Most people, especially younger ones, know of the hippogriff thanks to Harry Potter, but as Wikipedia tells us, “the hippogriff is a legendary creature which resembles a winged horse with the head and upper body of an eagle.
The first recorded mention of the hippogriff was made by the Latin poet Virgil in his Eclogues. Though sometimes depicted during the Classical Era and during the rule of the Merovingians, it was first named and defined by Ludovico Ariosto in his Orlando Furioso, at the beginning of the 16th century. Within the poem, the hippogriff is a steed born of a mare and a griffin - it is extremely fast and is presented as being able to fly around the world and to the moon. It is ridden by magicians and the wandering knight Roger, who, from the creature’s back, frees the beautiful Angelica.
Sometimes depicted on heraldic coats of arms, the Hippogriff became a subject of visual art in the 19th Century, when it was often drawn by Gustave Doré.”
Hippogriff, illustration by Gustave Doré for Orlando furioso.
- no fiction wrought magic lore,
- But natural was the steed the wizard pressed;
- For him a filly to griffin bore;
- Hight hippogryph. In wings and beak and crest,
- Formed like his sire, as in the feet before;
- But like the mare, his dam, in all the rest.
- Such on Riphaean hills, though rarely found,
- Are bred, beyond the frozen ocean’s bound.
- Drawn by enchantment from his distant lair,
- The wizard thought but how to tame the foal;
- And, in a month, instructed him to bear
- Saddle and bit, and gallop to the goal;
- And execute on earth or in mid air,
- All shifts of manege, course and caracole;
- He with such labour wrought. This only real,
- Where all the rest was hollow and ideal.
According to Thomas Bulfinch‘s Legends of Charlemagne:
Like a griffin, it has the head of an eagle, claws armed with talons, and wings covered with feathers, the rest of its body being that of a horse. This strange animal is called a Hippogriff. The hippogriff is said to be an evil spirit resting and possessing its soul in that of a horse and griffon
Dore sculpture of Hippogriff at National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Gustave Dore has to be one of the most well read artists in history. He had a grand scheme to illustrate all the great works of literature. Famous for his interpretations of Dante, Cervantes and Rabelais, Dore, tragically died, at age 51, just as he was starting on the plays of Shakespeare, so all we have are some sketches for The Tempest and MacBeth, both of which you can see in a terrific exhibition now on at the National Gallery of Canada. It runs throughout the summer, and Ottawa is the only North American stop, so come on up here, and bring the whole family. Stay tuned for more.