Gold and Griffins

Blogs, Resources — By on December 28, 2012 at 8:53 AM

by  Ralph J. Benko

Some, occasionally, have wondered how it is that gold is produced.

Excellent authority has it that it is stolen from griffins by one-eyed men.

The “Father of History” Herodotus wrote:

But in the north of Europe there is by far the most gold. In this matter again I cannot say with assurance how the gold is produced, but it is said that one-eyed men called Arimaspians steal it from griffins. (3.116.1)

Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 3630, Folio 77r

There is also a story related in a poem by Aristeas son of Caüstrobius, a man of Proconnesus. This Aristeas, possessed by Phoebus, visited the Issedones; beyond these (he said) live the one-eyed Arimaspians, beyond whom are the griffins that guard gold, and beyond these again the Hyperboreans, whose territory reaches to the sea. (4.13.1)

Of these too, then, we have knowledge; but as for what is north of them, it is from the Issedones that the tale comes of the one-eyed men and the griffins that guard gold; this is told by the Scythians, who have heard it from them; and we have taken it as true from the Scythians, and call these people by the Scythian name, Arimaspians; for in the Scythian tongue “arima” is one, and “spou” is the eye. (4.27.1)

“De Situ Orbis is a general geographical work of the known world written by the first Latin geographer, Pomponius Mela. The work is comprised into three different books, with the far off places of Scythia, India, Arabia and Ethiopia comprising mostly the last book. Mela moves the Gryphons again, this time west of the Issedones to the mountain Riphey, in Scythia. Like Herodotus though, he provides no descriptions of the creatures, yet remarks on their animal nature. Translation from Joe Nigg’s Book of Fabulous Beasts.” …

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