Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.


A picture is worth a thousand words.

~Napoleon Bonaparte

Friday, 5 August 2011

Griffin, basilisk, and phoenix

Greek myth and legend is filled with a wide variety of monsters and creatures ranging from Dragons, Giants, Demons and Ghosts, to multiformed creatures such as the Sphinx, Minotaur, Centaurs, Manticores and Griffins.There were also many fabulous animals such as the Nemean Lion, golden-fleeced Ram and winged horse Pegasus, not to mention the creatures of legend such as the Phoenix, Unicorns (Monocerata) . Even amongst the tribes of man, myth spoke of strange peoples inhabiting the far reaches of the earth such as the hopping Umbrella-Foots, the one-eyed Arimaspians, the Dog-Headed men, and the puny Pygmies

The Griffin was a beast with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. A tribe of the beasts guarded rich gold deposits in certain northern or eastern mountains. Their one-eyed neighbours--the Skythian Arimasp tribe--battled them for these riches.

Date: ca 515 - 500 BC

Detail of decorative Gryps (Griffin). One stands beneath each handle of the vase.

Date: ca 400 - 390 BC

Dionysus drives a chariot drawn by three beasts: a panther, bull and Gryps (griffin). The god is crowned with a wreath of ivy leaves and holds a thyrsos (pine-cone tipped staff) in one hand.

Date: ca 380 BC

Apollo rides sidesaddle upon the back of a Gryps (Griffin), a winged, eagle-headed lion. The god strums a lyre with one hand and holds a laurel branch in the other.

Cathedral Oliva, Poland

Mosaic floor in St. Mark's Basilica

Statue of a griffin at St Mark's Basilica in Venice

Heraldic guardian griffin at Kasteel de Haar, Netherlands

Berlin, Konzerthaus, Dachfigur: Apollo in einem von Greifen gezogenen Wagen (Apollo and Griffin)

Griffon, Karlsruhe, Allemagne

Griffin at entrance to Seward House in Auburn, NY
Griffins are in many Coat of Arms. I didn't know that princess Diana also had a griffin

Coat of Arms of Diana, Princess of Wales

Banffy Palace Eastern Facade with Griffins

Compiègne, France: Château de Compiègne

Griffin on bridge in Gryfice, Poland

The mythical king of the serpents. The basilisk, or cockatrice, is a creature that is born from a spherical, yolkless egg, laid during the days of Sirius (the Dog Star) by a seven-year-old rooster and hatched by a toad.

Basilisk, Source: Ulisse Aldrovandi, "Monstrorum historia", 1642,
 It was usually shown as a creature with a dragon's body and wings and a serpent's head. The basilisk first appeared in legends from ancient Greece and Rome. In the 1100s, St. Hildegard wrote of the serpent coming out of an egg sat upon by a toad.  It was believed that a basilisk would die if it heard a cock crowing. Another way to destroy a basilisk was to hold a mirror up to its face. The creature would die immediately after seeing its reflection. Travelers often carried cocks, weasels, or mirrors for protection when they traveled to regions where basilisks lived.

Basilisk is said to have the power to cause death with a single glance.

 Crow, swan, basilisk, pelican, phoenix. Detail from illustration of Basilica 
Philosophica, third volume of Johann Daniel Mylius’ Opus Medico-Chymicum

 Gurk Cathedral. The lion  kills the basilisk.

                                                       Basilisk, 16th century

  Coat of arms of the House of Visconti, on the Arch-bishops' palace in Piazza Duomo, in Milan, Italy. The coat of arms bears the initials  of the name of archbishop Giovanni Visconti [1342-1354]. In this images is evident the fact that the heraldic animal of the House of Visconti is a basilisk (a sort of drake) rather than a snake. Picture by Giovanni Dall'Orto,
I would argue that it evident that it is a basilisk.Basilisk is a creature with a dragon's body and wings and a serpent's head. A different image than those above.

I looked at St. George and a dragon paintings but it looks like a basilisk.

 Gustave Moreau, St George 
Accounts of this monster vary, but it was generally said to have either the face of a cock or a distorted human face, with the wings and feet of a fowl and the tail of a serpent. It was represented this way in heraldry.

It was reputed to be a deadly creature with a destructive power similar to that of the fabulous Gorgons of Greek legend. A human being could survive its deadly glare only by viewing it in a mirror; however, if anyone saw the basilisk before it saw that person, the creature would die. It was even believed to kill itself if it saw its own image in a mirror. Even its breath was poisonous to plants and animals, as well as to humans, and was believed to have the power to split rocks. It is possible that this fearsome creature really evolved from exaggerated travelers' tales of the horned adder or the hooded cobra, confused with such awesome reptiles as the Gila monster.

Basilisk has also been applied to a group of iguana like lizards.

The carcass of a basilisk was often hung in houses to keep spiders away. It was also used in the temples of Apollo and Diana, where no swallow ever dared to enter. In heraldry the basilisk is represented as an animal with the head, torso and legs of a cock, the tongue of a snake and the wings of a bat. The snake-like rump ends in an arrowpoint.

 Basilisk in science fiction and popular culture

"Basilisk" and "Medusa weapons" are mythological terms used by various authors, notably David Langford, in Different Kinds of Darkness and related short stories to describe a (fictional) class of image or sensation which causes death or harm to anyone who views it.
The basilisk appears in J. K. Rowling's popular Harry Potter books, most notably in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, where it is the monster inside the depths of the chamber.
 Basilisk: The Kiunga Ninja Scrolls  Bajirisuku Kōga Ninpōchō?, 2003) is a Japanese manga and anime series.

I didn't know that we have  basiliscus lizard.

The phoenix or phenix  is a mythical sacred firebird that can be found in the mythologies of the Arabian, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese and (according to Sanchuniathon) Phoenicians.
A phoenix is a mythical bird with a colorful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet (or purple, blue, and green according to some legends. It has a 500 to 1000 year life-cycle, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again. The new phoenix is destined to live as long as its old self. In some stories, the new phoenix embalms the ashes of its old self in an egg made of myrrh and deposits it in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis (literally "sun-city" in Greek). It is said that the bird's cry is that of a beautiful song. The Phoenix's ability to be reborn from its own ashes implies that it is immortal, though in some stories the new Phoenix is merely the offspring of the older one. In very few stories they are able to change into people.

 Phoenix detail from Aberdeen Bestiary
The ancient Greek historian Herodotus gave the following account of the phoenix in the fifth century BC while describing the animals of Egypt:
Another sacred bird is the one called the phoenix. Now, I have not actually seen a phoenix, except in a painting, because they are quite infrequent visitors to the country; in fact, I was told in Heliopolis that they appear only at 500-year intervals. They say that it is the death of a phoenix's father which prompts its visit to Egypt. Anyway, if the painting was reliable, I can tell you something about the phoenix's size and qualities, namely that its feathers are partly gold but mostly red, and that in appearance and size it is most like an eagle. There is a particular feat they say the phoenix performs; I do not believe it myself, but they say that the bird sets out from its homeland in Arabia on a journey to the sanctuary of the sun, bringing its father sealed in myrrh, and buries its father there.
 Phoenix depicted in the book of mythological creatures by F.J. Bertuch (1747-1822).

The Roman poet Ovid wrote the following about the phoenix:
Most beings spring from other individuals; but there is a certain kind which reproduces itself. The Assyrians call it the Phoenix. It does not live on fruit or flowers, but on frankincense and odoriferous gums. When it has lived five hundred years, it builds itself a nest in the branches of an oak, or on the top of a palm tree. In this it collects cinnamon, and spikenard, and myrrh, and of these materials builds a pile on which it deposits itself, and dying, breathes out its last breath amidst odors. From the body of the parent bird, a young Phoenix issues forth, destined to live as long a life as its predecessor. When this has grown up and gained sufficient strength, it lifts its nest from the tree (its own cradle and its parent's sepulchre), and carries it to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun.

 Phoenix and roses,  Pavement mosaic, 2nd half of the 3rd century AD. 
  Cathédrale Saint-Etienne de Metz
 Mythical bird phoenix on a ceram, 22 rue Saint-Michel, (Alpes-Maritimes, France).
Flavius Philostratus (c. AD 170), who wrote the biography Life of Apollonius of Tyana, refers to the phoenix as a bird living in India, but sometimes migrating to Egypt every five hundred years. His account is clearly inspired by Garuda, the bird of the Hindu god Vishnu. He considered the bird as an emanation of sunlight, being in appearance and size much like an eagle. 
 The phoenix on top of Kinkaku-ji temple, Kyoto, Japan.

Originally, the phoenix was identified by the Egyptians as a stork or heron-like bird called a benu, known from the Book of the Dead and other Egyptian texts as one of the sacred symbols of worship at Heliopolis, closely associated with the rising sun and the Egyptian sun-god Ra.

The Phoenix is not the Bonû (cf. p. 186, note 2), but a fabulous bird derived from the golden sparrow-hawk, which was primarily a form of Haroêris, and of the sun-gods in second place only. On the authority of his Heliopolitan guides, Herodotus tells us (ii. 83) that in shape and size the phoenix resembled the eagle, and this statement alone should have sufficed to prevent any attempt at identifying it with the Bonû, which is either a heron or a lapwing.
Gaston Maspero, History of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia ans Assyria Vol. III
 The Bennu-bird
   The Bennu-bird
The Greeks subsequently pictured the bird more like a peacock or an eagle and identified it with their own word phoenix (Φοίνιξ), meaning the color purple-red or crimson  or a palm tree. According to the Greek mythology the phoenix lived in Phoenicia next to a well. At dawn, it bathed in the water of the well, and the Greek sun-god Helios stopped his chariot (the sun) in order to listen to its song.
In Persian mythology, Simurgh was a winged, bird-like creature that was very large and extremely ancient with a long tail. 
In China, the phoenix is called the businiao (不死鳥; literally "immortal bird"). The East Asian variant, the fenghuang is a mythical bird similar to the phoenix. It is the one of the most-respected legendary creatures in China and the feminine counterpart to the dragon.
 The Fenghuang (Chinese Phoenix) at the Summer Palace, Beijing, China.