Griffins Devouring a Doe

         Griffins fascinate me.  I’ve always been interested in legendary creatures—as a child, because of their bizarreness and supernaturalpowers, and as an adult, because I am very curious about their historical origins in human culture and what they represent psychologically.  I especially like to learn about legendary creatures who are found again and again (with some variation, of course) in lands and cultures which were unrelated, distant, and only tenuously connected to each other.  Dragons are a good example.  So are griffins. 
            Griffins are from antiquity; they guard gold and treasure.  How provocative it is that these fictive beasts are so concerned—indeed, obsessed—with things no earthly animal gives a damn about.  Legendary creatures are predicated on human obsessions; this is what gives them power and mythic resonance.  Virginity, honesty, wealth, the gratification of wishes, revenge, punishment.  Mystery. 
       I found this small print in a recent article from The New York Review of Books (a superb publication, btw, I highly recommend it).  Apparently it is a statuette; a table support or tablepiece of two griffins devouring a doe. The critical analysis I found whilst researching the statue on the internet says that the dominance of the griffins symbolizes the triumph/victory of civilization (the griffins, natch) over barbarians (the doe).  


      I have to hand it to them–the Greco-Romans were unsentimental motherfuckers.  You didn’t find any “we’re colonizing and oppressing you for your own good” horseshit.  Those cats understood power. 
      But to get back to the statue—consider what represents civilization, the powerful, and what represents the inferior. See the griffins. The power in their bodies, the wings, the muscled hind legs and long necks.  They do not really devour the doe.  They do not eat for sustenance.  What on earth could this blameless, timid herbivore have ever done to offend these griffins or justify their treatment of her? 
    See the way she lays on her belly; her slender legs flat and stretched out upon the ground.  She offers no resistance at all.  Whilst being eaten alive, she only turns her placid, delicate face up to the eyes of the creature who won’t make eye contact with her because he’s eating her neck. How terrified she must be, and how aware of her helplessness. 
     This statue is more than a symbol of political power or animal predation.  I showed it to my analyst to get another opinion.  As usual, she had an insight I missed (but it is explains why the statue was so fascinating to me):  it’s very sexual.  The power dichotomy between the griffins and the doe–the masculine and the feminine–is tremendous.  
      And that is why an elegant, educated, wealthy man wanted to display it in his home around 350 B.C.  This statue didn’t come cheap, and anyone who’d want to look at it and show it off on a regular basis must have been a sadist or political megalomaniac in the order of Saddam Hussein (or both, as is often the case).    
      It really is beautifully executed.  In fact, I cannot imagine improving upon it.  But I don’t think that I would like to look at it on a daily basis.  
      
        Then again, I have a tiny Crucifix nailed to my wall.  It was a gift at my First Communion.  I haven’t believed in God since I was 12 years old, but I keep the crucifix because it reminds me of my familial and cultural heritage.  A graphic image of a man obscenely tortured to death due in part to the negligence of the State.  An alien from Mars would look at it and see a corpse on a stick.  

       And  I am creeped out by griffins eating a doe.  Food for thought, no pun intended.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.