Saturday, April 19, 2008

Discamus hodie de grypis.

Let us learn today about gryphons.

[translations mine]

Pomponius Mela. De Chorographia 2.1.6

deinde est regio ditis admodum soli, inhabitabilis tamen, quia grypi,
saevum et pertinax ferarum genus, aurum terra penitus egestum mire
amant mireque custodiunt, et sunt infesti attingentibus.

Then there is region of very rich soil, but which is nevertheless uninhabitable, because gryphons, a fierce and tenacious race of wild beasts, love the gold mined deep within the earth excessively and guard it likewise, and are hostile to those who come to it.


ceterum fertilis, et vario genere hominum aliorumque animalium scatet. alit
formicas non minores maximis canibus, quas more gryporum aurum
penitus egestum cum summa pernicie adtingentium custodire comme-
morant; immanes et serpentes alit, qui et elephantos morsu atque ambitu
corporis adficiant;

Moreover the land is fertile, and abounds with various races of men and animals. It supports ants even larger than huge dogs, which men recount, as in the custom of the gryphons, defend the gold mined within with the greatest destruction for those coming there. It also supports giant serpents, and elephants which inflict harm by trampling and biting.

[yes, I only left this last bit in because it is well-suited to what I discuss below]

C. Plinius Secundus. Naturalis Historia 7.10.5

    haut procul ab ipso aquilonis exortu specuque eius dicto...produntur Arimaspi,
    diximus, uno oculo in fronte media insignes. quibus ad-
    sidue bellum esse circa metalla cum grypis, ferarum volucri
    genere, quale vulgo traditur, eruente ex cuniculis aurum,
    mira cupiditate et feris custodientibus et Arimaspis rapien-
    tibus, multi, sed maxime inlustres Herodotus et Aristeas
    Proconnesius scribunt.

Not far from from the very origin of the North Wind and his cave is said to be...the Arimaspoi are recounted, whom we said are distinguished by a single eye in the middle of the forehead. To these men there is continuous war over precious metals with gryphons, a flying race of beasts which, as it is handed down by the commons, dig up gold from their mines; with excessive desire both the wild beasts defend the gold and the Arimaspoi carry it off—many men, but most of all the famous Herodotus, Aristeas, and Proconnesius write about these things.


Aurum invenitur in nostro orbe, ut omitta-
mus Indicum a formicis aut apud Scythas grypis
tribus modis...

Gold is found in our world, as we should disregard the Indic region, since it is mined by ants, and near Scythia, by griffins, in three ways...


Pegasos equino capite volucres et grypas aurita
aduncitate rostri fabulosos reor, illos in Scythia, hos in


It is my account that there are flying pegasi with the head of a horse and marvelous gryphons with a golden hook of a beak; the latter are in Scythia, the former in Ethiopia.

Apuleius Madaurensis. Metamorphoses 11.24.11

hinc dracones Indici, inde grypes Hyperborei, quos
in speciem pinnatae alitis generat mundus alter.

From here Indian serpents, from there Hyperborean gryphons, which another world created in the image of a winged monster.

Fragmenta Bobiensia. De Nomine 543.15

Gryphes, animalia quaedam in hyperboreis montibus omni corpore
leones praeter os, quod habent aquilae sive accipitris, et quod pinnatae


Gryphons, particular creatures in the Hyperborean mountains, are lions in form throughout except the mouth, which they have of an eagle or of a hawk, and because they are winged.

And so we from these Latin historians (more from the Greeks, the "real observers" soon!) we learn a thing or two about...griffins? Who cares? This is preposterous, absolute nonsense.

I love it.

Before I matured (slightly, I hope) and learned to appreciate the often subtle beauty of this language, it was, in my perception at least, this incorporation of silly and outrageous information, in a serious curriculum that was truly enjoyable. The myths, particularly the dirty or violent ones, captivated my high school class; we cheerfully seized upon this theme, twisting mundane translation exercises to lascivious ends, as from CLC Book I:

Melissa Grumionem delectat. Melissa Quintum delectat. Eheu! ancilla Metellam non delectat.

It's almost too easy.

I am not embarrassed to admit that the inspiration for my pseudo-scholarly efforts is so utterly juvenile. Nor do I deny that I find a certain boyish amusement in moments when, in the midst of dull translation, I stumble and do a double take...I'm reading about gryphons? What the f...?

But even if these wtf? moments are not for you (although I hope they are), there will be much, much more here at De Grypis. Vergil poses about the right question in his 8th Eclogue:

quid non speremus amantes?
iungentur iam grypes equis, aeuoque sequenti
cum canibus timidi uenient ad pocula dammae

What ought not we lovers expect?
Will the gryphons now join with horses, and in the next age
Timid deer come to drink with dog

Well, if it'll take timid deer and dogs for you all to be lovers, you can expect plenty of that. But more likely, you will get my thoughts and semi-random on interesting or strange things pertaining to Greek, Latin, language, culture. I'm sure there will be some other odds and ends as well.

Welcome to de Grypis!


bretty8s said...


Good luck, you copycat.

Roy said...

WTF? What translates to that? Also, is this going to cost me? :)

brad said...

There is a theory that Silk Road caravans came across protoceratops skeletons, and that grew into these gryphon-legends...