One of the lesser known mythical animals (in comparison to the unicorn, say, or the dragon) is the griffin. (Also known as gryphon, griffon, gryphen or griffen.) The griffin is a legendary beast that resembles a giant eagle crossed with a lion. Female griffins have eagle's wings, whereas the male cannot fly. Aside from that, there was little difference between the sexes.
The griffin was a European invention. There are examples of griffin-like carvings dating back from the Roman Empire.
Griffins were closely linked to the Sun, where griffins were depicted as the creatures harnessed to the sun chariot. They were also believed to guard gold mines.
In Scythia, where gold mines were abundant, it was believed that griffins did live there at some point. This theory was seemingly cemented by the discovery of several large bones. These were, however, probably fossilised dinosaur bones.
Griffins are not to be confused with hippogriffs. Hippogriffs are an extremely rare hybrid of the griffin and a horse. The very name, hippogriff, comes from the names of its parents, ie. Horse (hippo) and griffin (griff).
Griffins were used as the Christian church's emblem of marital fidelity. Griffins mated for life, and when one partner died, the other would continue on, but would never find another mate. It was also impossible to lie around a griffin.
Griffins did not bear live young, as might be expected from a part lion. Instead, the female laid three eggs at a time, roughly the same size as an ostrich egg. The egg is made from a stone called agate.
The female would lay her eggs in a sheltered cave that had a very narrow entrance and a roomy inside, then would stand guard until they hatched, leaving the male to hunt.
Contrary to most opinions, griffins did not eat people or cattle. They ate fish, dolphins and most marine animals. However, when fish were scarce, they were known to take off goats.