Homer's Iliad, Hesiod's Theogony
Son of King Glaucus of Corinth
In Greek mythology , Bellerophon (pronounced buh-LAIR-uh-fun) was a hero and warrior who accidentally killed his own brother. He tamed the winged horse Pegasus (PEG-uh-suhs) and fought a ferocious beast called the Chimaera (pronounced kye-MEER-uh).
After accidentally killing his brother and another man, Bellerophon sought protection from King Proteus (pronounced PRO-tee-uhs) of Tiryns (pronounced TEER-ins), who granted Bellerophon shelter. Proteus's wife, Anteia (pronounced ahn-TAY-uh), tried to seduce Bellerophon, but he resisted her. Angry at being rejected, Anteia told her husband that Bellerophon had tried to rape her. Proteus was furious but did not want to kill his guest. Instead, he sent Bellerophon to Anteia's father, King Iobates (pronounced eye-OH-buh-teez) of Lycia (pronounced LISH-ee-uh). He also sent a note explaining what had happened and asking Iobates to kill Bellerophon.
Iobates, too, was reluctant to kill his guest, so he sent him on dangerous missions instead. First, he asked Bellerophon to kill the Chimaera, a fire-breathing monster with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent. With the help of the gods, Bellerophon tamed the winged horse Pegasus and then used it to fight the Chimaera. He still could not get near the beast because of its fiery breath, but the gods helped him formulate a plan. He put a block of lead on the end of his spear and lodged it into the Chimaera's throat. The heat of its breath melted the lead, which went down the creature's throat and suffocated it. After the defeat of the Chimaera, Iobates ordered Bellerophon to defeat two armies, including the fierce Amazons. Bellerophon succeeded in these missions as well.
Afterward, Bellerophon told the sea god Poseidon (pronounced poh-SYE-dun) that Iobates seemed ungrateful for his help. In response, Poseidon caused a great flood to strike Lycia. Iobates finally realized that Bellerophon must be innocent of the charges against him. When he discovered that his guest did not rape Anteia, Iobates gave Bellerophon one of his daughters as a bride and made him heir to the throne of Lycia.
Proud of his success, Bellerophon tried to ride Pegasus to Mount Olympus (pronounced oh-LIM-puhs), home of the gods. Zeus (pronounced ZOOS) sent a fly to bite Pegasus, who bucked and threw Bellerophon to the ground. Bellerophon survived the fall but was crippled for life. He spent the rest of his days wandering the earth as a beggar.
Bellerophon in Context
During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, a more popular Greek hero was credited for taming Pegasus, which was one of Bellerophon's main accomplishments. The artwork of the period showed Perseus (pronounced PUR-see-uhs) taming Pegasus, which led to this version of the story becoming the one most generally accepted in modern culture.
Key Themes and Symbols
One of the important themes in Bellerophon's tale is the danger of hubris, or excessive pride that clouds one's judgment. Bellerophon, because of his great heroism, believes that he deserves to go to Mount Olympus. The powerful Olympian gods disagree, and Zeus causes Bellerophon to fall and become crippled for life.
Bellerophon in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
Bellerophon was one of the more celebrated heroes in ancient Greece. He was usually depicted riding Pegasus and slaying the Chimaera. Euripides' (pronounced yoo-RIP-i-deez) tragedy, Bellerophontes, details his story, only fragments of which still remain. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Bellerophon's role became less important as depictions of Perseus became more popular among artists and writers.
Killing a brother, or fratricide, is considered an unthinkably horrible crime in many cultures. In Christian mythology, Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, kills his brother Abel. God curses him and banishes him from the society of others. The story also appears in the holy book of Islam, the Qur'an.
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
Compare the myth of Bellerophon with the myth of Heracles and his twelve labors. How are the two myths similar? How are they different? Does each one have a different theme or lesson?
Afterwards Bellerophon incurred the anger of the gods by his presumption in trying to ride Pegasus to heaven, but the horse threw him. He ended his life as a lonely outcast.