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I think it’s to J.K. Rowling’s credit that she managed to include so many classical monsters in her Harry Potter series- in a sense reviving them from obscurity and allowing them to be passed onto later generations of modern readers. Obvious examples include centaurs, the basilisk and the sphinx, all of which come from Ancient Greek myths. I’m sure there are a few others as well.

Until now, though, I didn’t realize that the Hippogriff wasn’t Rowling’s creation either. Somehow, the name “Hippogriff”” seems to convey the same sort of whimsy as “Dumbledore” (which I’m pretty sure is something that Rowling created by combining two other words – although, of course, I could be wrong about that, too), and I just assumed that she’d come up with it.

Apparently not. Seems that Hippogriffs have been around for quite some time. An early reference occurs in the epic poem Orlando Furioso, by Ludovico Ariosto, which was first published in its complete form in 1532. Orlando Furioso is, by the way, probably no less of a swashbuckling fantasy story than the Harry Potter series: the plot wanders from Scotland to Japan, and even to the moon; and of course, there is an admirable array of mythical monsters as well. Haven’t read it yet, but I probably should at some point.

I found out about the Hippogriff’s impressive ancestry when I came across two illustrations for Orlando Furioso by Gustave Doré (for more on him: Gustave Doré: Gloom and Glory). Here they are:

"Hippogriff", illustration by Gustave Doré for Orlando Furioso.

"Ruggiero Rescuing Angelica" by Gustave Doré; illustration for Orlando Furioso

By the way, my apologies to readers with delicate sensibilities, but nude women are pretty common in a lot of art.

UPDATE: Who knew Harry Potter could be analyzed this deeply (or weirdly)?

UPDATE 2: For an accessible overview of Orlando Furioso, and its prequel Orlando Innamorato, this is a great link.

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12 Comments

  1. Interesting, have to say i prefere the hiffogrif in harry potter

    • Really? Have you watched the movies? Because, honestly, that’s not how I pictured ’em when I read the books, but the ones in the movies seem to be pretty much modeled on this sort of look. So I guess they sort of got it right…

  2. Due to the wonders of Google Alert, I discovered your post about “Orlando furioso.” Several years ago I was involved with the online Harry Potter fandom and we were trying to follow clues for deeper meaning in the text to assist in predicting where the then unfinished series was going. There was a theory bandied about that the hippogriff was a symbol of love and might have indicated that Harry and Hermione were fated to become a couple at the series’ end.

    I read Ludovico Ariosto’s epic work because I wanted to see how the hippogriff was used in context of the story. By the way, I will confirm that “Orlando furioso” is a sprawling tale with multiple intertwining story lines and an immense cast of characters. So is its predecessor poem, “Orlando innamorato” by Matteo Maria Boiardo.

    I want to clarify that while Ariosto was the first to use the mythical creature of a hippogriff as a character, but he was not the first in literature to mention them. That distinction belongs to Virgil’s Eclogues.

    Here is an English translation from a website by Tufts University

    “soon shall we see mate
    griffins with mares, and in the coming age
    shy deer and hounds together come to drink.”

    http://tinyurl.com/4y5wwpx

    Griffins were known to zealously guard gold, while legendary Arampsi raiders rode on horseback tried to steal gold. So griffins and horses were seen as enemies of one another. Offspring of their mating was seen to the product of impossible love.

    Symbolically, in “Orlando furioso” the hippogriff was used to represent the impossible love between two renowned warriors who were on the opposite sides of a holy war: Bradamante, the niece of Charlemagne, and Ruggiero, a Saracen warrior descended from Hector of Troy.

    The second scene posted above with Ruggiero and Angelica is one that has fascinated artists for years, but she is not the love of Ruggiero’s life at all. Angelica was the source of Orlando’s love (or innamorato) and his later madness (or furioso.)

    I was so inspired by the amazing tale of Bradamante and Ruggiero’s impossible love that once I recovered from my Harry Potter fixation, I dedicated several years into adapting and retelling those two classic, but largely forgotten, epic poems for modern day readers.

    The first installment, “Quest of the Warrior Maid” is now available as an ebook or trade paperback. If you are interested in learning more about this book, you can find it at my website:

    http://www.lindacmccabe.com

    Believe me, it is easier to read than Ariosto or Boiardo’s work!

    Cheers,

    Linda C. McCabe (formerly known as Athena – or Pallas Athena in the HP fandom)

    • Wow, Linda, thanks for sharing your wisdom. I did think that Hippogriffs had been around long before Ariosto, but I couldn’t find a reference in any earlier work. It’s really interesting that they’re in Virgil! And you’re right, that scene between Ruggiero and Angelica seems to have been featured in a lot of artists’ work (here’s one by Ingres [1780-1867]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jean_Auguste_Dominique_Ingres_-_Roger_Delivering_Angelica.jpg — but I really prefer Dore’s version). I would actually really like to read your book; thanks for the link.

      Nayef

  3. Nayef,

    I know about Ingres’ painting. It is quite famous and I took pictures of the original which hangs in the Louvre.

    The ironic part of that painting to me, is Ingres’ home town is Montauban, France, the home of the legendary hero Renaud, Count of Montauban. Renaud is the older brother of Bradamante. I would have thought that Ingres, being from Montauban, as he was reading the poem would have been inspired to paint a portrait with either Renaud or Bradamante. At least at some point in time.

    No, Ingres chose to paint Bradamante’s beloved Ruggiero rescuing Angelica.

    Too bad he didn’t do more from that famous poem. He painted many large portraits inspired by mythology, but only one that I’m aware of from Orlando furioso.

    You might be interested in seeing a blog post I wrote about cover art from a 1980s novel that bears a hippogriff with anatomical problems.

    http://lcmccabe.blogspot.com/2009/02/cover-snark-ariosto.html

    Linda

    P.S. If you are interested in knowing more about an overview of the two Orlando poems, I wrote a post on that a few months ago here: http://lcmccabe.blogspot.com/2011/06/overview-of-orlando-furioso-and-orlando.html

    • Hi, Linda

      I envy you; I’d really like to visit the Louvre someday. And thanks for sharing the links. I really enjoyed your post about the wacky hippogriff. And now I’m even more convinced that I should get around to reading those classics. To be honest, I didn’t even know that the Song of Roland and the Orlando poems were so closely related. Would you mind if I added a link to your overview on my post about the hippogriff? It seems like a lot of people could benefit from reading it.

      Nayef

  4. Nayef,

    Feel free to post a link to my blog on your post. I would feel honored.

    Similarly, please let me know if you are interested in getting a review copy of the book, please email me at linda.mccabe@gmail.com

    Linda

    • Hi Linda,

      This is a little embarrassing, but I’m not sure if you mean you could provide a copy of your book free of charge. I would love to read it, but at present I have no means of making payments over the internet.

      Thanks anyway,
      Nayef

  5. Nayef,
    I would have emailed you privately, but I could not find your email address listed. Yes, I can provide for you a discount code for Smashwords to obtain a free digital copy that works on a variety of readers (or computers). Otherwise, if you wish to have a physical copy to review, I can mail you one. In that case, I would need to know a mailing address and feel that kind of information should be sent privately and not left on a comment trail.

    • Hi Linda
      I’m extremely sorry for the late reply. My email address is nayef.ahmad11@yahoo.com. I would really like to obtain digital copy of your book. Please let me know if this would be possible.
      Thanks
      Nayef

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    • Posted March 20, 2012 at 4:44 pm
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    • Thank you so much. It’s great to get positive feedback 🙂


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