My brother-in-law, James P. Wood, made the above illustration to go with a scene from my first story poem, The Kraken, in which the main character has an encounter with the Griffin King. I obviously borrowed this creature from existing mythology and medieval heraldry, and it appears in historical and current coats of arms, two examples of which are shown below.
The Griffin (or Gryphon) has the head, wings, and legs of an eagle at its front and the body, hind legs and tail of a lion. It is similar to the Hippogriff, which is the offspring of a Griffin and a mare (see the appropriately titled earlier post in this series for more on the Hippogriff). In heraldry, the Griffin represents courage, boldness, and skill in battle. It was sometimes given significance in Christian symbolism.
Perhaps my favorite rendition of a Griffin is this one made by John Tenniel for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I like the way the artist places it in the pose of a sleeping dog.
Of course, I must offer the requisite version by William O’ Connor from Dracopedia: The Bestiary.
I will leave you with one more illustration by James P. Wood from The Kraken.
The Kraken can be ordered on Amazon by clicking here.
The original Chimera is a creature from Greco Roman mythology which has the head of a lion, the head (or body) of a goat, and the tail of a serpent (often represented with a serpent’s head). The earliest reference we have is from the Iliad by Homer. Shown below is an intriguing Etruscan bronze, the Chimera of Arezzo, from the 4th Century, A. D.
Going back even further, there is this Greco Roman mosaic from Palmyra, 3rd Century, A. D. It depicts the battle in which Bellerophon slays the Chimera while riding on Pegasus, the winged horse which he tamed with the help of the goddess, Athena.
As is often the case in mythology, it all started with a woman. Bellerophon resists the efforts of Sthenoboea, the wife of King Proteus, to seduce him. Angry at being jilted, she levels accusations against him. This is reminiscent of the tale of Joseph resisting the efforts of Potiphar’s wife to seduce him. The latter is found in the book of Genesis from the Old Testament and is, incidentally, the older account.
Anyway, King Iobates of Lycia, the father of Sthenoboea, assigns Bellerophon a number of heroic tasks, including the slaying of the Chimera. Athena gives our hero a golden bridle which will enable him to mount and ride Pegasus. In this next painting, Athena can be seen standing in the background.
I will end this post with another depiction of the ensuing battle.
While the topic of mythological beasts and spirits is of genuine interest to me, I think it is obvious by now that I have been using it to shill (shamelessly, I might add) my own poem, The Staff in the Tree. The poem is now available on Amazon. This week’s post is a summary of those creatures from this series which appear in my story. It is primarily pictorial (ouch – alliteration) and is accompanied by some written excerpts.
I apologize for the repetitious reference in each caption. To save time, I simply took from my media file some of the images I had included in previous posts. More details about the book can be obtained by clicking here.
Dryads are among my favorite characters from mythology and folklore. From Greek mythology to modern times, their interpretations in art and literature are varied. They are tree spirits, certain versions of which can emerge from their arboreal homes as human beings. Most of the representations I have found are female.
In other versions, they are so bound to their homes that they die if their trees are cut down. I wish I could credit the following painting, but I could find no information on the artist. If anyone knows and can tell me, I will gladly update this post (artist: Emile Jean-Baptiste Philippe Bin – many thanks to Colin Smith for the information). I was intrigued by the idea of a dryad emerging to prevent a woodsman from cutting down her tree. The painting implies a story.
In this painting by Edward Burne-Jones, the female figure is not a Dryad proper, but rather a woman temporarily transformed into a tree. She transforms back when the lover who neglected her repents of his actions. Though I haven not yet read the story, I think it comes from The Metamorphoses by Ovid. Still, the painting is reminiscent of the original concept of tree spirits.
They are sometimes portrayed as males. For The Staff in the Tree, I envisioned them as giant warriors, spirits that can emerge from their trees and take on solid form. This gave me good imagery around which to work some verses. In the story, the Dryads are forest guardians who are shrewd, severe, and entirely not to be messed with. I must cop to being influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien’s portrayal of the Ents in his Ring trilogy.
Juvenile though my drawing at the top of this entry may seem, it was a hard one for me to make with my limited technique. It certainly pales against the other images I have shown. I will end with a painting relevant to this post and last week’s as well.
This is another spiritual being from mythology and folklore which makes my imagination run. So much has been and can be done with Naiads. In Greek mythology, they were water nymphs who were particularly associated with bodies of freshwater such as rivers and streams. Certain of them were among the various classes of nymphs and sprites who were courted or raped by some of the male gods.
Their behavior toward humans is described as variable in various legends. These feminine spirits could be helpful, frivolous, or jealous. They could also be dangerous. They have sometimes been shown as abducting…
… or even drowning men. The pictures below take two different and compelling approaches. In The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper, we see a type of “before” picture. For me, the strength of this painting is in the combination of its title and the relaxed posture and facial expression of its subject. A subtle intensity smolders in her eyes, and the relative peace of the composition suggests her lethal capability.
This next painting is of the “during” variety. The posture of the Naiad is submissive save for the grip of her hands on a fisherman’s arms. This contrast is poignant, and the poor man is doomed while still alive.
A question I have asked myself is whether or not the representations of women as being helpless or dangerous might have arisen as a result of attitudes which limit their roles in society. In such cases, are those who cannot be controlled regarded as threatening? I’ve gotten on my high horse before. Now I’ll beat my dead one by saying again that I think there is tremendous room for creativity in the way that female characters of many kinds can be portrayed in the mythologies we create for our entertainment and instruction. In my own poem, I have tried to use the Naiads’ combination of perceived vulnerability and lethal capability in portraying them as something which I hope is different.
As I said near the top of this post, Naiads are usually described as being freshwater nymphs or spirits. I will end with the creative approach in the painting below by Gustave Dore in which these mysterious creatures are shown in a different setting. They almost seem to be part of the rocks in this seascape.
Sprites are spirits or fairies of various sorts. They are often identified with certain geographies or habitats such as water and forests. In my mind, it is hard to separate them cleanly from such beings as naiads, dryads, and nymphs. They are not always shown as feminine in gender. The following painting by Ernst Josephson is nondescript enough to draw in the imagination of the viewer. One reference interpreted “Nacken” as “The Water Sprite” and cited the year of completion as 1884 as opposed to the date given in the caption. I am not an art scholar, so I can verify neither.
Here are a couple of additional offerings titled, “The Foam Sprite”…
…and “Singing Sprite” by Herbert James Draper, a Pre-Raphaelite artist.
In closing, I must admit that the following painting by Draper is what inspired the use of the Mountain Sprite in one of my own attempts at an epic story poem. I would describe her as attractively insubstantial, and she was a character which I could use for some spiritual symbolism.
I have noted in posts from my Literary Legislation and Mythology on Canvas categories (black strip on the left of this page) that female characters from mythology are often visualized as wearing nothing or next to nothing. One could ascribe various meanings to this or offer different explanations as to why this is the case.
The Wyvern was a winged, bipedal dragon. Technically, it differs from the Drake, which was a smaller version of a winged, four-legged dragon, but various literary works have used the term, Drake, to represent dragons in general. I took poetic license and used both terms interchangeably because it afforded me more flexibility in forming rhymes. For this, I hope I will be forgiven by those who are purists.
The Wyvern appears in Celtic works, as shown below.
This creature is believed to have been used in medieval heraldry as well.
I tried to avoid modern fantasy art since the imagery is so familiar to enthusiasts, but I couldn’t ignore this diagram of a Wyvern skeleton. It harks back to my grade school (and current) fascination with dinosaurs, and it reminds my of illustrations from some of the books I owned in childhood.
Allow me to indulge myself by ending today’s post with another drawing of my own.
The term, Lindorm, is both Danish and Swedish. Depending on its use, it can be synonymous with Lindworm, used in reference to any giant serpent, or used to represent a sea serpent.
I’m sure there’s a plausible answer, but I wonder how cultures from cold, northern climates developed mythologies with huge, reptilian monsters.
There is an interesting folktale called Prince Lindorm (also King Lindorm, Prince Lindworm, and King Lindworm) that has been called Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish. Let’s just say it’s Scandinavian. This tale has generated a bit of modern fan art. It has also been portrayed by professional illustrators. I especially like the older examples. I’m not entirely certain as to who did the following illustration. Owing to its similarity to the next one, I’m inclined to attribute it (tentatively) to Henry Justice Ford, but I could be wrong.
You can find various versions of this tale in their entirety and for free by typing in the title on a word search. I won’t provide links due to their number. One element they all seem to have in common is the one shown above. A prince under a curse exists as a Lindorm and demands a bride. A number don’t make the cut and are messily dismembered. Finally, one tries a different approach. Wearing multiple gowns, she insists first that the snake shed his skin when he orders her to undress. He does so, and she removes one gown. This process is repeated until the Lindorm is an almost shapeless mass. The maiden then scrubs away the offending flesh to reveal a handsome prince.
The theme of serpents and maidens is VERY old and rather widespread in mythology and in folktales. Here is an image which I can attribute to Henry Justice Ford:
I know it’s not the same thing, but I can’t help but notice the similarity of these images to the Genesis account of the serpent tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden (one version of how all the trouble started, but keep in mind that Adam was also described as culpable in that account). This has been represented so many times that I suffered from choice anxiety when choosing images for this post. I opted for variety, including selections from William Blake…
… to this interesting, more cartoonish, and different cultural perspective by David-Dennis…
…to this oddly chimeric take by Jon Roddam Spencer Stanhope…
… and a similar but older adaptation by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
This seems like as good a place as any to stop (or would it be better to say begin?).
p.s. For moral purposes, let me say that Eve is portrayed without clothing in all of these examples because, well… she was.
This is perhaps the most grotesque of the creatures in this series. It is an awkward-looking reptile, a dragon with only two legs and no wings, but “bipedal, wingless dragon” sounds more erudite. Alternatively, one might view it as a two-legged serpent. It is another of the creatures used in heraldry.
There are different ways to interpret a Lindworm. Sometimes they are shown as walking on two “hind” legs on which they balance. The forelimbs are obviously missing. This approach seems to me to be the one used in the following coat of arms.
My eyes were drawn to the following illustration for its bold lines and its detail and because it incorporates elements of an older style. As the credit at the lower right of the drawing implies, I believe it was drawn by an artist who goes by the name of Liza Phoenix. If I am wrong please correct me so that I can update my information.
Alternatively, a Lindworm may be portrayed as lacking hind legs and writhing like a snake. Its forelimbs might be used for pulling itself along and/or grabbing at prey as in the next illustration (for which I could find no credit).
Pictures like these used to rev my motor when I was a boy. Actually, they still do. Next week, I will mention a variant of the Lindworm.
Also called the Hellhound and a Warg, the Freybug is something of a demonic canine from medieval English folklore. Perhaps the most famous Hellhound is Cerberus from Greek mythology. This is the three-headed dog who stands as the keeper to the gates of Hell. Milton even included him in his epic poem, Paradise Lost, which I recommend reading if you have the patience.
The twelfth labor of Heracles was to bring back Cerberus. Here are two selections which portray this.
On a more personal note, my oldest daughter owns a rescue dog whom she named Cerberus (Cerbie for short). Despite her large size and ominous name, she’s actually an amiable pooch.
As a final offering for your viewing pleasure, here is the rendering of a Freybug by William O’ Connor from his Dracopedia: The Bestiary.