Either the mythical winged beast or another name for the White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla, Pygargue à queue blanche.

3 occurrences

The griffin or griffon is a fabulous beast with the wings of an eagle and the head and body of a lion. SEAGER quotes Bartholomew (Bk. 12, §19):

A gripe is accounted among volatiles. And the Gripe is four-footed, and like the eagle in head and wings; and is like to the lion in the other part of the body.

Emma PHIPSON (p. 460) adds that the griffin was "supposed to combine the qualities of the king of beasts and of the king of birds, and thus appeared in heraldry." And that it is sometimes identified with the legendary roc or ruck. Emma PHIPSON quotes Drayton as evidence:

All feather'd things great ever known to men

From the huge ruck, unto the little wren.

(Noah's Flood)

It is interesting to bear in mind that the modern name of the most common vulture species in Europe is the Griffon vulture Gyps fulvus, Vautour fauve. But it seems that in England the white-tailed eagle (see VULTURE), also called the erne, was sometimes identified with the griffin. It is particularly obvious in Lucrece:

Here with a cockatrice' dead-killing eye

He rouseth up himself, and makes a pause;

While she, the picture of pure piety,

Like a white hind under the gripe's sharp claws,

Pleads in a wilderness where are no laws,

To the rough beast that knows no gentle right,

Nor aught obeys but his foul appetite.

(LUC 540-6)

But mythology is already here with "cockatrice" the fabulous serpent. In 1 Henry IV the context is even more obvious:

Of the dreamer Merlin and his prophecies,

And of a dragon and a finless fish,

A clip-wing'd griffin and a moulten raven,

A couching lion and a ramping cat,

(3 1 144-7)

Like many prophecies, those by Merlin shed a terrible light on the future, the world order is altered: fish are "finless", ravens are moulting and the attitudes of the lion and the cat are reversed. A griffin is kept imprisoned by having its primary feathers cut (clip-wing'd), a technique usually used on ducks and swans in parks.

In A Midsummer Night's Dream also, "the story [is] changed", the natural order of things reversed: from the reversed mythology (Apollo/Daphne), to the natural world (hind/tiger). The transition is made by a semi-mythological pair (dove/griffin) and Shakespeare ends this demonstration with moral stances (cowardice/valour).

Run when you will; the story shall be chang'd:

Apollo flies, and Daphne holds the chase;

The dove pursues the griffin, the mild hind

Makes speed to catch the tiger - bootless speed,

When cowardice pursues, and valour flies.

(2 1 230-4)