1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Griffin

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GRIFFIN, Griffon or Gryphon (from Fr. griffon, Lat. gryphus, Gr. γρύψ), in the natural history of the ancients, the name of an imaginary rapacious creature of the eagle species, represented with four legs, wings and a beak,—the fore part resembling an eagle and the hinder a lion. In addition, some writers describe the tail as a serpent. This animal, which was supposed to watch over gold mines and hidden treasures, and to be the enemy of the horse, was consecrated to the Sun; and the ancient painters represented the chariot of the Sun as drawn by griffins. According to Spanheim, those of Jupiter and Nemesis were similarly provided. The griffin of Scripture is probably the osprey, and the name is now given to a species of vulture. The grifiin was said to inhabit Asiatic Scythia, where gold and precious stones were abundant; and when strangers approached to gather these the creatures leapt upon them and tore them in pieces, thus chastising human avarice and greed. The one-eyed Arimaspi waged constant war with them, according to Herodotus (iii. 16). Sir John de Mandeville, in his Travels, described a grifiin as eight times larger than a lion.

The griffin is frequently seen as a charge in heraldry (see Heraldry, fig. 163); and in architectural decoration is usually represented as a four-footed beast with wings and the head of a leopard or tiger with horns, or with the head and beak of an eagle; in the latter case, but very rarely, with two legs. To what extent it owes its origin to Persian sculpture is not known, the capitals at Persepolis have sometimes leopard or lion heads with horns, and four-footed beasts with the beaks of eagles are represented in bas-reliefs. In the temple of Apollo Branchidae near Miletus in Asia Minor, the winged griffin of the capitals has leopards' heads with horns. In the capitals of the so-called lesser propylaea at Eleusis conventional eagles with two feet support the angles of the abacus. The greater number of those in Rome have eagles' beaks, as in the frieze of the temple of Antoninus and Faustina, and their tails develop into conventional foliage. A similar device was found in the Forum of Trajan. The best decorative employment of the griflin is found in the vertical supports of tables, of which there are two or three examples in Pompeii and others in the Vatican and the museums in Rome. In some of these cases the head is that of a lion at one end of the support and an eagle at the other end, and there is only one strongly developed paw; the wings circling round at the top form conspicuous features on the sides of these supports, the surfaces below being filled with conventional Greek foliage.