erleuchten. Bei Aischylos, Prom. 803 ff., heifst es : 'oxustomous gar etc.'

Und ganz entsprechend wird Genesis 3:24 von Gott berightet: "Er liefs östlich vom Gerten Edens die Kerube und die Flamme des zuckenden Schwertes sich lagern, um den Weg zum Baume des Lebens zu bewachen. Dafs der Greif ein Lieblingsgegenstand wie der archaisch-griechischen, so auch der phönikischen Kunst ist, hat Furtwängler, Broncefunde von Olympia 49, betont. - Auf den Anlaut des griechischen Wortes ('grups' statt 'xrups') hat allerdings 'grupos', ebenso wie 'gups' "Geier", eingewirkt.)

These two extremes of opinion seem to have survived until today – amongst theologians and philologists the derivation of γρυψ grups from כְּרוּב kerub or other related Semitic words seems to be more generally accepted than amongst Classicists.

But there is evidence that they are related: particularly in the function of gryphons and cherubim in Near Eastern and Greek mythology. It's clear when one looks at the many examples of gryphons in Egyptian depictions, guarding tombs and kings' thrones; the same is seen in many Near Eastern depictions of gryphons. They are supernatural beings, guardians of the king39. In Teissier's Ancient Near Easter Cylinder Seals, a good 7% of the (mostly royal) seals contain depictions of gryphons. And as we have seen, gryphons are shown as the chariots of the gods from the earliest dramatic depiction in Aeschylus' play (Oceanus is a Titan, in fact, but they were the fathers of the gods in Greek mythology) right until the very last depiction, in Nonnus' Dionysia.

I believe John Pairman Brown, in 'Israel and Hellas40' puts the issue to rest.

We saw that Yahweh rides on the cherub or cherubim; he also sits on them (Ps. 80:2) This is explained by Ezekiel, who saw a sapphire throne (Ez. 10,1) with wheels assigned to the four cherubim, and self-propelled. It may be shown on a mysterious Palestinian coin... of a god on a winged wheel. Thus the cherubim serve both as guardians of the divinity and as means of his mobility. When sedentary the complex becomes a simple throne, and whether in Canaan or Hellas the creatures on the two sides are winged lions. Ahiram of Byblos on his sarcophagus sits on one; the priest of Dionysus had a griffin throne in the theatre of Athens. The throne-room of Cnossus has a griffin mural. Hiram the bronzesmith of Tyre made ten four-wheeled lavers with a frieze of lions, oxen and cherubim (I Reg 7.27-39); almost the exact item comes from Enkomi on Cyprus, a bronze four-wheeled laver with a fretwork frieze of “griffins”.

Perhaps Ezekiel's bizarre vision of a hyper-gryphon, with four faces and six wings, is a symbol of God being mightier than all the other gods – not only is God omniscient, all-seeing, but even the cherubim that are his throne look towards every cardinal point at once, North, South, East, West. And even his throne is a living, thinking being – or, really, a community of living, thinking beings. Even the wheels on the chariot are living things – and self-motivated – they whirl around on their own.

But I do not believe that the cherubim with their wings overshadowing the Ark of the Covenant, and the ones in the Jewish temple, and on the curtain of the temple, were hyper-gryphons such as Ezekiel describes. I think that it is more likely that they were gryphons; half-lion, half-eagle, just as we see in throne rooms all over the Mediterranean. The alternative to this is that they were simply some kind of bird or other winged creature - but looking at the etymology of the word and the prevalence of the idea of gryphons and other hybrid creatures makes it seem more plausible that cherubim means gryphon, or at least something along the lines of a gryphon or sphinx.


Main Sources used.

Henry George Liddell. Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. revised and augmented throughout by. Sir Henry Stuart Jones. with the assistance of. Roderick McKenzie. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1940.

Perseus Tufts is where most of my Greek and Latin source texts came from, apart from the biblical ones. All Greek translations were by me, but the Latin translations, in general, came from Perseus.

The excellent Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse is where I sourced the texts for the English prose texts, except for the Bibles after Wycliffe.

Absolutely invaluable for finding scans of out of copyright books.

Good source for the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament.

Invaluable for finding books

A Fragment of the Arimaspea

Author(s): C. M. Bowra

Source: The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 6, No. 1/2 (Jan. - Apr., 1956), pp. 1-10

Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association

This is where you can read about the Ropens, the pterodactyl in Papua New Guinea.

Figure 8

The Egyptian Expedition 1931-1932: The Work of the Graphic Branch of the Expedition

N. de G. Davies

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin

Vol. 28, No. 4, Part 2: The Egyptian Expedition 1931-1932 (Apr., 1933), pp. 1+23-29 (also

Figure 17

The Egyptian Expedition 1920-1921: I. Excavations at Lisht

A. C. Mace

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin , Vol. 16, No. 11, Part 2: Egyptian Expedition for MCMXX-MCMXXI (Nov., 1921), pp. 5-19

Published by: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Article Stable URL:

A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (abridged)

Based on A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, by F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907. Digitized and abridged as a part of the Princeton Theological Seminary Hebrew Lexicon Project under the direction of Dr. J. M. Roberts. Used by permission.

Electronic text corrected, formatted, and hypertexted by OakTree Software, Inc.

This electronic adaptation ©2001 OakTree Software, Inc.

Version 3.5

Symbols of Royalty in Canaanite Art in the Second and Third Millenia B.C.. Author: Irit Ziffer. The Israeli Academic Centre in Cairo.

The Ancient History of the near East with Remarks on Western Asia Author(s): Daniel David Luckenbill

Reviewed work(s):The Ancient History of the Near East by James Henry Breasted

Source: The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Jan., 1914), pp. 125-137

Published by: The University of Chicago Press

Stable URL: .

Studies in Words, by C.S.Lewis. Published by Cambridge University Press first published 1960, Cambridge, UK (Canto edition 1990)

Till We Have Faces, by C.S.Lewis. Harper Collins, London 2002 (Till We Have Faces first published Oxford University Press, 1956)

An in-progress edition of Johnson’s 1755 dictionary.

Extensive List.

Longinus, De Sublimitate 10.4

Note - apart from the section above attributed to Perseus Tufts, the Greek text for these sections comes from A Fragment of the Arimaspea CM Bowra,'s article was also very helpful in making my translations. Again, Perseus Tufts was a fantastic helper, too, for Greek lexicons.

Prometheus Bound, 387-397

Aeschylus Prometheus Bound, lines 801-809,0085,003:790&lang=original

Herodotus Histories 3.116.1-3

Herodotus Histories 4.13

Herodotus 4.27.1

Herodotus 4.79.2

Herodotus 4.152.4

Βιβλιοτηεκε του Φωτιου Librorum Quos Legit Photius Patriarcha ed. David Hoeschelis Augustanus p.69

Strabo 7.3.6

The Natural History. Pliny the Elder. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855.

Philostratus the Athenian, Vita Apollonii, book 3 chapter 47-48.

Pausanias. 1.25.5 and 6 Pausaniae Graeciae Descriptio, 3 vols. Leipzig, Teubner. 1903.

Apuleius The Golden Ass

Aspects of Apuleius' Golden Ass: Volume III: the Isis Book. A Collection of Original Papers, edited by W.H. Keulen, Ulrike Egelhaaf-Gaiser, from the essay by Ellen Finkelpearl p. 192

Claudii Aeliani de natura animalium libri xvii, varia historia, epistolae, fragmenta, Vol 1. Aelian. Rudolf Hercher. In Aedibus B.G. Teubneri. Lipsiae. 1864.

Nonnus Dionysica

John Mandeville’s Travels - the Egerton version;submit=Go;subview=detail;type=simple;view=fulltext;q1=a+gret+hors

From the Prose Life of Alexander Edited by JS Westlake pp.106-107;view=fulltext

Chaucer Canterbury Tales;view=fulltext

Wycliffe Bible;cc=cme;view=toc;idno=AFZ9170.0001.001

Another gryphon from the back of an ivory magical wand from excavations at Lisht, from the Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 1920-21, fig 17.

David Henry Luckenbill, ‘The Ancient History of the near East with Remarks on Western Asia’ p. 127.

Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Egyptian Expedition 1931-32. Figure 8. (From the tomb of Baqet III, tomb number 15 at Beni-Hasan.)

H TE Velde Seth God of Confusion a Study of his Role in Egyptian Mythology and Religion Leiden E J Brill Netherlands 1967 Translated by van Baaren-Pape; page 15.

John Pairman Brown Israel and Hellas, Volume 1 Chapter 2, Common Hebrew Vocubulary pp.86-87

J. Marti Das Buch Jesaja 1900 p.64

Ancient History Sourcebook:


The Victory of Ramses II Over the Khita, 1326 BCE

Papyrus at the British Museum:

The Pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian

image of the axe found in ‘History of Egypt, Chaldæa, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, Volume 4 (of 12)’ - based on the image

Septuagint -

Liddel Scott lexicon

Grimm’s Law Wikipedia's_law

Professor Julius Wellhausen Prologomena

Levy, Heinrich 'Die Semitischen Fremdwörter im Griechischen' (The Semitic Words in Greek) Berlin, 1895

Martti Muukonen University of Joensuu, Finland, The Emergence of Agriculture - Review of Recent Research Lisbon 2009

The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Travels of Marco Polo, Volume 2, by Marco Polo and Rustichello of Pisa, et al, Edited by Henry Yule and Henri Cordier 1903, rev. 1920

Gutenberg edition of The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela by 12th cent. Benjamin of Tudela Critical Text, Translation and Commentary by Marcus Nathan Adler London, 1907

Symbols of Royalty in Canaanite Art in the Second and Third Millenia BCE - In this article by Irit Ziffer, There are Gryphons pictured on Syrian cylinder seals. Irit Ziffer is a curator at the Eretz Israel Museum. The article as a whole is very interesting – as well as pictures of the gryphons, there are pictures in the article of ‘fanciful animals’ that look like Brachiosaurii, or some sort of long necked dinosaur, and various other strange creatures.

Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals from the Marcopoli Collection: Beatrice Teissier University of California Press 1985.

I have made rough sketches of some of the seals from her collection – under fair dealing I believe this will not infringe copyright as the artwork on the seals is certainly out of copyright. I would encourage anyone who is interested in Near Eastern gryphons to go and look at the photographs of the originals. The book is out of print but thanks to the generosity of the University of California Press it is available online at this web address:

There is no index in the book, so here is a brief list of the seals listed containing images of gryphons, so that you can look them up yourself if you want to. I would include images of them, but the University (quite rightly) wants to charge a fee for using parts of the book online:

Old Babylonian seals: 105, 125, 133

1900-1700BC, Lion-gryphons and a winged gryphon

Middle Assyrian: seal 136

1300-1200 BC A lion-griffin

Neo-assyrian seals: 146,149, 177, 213, 256, 257, 264, 276

900-650BC Gryphons running, at rest, gryphon headed bird, attacking gryphons, gryphons being attacked by archers.

Syrian seals: 434, 435, 437, 443, 444, 449, 469, 481, 492, 494, 495, 497, 501, 506, 529, 530, 549, 541, 548, 553, 554, 561, 568.

1850-1300BC semi-rampant, seated, kneeling, couchant, opposing, and recumbent gryphons. Gryphon demons. Figures kneeling before gryphons. Opposing Sphinx and gryphon.

Mitannian seals: 588, 593, 597, 601, 609, 611, 612, 613, 629, 631, 635, 644

1500-1200 BC recumbent gryphon, winged gryphons seated in the sky, lion and gryphon, etc.

Levantine seals: 649, 657, 668

1550-1100 BC recumbent gryphon, gryphon on leash, etc.


Most of the images come from Wikimedia Commons.


The two images from Robert Denethon's books Da Vinci style gryphon, Gryphon in underground cave, are copyright and were used with the publisher's permission.
To reuse them on your website or elsewhere please contact Submarine Media Pty Ltd

Return to top

A link to Robert Denethon's Blog about writing fantasy and steampunk with reference to griffins/gryphons/griffons, Deep Cogitations:
Link to Robert Denethon Blog

Links to books by Robert Denethon
CRYPTOGRYPH Gryphonomicon 2 cover image Book cover for feather on the breath of Ellulianaen Book cover for Gryphon of the Hidden Realm Book cover for feather on the breath of Ellulianaen


1 It is a wonderful phrase, and though it is probably the simplest, most obvious translation of the Greek - (i.e. it comes from Aeschyllus, really) - nonetheless it is not really my discovery; it is very close to the suggested translation for the passage from the entry for ψαίρω (ψαίρει) in the Liddel-Scott-Jones lexicon.

2 Although that assessment might be questioned now, from what we know of earlier Semitic royal records and Biblical texts such as the books of Judges, Samuel and Kings, where source materials were quite clearly consciously collated and woven together, with a view to making a case for a particular point of view of history.

3 οπου ουκ ενι ελλην και ιουδαιο, περιτομὴ και ακροβυστια, βαρβαρο, σκύθη, δουλο, ελεύθερο, αλλα [τα] παντα και εν πασιν ξριστό.

4 Βιβλιοτηεκε του Φωτιου Librorum Quos Legit Photius Patriarcha ed. David Hoeschelis Augustanus p.69

5 Or the boat-bearing river.

6 Black? This passage is hard to read in the scan. σήθει from εττημενος sifted, from τταω (διατταω) instead of ταω/ ταως a peacock. Or even something like, σωματοποιεω μεγάλα ´ερυθρα...ζήθ.. I give them bodily existence in greater Erithrea, where they once lived; i.e. I think they lived in greater Erithrea.

7 Probably an abbreviation of Δυσευποριστοσ - hard to procure. Or Γινε δυα πορις ός. Who when they give birth hatch two (but this doesn't really fit)

8 Pliny has previously denominated the Scythians "Anthropophagi;" and in B. iv. c. 26, and B. vi. c. 20, he employs the word as the proper name of one of the Scythian tribes.—B. (Ed. note: this is a footnote from the original text)

9 There can be no doubt, that cannibalism has existed at all times, and that it now exists in some of the Asiatic and Polynesian islands; but we must differ from Pliny in his opinion respecting the near connection between human sacrifices and cannibalism; the first was strictly a religious rite, the other was the result of very different causes; perhaps, in some cases, the want of food; but, in most instances, a much less pardonable motive.—B, Still, however, if nations go so far as to sacrifice human beings, there is an equal chance that a religious impulse may prompt them to taste the flesh; and when once this has been done, there is no telling how soon it may be repeated, and that too for the gratification of the palate. According to Macrobius, human sacrifices were offered at Rome, down to the time of Brutus, who, on the establishment of the Republic, abolished them. We read, however, in other authorities, that in 116, B.C. , two Gauls, a male and a female, were sacrificed by the priests in one of the streets of Rome, shortly after which such practices were forbidden by the senate, except in those cases in which they had been ordered by the Sibylline books. Still we read, in the time of Augustus, of one hundred knights being sacrificed by his orders, at Perusia, and of a similar immolation in the time of the emperor Aurelian, A.D. 270. These, however, were all exceptional cases, and do not imply a custom of offering human sacrifices. (Ed. note: this is a footnote from the original text)

10 Pliny, in describing the Riphæan mountains, B. iv. c. 26, calls them "gelida Aquilonis conceptacula," "the cold asylum of the northern blasts;" but we do not find the cavern mentioned in this or any other passage. The name here employed has been supposed to be derived from the Greek words,γης κλειθρον, signifying the limit or boundary of the earth.—B. "Specuque ejus dicto," most probably means "the place called its cave," and not the "cave which I have described," as Dr. B. seems to have thought. (Ed. note: this is a footnote from the original text)

11 They are merely enumerated among other tribes of Scythians, inhabiting the country beyond the Palus Mæotis. See B. iv. c. 26, and B. vi. c. 19.—B. (Ed. note: this is a footnote from the original text)

12 The figures of the Gryphons or Griffins are found not uncommonly on the friezes and walls at Pompeii. In the East, where there were no safe places of deposit for money, it was the custom to bury it in the earth; hence, for the purpose of scaring depredators, the story was carefully circulated that hidden treasures were guarded by serpents and dragons. There can be little doubt that these stories, on arriving in the western world, combined with the knowledge of the existence of gold in the Uralian chain and other mountains of the East, gave rise to the stories of the Griffins and the Arimaspi. It has been suggested that the Arimaspi were no other than the modern Tsheremis, who dwelt on the left bank of the Middle Volga, in the governments of Kasan, Simbirsk, and Saratov, not far from the gold districts of the Uralian range.

(Ed. note: this is a footnote from the original text)

13 It has been conjectured, that these fabulous tales of the combats of the Arimaspi with the Griffins, were invented by the neighbouring tribes of the Issedonæ or Essedones, who were anxious to throw a mystery over the origin of the gold, that they might preserve the traffic in their own hands. The Altai Mountains, in the north of Asia, contain many gold mines, which are still worked, as well as traces of former workings. The representation of an animal, somewhat similar to the Griffin, has been found among the sculptures of Persepolis, and is conceived to have had some allegorical allusion to the religion of the ancient inhabitants of the place. Ælian, Hist. Anim. B. iv. c. 27, gives an account of the Griffin, and its contests with the Indians, for the gold, similar to that here given.—B. (Ed. note: this is a footnote from the original text)

14 We have an account of the Arimaspi, and of Aristeas, in Herodotus, B. iv. cc. 13, 15, and 27. Most of the wonderful tales related in this Chapter may be found in Aulus Gellius, B. ix. c. 4. We have an account, also, of the Arimaspi in Solinus, very nearly in the words of Pliny. We have some valuable remarks by Cuvier, on the account given by Pliny of the Arimaspi and the Griffins, and on the source from which it appears to have originated, in Lemaire, vol. iii. p. 16, and Ajasson, vol. vi. pp. 164, 165.—B. (Ed. note: this is a footnote from the original text)

15 The modern Himalaya range. (Ed. note: this is a footnote from the original text)

16 Aulus Gellius relates this, among other wonderful tales, which are contained in his Chapter "On the Miraculous Wonders of Barbarous Nations," B. ix. c. 4. He cites, among his authorities, Aristeas and Isigonus, whom he designates as "writers of no mean authority."—B. (Ed. note: this is a footnote from the original text)

17 One of the pleasures promised to the Gothic warriors, in the paradise of Odin, was to drink out of the skulls of their enemies.—B. (Ed. note: this is a footnote from the original text)

18 πυρσοῖς Literally, the fires, might mean ‘the red’ - does this mean the wing membranes are woven into the existing red feathers on their breasts? For an alternative explanation for this rather detailed description, consider the Indian Red-headed vulture Sarcogyps Calvus, an endangered species today, has a very red head and neck even when a small, unfeathered chick, and these can grow to quite a size - indeed, a vulture nearly brought down an airplane recently. Perhaps this report of gryphons comes to Philostratus via Apollonius, who inquired about gryphons in India and was told about vultures?

19 A kind of pun in Greek - ἄλλο ἄλλῃ means something like ‘another thing and the other’. Are these monkeys or baboons of some sort?

20 Murmeekas - gr. μύρμηκες - may mean ants, although this is by no means certain.

21 ivory - τε ἐλέφαντος τὸ ἄγαλμα - literally the ‘glory of the elephant’...

22 Could this be the peacock, which does have very beautiful blue neck feathers? Perhaps mistakenly confused with the gryphon.

23 χειρουργοῦντες literally grabbing like a hand, meaning perhaps that the gryphon’s beak has quite a lot of dexterity.

24 While this passage is my own translation, I was alerted to the passage when reading an excellent, natural and quirky English translation of selected passages from Aelian’s “On the Nature of Animals” by Gregory McNamee. Unfortunately McNamee does not include the chapter on the gryphon.

25 Silkworms?

26 Noted in a review of Breasted’s book by David Henry Luckenbill, ‘The Ancient History of the near East with Remarks on Western Asia’ p. 127.

27 H TE Velde Seth God of Confusion a Study of his Role in Egyptian Mythology and Religion Leiden E J Brill Netherlands 1967 Translated by van Baaren-Pape; page 15.

28The Accordance bible software version of the BDB lexicon.

29 Here is the web address of the Papyrus at the British Museum:

30 The Pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian


32 The Accordance bible software version of the BDB lexicon.



Julius Wellhausen, Prologomena to the History of Israel 1899

35Levy, Heinrich 'Die Semitischen Fremdwörter im Griechischen' (The Semitic Words in Greek)

My translation, with help from online German dictionaries and

36I am not so sure of this – what if it was the other way around?

37See above (from a section translated earlier on this site)

Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound

38As translated earlier Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound
Watch for Zeus’ sharp-beaked unbarking hounds!

The Arimaspians’ mounts, in the gold-drenched lands,

Fenced in on both sides by Pluto’s flowing pores.

39See Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals from the Marcopoli Collection: Beatrice Teissier University of California Press. The whole book is available online at this web address:

In the webliography/bibliography I have listed all the seals.

40John Pairman Brown Israel and Hellas, Volume 3 Chapter 2, Common Hebrew Vocubulary pp.86-87

41Etymonline - entry for Caribou


42Martti Muukonen University of Joensuu, Finland, The Emergence of Agriculture - Review of Recent Research; see also information about Klaus Schmidt's Göbekli Tepe site
And the following news item quoted on the gobekli tepe information site

If you wish to use the public domain material please do.
If you wish to use any of the material on my site with the exception of the images I drew (this and this) and the book covers and blog image these , please do so - all of the other material that is my own original work (including the translations) is offered for reuse, for free (except the images) providing the following condition is followed: I only ask that you acknowledge that it is my work with the following link and acknowledgement (or one clearly equivalent), clearly visible on the same page on your site:

This section is the work of Robert Denethon,

The images from my books Da Vinci style gryphon, Gryphon in underground cave, and the Book Covers and blog image are copyright and were used with the permission of:

To reuse any of these images, either on the web or elsewhere, please contact Submarine Media Pty Ltd

Return to previous position

Robert Denethon is an author who lives in Western Australia. He has studied the Alexandrian dialect of Greek as part of a tertiary degree but does not count himself to be an expert. He has written four books about gryphons and is working on the fifth and sixth; they are now available - the "Gryphonomicon Gryphon Dragon Histories" and "Gryphonomicon Cryptogryph" (Submariners Map Imprint, an imprint of Submarine Media Pty Ltd , a publishing company based in Perth, Western Australia.)
Return to top

A link to Robert Denethon's Blog about writing fantasy and steampunk with reference to griffins/gryphons/griffons,Deep Cogitations:
Link to Robert Denethon Blog

Links to books by Robert Denethon
CRYPTOGRYPH Gryphonomicon 2 cover image Book cover for feather on the breath of Ellulianaen Book cover for Gryphon of the Hidden Realm Book cover for feather on the breath of Ellulianaen

You may contact him by email at