Proetus with a scepter and Bellerophon with Pegasus

Bellerophon ( Βελλεροφόντης, Βελλεροφόντης ) ("bearing darts") was a hero from Greek mythology whose greatest feat was to kill the Chimera, a monster usually depicted as with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent-tail. He is also said to be the grandson of Sisyphus, a notable character in mythology who was sent to Tartarus for doing many evil things in life. He was the son of King Glaucus of Corinth.

Bellerophon's journey begins when he is acused of trying to seduce the wife of King Proteus. He is sent into to exile to the land of King Iobates of Lycia. Proteus wanted Iobates to kill Bellerophon, but Iobates feared the wrath of the gods if he murdered a guest; so he sent Bellerophon on a mission that Iobates deemed impossible: to kill the fire-breathing monster the Chimera.

An alternate version of the beginning of the quest is that Bellerophon wandered into Proteus, who grew intensely jealous of him. Proteus was the son-in-law of Iobates, King of Lycia, and sent Bellerophon to him with a sealed message that asked to kill Bellerophon, this is the origin of the expression a "bellerophonic letter". Lycia at the time was in the middle of a horrific plague and Iobates didn't want to strain the population with a war, which would surely be the result if he murdered Bellerophon. Instead, he sent him on an impossible quest: to kill the Chimera.

Greek Mythology

Bellerophon, Louvre G535

The goddess Athena, realizing Bellerophon would surely die if he undertook this task alone, sent him aid in the form of the winged horse, Pegasus. Alternatively, Bellerophon sought out the wisest man in Lycia, Polyidus, who told him about the Pegasus. To obtain the services of the winged horse, Polyidus told Bellerophon to sleep in the temple of Athena. While Bellerophon slept, he dreamed of Athena setting a golden bridle down beside him; it was there when he awoke. Bellerophon had to sneak up on Pegasus while it drank from a well (Polyidus told him which well -- Pirene on the Acrocotinth).

Bellerophon mounted his steed and flew off to where the Chimera was said to dwell. When he arrived, the Chimera was truly ferocious, and he could not harm the monster even while riding on Pegasus. He felt the heat of the breath the Chimera expelled, and 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 he broke off his attack, he managed to lodge the block of lead inside the Chimera's throat. The beast's fire-breath melted the lead, and blocked its air passage. The Chimera suffocated, and Bellerophon returned to King Iobates victoriously. Iobates was unable to believe that this valiant hero deserved death, and so he allowed Bellerophon to marry his daughter. Alternatively, Iobates' daughter, Antea, loved Bellerophon. He scorned her and she committed suicide. Iobates' other daughter, Philonoe, had an affair with Bellerophon.

However, as Bellerophon's fame grew, so did his ego. Bellerophon felt that, with Pegasus, he could fly to Mount Olympus, the realm of the gods. However, the flight was truly exhausting for Pegasus and the gods sent a fly to sting the horse. Pegasus stumbled and Bellerophon fell to his death, punished for the pride of hubris. (In some versions, Athena saves him but Pegasus flies away and Bellerophon is crippled by the fall.)


Proetus and Bellerophon

Greek Mythology

Athena, Iobates, Bellerophon and the Chimaira

Greek Mythology

Bellerophon from an Epinetron , National Archaeological Museum in Athens, 2179.

Homer Iliad Book 6:

There is a city in a part of Argos, 
land where horses breed, a place called Ephyra.
There Sisyphus lived, craftiest man ever born, 
Sisyphus, Aeolus' son. He had a son,
Glaucus, father of handsome Bellerophon.
The gods made Bellerophon so beautiful
and gave him the best qualities of men.
But Proetus, in his heart, plotted against him,
driving him from Argos, being much stronger,
for Zeus had given royal power to Proetus.
Now, Proetus' wife, lady Antea,

desperate to have sex with Bellerophon,  

wanted him to lie with her in secret.                                    
But fiery Bellerophon refused,
for he possessed an honourable heart.    
So Antea made up lies, telling Proetus,
the king, 'You'll be murdered, Proetus, 
unless you assassinate Bellerophon, 
who wants to have sex with me against my will.'  
Proetus was overcome with anger
at what he'd heard, but he was reluctant
to kill Bellerophon—in his heart      

he shrank from doing such an evil act.
He sent Bellerophon to Lycia,                                              
with a lethal message, coded symbols
inscribed on a folded tablet.  These told
many lies about Bellerophon.
Proetus told him to give the message
to his father-in-law, so he'd be killed. 

Bellerophon went off to Lycia,
under safe conduct from the gods.
When in Lycia he reached the river Xanthus,

he was honoured fully by the Lycian king
with nine days of welcome entertainment,
nine sacrificial oxen. The tenth day, 
when rose-fingered Dawn appeared,
the Lycian king questioned Bellerophon, 
asking to see the message he had brought
from Proetus, his father-in-law.
Once he'd received the evil message
from his son-in-law, he told Bellerophon,
first of all, to kill the Chimera,       

an invincible monster, inhuman, 

but divine in origin. Its front part was a lion,
its rear end a snake, and in between a goat.
She breathed deadly rage, in searing fire.  
But Bellerophon killed the Chimera, 
putting his trust in omens from the gods.  
Next, he battled the Solymi, the worst fight,
they say, he ever had with mortal beings.
Then, third, he massacred the Amazons,
women who rival men.  The king planned  

one more devious evil trick against him, 
as he was returning from the Amazons,
setting Lycia's best men in ambush.  
But none of them came back again—
worthy Bellerophon killed them all. 

The king then knew he must be born divine.
So he kept him with him there in Lycia,
gave him his daughter's hand in marriage, 
and half the honours in the entire kingdom.                                
The Lycians gave him an estate   

far better than the rest, rich in vineyards
and wheat-growing land, for him to keep.


Bellerophon was also said to be the father of Laodamia by an unknown woman.
The Baroque opera Il Bellerofonte of the Czech composer Josef Myslivecek also derives its name from Bellerophon.

In the sci-fi story Forbidden Planet (both the novel by W.J. Stuart and the 1956 film starring Walter Pidgeon and Leslie Nielsen) the space cruiser C-57-D is sent to planet Altair IV to search for survivors of the ill-fated Bellerophon Expedition.

Bellerophon and Pegasos killing the Chimaera Laconian cup, 570 - 565 BC.

Greek Mythology

Bellerophon, Alexander Ivanov c. 1829

Greek Mythology

Bellerophon, Emile Picault

Greek Mythology

Bellerophon and Pegasus, Julius Troschel

Greek Mythology

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