The Legend of Bellerophon

The Legend of Bellerophon

In Ancient Greece there lived king Glaucus of Ephyra (ancient Corinth) who had a fair and brave son known for his excellent horsemanship. When, one day, the young man inadvertentently killed a man during the hunt, he was given the name Bellerophon. Although the exact meaning of this name remains a matter of conjecture, most sources translate it as he who has (the death of) Belleros on his conscience. Heartbroken, Bellerophon left the house of his father and eventually ended up in Tirynth, where king Proitos offered him the hospitality of his house. Here Bellerophon attracted the eye of Antea, Proitos wife. When Bellerophon refused her, Antea went to the king and told him Bellerophon had attempted to rape her. Because the laws of hospitality dicated that Proitos could bring Bellerophon no harm while he was a guest in his house, the king decided to send him away to Lycia where Anteas father, Iobates, was king. Proitos told Bellerophon to bring Iobates a sealed letter, failing to mention that in the letter he had written Bellerophons death sentence. Thus Bellerophon set out for Lycia.

When he arrived in the Lycian capital Xanthos, Bellerophon immediately went to the palace of the king. Iobates received him cordially and offered him the hospitality of his house. The festivities lasted nine days and nine nights. On the tenth day Iobates summoned Bellerophon and asked him to hand over the letter. When the king read the letter he realised that he could not harm Bellerophon because, like Proitos, he had offered him the hospitality of his house. However, since he also did not want to risk offending his son-in-law, Iobates decided he would get rid of Bellerophon in a way that would not implicate him. And so he bade the unfortunate Bellerophon to travel to the foothills of the Olympos mountain range and slay the Chimera, a venture that would surely kill him. The Chimera was a terrible fire-breathing monster with three heads, that of a lion in front, that of a snake behind and that of a goat in the middle of its body. Its fiery breath would destroy all it touched.

Although Bellerophon did not despair, he was clever enough to realise that his chances of survival were dim. Seeking the aid of the goddess Athena, often regarded as the goddess of war and the hunt, he spent the night in a temple dedicated to her. Athena sent him a dream instructing him to capture Pegasus, the winged horse, and gave him a golden bridle. Using guile and the bridle, Bellerophon managed to capture the horse and, thus strengthened, he set out to confront the Chimera. When he approached the monster over land, it fled in easterly direction until it came to the sea and could not go any further. Bellerophon took to the air and killed the Chimera by using his long spear to lodge a block of lead in the creatures throat so that it suffocated to death. So destructive was the Chimeras fire, however.

Naturally, Bellerophons triumphant return put king Iobates in a bit of a spot. After some deliberation the king decided to send Bellerophon into battle against the extremely warlike Solymi tribes. When Bellerophon also triumphed here, the king charged him with defeating the ferocious Amazons. Here too, Bellerophon succeeded. A number of equally daunting quests followed, all of which Bellerophon brought to a good end. When, in the end, he also managed to escape an ambush laid by the kings best men, Iobates was left with nothing else but to accept that Bellerophon enjoyed the protection of the gods. He gave him the hand of his daughter in marriage and made him king of half of his realm. Finally nothing seemed to stand in the way of Bellerophons happiness.

Unfortunately, certain gods angered by Bellerophons success would not leave him alone and made him the object of their wicked plots. In the end Bellerophon, who had come to consider himself invincible, once again mounted his winged steed and flew to Mount Olympus to challenge those that sought his downfall. This Zeus, greatest of all the Olympian gods would not allow and he sent down a fly to sting Pegasus. Startled, the steed threw Bellerophon, sending him plummeting down to earth. Aided by Athena, Bellerophon survived the fall, but only just. It is said that he spent the rest of his life wandering aimlessly in search of his steed, some say as a blind man, others as a cripple. Bellerophon was finally buried in the ancient Lycian city of Tlos, near the modern city of Fethiye. And indeed, it is here that one can find a tomb depicting Bellerophon in combat with a leopard, an animal that used to roam Asia Minor in large numbers.