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The Hippogryph is the only known relative of the more famous Griffin. While the Griffin features the head, talons, and wings of an eagle on the body of a lion, the Hippogryph combines the sharp eyes, dangerous talons, and powerful wings of an eagle with the strong legs and endurance of a horse.
Supposedly the result of a nearly impossible union between the dangerous Griffin and a horse, the Hippogryph represents the best of both species. The eagle/horse cross features in several medieval tales, often as a speedy steed for knights or a frightening pet for sorcerers. Hippogryphs were last reported in great numbers at the battle of Roncevaux Pass in AD 778, fighting alongside the knights of Charlemagne. Charlemagne’s army was defeated at the battle, and Hippogryph sightings have not been confirmed since. Rumors abound, of course, and it’s possible the creatures reside in the remote mountains between France and Spain where they fought their last battle.
One of Charlemagne’s greatest knights was Sir Roland, of whom was written the Song of Roland—one of the oldest works in French literature. Although the earliest versions of the Song have been long lost, other ancient documents tell of the Song of Roland being recited at court on several occasions. Hippogryphs reportedly feature prominently in the song.
According to second- and third-hand accounts, the early versions of the Song told of Hippogryphs carrying knights through the sky, defending the rear of Charlemagne’s army as it retreated from battle. They were said to be as fast as lightning, these great horse-eagles. Because they were part horse, they were able to be trained and ridden, but they were exceedingly rare and only mounted by a select few knights.
After the defeat, the army was scattered and the Hippogryphs disappeared, never to be ridden again by knights in armor.