Hybrid

An hippalectryon is a type of fantastic hybrid creature of Ancient Greek folklore, half-horse and half-rooster, with yellow feathers. The rooster half sports wings, the tail and the hind legs. The oldest representation currently known dates back from the 9th century BC, and the motive grows most common in the 6th century, notably on vase painting and sometimes as statues, often shown with a rider. It is also featured on some pieces of currency.

Roosters are a symbol of solar power that routs demons with its singing at sunrise. Horses, especially winged horses, are a funerary symbol as they guide the soul of the dead. The grotesque and ugly hybrid supposedly induced laughter, thereby driving evil away.

Aristophanes describes the hippalectryon as a yellow-feathered, awkward-looking creature. The appearance of the creature is consistent amongst the known artistic representations. A text attributed to Hesychius of Alexandria, mentions three different types of hippalectryons: a giant rooster; a giant vulture; and a creature close to griffins as painted on fabrics from Persia.

Hippalectryons are displayed almost exclusively on black-figure vases from Attica, and could constitute an alternative representation for Pegasus. Fantastic hybrids are a popular and common theme on archaic Greek sculpture and vases. Most hybrids appear to have reached Greece from the East, although no early representation of a hippalectryon in Egyptian or Middle Eastern art has yet been found. They have also been found on engraved stones from the Late Period of ancient Egypt.

An analysis of Aristophanes’ works suggests that it could originate from the Middle East, and the costumes worn by the people featured on potteries with hippalectryons seem to be Asian, though this particular point is a matter of debate.

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