Beni Hassan is a collection of ancient Egyptian tombs in central Egypt. The tombs there have many precious illustrations of day-to-day life under the Pharoahs. And one of the most curious images is that above from the tomb of Khety (eleventh dynasty). Reader, what are you looking at? No, idea? Well, there is little doubt that this is a griffin (hawk’s head and a dog’s body), a fairly common creature in Egyptian iconography, one probably borrowed from the north of the Mediterranean or the Levant, but one that was entirely naturalized by the second millennium BC. The problem is that here the griffin is portrayed as, say it quietly, a pet with a leash on its neck and the text above says: ‘Her name is Saget’. What do we do with this domesticated monster, which may, to judge by the colours have had folded wings? Two possible scenarios jump to mind.
1) Syrian merchants had brought a baby griffin down the trade routes from Scythia and the creature had, at least briefly, lived with Khety. However, after a fight with a resident dragon chick, the griffin died and had to be buried under a pyramid.
2) Relax, crytozoologists, this is a mythological creature that has been included in a wall painting as a pet. But it is a joke! Didn’t you know that the ancient Egyptians had a great sense of humour? In fact, their shades are laughing at you now.
If you don’t like either of these explanations, and Egyptologists do seem a little antsy about the second explanation, don’t panic. A third explanation has also been offered. Namely that:
3) A dog bitch was dressed up to look like a griffin and spent her time bumping into things because she couldn’t see properly through her hawk mask and her straw lotus tail kept knocking glasses off the parlour table.
Perhaps in an earlier life you threw an ivory Egyptian magic wand across the courtyard and shouted: ‘Fetch, Saget!, Fetch!’
In truth, I like number three not because I think for a second that it is correct but because an Egyptologist seriously suggested it.
Other thoughts? drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com
Included here is a more typical image of a griffin (middle), in association with other fantastic Egyptian animals, out in the wastes: which would you least like to meet in the middle of the night? The image is roughly contemporary and comes from the same site: though not the same tomb. Note lack of leash!