INESSA KALABEKOVA

Griffinology book by A. L. McClanan, visual vocabulary

I just finished reading Griffinology, a beautifully illustrated book about the history and significance of griffins. There are lots of facts, and it feels more like a visual dictionary. Why are there so many griffins, and why are they so popular? The most interesting part for me is the discovery of the Pazyryk culture. The beautiful Altai Mountains are my homeland, and this topic is very intriguing to me. Shambhala. The distant land that the artist Roerich sought.

Oxford English Dictionary:

griffin | griffon | gryphon

A fabulous animal usually represented as having the head and wings of an eagle and the body and hind quarters of a lion.
Here are some highlights from the book:
  • The currency of griffins on traded luxury goods – almost working like a prestigious logo –
    illuminates why in Herodotus’ Histories and other classical Greek texts griffins figure so often on precious objects.
  • By incorporating odd details such as Aristeas returning as a phantom centuries after his death,
    and as a crow no less (iv. 14–15), Herodotus might be setting up the Arimaspea’s contents,
    including griffins, to be viewed as similarly in the realm of the fantastic.
  • Their role as guardians of gold against their ceaselessly acquisitive adversaries, the one-eyed
    Arimaspi, grounds Herodotus’ first three mentions of griffins.
  • While the cult of Nemesis originated in ancient Greece, only in the Roman period did the griffin become a routine companion for the goddess – so much so that it eventually became a visual proxy for her in many works.
  • We are drawing closer to Herodotus’ mythical ends of the Earth, where griffins were reputed to
    roam.
  • At Berel, for instance, thousands of kilometres from Greece, the bronze griffins found decoratinga fourth- to third-century BCE Pazyryk tomb lid has been likened to Herodotus’ gold-guarding griffin.
  • The griffin motif became part of the contested identity of the Altai, a place long seen as a
    gateway on many levels, not least between East and West. It was here that the early twentiethcentury mystic Nikolai Rerikh sought Shambala.
  • British Museum online collections catalogue for objects with ‘griffin’ as their subject yielded 1,454 items, mostly representing what has too often been dismissed as ‘decorative arts’.

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