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Roger délivrant Angélique (1824) by Louis-Édouard Rioult depicts a hippogriff in flight.

The hippogriff is a legendary creature which has the front quarters of an eagle and the hind quarters of a horse.

The first recorded mention of the hippogriff was made by the Latin poet Virgil in his Eclogues. Though sometimes depicted during the Classical Era and during the rule of the Merovingians, it was first named and defined by Ludovico Ariosto in his Orlando Furioso, at the beginning of the 16th century. Within the poem, the hippogriff is a steed born of a mare and a griffin - it is extremely fast and is presented as being able to fly around the world and to the moon. It is ridden by magicians and the wandering knight Roger, who, from the creature’s back, frees the beautiful Angelica.

Sometimes depicted on heraldic coats of arms, the Hippogriff became a subject of visual art in the 19th Century, when it was often drawn by Gustave Doré.


The word Hippogriff, also spelled Hippogryph and Hippogryphe[1] is derived from the Ancient Greek ἵππος /híppo, meaning “horse,” and the Italian grifo meaning “griffin” (from Latin gryp or gryphus), which denotes another mythical creature, with the head of an eagle and body of a lion, that is purported to be the father of the hippogriff.[2][3] The word hippogriff was adopted into English shortly before 1615.[4]

Early references[edit]

Hippogriff, illustration by Gustave Doré for Orlando furioso.

Ludovico Ariosto's poem, Orlando furioso (1516) contains an early description (canto IV):

no fiction wrought magic lore,
But natural was the steed the wizard pressed;
For him a filly to griffin bore;
Hight hippogryph. In wings and beak and crest,
Formed like his sire, as in the feet before;
But like the mare, his dam, in all the rest.
Such on Riphaean hills, though rarely found,
Are bred, beyond the frozen ocean's bound.
Drawn by enchantment from his distant lair,
The wizard thought but how to tame the foal;
And, in a month, instructed him to bear
Saddle and bit, and gallop to the goal;
And execute on earth or in mid air,
All shifts of manege, course and caracole;
He with such labour wrought. This only real,
Where all the rest was hollow and ideal.

According to Thomas Bulfinch's Legends of Charlemagne:

Beliefs and symbolism[edit]

According to Vidal, a Catalan historian, this creature was supposed to live near Céret, in the County of Roussillon of modern-day France, during the Middle Ages. Claw marks were found on a rock near Mas Carol.[6] The belief in the existence of the hippogriff, such as Ariosto describes, is fiercely attacked in a scientific essay on religion in 1862, which argues that such an animal can neither be a divine creation, nor truly exist. The hippogriff is supposed to be a mixture of several animals and the author notes that in order to support its weight, the wings would be so heavy that flight would be impossible, which proves—without question—that it does not exist. According to the traditions, the hippogriff is said to be the symbol of love, as its parents, the mare and griffin, are natural enemies.[7]

Modern representations[edit]

An animatronic Hippogriff in the nest on the left side of the lift hill of the roller coaster Flight of the Hippogriff in Orlando, Florida.

In a hoax initially perpetrated in 1904 in Lake George, New York State, tricksters used a fake “monster” which became known as "The Hippogriff". The creation had a head of a bird of prey, teeth, and two large horse ears, which could be controlled from below. The pranks and sightings faded until 1999 when several people staying at the Island Harbour House Hotel stated they had seen a sea monster at night. The old hoax was uncovered by the Daily News and the Lake George Historical Association Museum, which created a copy of the original wooden monster to display to the public in August 2002.[8]

The hippogriff appears in various works of fantasy, such as E. Nesbit's The Magic City (1910) and E. R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros (1922).

The fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons includes a version of the creature, which is described as having a horse's "ears, neck, mane, torso, and hind legs" and an eagle's "wings, forelegs, and face". According to the game's rules, the creatures are closely related to griffins and pegasi.[9]

"The Hippogriff" is the title of a novel by French writer Henry de Montherlant and is part of his four-book compilation "The Girls", published between 1936 and 1939. For Montherlant, the hippogriff (a heavy, smothering beast) was a symbol for the institution of marriage, which his hero tries to avoid as best he can. [10] A hippogriff named Buckbeak features prominently in Harry Potter.[11] Peter Dendle says that the portrayal of the treatment of Buckbeak in the novels is one example that demonstrates "[t]he emotional need to express domination symbolically"[12] as well as being one of the episodes that allows Harry to be shown as the "perennial liberator of all manner of creatures."[12] Al Roker calls the creation of Buckbeak in the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban "one of the most magnificent and realistic creatures in film history."[11] The character was used to create the theme for a roller coaster called Flight of the Hippogriff at the Florida amusement park The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in which the cars are wicker covered and pass by a statue of a hippogriff in a nest.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Complément du Dictionnaire de l'Académie française (in French). 
  2. ^ (Sevestre & Rosier 1983, pp. 16–17)
  3. ^ (Wagner 2006, p. 124)
  4. ^ "Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary". 
  5. ^ Thomas Bulfinch, Legends of Charlemagne, 1863.
  6. ^ (French) (Bo i Montégut 1978, p. 219)
  7. ^ Poulin, Paulin (1862). A. Lacroix, Verboeckhoven et al., eds. Qu'est-ce que l'homme ? Qu'est-ce que Dieu ? Solution scientifique du problème religieux (in French). p. 223. 
  8. ^ Radford, Benjamin; Nickell, Joe (2006). Lake monster mysteries: investigating the world's most elusive creatures. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 101–109. ISBN 9780813123943. 
  9. ^ Doug Stewart, ed. (1993). Monstrous Manual. TSR, Inc. p. 190. 
  10. ^ The Girls, a Picador Classic, pub. 1987
  11. ^ a b Roker, Al (2004-06-11). "Behind the Magic of 'Harry Potter'". NBC News. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  12. ^ a b Heilman, Elizabeth E. (2008-08-05). Critical Perspectives on Harry Potter. Taylor & Francis. pp. 201–. ISBN 9780203892817. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  13. ^ Miller, Laura Lea (2011-10-20). Frommer's Walt Disney World and Orlando 2012. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 273–. ISBN 9781118168042. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Hippogriff at Wikimedia Commons