Bellerophon

Corinthian hero, Bellerophon (Βελλεροφόντης) son of Poseidon was born in the name of Hipponoos (who knows horses); his mother, who was called either Eurymede or Eurynome, was the daughter of the king of Megara, Nisos.

Bellerophon

Bellerophon receives Pegasus from Athena’s hands

Myth of Bellerophon

The crime

Hipponoüs hunts with his brother, Belleros. They’ve both been trying to kill a boar for two days. That’s when Hipponoous saw this wild boar. So he shoots. A scream tears the silence. And Belleros falls, dead. So Hipponoous decided to change his name.

He will no longer be called Hipponoous but Bellerophon, which means “the murderer of Belleros”.

Now, as the law requires, he must leave Corinth, the city that saw him grow up. He had to go into exile until a city offered him hospitality. Then he will be purified of his murder. Then he goes to Proetos, the king of Tirynthe because he thinks that this king will accept him in his city.

The lie of Anteia

When he arrived there, Proteus agreed to take him in, as Bellerophon had planned. The king of Tirynthe introduced him to his entire court, including his wife, Anteia.

But this was a big mistake.

That same evening, Anteia slips into his room and declares his love for him. But Bellerophon refused her and asked her to leave her room. The king’s wife withdraws. But in his eyes, you can see the humiliation, and in his heart, love has been transformed into hatred.

The next day, Anteia publicly announced that Bellerophon had tried to rape her.

So, caught unprepared, Proteus is caught in a dilemma: betraying the laws of hospitality (which prohibit killing a host) or leaving this offense unpunished… Then an idea comes to him: he asks Bellerophon to take a letter to Iobattes, his father-in-law, king of Lycia. Bellerophon accepts, happy to get away with it so cheaply.

Iobates’ challenge

Arrived in Lycia, Bellerophon is welcomed by a celebration. During the first 9 days of his stay there, it was only dance and laughter, theatre and wine. It was only on the 10th day that Iobates opened the letter. What he discovers there horrifies him:

Hello Iobates, the bearer of this letter tried to rape your daughter, who is my wife.
It is your duty to punish him, by killing him.
Your son-in-law Proetos.

The King of Lycia is embarrassed: he can’t kill a host.
Then he offers her a challenge: a monster named Chimera threatens her kingdom, all she has to do is kill her.
Bellerophon accepts.

The Chimera

It should be known that the Chimera was a formidable monster in antiquity, with a lion’s body and head, a snake for a tail; another head, but this time of a goat, came out of its back.
And on top of that, all her heads, including that of the snake whose tail she had, were spitting fire.

Chimera

Arezzo Chimera
4th-century bronze (Florence)

So, Bellerophon goes to a diviner to tell him how to defeat the monster. The diviner said to him:
“The Chimera will only be defeated by air.”
Bellerophon has only one solution left: he must find Pegasus, the mythical winged horse reputed to be indomitable, and tame him; as the diviner tells him that Pegasus lives with the Muses, on Mount Elycon, Bellerophon goes there; he travels along roads and forests, plains and lakes. But no trace of the winged horse. Then he continues to walk until his steps lead him near the temple of Athena, where he falls asleep, exhausted by his walk.

It is at this moment that Athena chose to talk to her in her dream. She told him that he would find Pegasus near the Pyrenean fountain because the horse liked to drink there. She also explains that she gave him a gold bridle that will allow him to tame Pegasus.

Indeed, when Bellerophon wakes up, the bridle is there. So he goes to the Pyrenees fountain.
The winged horse is there, as Athena had announced. Bellerophon passes the bridle to him and puts him on. Then, the horse rears up without spilling it and flies towards the Chimera’s lair.

 

The battle

Bellerophon fights, but his arrows do not hurt the Chimera, nor do hoof blows hurt the monster.

Then Bellerophon has an idea: he puts a piece of lead at the end of his spear, throws it into the mouth of the animal, the animal spits fire and melts the lead, which flows into his mouth and kills him.

Solymes and Amazons

When he arrived in Iobates’ palace, Bellerophon would announce the news to the latter: but he did not show his joy and sent him to kill the Solymi, a bloodthirsty warriors tribe. Bellerophon is no longer afraid since he accomplished the impossible: killing the Chimera. So he rides on Pegasus, who flies off and takes him to the battlefield.

Bellerophon © Paul Getty Museum

There was a massacre; after the battle, there were only ruins and corpses everywhere.

Iobates began to wonder about the origins of his invincible host: is he not the son of Poseidon, the god of the sea? But for such an outrage, he must die.

While Bellerophon has just returned, the King of Lycia sent him to fight the Amazons, the warrior women daughters of Ares.

Once again accompanied by the faithful winged horse, he beat the warriors to the ground.

Once he arrived at Iobates’ house, he still did not thank him and sent his guards to him with the order not only to arrest Bellerophon but also to kill him…
For Bellerophon it’s too much: he kills the guards and heads for the throne room with the firm intention of asking Iobates for an explanation.
The king confessed everything to him and showed him the letter. Then he told him that he was convinced that this was false and granted him his daughter Philonoe, and then designated him as his successor.

But she must punish Anteia, the one who lied and who is the cause of all these trials. It is Pegasus who takes care of it: the same day, Anteia leaves her husband’s kingdom, discovering that her scheme has failed. Pegasus arrives as she leaves town. He suggested that she get on his back and fly away. But once in the air, he rears up and neighs. Then, Anteia swings over and crashes, several tens of meters below.

The ascent to Olympus

Bellerophon now lives happily ever after: his wife, Philonoe, has given him three children and he is now king of Lycia. But Bellerophon is dissatisfied: his exploits are increasingly blamed on his relationship with Poseidon. Then, one day, his anger exploded: he destroyed the temple of Poseidon by repeating: The gods are nothing, the gods are nothing. Bellerophon now feels like he is equal to the gods. So, he thought, why not have my place in Olympus?

Bellerophon

Bellerophon and Pegase
by G. TIEPOLO
Labia Palace in Venice

He gets on Pegasus and asks him to drive him to Olympus. This one then begins its ascent. But Zeus, who, from his throne, has observed everything, throws a giant horsefly at Pegasus. The winged horse, excited by Zeus’ horsefly, rears up and Bellerophon falls. He lands in thorny bushes, which pierce his eyes. But Belleros’ killer didn’t die because Zeus didn’t want him to. The king of the gods found this too little compared to the proud act of Bellerophon. Then he gets up and, blind and lame, he sets off. No one knows where he went or when or how he ended his life.

 

 

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