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Ancient Artefact of the Day: A bronze statuette of a griffin battling with a human figure, perhaps intended to be an Arimaspian, ca. 125-75 BC. #AAOTD #Griffin

Image: J. Paul Getty Museum (96.AB.152)
The provenance of this piece is not clear, although its small size (7.9 cm high) is suggestive that it may originally have been a an attachment to a large bronze vessel.
Certainly as early as the seventh century BC, griffin heads were used as decorative elements on cauldrons. This example is particularly fine, found in the bed of the Kladeos river at Olympia in 1914, associated with the sanctuary of Zeus.

Image: Metropolitan Museum (1972.118.54)
Similarly, their association with protection and apotropaic qualities continued throughout Mediterranean antiquity, with this example coming from Roman Egypt, ca. 2nd Century AD, depicted with a 'Wheel of Fate'.

Image: Brooklyn Museum (53.173)
But perhaps the griffin's most enduring connection is with the Arimaspi. Pliny the Elder (NH 7.10) tells us that the Arimaspi - " a people remarkable for having a single eye in the middle of their foreheads" - wage continual war against the griffins...
...around their gold mines, with the griffins guarding the gold and the Arimaspi trying to steal it from them, "both with remarkable covetousness" (mira cupiditate).
Depictions of such scenes are relatively well-known from Greek vase-painting, such as this example from the tondo of an Attic Red-Figure Kylix, attributed to the Jena Painter, ca. Fourth Century BC.

Image: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (01.8092)
Similarly, on this Red-Figure pelike, ca. 400-360 BC, the 'Scythian' dress of the Arimaspi is highlighted, a typical vase-painting convention to delineate them as 'non-Greek'.

Image: British Museum (1856,1001.19)
For more on Griffins, see:

Edwards, Karen. “Milton's Reformed Animals: An Early Modern Bestiary: G.” Milton Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 4, 2006, pp. 263–291.

#AAOTD #Griffin
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