Bellerophon
Slayer of the Chimera
Tamer of Pegasus
Member of the Corinthian Royal Family
Statue of Bellerophon petting Pegasus, from Geyre, Turkey (1st century AD)
Other namesHipponous
PredecessorIobates
SuccessorHippolochus
AbodePotniae, later Argos and Lycia
SymbolsCape, Spear
Personal information
ParentsPoseidon and Eurynome
Glaucus and Eurymede
SiblingsDeliades
ConsortPhilonoe
Asteria
OffspringIsander, Hippolochus and Laodamia
Hydissos

Bellerophon[1] or Bellerophontes (Ancient Greek: Βελλεροφόν; Βελλεροφόντης; lit. "slayer of Belleros") or Hipponous (Ancient Greek: Ἱππονοος; lit. "horse-knower"),[2] was a divine Corinthian hero of Greek mythology, the son of Poseidon and Eurynome, and the foster son of Glaukos. He was "the greatest hero and slayer of monsters, alongside Cadmus and Perseus, before the days of Heracles",[3] among his greatest feats was killing the Chimera of the Iliad, a monster that Homer depicted with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail: "her breath came out in terrible blasts of burning flame."[4]

Bellerophon, Pegasus, and Athena, a Roman fresco in Pompeii, first half of the 1st century

Bellerophon was also known for capturing and taming the winged horse Pegasus with the help of Athena's charmed bridle, and earning the disfavour of the gods after attempting to ride Pegasus to Mount Olympus.[5]

Etymology

One possible etymology that has been suggested is: Βελλεροφόντης (Bellerophóntēs) from Ancient Greek βέλεμνον (bélemnon), βελόνη (belóne) or βέλος (bélos, "projectile, dart, javelin, needle, arrow") and -φόντης (-phóntēs, "slayer") from φονεύω (phoneúō, "to slay").[a] However, Geoffrey Kirk says that "Βελλεροφόντης means 'slayer of Belleros'".[8] According to the Scholia of Homer, he was named so after having slain a Corinthian citizen of that same name by accident, while practicing his knife throwing,[9] which caused him to be exiled to Lycia; this origin hypothesis would correspond to how Hermes got his epithet 'Argeiphontes' (lit. 'slayer of Argus') after slaying Argus.[10] According to some scholars, Belleros could have also been a local Lycian daimon, as Bellerophon's name "invited all sorts of speculation".[8][b] The only other authors to mention a Belleros killed by Bellerophon are two Byzantine scholars, John Tzetzes and Eustathius of Thessalonica, who both seem to be following Bellerophon's own name etymology.[12]

Family

Bellerophon was the son of the mortal Eurynome (or Eurymede[13]) and Poseidon; having been raised by his foster father Glaukos. He was the brother of Deliades (also named Peiren or Alcimenes).[14]

Bellerophon was the father of Isander[15] (Peisander),[16] Hippolochus,[17] and Laodamia[18] (Deidamia[19] or Hippodamia[20]) by Philonoe, daughter of King Iobates of Lycia. Philonoe was also known under several other names: Alkimedousa,[21] Anticleia,[22] Pasandra or Cassandra.[23] In some accounts, Bellerophon also fathered Hydissos by Asteria, daughter of Hydeus.[24]

Mythology

The Iliad vi.155–203 contained an embedded narrative told by Bellerophon's grandson Glaucus (who was named after his great-grandfather), which recounted Bellerophon's myth. In this narrative, Bellerophon's father was Glaucus,[25] who was the King of Potniae and son of Sisyphus; Bellerophon's grandsons Sarpedon and the younger Glaucus fought in the Trojan War.

In Stephanus of Byzantium’s Ethnica, a genealogy was given for a figure named Chrysaor ("of the golden sword"), which would make him a double of Bellerophon: he was called the son of Glaucus (son of Sisyphus). Chrysaor has no myth besides that of his birth: from the severed neck of Medusa, who was with child by Poseidon, he and Pegasus were both born at the moment of her death. "From this moment we hear no more of Chrysaor, the rest of the tale concerning the stallion only... [who visited the spring of Pirene] perhaps also for his brother's sake, by whom in the end he let himself be caught, the immortal horse by his mortal brother."[26]

Exile in Argos

Bellerophon's brave journey began in a familiar way,[27] with an exile: in one narrative he had murdered his brother, whose name was given as Deliades, Peiren or Alcimenes; a more precise narrative involves him slaying a Corinthian citizen a nobleman called "Belleros"[28] or "Belleron" by accident, while practicing knife-throwing with his friends, which caused the name change from Hipponous to Bellerophon.

In atonement for this crime, he had to make a plead to Proetus, a king in Tiryns, one of the Achaean strongholds of the Argolid. Proetus, by virtue of his kingship, cleansed Bellerophon of his crime. But when the wife of king Proetus – whose name was either Anteia[29] or Stheneboea,[30] tried to make advances on him, he rejected her, causing her to accuse Bellerophon of attempting to make advances on her instead.[31] Proetus dared not to satisfy his anger by killing a guest (who is protected by xenia), causing him to finally exile Bellerophon to King Iobates, his father-in-law from the plain of the River Xanthus in Lycia, bearing a sealed letter in a folded tablet which read: "Please remove this bearer from the world: he attempted to violate my wife, your daughter."[32]

Before opening the tablets, Iobates feasted with Bellerophon for nine days. On reading the tablet's message Iobates too feared the wrath of the Erinyes if he murdered a guest; so he sent Bellerophon on a mission that he deemed impossible to survive: to kill the Chimera, living in neighboring Caria. The Chimera was a fire-breathing monster consisting of the body and head of a goat, the head of a lion and the tail of a serpent. The monster had terrorized the nearby countryside.

On his way to Caria, he encountered the famous Corinthian fortune teller Polyeidos, who told Bellerophon of the upcoming battle, telling Bellerophon that in order to emerge victorious, he would be in need of the mythical Pegasus.

Capturing Pegasus

Bellerophon Taming Pegasus, by Jacques Lipchitz. 1977. Columbia University, New York.

To obtain the services of the untamed winged horse, Polyeidos told Bellerophon to sleep in the temple of Athena. While Bellerophon slept, he dreamed that Athena set a golden bridle beside him, saying "Sleepiest thou, prince of the house of Aiolos Come, take this charm for the steed and show it to the Tamer thy father as thou makest sacrifice to him of a white bull."[33] It was there when he awoke and understood that he had to approach Pegasus while it drank from a well. When asked, Polyeidos told him which well: the never-failing Pirene on the citadel of Corinth, the city of Bellerophon's birth. Bellerophon mounted his steed and flew off, back to Lycia where the Chimera was said to dwell.

Other accounts say that Athena brought Pegasus already tamed and bridled, or that Poseidon the horse-tamer, secretly the father of Bellerophon, brought Pegasus, as Pausanias understood.[34]

The Slaying of the Chimera

Bellerophon riding Pegasus and slaying the Chimera, central medallion of a Gallo-Roman mosaic from Autun, 2nd to 3rd century AD, Musée Rolin

When Bellerophon arrived in Lycia to face the ferocious Chimera, he could not harm the monster even while riding Pegasus. But when he felt the Chimera's hot breath, he was struck with an idea. He got a large block of lead and mounted it on his spear. He then flew head-on towards the Chimera, holding out the spear as far as he could. Before breaking off his attack, he lodged the block of lead inside the Chimera's throat. The beast's fire-breath melted the lead, which blocked its air passage, suffocating it.[35] Some red-figure pottery painters show Bellerophon wielding Poseidon's trident instead.[36]

Return to Iobates

The eternal fires of Chimera in Lycia (modern-day Turkey) where the Chimera myth takes place.

When Bellerophon returned victorious to King Iobates,[37] the king was unwilling to believe his story. A series of daunting quests ensued: Bellerophon was sent against the warlike Amazons, who fought like men, whom Bellerophon vanquished by dropping boulders from his winged horse; which – in some Narratives, is preceded by Bellerophon facing off the Solymi.

When he was sent against a Carian pirate, Cheirmarrhus, they tried to ambush him, but failed when Bellerophon killed everyone sent to assassinate him. The palace guards then were sent against him, but Bellerophon called upon his father Poseidon, who flooded the plain of Xanthus behind Bellerophon as he approached. To defend themselves, the palace women rushed from the gates with their robes lifted high to expose themselves. Unwilling to confront them while they were undressed, Bellerophon withdrew.[38]

Iobates relented, produced the letter, and allowed Bellerophon to marry his daughter Philonoe, the younger sister of Anteia, and shared with him half his kingdom,[39] with its fine vineyards and grain fields. The lady Philonoe bore him Isander (Peisander),[16][40] Hippolochus and Laodamia, who slept with Zeus the Counselor and bore Sarpedon, but was slain by Artemis.[41][42][43]

Flight to Olympus and fall.

The emblem of the World War II British Airborne Forces – Bellerophon riding the flying horse Pegasus.

As Bellerophon's fame grew, so did his Hubris. Bellerophon felt that because of his victory over the Chimera, he deserved to fly to Mount Olympus, the home of the gods. This act angered Zeus and he sent a gadfly to sting Pegasus, causing Bellerophon to fall back to Earth causing him to die. Pegasus completed the flight to Olympus where Zeus used him as a pack horse for his thunderbolts.[44]

According to other narratives, on the Plain of Aleion ("Wandering") in Cilicia, Bellerophon, who had been blinded after falling into a thorn bush, lived out his life in misery, "devouring his own soul", until he died.[45][46]

Euripides' Bellerophon

Main article: Bellerophon (play)

Enough fragments of Euripides' lost tragedy, Bellerophon, remain as about thirty quotations in surviving texts, giving scholars a basis for assessing its theme: the tragic outcome of his attempt to storm Olympus on Pegasus. An outspoken passage—in which Bellerophon seems to doubt the gods' existence, due to the contrast between the wicked and impious, who live lives of ease, with the suffering of the good—is apparently the basis for Aristophanes' imputation of "atheism" to the poet.[47]

Perseus on Pegasus

Further information: Perseus

The replacement of Bellerophon by the more familiar culture hero Perseus was a development of Classical times that was standardized during the Middle Ages and has been adopted by the European poets of the Renaissance and later.[48]

Gallery

Footnotes

  1. ^ The nomen agentis is also attested in the compound Ἀργειφόντης Argeïphontes, an epithet of god Hermes that means 'Slayer of [the Giant] Argos'.[6][7]
  2. ^ It is also understood that Belleros is "a character whose further mentions don't exist in the extant literature".[11]

References

  1. ^ Tzetzes, Chiliades 7.810  (TE2.149); Scholia on Pindar, Olympian Ode 13.66
  2. ^ Assunçâo, Teodoro Renno. "[www.persee.fr/doc/gaia_1287-3349_1997_num_1_1_1332 Le mythe iliadique de Bellérophon]". In: Gaia: revue interdisciplinaire sur la Grèce Archaïque, numéro 1-2, 1997. pp. 42-43. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3406/gaia.1997.1332
  3. ^ Kerenyi 1959, p. 75.
  4. ^ Iliad vi.155–203.
  5. ^ Roman, Luke; Roman, Monica (2010). Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman Mythology. Infobase Publishing. p. 103. ISBN 978-1-4381-2639-5.
  6. ^ Breuil, Jean-Luc. "ΚΡΑΤΟΣ et sa famille chez Homère: étude sémantique". In: Études homériques. Séminaire de recherche sous la direction de Michel Casevitz. Lyon: Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée Jean Pouilloux, 1989. p. 41. (Travaux de la Maison de l'Orient, 17) www.persee.fr/doc/mom_0766-0510_1989_sem_17_1_1734
  7. ^ Sauge, André. "[www.persee.fr/doc/gaia_1287-3349_2005_num_9_1_1476 Remarques sur quelques aspects linguistiques de l'épopée homérique et sur leurs conséquences pour l'époque de fixation du texte (Seconde Partie)]". In: Gaia: revue interdisciplinaire sur la Grèce Archaïque, numéro 9, 2005. p. 117. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3406/gaia.2005.1476
  8. ^ a b Kirk 1990, p. 178
  9. ^ Scholion zu Homer, p.155
  10. ^ Kerenyi 1959, p. 79
  11. ^ "... 'tueur de Belléros', personnage dont aucune autre mention n'apparaît dans la littérature conservée". Tourraix, Alexandre. Le mirage grec. L'Orient du mythe et de l'épopée. Besançon: Institut des Sciences et Techniques de l'Antiquité, 2000. p. 116. (Collection « ISTA », 756) DOI: https://doi.org/10.3406/ista.2000.2506; www.persee.fr/doc/ista_0000-0000_2000_mon_756_1
  12. ^ Tzetzes ad Lycophron Alexandra 17; Eustathius on Homer p. 632.
  13. ^ Apollodorus, 1.9.3
  14. ^ Apollodorus, 1.9.3 & 2.3.1
  15. ^ Homer, Iliad 6.196–197; Apollodorus, 2.3.1
  16. ^ a b Strabo, Geographica 12.8.5 & 13.4.16
  17. ^ Homer, Iliad 6.206–210
  18. ^ Homer, Iliad 6.197–205
  19. ^ Diodorus Siculus, 5.79.3
  20. ^ Pseudo-Clement, Recognitions 10.21
  21. ^ Scholia on Homer, Iliad 6.192
  22. ^ Scholia on Pindar, Olympian Ode 13.61
  23. ^ Scholia on Homer, Iliad 6.155
  24. ^ Stephanus of Byzantium, s.v. Hydissos
  25. ^ By some accounts, Bellerophon's father was really Poseidon. Kerenyi 1959 p. 78 suggests that "sea-green" Glaucus is a double for Poseidon, god of the sea, who looms behind many of the elements in Bellerophon's myth, not least as the sire of Pegasus and of Chrysaor, but also as the protector of Bellerophon.
  26. ^ Kerenyi 1959 p. 80.
  27. ^ See Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, chapter 1, "Separation".
  28. ^ The suggestion, made by Kerenyi and others, makes the name "Bellerophontes" the "killer of Belleros", just as Hermes Argeiphontes is "Hermes the killer of Argus". Carpenter, Rhys (1950). "Argeiphontes: A Suggestion". American Journal of Archaeology. 54 (3): 177–183. doi:10.2307/500295. JSTOR 500295. S2CID 191378610., makes a carefully argued case for Bellerophontes as the "bane-slayer" of the "bane to mankind" in Iliad II.329, derived from a rare Greek word έλλερον, explained by the grammarians as κακόν, "evil". This έλλερον is connected by Katz, J. (1998). "How to be a Dragon in Indo-European: Hittite illuyankas and its Linguistic and Cultural Congeners in Latin, Greek, and Germanic". In Jasanoff; Melchert; Oliver (eds.). Mír Curad. Studies in Honor of Calvert Watkins. Innsbruck. pp. 317–334. ISBN 3851246675.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) with a Hesychius gloss ελυες "water animal", and an Indo-European word for "snake", or "dragon", cognate to English eel, also found in Hittite Illuyanka, which would make Bellerophon the dragon slayer of Indo-European myth, represented by Indra slaying Vrtra in Indo-Aryan, and by Thor slaying the Midgard Serpent in Germanic. Robert Graves in The Greek Myths rev. ed. 1960 suggested a translation "bearing darts".
  29. ^ In Iliad vi.
  30. ^ Euripides' tragedies Stheneboia and Bellerophontes are lost.
  31. ^ This mytheme is most familiar in the narrative of Joseph and Potiphar's wife. Robert Graves also notes the parallel in the Egyptian Tale of Two Brothers and in the desire of Athamas' wife for Phrixus (Graves 1960, 70.2, 75.1).
  32. ^ The tablets "on which he had traced a number of devices with a deadly meaning" constitute the only apparent reference to writing in the Iliad. Such a letter is termed a "bellerophontic" letter; one such figures in a subplot of Shakespeare's Hamlet, bringing offstage death to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Such a letter figures in the earlier story of Sargon of Akkad.
  33. ^ Kerenyi 1959, quoting Apollodorus Mythographus, 2.7.4.
  34. ^ Description of Greece 2.4.6.
  35. ^ Pseudo-Nonnus, On Gregory of Nazianzus 1; Tzetzes on Lycophron's Alexandra 17; Eustathius On Homer's Iliad 6.494.40
  36. ^ Kerenyi 1959.
  37. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 319ff; Bibliotheke, ii.3.2; Pindar, Olympian Odes, xiii.63ff; Pausanias, ii.4.1; Hyginus, Fabulae, 157; John Tzetzes, On Lycophron.
  38. ^ Robert Graves, 75.d; Plutarch, On the Virtues of Women.
  39. ^ The inheritance of kingship through the king's daughter, with many heroic instances, was discussed by Finkelberg, Margalit (1991). "Royal succession in heroic Greece". The Classical Quarterly. New Series. 41 (2): 303–316. doi:10.1017/s0009838800004481. JSTOR 638900. S2CID 170683301.; compare Orion and Merope.
  40. ^ Isander was struck down by Ares in battle with the Solymi (Iliad xvi).
  41. ^ Homer, Iliad, 6. 197–205
  42. ^ Oxford Classical Mythology Online. "Chapter 25: Myths of Local Heroes and Heroines". Classical Mythology, Seventh Edition. Oxford University Press USA. Archived from the original on July 15, 2011. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
  43. ^ In Diodorus Siculus's Bibliotheca historica 5.79.3: she was referred as Deidamia and made her wife of Evander, son of Sarpedon the elder, and by her, father of Sarpedon the younger.
  44. ^ Parallels are in the myths of Icarus and Phaeton.
  45. ^ Homer (1924). The Iliad with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, Ph.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Vol. I (book 6, lines 202-204). Retrieved 2020-06-11.
  46. ^ Pindar, Olympian Odes, xiii.87–90, and Isthmian Odes, vii.44; Bibliotheke ii.3.2; Homer, Iliad vi.155–203 and xvi.328; Ovid, Metamorphoses ix.646.
  47. ^ Riedweg, Christoph (1990). "The 'atheistic' fragment from Euripides' Bellerophontes (286 N²)". Illinois Classical Studies. 15 (1): 39–53. ISSN 0363-1923.
  48. ^ Johnston, George Burke (1955). "Jonson's 'Perseus upon Pegasus'". The Review of English Studies. New Series. 6 (21): 65–67. doi:10.1093/res/VI.21.65.

Further reading