Hippogriff vs. Griffin: Key Differences, Origins, and Links to Reality

Written by Katie Melynn Wood
Published: February 26, 2024
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While fantastical creatures may seem like something right out of a storybook, many actually have some basis in fact. Take the griffin for example. This mythological animal is half-eagle and half-lion. Both eagles and lions are real animals that exist. So it’s not very hard to picture just what the imaginary griffin would look like. Some creative people took it a step further and imagined crossing an eagle with a horse. The result was another fantastical animal, the hippogriff. Both are the result of vivid imaginations and feature in various mythology and stories.

Key Differences Comparison Table

OriginAs early as the 7th century BCAs early as 7th century BC
AppearanceHalf eagle, half horseHalf eagle, half lion
Pop CultureModern pop culture referencesPopular in the Middle Ages

Hippogriff vs. Griffin: Differences in Origin

Griffins are often shown with prominent talons, wings, and beaks.

©Metropolitan Museum of Art/ CC0 – License

The first mention of a hippogriff appeared in 1516 during the Italian Renaissance. Poet Ludovico Ariosto included and described hippogriffs in his poem Orlando furioso. In the poem, the hippogriff represents something that is not possible. Ariosto’s version of a hippogriff was the offspring of a horse and a griffin. The first mention of a hippogriff states that its mother was a mare and its father was a griffin, a creature that was already prominent in mythology. This hippogriff was fast and could fly very far. In the poem, various characters ride on the creature’s back as they go on adventures and rescue other characters.

The griffin, on the other hand, has much older origins. There were mentions of griffins as early as the 7th century BC when they were included in Greek poetry. The descriptions of griffins ranged from wingless animals that had some eagle-like features and those with webbed wings. By the 3rd century AD, most references to griffins resembled the half-eagle, half-lion myths that persist today. In the Middle Ages, both lions and eagles were considered brave and noble animals. Griffins became associated with heroic deeds and were often featured in crests and heraldry.

Hippogriff vs. Griffin: Differences in Appearance

The Dungeons and Dragons version of a hippogriff has talons on its front legs and hooves on its back legs.

©LadyofHats/ CC0 – License

Both the hippogriff and the griffin have the front half of an eagle. This allows them to fly with strong wings. They have the faces of eagles and talons on their front legs. Other than eagle-like features, there are more differences than similarities between the two mythological creatures. It was common in mythology to take features from various real-life animals and combine them into fantastical creatures like the hippogriff and griffin.

The back half of the hippogriff’s body is that of a horse. This allows the creature to stand and run like a horse. Since it was first imagined in the 16th century, there have been various depictions and versions of hippogriffs. In some versions, the horse-like features are more prominent. One of the defining features of a hippogriff is its strong wings. They were described as able to fly very far and for long periods.

Griffins also have half of the body of an eagle and are usually depicted with wings. The back half of their body is a lion. Generally, they are shown standing upright with prominent claws and talons. The earliest depictions of griffins have beaks, which are often shown open with their tongues out. In some early descriptions, griffins did not have wings or they had webbed arms rather than true wings. By the Middle Ages, however, the version of a griffin with strong wings was the most common.

Hippogriff vs. Griffin: Differences in Pop Culture

A hippogriff figure sits watch by a roller coaster at Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

©The Conmunity – Pop Culture Geek from Los Angeles, CA, USA/ CC BY 2.0

During the Middle Ages, griffins were important symbols. They were included in family crests and other designs to represent bravery, nobility, and strength. While they are still featured in pop culture references, griffins aren’t nearly as widespread as they were during their heyday. But if you look closely, you can see griffins in logos, movies, tv, and games. They are often included in fantasy stories and worlds.

Hippogriffs, on the other hand, got plenty of attention in recent decades. Hippogriffs were included in the mythological game Dungeons and Dragons. A hippogriff was also an important character in the Harry Potter stories. The animal was represented in the books, movies, and even as part of the Universal Studios roller coaster ride “Flight of the Hippogriff.”

The photo featured at the top of this post is © funstarts33/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine, PEOPLE, and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie teaches creative writing with the Apex Arts Magnet Program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. You can follow Katie @katiemelynnwriter.

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