In Greek, Near Eastern and other mythologies, the creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle is called a griffin. It symbolizes a mastery of both earth and sky and is associated with strength and wisdom.
In Greek mythology, the griffin pulls the chariots of both Zeus, the ruler of all gods, and Apollo, god of the sun. Since the griffin is a kingly beast on earth with the strength of a lion but with the wings of an eagle that can soar to the sky, it is only appropriate that it is called upon to transport Apollo between heaven and earth.
Griffins are also considered fierce and loyal guards, used to defend stockpiles of gold and other treasures. Their images most frequently appear in tales of the Hyperboreans and Arimaspians, mythological peoples of the far north.
It is believed that the origins of the winged lion began in the Middle East, where its image is depicted in the paintings and sculptures of the ancient Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians. Later, the Romans used griffin likenesses as decorations, and the figure also appeared in early Christian art.
Ironically, to Christians, the griffin first symbolized Satan because the dual-animal creature was thought to threaten human souls. Eventually, however, the griffin's symbolic meaning as a figure of both earth and sky translated into the Christian view of the dual human and divine nature of Jesus Christ. The griffin then became a positive image in Christian lore and artwork.
Beyond the mythological world, the griffin's symbolism as a figure of strength and wisdom made it a natural choice for coats of arms. The winged lion's likeness shows up in military and familial regalia from ancient to medieval times.