The Griffin Speaks
BUFFALO, NY - Hjckrrh!
I am a creature of the Bronze Age — and you have cast me in bronze. That’s a bit on the nose (beak, in my case) but I am forever grateful. The statue is quite lovely.
Not that I don’t deserve it. The Golden Griffin is, after all, the best mascot in all of sports. But you needn’t take my word for it. I offer expert testimony from across the internet … and the millennia.
The website Busted Halo asked readers in 2013 to vote, bracket style, for best Catholic school symbol. The site offered 32 mascots — from Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish to Gonzaga’s Bulldog, and Georgetown’s Hoya to Villanova’s Wildcat — and the winner was, um, me. Took down St. Bonaventure’s Wolf in the first round, Boston College’s Eagle in the second, Fordham’s Ram in the semis and Loyola’s Greyhound in the finals.
But that’s just Catholic schools. I am the best anywhere and everywhere. Consider this testimonial from sports columnist Steve Weller in the Buffalo Evening News in 1962: “You can have your Chihuahuas, Piranhas, Horned Frogs and Iguanas. The best all-around mascot in the business has to be the beast adopted by Canisius — the Golden Griffin.”
Charles A. Brady, Class of 1933, coaxed me to campus from the prow of Le Griffon, LaSalle’s doomed ship that cast off from the Niagara River in 1679 as the first European-style vessel to sail North America’s inland seas. Debate the wisdom, if you must, of naming athletic teams for the totem of a ship that sank on its maiden voyage. But there is no debating this: I’m the only mascot who combines king of the beasts with monarch of the air, all mashed up in one glorious, golden amalgamation.
Paw prints of our making are found all over the world’s major mythologies. Herodotus was among the first to write of us but the Greek historian lived in the fifth century B.C. Images come before words — and likenesses of me date to at least 3000 B.C. I can be found on Babylonian cylinder seals and Etruscan sarcophagi, on the capitals of columns, on the borders of rugs, on ivories and coins, on vases and thrones, on Assyrian walls and, yes, in sculpted form.
That’s why I am so pleased by this new sculpture on campus. It is in the oldest tradition of me as a winged wonder to gaze upon and admire. And what you see in these images from antiquity is what you’ll find atop my new perch on Main Street — an eagle’s head and splendid wings merged with the hindquarters and lordly tail of a lion. The details are just right, too — the talons, the tufted ears, the untamed expression of preternatural fierceness.
My double nature is the key to understanding me. Griffins are at home in the sky and on the earth, masters of two worlds. Art and literature in the Middle Ages portrayed us as both demonic and divine. The combo of rapacious eagle and ferocious lion equaled evil to some. But to others the lion’s earthly strength and ascendant splendor symbolized the dual nature of Christ. Our transcendent moment comes in Dante’s Divine Comedy, when the Sacred Griffin pulls the triumphal chariot of the Church.
Perhaps the most famous statue of me is the Pisa Griffin, in the Italian city with that leaning tower. You can see this other bronze me, which for centuries stood above the apse of the Pisa Cathedral, in the Cathedral museum. An inscription around the chest of the Pisa Griffin offers benediction, wellbeing, joy and eternal peace. And I offer the same pledge to my dear soulmates at Canisius.
By the way, if you don’t know the meaning of that vowel-less interjection — Hjckrrh! — it is what I shriek intermittently in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The meaning is whatever I choose it to mean, neither more nor less. Here I mean it as an exclamation of joy: My way of saying thank you for the statue — and for placing it where you have, front and center outside of Science Hall.
Man believed in us for millennia, until the ascension of science and reason, when we were relegated to the realm of mythology. I stand before you today, and for generations to come, at the crossroads of Main Street and Science Hall, imploring you not to listen to anyone who would dare say we don’t exist. I am not some ethereal fairy tale with a tail. Go ahead, touch me. I am 1,500 pounds of bronze, as real as those atoms that scientists study but cannot see.
And so to all Canisians — near and far, young and old, women and men — I offer you a bargain.
Believe in me. And I’ll believe in you.
As told to Erik Brady '76