DAIMONAS.COM

© demetrios vakras

ORIGINS OF GRIFFIN

AUTHOR: about the Daimonas

The internet should never be the primary source for information, and should always be used with extreme caution. This page has come into existence because I stumbled upon an internet site dedicated to the griffin (alernately: "gryphon", "gryps"). On that site the author stated that the griffin was adopted by Greeks from the Scythians in the 6th century BC... and the reasoning proffered as a means of supporting this hypothesis was that the author of that page had never encountered the griffin's role in any Greek myth. This page contains griffins from the Greek world that are one thousand years older than the Scythian-adoption claim made on that site. The earliest depictions of griffins occur on the Greek island of Thera and date to the 17th century BC or earlier. These frescoes were painted some time before the volcano erupted. The date of the eruption of the volcano at Thera has now  been dated to 1623 BC  (refer:
http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/science/topics/ice/index.html?query=SANTORINI&field=geo&match=exact ;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thera_eruption


Below (left) portion of griffin wing from a fresco from Avaris, capital of the Hyksos
Below (right) portion of griffin from a fresco fromThera


Scans from AVARIS the capital of the Hyksos. Recent excavations at Tell el-Dab'a by Manfred Bietak, published by the British Museum Press. isbn 0 7 141 09681
Above left, portion of wing from fresco fragments, Avaris, Egypt. Above right, griffin on pre-eruption fresco Thera.

Bietak's book is the publication of his excavation results at Avaris, Egypt. (Amazon Link)

Representations, identical in style to those found on Thera of the griffin - which first appear before the 17th century BC - are those which appear on Minoan signet rings. The example below is a gold ring from Tholos Tomb B at Archanes Krete. It dates to c. 1450-1300 BC (probably earlier). Illus. 68, J & E Sakellarakis, Crete Archanes isbn 9602132345. It shows a griffin accompanying, as in Thera, a goddess.

The griffin accompanying the goddess is a theme which is continued by the Mycenaeans and appears on frescoes found at Mycenae.

Above is a fragment of a wall painting showing a warrior goddess, probably Athena, in the Cult Centre of Mycenae (c. 1300 BC?). Illus. 104, Schofield, The Mycenaeans isbn 9780714120904. The griffin faces backward. This style (with backward facing creatures) was taken to the Levantine coast by the Mycenaean settlers there, the Philistines. The goddess here is not only accompanied by a griffin but wears a boar's tusk helmet. These helmets appear on another fresco from Thera which (dates before the volcanic eruption). It is these helmets which were worn by the Greeks, and described by Homer, when they besieged Troy.


Below a griffin's head from a Mycenaean period fresco from Pylos


Plate XXX, B, Greece in the Bronze Age, by Emily Vermeule, published by the University of Chicago Press. isbn 0 226 85354 3

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Fragment of a Griffin head from the "Queens Megaron", Pylos (Greece). 15th(?) century BC.

The three scans of fresco paintings of griffins - from Thera, Avaris, and Pylos - are all executed in the same style. The one from Thera dates to before 1623 BC, prior to the eruption of the volcano. The one from Avaris, the capital of Hyksos-ruled Egypt, also dates to c. 1600 BC. The griffin is only introduced into Egypt during the Hyksos period. The style of painting is the same as at Aegean Thera. It continued on the Greek mainland after the eruption of the volcano at Thera, but disappeared from Egypt with the expulsion of the Hyksos.




Griffin from Mycenae, dated to before c. 1300 BC.

This image is scanned from:
Plate XXXVII, A, Greece in the Bronze Age, by Emily Vermeule, published by the University of Chicago Press. isbn 0 226 85354 3

page 128, illus. 119  The Arts in Prehistoric Greece, by Sinclair Hood, published by Pelican History of Art (series). isbn 0 14 056142 0


"An exquisite gold seal found by Carl Blegen in a tomb at Pylos showing a winged griffin (c. 1420 BC)."

This image and quote come from:
page 79, In Search of the Trojan War, by Michael Wood, published by BBC. isbn 0 563 20579 2

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(Probably the best synopsis of Bonze-Age east Mediterranean civilizations & their interactions.)



The throne room at Knossos, with attendant griffins. The griffins appear to be a post-Mycenaean-conquest (c.1450 BC) introduction.

This image is scanned from:
page 64. Lost World of the Aegean, "The Emergence of Man" series, by Maitland A. Edey, published by Time-Life books. isbn ?

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These are some of the most impressive ivory griffins found on Greek soil and are dated to the 14th century BC.

The drawing of the cylindrical pyxis "rolled out" is by Piet de Jong.

This image is scanned from:
page 132, Minoan and Mycenaean Art, by Reynold Higgins, published by Thames & Hudson. isbn 0 500 20303 2
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page 123, illus. 112, A & B,  The Arts in Prehistoric Greece, by Sinclair Hood, published by Pelican History of Art (series). isbn 0 14 056142 0
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(Also appears in  Plate XXXVI, B & C, Greece in the Bronze Age, by Emily Vermeule, published by the University of Chicago Press. isbn 0 226 85354 3)

A NOTE ON WHAT PASSES FOR WESTERN SCHOLARSHIP:

The lid to the ivory pyxis is reproduced on page 40 (illus. 44) of A concise history of ANCIENT GREECE to the close of the classical era by Peter Green, published by T&H, isbn 0500450145. Though no Near Eastern examples of the griffin predate this Athenian one, and although all representations of griffins that predate this one are found only on Greek soil, Green writes:

"Mycenaean contacts with the Orient are shown by the pyxis lid, with its winged griffin, carved from a cross-section of a tusk: from a tomb at Athens (c. 1400 BC).



This ivory carving of a griffin was found at Meggido, in the Levant. It is dated to c. 13th century BC. It is in the same style as the earlier griffins from Greece, and is found in an area which had extensive trade contacts with the Aegean, (Mycenaean-Greek) world. It is staggering to me that this griffin is often attributed to Levantine makers, even though the wing spirals and technique is that of Mycenaean Greeks (whose ivory-carving workshops have been identified archaeologically), and that it is found in an area which has shown archaeological association with "sea-people" (Aegean) settlements in the Levant.



The Elamite Griffin.

Scanned from Figure 35, p. 165 The Lost World of Elam: Re-creation of a Vanished Civilization, by Walther Hinz, published by Sidgwick & Jackson. isbn 0 283 97863 5 (Amazon link)
Hinz comments on "...the universally lively imagination evinced by these Elamites... they portrayed imaginary hybrids and bizarre monsters. One of these hybrids is the gryphon (Figure 35)... The gryphon is an original Elamite invention, and while remaining unknown in Mesopotamia, was adopted as a symbol in Egypt." p. 164

This griffin is the "blue-glazed griffin" recovered in fragments from the ziggurat at Choga Zanbil  (Choga Zambil).
The Archaeology of Elam: Formation of an Ancient Iranian State. D. T. Potts. published by Cambridge. isbn 0 521 56496 4  (p.226 & p.188. Amazon link)

According to Hinz this ziggurat was founded by Untashnapirisha in the mid 13th century BC (pp.166-167)

Which means that the griffin had been in existence for approximately 400 years in the Aegean before it arrived in Elamite Susa, and is therefore not "an original Elamite invention" as is claimed by Hinz! Its introduction into Egypt was during the Hyksos period.





In the Wikipedia entry on the griffin, the Aegean griffins are entirely omitted, hence creating the impression that the origin of the griffin lies instead in the Near East. What is depicted is a griffin from Marlik,Iran (pictured below), which dates to between the 12th - 13th centuries BC (c. 1250-1150 BC). The griffins of the Aegean predate the Marlik griffin by 400 years.
The Wikipedia page can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griffin (Unfortunately I took no screenshot of the Wikipedia page - which had been altered by the time I revisited it.)


Image Source illus. 539: Art of the Ancient Near East, by Pierre Amiet, published by Abrams. ISBN 0810906384

(Amazon link)


The latest incarnation of the Wikipedia page on the griffin endeavours to further misinform anyone who seeks information on the griffin. Below are screenshots of the latest claim (22/7/2008) found there:

The lengths taken to establish and secure a Near Eastern origin of the griffin, despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary by the Wikipedia, indicates that an agenda other than one intended to inform motivates its editors. What is presented as information on the Wikipedia is, unless corroboration of what is presented on it as "fact" elsewhere, likely to be the fantasy of one of its anonymous editors. What needs to be pointed out is that the creature on the Lagash vase is quadrupedal; it has ventral scales on its underside - these are found only on snakes, not lizards, thus though it is quadrupedal it is not a lizard; it has a snake/lizard head, and not the bird/eagle/vulture beak of a griffin; it has hands with opposable thumbs on its upper limbs and it has bird talons, not the clawed paws of a griffin, for its lower limbs. This is not a griffin! The Lagash vase depicts a quadrupedal taloned and winged horned snake beast. What the guardians on the Lagash vase are intended to depict are the "horned serpent" and/or mushussu-dragon of mesopotamian myth - not a griffin.



The griffin has since travelled the world. This is from a park in Coburg, Melbourne Australia & dated to AD 1922.

© The images on this page are © of the various publications (except for the Melbourne griffins in Coburg which is my own). They have been presented on this page on the understanding of "fair use".


© demetrios vakras