Sunday, September 16, 2012

In this country be many Griffins

About fifteen months ago I was lying in my bed in the middle of the night. I wasn't sleeping well as I was recovering from my third abdominal surgery since I was a teenager. It's impossible to roll over due to the incisions (I sleep on my side) and my back was sore from being in one position.  So I spent my time daydreaming, even though it was nighttime.

I imagined drawing a series of mythological beasts that looked realistic, and looked like they had been found within the pages of the books that described them.  Did you ever wonder if these creatures were real and we've just forgotten them, or chose not to believe in them? If you consider mythology, it tells the stories of a culture that is defunct, or the stories of a religion in which you do not believe--but people once did believe.  Is it possible, with some squinting of the eyes, that we could still see these creatures in the shadows of the forest? Is it possible to believe them back into being?

I can't pinpoint why the Griffin was the first on my list, the one that demanded attention from me.  I like his long history, his roots in Egypt and Greece.  In Egypt, old renditions associate griffins with the sun and with the lotus flower, so I've imbedded four lotuses within sun disks as a nod to his ancient heritage.  I always imagine encountering such beasts nesting high up in dense forests; so I've filled his border with trees growing black feathers.  The Egyptians, the Greeks (including Philostratus), the Italian writer Dante, and even the Persians wrote about griffins.

The text in the image below (yes, I've been playing on this concept recently), is from the middle ages.  It's from a text of the fictional Sir John Mandeville, simply called The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.  It reads:

"In that country be many griffins, more plenty than in any other country. Some men say that they have the body upward as an eagle and beneath as a lion; and truly they say sooth, that they be of that shape. But one griffin hath the body more great and is more strong than eight lions, of such lions as be on this half, and more great and stronger than an hundred eagles such as we have amongst us. For one griffin there will bear, flying to his nest, a great horse, if he may find him at the point, or two oxen yoked together as they go at the plough. For he hath his talons so long and so large and great upon his feet, as though they were horns of great oxen or of bugles or of kine, so that men make cups of them to drink of. And of their ribs and of the pens of their wings, men make bows, full strong, to shoot with arrows and quarrels."

The text claims that Mandeville had traveled through the known world, from England, all the way through Europe to Northern Africa, Persia, and Turkey. He claims to have seen cotton plants that sprouted wooly lambs and goats:
If he believed in such wondrous plants, then the griffins of which he spoke must be real as well.  I hope they are, somewhere out there.

"In this country be many Griffins" Pencil. Copyright 2012 Jessica M. Boehman

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