The griffin, griffon, or gryphon (Greek: γρύφων, grýphōn, or γρύπων, grýpōn, early form γρύψ, grýps; Latin: gryphus) is a legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and sometimes an eagle's talons as its front feet. Because the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle the king of birds by the Middle Ages the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. Since classical antiquity, Griffins were known for guarding treasure and priceless possessions.
In Greek and Roman texts, griffins and Arimaspians were associated with gold. Indeed, as Pliny the Elder wrote, "griffins were said to lay eggs in burrows on the grounds and these nests contained gold nuggets." Adrienne Mayor, a classical folklorist and historian of science, proposes that the idea and image of the griffin was influenced by the fossilized remains of the beaked dinosaur Protoceratops observed on the way to gold deposits by nomadic prospectors of ancient Scythia (Central Asia), This hypothesis is necessarily speculative, based on a number of Greek and Latin literary sources and related artworks, beginning with the first written ancient desciptions of griffins in a lost work by Aristeas of Proconnessus (a Greek who traveled to the Altai region between Mongolia and NW China) in the seventh century BC), cited by Aeschylus and Herodotus (ca 450 BC) and ending with Aelian (third century AD). Mayor's suggestion has been contested, with claims that it ignores pre-Mycenaean "accounts" and bird-lion composites in earlier art. But in fact no written accounts earlier than Herodotus exist to tell us anything about imaginary hybrid bird-lion imagery in earlier cultures.
In medieval heraldry, the Griffin became a Christian symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine.