A Gryphon Newsletter

Volume 1, Number 5, Fall 2001

Michael D. Winkle

The recent events that have shocked the world have thrown a wrench into just about everyone's schedule. I'm afraid I have only a short Eyrie this time around. I'll come up with another "interim" issue before the end of the year.

One might question the need for working on fantasy or science fiction, on newsletters or personal web-pages, in this Brave New World.

Manly Wade Wellman, who wrote straight history and biography as easily as the charming fantasies of John the Balladeer, had some pertinent words to say on the subject:

"Fantasy is 'escapist' literature, which, by the way, is badly needed in these sordid days. Escapist literature is somewhat akin to dreams. If you dream a dream with a happy ending, you wake up and are happy to have dreamed it. If it's a horrible dream, you wake up and are glad you're awake. Escapism is sometimes used as a derogatory term. But I feel it's like falling into a cesspool. You're supposed to stay in there and brilliantly adjust to your environment. But if you scramble out and have a bath, you're an escapist. I wonder how people in hell feel on this subject?" [1]

Most of us are not firemen or police officers; we're not part of the intelligence network or the armed forces. Perhaps, though, we can write, draw, produce, or inspire dreams with happy endings in a world that has seen too many nightmares.

[1] Manly Wade Wellman, "Better Things Waiting," in Elliot, Jeffry M. Fantasy Voices: Interviews with American Fantasy Writers (San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, 1982), p. 16


It seems to me as I read Aristeas of Proconnesus by J. D. P. Bolton that there are many parallels between Aristeas' story and one of the oldest epics of literature: The Odyssey of Homer. If we pin down the voyage of Odysseus at the eastern end of the Mediterranean and tilt the whole adventure around to the northeast, there are so many similarities one wonders if Homer wasn't influenced by the gryphon's "mythos" or vice-versa. Admittedly, some of the parallels are strained (after all, The Odyssey was a sea voyage, and the Central Asian setting of the gryphon mythos is mostly steppes and desert). See the notes following.

From Bolton's Aristeas unless otherwise indicated From The Odyssey (Lattimore trans.) unless otherwise indicated
The Issedonians: "[T]he Arimaspi gradually drove the Issedonians from their country, while the Issedonians dispossessed the Scyths. . ." [p. 2] The Kikonians: ". . . the Kikonians turned the Achaians back and beat them, and out of each ship six of my strong-greaved companions were killed, but the rest of us fled away from death and destruction." [p. 138]
The Argippaei: "They are said to. . . live on the fruit of a tree called ponticum. . . These people are supposed to be protected by a mysterious sort of sanctity; they carry no arms and nobody offers them violence." [Herodotus, pp. 278-279] The Lotus-Eaters: ". . . on the tenth day we landed in the country of the Lotus-Eaters, who live on a flowering food. . . nor did these Lotus-Eaters have any thoughts of destroying our companions, but they only gave them lotus to taste of." [p. 139]
Ges Clithron (The Cave of Winds): "Departing from hence, wee founde a certaine small sea, vpon the shore whereof stands a little mountaine. In which mountaine is reported to be a hole, from whence, in winter time such vehement tempests of winds doe issue, that travellers can scarcely, and with great danger passe by the same way." [pp. 94-95, quoting John de Plano Carpini] Aiolos (King of the Winds): "I endured it and waited, and hiding my face I lay down in the ship, while all were carried on the evil blast of the stormwind back to the Aiolian island." [p. 153]
Arimaspi (One-Eyed Men): ". . . not far from the very starting-point of the north wind and the cavern which is called 'the North Wind's Cave' -- the place named Ges clithron -- are said to be the Arimaspi, remarkable for having a single eye in the middle of the forehead. They are always fighting for precious ore with the griffins, winged animals whose appearance is well known." [Pliny's Natural History] Cyclopes (One-Eyed Giants): "We looked across at the land of the Cyclopes, and they were near by, and we saw their smoke and heard sheep and goats bleating." [p. 141]
Anthropophagi (cannibals): "Cannibals figure in significant contexts in Pliny and others and are mentioned among Scythian peoples by Herodotus." [p. 178] Laistrygonians (cannibal giants): "Hearing him the powerful Laistrygones came swarming up from every direction, tens of thousands of them, and not like men, like giants. These, standing along the cliffs, pelted my men with man-sized boulders. . . and carried them away for their joyless feasting." [p. 155]
Graea and Phorcides: "So too central Asiatic tales tell of swan-maidens, ugly -- they have leaden eyes, hempen plaits, and yellow nails -- and murderous, who live in darkness. I accept E. R. Dodds's attractive suggestion that these underlie Aeschylus' epithet (never before satisfactorily explained) 'swan-shaped,' for the Phorcides, through the Arimaspea." [p. 101] Sirens: "Sirens: Named from a Greek root, 'to bind,' these mythical Greek sea-monsters had not only the bodies of birds and the heads of women, but voices so sweet that all hearing them were seduced to destruction." [Stuart Gordon, Encyclopedia of Myths and Legends, p. 632]
The Land of Darkness: "A long way beyond this kingdom, still farther to the north, is a province which is called the Land of Darkness, because perpetual darkness reigns there, unlit by sun or moon or star -- such darkness as there is in our countries in the early evening." [Travels of Marco Polo (Ronald Latham translation, 1958) p. 331] Kimmeria: "There lie the community and city of Kimmerian people, hidden in fog and cloud, nor does Helios, the radiant sun, ever break through the dark, to illuminate them with his shining." [p. 168]
Hyperborea: ". . . the Atlantis of Plato and the Meropis of Theopompus (or his source) had their prototype in the blessed Hyperboreans." [p. 24] Scheria: "At first glance the similarities between Plato's Atlantis and Homer's Scheria are considerable, and a more careful comparison enhances these similarities." [L. Sprague de Camp and Willy Ley, Lands Beyond, p. 40]


1. Issedonians and Kikonians: The only parallels, really, are that these peoples are the first met. Aristeas encountered the Issedonians on his journey north, and they were the nearest to Greece of the Kimmerians, Arimaspi, etc. Odysseus encounters the Kikonians first in his voyage from Troy. Also, both peoples are apparently mighty in war: The Issedonians drove out the barbarian Scyths, and the Kikonians defeated Odysseus' fleet (and they did not seem to be giants or supernatural beings, just warriors).

2. Argippaei and Lotus-Eaters: The main parallels are that both peoples are very "laid-back", and both depend mainly on a single plant as a food source. The Argippaei, however, lived very far north, in the Rhipaean Mountains, and were not next in Aristeas' journey.

3. Ges Clithron and Aiolos: This is a stronger pairing. Ges Clithron, the Cave of Winds, is a major part of the Aristeas/gryphon legend. Aiolos of the Isle of Winds causes disaster for Odysseus and his crew.

4. Arimaspi and Cyclopes: Another strong parallel. The Arimaspi were often described as huge, hairy, and cannibalistic, like the monstrous Cyclopes. And, of course, they both have only one eye in the center of their foreheads.

5. Anthropophagi and Laistrygonians: These two races are described as man-eaters; little information is given about either. In my novel Hoard Search (to be severely re-written in the near future) I made the Laistrygonians the same as the northern Trolls, as well.

6. Graeae, Phorcides, Sirens: Not as strong a parallel, but all are thought to be bird-women (Sirens might have been more logically mermaid-like, and in later art were so depicted.)

7. Land of Darkness and Kimmeria: A good parallel. Kimmeria, like the Land of Darkness, was supposed to lie on the Edge of the World (or Oceanus, which circled the world). Both had inhabitants, of which little was (or could be) known.

8. Hyperborea and Scheria: These lands lie on the outermost edges of the world, Hyperborea to the north and Scheria to the west, beyond the Mediterranean. Both are highly civilized, and, as the quotes show, both may have influenced (or been influenced by) the tale of Atlantis.



"It is peculiar that griffins seem to be confined to the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe; indigenous American cultures know of winged snakes and many other monsters, but not of griffins." So says scholar Waltraud Bartscht in the bibliographic sourcebook Mythical and Fabulous Creatures. [1]

Perhaps nothing gryphony was indigenous to North America, but we can't say the same about South America. Strange Magazine's Argentine correspondent, Fabio Picasso, gave us this intriguing tid-bit in his article, "South American Monsters and Mystery Animals:"

"Gryph -- This monster of Greek mythology -- also known as the Gryphon (griffin) was seen in South America, according to some of the chronicles of the conquerors. Friar Toribio Benavente said that in the Ahuacatlan Valley, the gryphs of Peru often eat peasants, and thus the latter must take refuge by hiding from them under the trees. Gutierres de Santa Clara once described a gryph with a 4.62 meter wing span." Picasso's own sources are Alberto Salas' Para Un Bestiario de Indias (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1968), and Alejandro Chionetti's Mundos Paralelos (Buenos Aires: Cielosur, 1979). So why don't I have these books?

Shades of the Arimaspi: Picasso's article also mentions the "Cyclops of Yariguarenda:" "There are many reports of hairy beings with one or two eyes in the wooded regions of the eastern Salta, Chaco, and Formosa provinces of Argentina." [2]

The more I look at the Waltraud quote, the more it sounds like a challenge. I may have to scour the folklore and mythology of North and South America for gryphon-like creatures. Are there any All American Gryphons? Tune in to future issues of The New, Improved Eyrie to find out!

1. Bartscht, Waltraud. "The Griffin." In Mythical and Fabulous Creatures: A Source Book and Research Guide, edited by Malcolm South (New York, NY: Peter Bedrick Books, 1988), p. 88.

2. Picasso, Fabio, "South American Monsters and Mystery Animals." Strange Magazine #20, December 1998, pp. 28-35.

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