The hippogriff, or sometimes spelled hippogryph (Greek: Ἱππόγρυπας), is a legendary creature with the front half of an eagle and the hind half of a horse.
It was invented 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—something considered impossible. 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 Ruggiero, who, from the creature's back, frees the beautiful Angelica. Astolfo also borrows the hippogriff from Bradamante to go search for Roland's wits.
Sometimes depicted on coats of arms, the hippogriff became a subject of visual art in the 19th century, when it was often drawn by Gustave Doré.
The word hippogriff, also spelled hippogryph, is derived from the Ancient Greek: ἵππος híppos, meaning "horse", and the Italian grifo meaning "griffin" (from Latin gryp or gryphus), which denotes another mythical creature, with the head of an eagle and body of a lion, that is purported to be the father of the hippogriff. The word hippogriff was adopted into English shortly before 1615.
Of the heraldic representations of the hippogriff, Arthur Charles Fox-Davies states that hybrid fantastical creatures' depictions are "ugly, inartistic, and unnecessary. Their representation leaves one with a disappointed feeling of crudity of draughtsmanship." John Vinycomb states that the hippogriff is not used in the British heraldic tradition.
Ludovico Ariosto's poem, Orlando furioso (1516) contains the following description (canto IV):
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.
According to Vidal, a Spanish historian, this creature was supposed to live near Céret, in the County of Roussillon of modern-day France, during the Middle Ages. Claw marks were found on a rock near Mas Carol. The belief in the existence of the hippogriff, such as Ariosto describes, is fiercely attacked in a scientific essay on religion in 1862, which argues that such an animal can neither be a divine creation, nor truly exist. The Book of Enoch quite clearly details how Satan and his fallen angels created various hybrids by admixture. The Sphinx is the best known such hybrid. The hippogriff is supposed to be a mixture of several animals and the author notes that in order to support its weight, the wings would be so heavy that flight would be impossible, which proves—without question—that it does not exist.
In some traditions, the hippogriff is said to be the symbol of love, as its parents, the mare and griffin, are natural enemies. In other traditions, the hippogriff represents Christ's dual nature as both human and divine.