The Griffin

griffinThe Griffin is the official emblem of the Drakensberg Boys Choir School and translates to ‘Dragon’, symbolical of the Drakensberg Mountains after which the school is named.

The Griffin is a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head and often wings of an eagle. As the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. Griffins are normally known for guarding treasure. In antiquity the griffin was a symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine.

Most contemporary illustrations give the Griffin forelegs like an eagle’s with talons, although in some older illustrations it has a lion’s forelimbs; it generally has a lion’s hindquarters. Its eagle’s head is conventionally given prominent ears; these are sometimes described as the lion’s ears, but are often elongated (more like a horse’s), and are sometimes feathered.

After “Griffin”, the spelling Gryphon is the most common variant in English, gaining popularity following the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as can be observed from usage in The Times and elsewhere. Less common variants include gryphen, griffen, and gryphin; from Latin grȳphus, from Greek γρύψ gryps, from γρύπος grypos hooked. The spelling “Griffon” (from Middle English and Middle French) was previously frequent but is now rare, probably to avoid confusion with the breed of dog called a griffon.

A 9th-century Irish writer by the name of Griffin Neal asserted that Griffins were strictly monogamous. Not only did they mate for life, but if one partner died, the other would continue throughout the rest of its life alone, never to search for a new mate. The Griffin was thus made an emblem of the Church’s views on remarriage.

Being a union of a terrestrial beast and an aerial bird, it was seen in Christianity to be a symbol of Jesus Christ, who was both human and divine. As such it can be found sculpted on churches.

According to Stephen Friar, a Griffin’s claw was believed to have medicinal properties and one of its feathers could restore sight to the blind. Goblets fashioned from Griffin claws (actually antelope horns) and Griffin eggs (actually ostrich eggs) were highly prized in medieval European courts.