Bellerophon (βελλεροφῶν) or Bellerophontes (βελλεροφόντης) was a hero of Greek mythology, "the greatest hero and slayer of monsters, alongside of Kadmos and Perseus, before the days of Heracles", whose greatest feat was killing 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".
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) of Corinth
and the grandson of death-cheating Sisyphus
. Bellerophon's grandsons Sarpedon
and the younger Glaucus fought in the Trojan War
. In the Epitome
, 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.
Bellerophon's brave journey began in the familiar way, with an exile: he had murdered either his brother, whose name is usually given as Deliades, or killed a shadowy "enemy", a "Belleros (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
, took a fancy to him, but when he rejected her, she accused Bellerophon of attempting to ravish her. 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
, bearing a sealed message in a folded tablet: "Pray remove the bearer from this world: he attempted to violate my wife, your daughter. 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
. The chimera was a fire-breathing monster whose make-up comprised the body of a goat, the head of a lion and the tail being a serpent. This monster had terrorised the nearby countryside.
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. 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.
Bellerophon mounted his steed and flew off to where the Chimera was said to dwell.
The slaying of the Chimera
When he arrived in Lycia, 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 did so, and 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 victorious to King Iobates.
Iobates, on Bellerophon's return, was unwilling to credit his story. A series of daunting further quests
ensued: he was sent against the warlike Solymi
and then against the Amazons
who fight like men, whom Bellerophon vanquished by dropping boulders from his winged horse; when he was sent against a Carian pirate, Cheirmarrhus, an ambush failed, when Bellerophon kills all sent to assassinate him; the palace guards were sent against him, but Bellerophon called upon Poseidon, who flooded the plain of Xanthus
behind Bellerophon as he approached. In defense 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
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, Hippolochus and Laodamia
, who lay with Zeus the Counselor and bore Sarpedon
but was slain by Artemis
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 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.
Enough fragments of Euripides
' lost tragedy Bellerophontes
remain embedded as some thirty quotations in surviving texts to give scholars a basis for assessing its theme: the tragic outcome of his attempt to storm Olympus on Pegasus. An outspoken passage – in which Bellerophon seems to doubt the gods' existence from the contrast between the wicked and impious, who live lives of ease with the privations suffered by the good – is apparently the basis for Aristophanes
' imputation of "atheism
" to the tragic poet.
Perseus on Pegasus
The replacement of Bellerophon by the more familiar culture hero Perseus
was a development of Classical times that was standardized during the Middle Ages and has been adopted by the European poets of the Renaissance and later.
Bellerophon in popular culture
- Bellerophon is the central character of Bellerophoniad, one of the three novellas that make up the novel Chimera by John Barth.
- In The Concept of Anxiety, Søren Kierkegaard wrote that Bellerophon "sat calmly on his Pegasus in the service of the idea but fell when he wanted to misuse Pegasus by riding the horse to a rendezvous with a mortal woman."
- In the little magazine The Savoy from the 1890s, an Aubrey Beardsley drawing was often printed on the back cover featuring a mischievous pierrot riding Pegasus in place of the traditional hero.
- The Baroque opera seria Il Bellerofonte of the Czech composer Josef Mysliveček, premiered in Naples, 1767; its libretto by Giuseppe Bonecchi focused on the passion of the queen Antea.
- A large statue of Bellerophon taming Pegasus graces the facade of the Columbia Law School, in Manhattan.
- A fictional drug in Mission: Impossible II is named Bellerophon and is the only cure for the Chimera virus.
- It is mentioned as the name of a colonist spacecraft in the classic 1956 science fiction movie, Forbidden Planet, a spacecraft on the TV series Andromeda, a character on the TV series Xena: Warrior Princess, and the name of a planet in Joss Whedon's TV series Firefly. The real first name of Captain "Tornado" Shanks on the animated TV series Sealab 2021 is Bellerophon.
- This mythical character's name is also used by the Japanese game/anime Fate/Stay Night. Bellerophon is the name of one of the character Rider's special attacks, which takes form of a bridle (Bellerophon) she uses on a pegasus. Rider's true identity is Medusa and according to legend, a pegasus springs to life from her neck upon her death, hence explaining her stabbing her neck in one episode and also calling the name Bellerophon.
- "Bellerophon" is the name of a computer program used by geneticists and molecular biologists to detect invalid "chimera" genetic sequences.
- Bellerophon was also the name of three Royal Navy warships, the first of which fought many naval battles against Napoleon. It was made in 1782 and dismantled in 1836. Napoleon surrendered and was taken aboard the Bellerophon after his defeat at Waterloo. Known as "Billy Ruffian" by its crew, it fought at the Battle of the Nile (1798) and Battle of Trafalgar (1805). The rise of the British Empire at this period could be reflected in the Greek myths surrounding the original Bellerophon and his egotistical rise and fall from power. The second HMS Bellerophon was an early battleship, renamed Indus III in 1904 and used for training, then sold in 1922. The third HMS Bellerophon was the lead ship of a three-ship class, which were a follow up to HMS Dreadnought; she fought at the Battle of Jutland.
- The USS Bellerophon (ARL-31) was one of 41 Achelous-class landing craft repair ships built for the United States Navy during World War II. She was the only U.S. Naval vessel to bear the name.
- In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges", the USS Bellerophon is an Intrepid-class starship that transports Dr. Julian Bashir and Vice Admiral William Ross to Romulus for a medical conference during the Dominion War. A previous Nebula-class USS Bellerophon was destroyed by the Borg at the Battle of Wolf 359 in 2367.
- The band Beirut, led by multi-instrumentalist and singer Zach Condon, released a song on their two-track ep Pompeii called "Napoleon on the Bellerophon."
- The first planet discovered orbiting a Sun-like star, 51 Pegasi, has been nicknamed Bellerophon, as the star is in the constellation Pegasus.
- In the 2007 Star Trek fan film "Star Trek New Voyages: World Enough and Time" Lt. Sulu (John Lim) and Lisa Chandris (Christina Moses) use the shuttle Bellerophon to investigate the wreckage of three Romulan warbirds.
- In the SciFi Hit Andromeda Ascendant the Bellerophon was the fastest sub light ship created, due to the time dialation affect her crew only experienced 30 odd years out of the 3000 that had passed.
- Bellerophon astride Pegasus, as the first "Airborne" warrior, is the traditional symbol of British Airborne forces.