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Bellerophon or Bellerophontes (perhaps "bearing darts"[1]) was a hero of Greek mythology, "the greatest hero and slayer of monsters, alongside of Kadmos and Perseus, before the days of Heracles"[2]—whose greatest feat was to have killed the Chimera, 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"[3]

Bellerophon's Myth

Iliad vi.155–203 contains an embedded narrative told by Bellerophon's grandson Glaucus, named for his great-grandfather, which recounts Bellerophon's myth. Bellerophon was son of the king Glaucus ("sea-green" [4]) of Corinth and the grandson of death-cheating Sisyphus, who had been sent to Tartarus for his many impieties in life, though he had founded Corinth. Bellerophon's grandsons Sarpedon and the younger Glaucus fought in the Trojan War. In the Epitome of pseudo-Apollodorus, a genealogy is given for Chrysaor ("of the golden sword") that would make him a double of Bellerophon; he too is called the son of Glaucus the son of Sisyphus. Chrysaor has no myth save that of his birth: from the severed neck of Medusa, who was with child by Poseidon, he and Pegasus both sprang 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 visits 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." [5]

Bellerophon's heroic journey began in the familiar way[6]—with an exile: he had murdered either his brother, whose name is usually given as Deliades, or of a shadowy "enemy" other, a "Belleros"[7], though the details are never directly told, and in expiation of his crime arrived as a suppliant to Proetus, king in Tiryns, one of the Mycenaean strongholds of the Argolid. Proetus, by virtue of his kingship, cleansed Bellerophon of his crime. The wife of the king, whether named Anteia[8] or Stheneboea[9], took a fancy to him, but when she was repulsed accused him of having attempted to ravish her[10]. Proetus dared not satisfy his anger by killing a guest, so he sent Bellerophon to king Iobates his father-in-law, in the plain of the River Xanthus in Lycia, bearing a sealed message in a folded tablet: "Pray remove the bearer from this world: he attempted to violate my wife, your daughter."[11]. 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 kill the fire-breathing monster the Chimera, living in neighboring Caria.

Capturing Pegasus

The Lycian seer Polyeidos told Bellerophon that he would have need of Pegasus. 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 "Sleepest 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."[12] It was there when he awoke. Bellerophon had to approach Pegasus while it drank from a well; Polyeidos told him which well—the never-failing Pirene on the citadel of Corinth, the city of Bellerophon's birth. 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 [13] Bellerophon mounted his steed and flew off to where the Chimera was said to dwell.

The Slaying of the Chimera

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 (illustration, right). 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 [14]. The Chimera suffocated, and Bellerophon returned victorious to King Iobates [15]. Iobates, on Bellerophon's return, was unwilling to credit his story. A series of daunting further quests ensues: he is sent against the warlike Solymi and then against the Amazons who fight like men, whom Bellerophon vanquishes by dropping boulders from his winged horse; he is sent against a Carian pirate, Cheirmarrhus; an ambush fails, when Bellerophon kills all sent to assassinate him; the palace guards are sent against him, but Bellerophon calls upon Poseidon, who floods the plain of Xanthus behind Bellerophon as he approached, but the palace women sent him and the flood in retreat by rushing from the gates with their robes lifted high, offering themselves, to which the modest hero replied by withdrawing [16] 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, with fine vineyards and grain fields. The lady Philonoe bore him Isander[17], Hippolochus and Laodamia, who lay with Zeus the Counselor and bore Sarpedon but was slain by Artemis[18] However, 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 realm of the gods. However, this presumption angered Zeus and he sent a fly to sting the horse causing Bellerophon to fall all the way back to Earth[19] on the Plain of Aleion ("Wandering"), where he lived out his life in misery as a blinded cripple, grieving and shunning the haunts of men[20].


  1. According to Robert Graves, The Greek Myths rev. ed. 1960, but see Kerenyi, below.
  2. Kerenyi 1959, p 75.
  3. Iliad vi.155–203
  4. 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.
  5. Kerenyi p 80.
  6. See Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
  7. 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.
  8. In Iliad vi.
  9. Euripides' tragedies Stheneboia and Bellerophon are lost.
  10. 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 myth of Athamas' wife for Phrixus (Graves 1960, 70.2, 75.1)
  11. 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.
  12. Kerenyi, loc. cit, quoting Apollodorus Mythographus, 2.7.4..
  13. Description of Greece1.4.6.
  14. Some of the red-figure pottery painters show Bellerophon wielding Poseidon's trident instead (Kerenyi, loc. cit.).
  15. Hesiod, Theogony 319ff; Bibliotheke, ii.3.2; Pindar, Olympian Odes, xiii.63ff; Pausanias, ii.4.1; Hyginus, Fabulae, 157; John Tzetzes, On Lycophron
  16. Robert Graves, 75.d; Plutarch, On the Virtues of Women.
  17. Isander was struck down by Ares in battle with the Solymi (Iliad xvi.
  18. Iliad loc. cit.
  19. Parallels are in the myths of Icarus and Phaethon.
  20. 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.


  • Graves, Robert, 1960. The Greek Myths, revised edition (Harmondsworth:Penguin)
  • Homer, Iliad, book vi.155–203
  • Kerenyi, Karl, 1959. The Heroes of the Greeks (London: Thames and Hudson)

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