The Griffin in Greek Mythology: Creature, Story & Meaning

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  • 0:03 Griffins
  • 0:48 Origins from the East
  • 1:43 Legends
  • 2:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Eve Levinson

Eve has taught various courses of high school history and has a master's degree in education.

Griffins, animals that are half eagle and half lion, represented wisdom, strength, and cunning in Greek mythology. They were also believed to hoard and protect gold, according to stories from the Silk Road and myths about the Arimaspians. Learn more about them in this lesson.

Griffins

Greek mythology included the stories of gods, warriors, and mythical creatures. The tales guided and inspired the Greek people, and the figures took on symbolic meaning across media and time. But the myths about griffins were brought to Greece by traders who returned from Asia's Silk Road.

Griffins were creatures depicted with an eagle's head and a lion's body. They were often shown with wings, but not always, and they had pointed ears and front talons. They were believed to be greedy creatures, hoarding and guarding gold much like dragons did. By combining the eagle and the lion, the two animals that the ancient Greeks viewed as the kings of their realms, the griffin took on the power and majesty of its halves.

Origins from the East

Trading and wealth in ancient Greece were largely dependent on traders and explorers venturing out into the world to discover various treasures. The most well-traveled routes to East Asia were known as the Silk Road because they led men to silk, spices, and great wealth. From the Silk Road, these traders returned to Greece with resources and stories, some of which told of the griffin.

There were locations where gold was plentiful in the earth, and when these ancient people sought the riches of the gold, they also discovered bones of a unique creature with a massive size, sharp beak, and wings, which led them to imagine what the beast might have looked like alive. Further, because of where they found the skeletons, they assumed these creatures built their nests to claim the treasure and protect it. It has since been reasoned that the fossilized bones were more likely those of the Pentaceratops, a dinosaur found elsewhere with many of the same features.

Legends

Griffins enter into the mythology of many ancient cultures, most notably those of Eastern Europe. The Greeks told tales of battles between these two groups over gold. When the mythological Arimaspians, one-eyed people who lived in what is now Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Russia, tried to steal the griffins' treasure, the beasts killed them and then ate both the men and their horses.

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