Grasping the Griffin: Identifying and Characterizing the Griffin in Egyptian and West Semitic Tradition


The griffin is commonly understood to be an eagle-headed winged lion. I argue here that the Egyptian version has a falcon head, identifying it as a form of Horus; as an allomorph of the sphinx (seen most clearly on the axe-head of Ahmose), it represents the ka of the king. A digression into Judeo-Christian iconography argues that the bird among the evangelical symbols, derived from Ezekiel’s vision of the divine chariot, is not an eagle, but a falcon, the four forms being all derived from Egyptian images of the king (as lion, bull, man, and falcon). The iconography of cherubs (commonly supposed to be of Mesopotamian inspiration) is perhaps more directly linked with griffins, since the Hebrew kerûb is claimed to be the source of Greek γρυψ (“griffin”) by J. P. Brown. The other symbolic beast of the Israelite repertoire is usually understood to be serpentine: here I argue that the Hebrew śārāp, “seraph,” is better explained as derived from Egyptian srf/sfr, “griffin,” having the same sense. A semantic (though perhaps not morphological) equivalence of śārāp and kerûb seems reasonable. The frequent incidence of griffins in West Semitic glyptic art in the second and first millennia is shown to perpetuate the Egyptian solar and royal symbolism, which was also transmitted to the Aegean world.

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Wyatt, N., (2010) “Grasping the Griffin: Identifying and Characterizing the Griffin in Egyptian and West Semitic Tradition”, Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 1(1), p.29-39. doi:







Nicolas Wyatt (The University of Edinburgh)



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