Flying Snakes and Griffin Claws: And Other Classical Myths, Historical Oddities, and Scientific Curiosities

Adrienne Mayor

Princeton University Press, 2022

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

A treasury of astonishing mythic marvels—and the surprising truths behind them

Adrienne Mayor is renowned for exploring the borders of history, science, archaeology, anthropology, and popular knowledge to find historical realities and scientific insights—glimmering, long-buried nuggets of truth—embedded in myth, legends, and folklore. Combing through ancient texts and obscure sources, she has spent decades prospecting for intriguing wonders and marvels, historical mysteries, diverting anecdotes, and hidden gems from ancient, medieval, and modern times. Flying Snakes and Griffin Claws is a treasury of fifty of her most amazing and amusing discoveries.

The book explores such subjects as how mirages inspired legends of cities in the sky; the true identity of winged serpents in ancient Egypt; how ghost ships led to the discovery of the Gulf Stream; and the beauty secrets of ancient Amazons. Other pieces examine Arthur Conan Doyle’s sea serpent and Geronimo’s dragon; Flaubert’s obsession with ancient Carthage; ancient tattooing practices; and the strange relationship between wine goblets and women’s breasts since the times of Helen of Troy and Marie Antoinette. And there’s much, much more.

Showcasing Mayor’s trademark passion not to demythologize myths, but to uncover the fascinating truths buried beneath them, Flying Snakes and Griffin Claws is a wonder cabinet of delightful curiosities.


“Read this immediately! Whether you are a lover of lore, an armchair academic, or simply a curious soul, you will find inspiration in the pages of Flying Snakes and Griffin Claws. It is an excellent starting place if you’re new to Adrienne Mayor’s work and an excellent compendium if you’re already a fan. Her books have been a must-read for me since she began writing. She is a treasure.” Melissa Marr, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Hidden Knife

“Adrienne Mayor is one of our most brilliantly engaging writers on the ancient world, and Flying Snakes and Griffin Claws is a delightful cabinet of curiosities. Her inspired detective work reveals the natural-historical and paleontological phenomena that lurk behind the iconic imagery of classical myth, folklore, and history?and much else besides.”  Daniel Ogden, author of The Werewolf in the Ancient World

“Part miscellany and part detective work, this delightful compendium of folklore combines the spirit of Herodotus and the skepticism of the modern historian. Adrienne Mayor bounds through history dispelling myths and harvesting fascinating insights.” Candida Moss, author of The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom

“Griffins! Dragons! Ghost ships! In her delightful new collection of essays, Adrienne Mayor traces the origin stories of a bevy of irresistible curiosities, from talking mynah birds and musical racing turtles to giants and mermaids. Her impressive scholarship is matched only by her infectious good humor as she plunges into the history behind tattoos and foot fetishes, sifting expertly between mythology and classical sources in pursuit of evidence. A treat to read from cover to cover.” 
Nancy Goldstone, author of In the Shadow of the Empress: The Defiant Lives of Maria Theresa, Mother of Marie Antoinette, and Her Daughters

“This eclectic and fascinating essay collection is Mayor’s Wunderkammer?the stories from a lifetime of meticulously turning myths into bones.” 
Susanna Forrest, author of The Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey through Human History

“To read Adrienne Mayor’s richly researched pageant of fantastical creatures, warrior queens, and curious travelers is to be reminded that the past is stranger than we imagine and to discover that the line between myth and history is more porous than we had previously believed.” Ryan Ruby, author of Zero and the One: A Novel

“For decades, Adrienne Mayor’s brilliant writing has occupied an important intersection of mythology, classical folklore, and ancient history of science. For readers keen to explore the curiosities, mysteries, and oddities of the ancient world, Flying Snakes and Griffin Claws is a powerful, personal collection of essays on these themes?a must-read.”
Lydia Pyne, author of Genuine Fakes: How Phony Things Teach Us about Real Stuff