You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Bellerophon’ tag.

sc21458

Today we feature a masterpiece of Visigoth art.  This is a silver medallion from the Iberian Peninsula during the 5th-7th century A.D. which shows Bellerophon killing the Chimera with a lance.  The work is an anomaly:  it was made in early Medieval Christendom and has the style and workmanship of that time, yet its subject is entirely Greco-Roman in nature.   In ancient Greek myth, Bellerophon was a mythical Corinthian demigod who was the son of Poseidon.  With Athena’s help, he tamed Pegasus, a winged steed born of violence and ancient gods & monsters.  Bellerophon used this power of flight (and his own martial prowess) to kill the three headed chimera–part lion, part goat, and part snake–one of the most convoluted and confusing monsters of ancient mythology (and one of the children of Echidna, the great mother of monsters). Yet Bellerophon’s heroic deeds went to his head and he tried to fly up to the top of Mount Olympus and take a place among the Gods.  Because of his hubris, the gods cast him down.  They took Pegasus back, and the maimed Bellerophon was left as a crippled beggar.   Clearly the story appealed to somebody during the chaotic centuries after the Empire blew apart as different hordes fought their way back and forth across Spain, Gaul, and the Mediterranean. Pegasus has lost his wings in this version, but the long centuries of chaos and political and cultural upheaval have given it pathos. Look at the expression of fortitude and resignation on the warrior’s face!

The Chimera

I have a special affection for the next monster on my list.  Of all of Echidna’s brood, the Chimera seems like the most fanciful: she was a mixed-up creature with three heads from completely different animals.  The Chimera had the body and head of a lioness, but a goat head protruded from her back, and she had a live snake instead of a tail. The Chimera breathed fire and haunted the volcanic mountains of Lycia.  Even in mythology, this was an improbable beast, and therefore, since classical times, writers and poets have called unbelievable fabrications “chimeras.”

Zoomorphs! The chimerical building toy

I am fond of the Chimera because I designed a line of toys, the Zoomorphs, which is a kind of do-it-yourself chimera kit.  The toy consists of a set of plastic animal parts which can be snapped together to make an actual creature like a Tyrannosaurus, a dog, a goldfish, or a parrot (to name only a few).  The user can also pop the different pieces together to make crazy fantasy creatures such as a dino-dog with parrot’s wings and a fish tail.  You can find them for sale at finer independent toy stores.  Here’s a link to the company site. Sorry for the shameless plug—but it was germane to the subject.  Anyway…back to mythology….

Like a surprising number of the monsters born of Echidna, the Chimera was slain for no good reason–thanks to a sequence of events which had nothing to do with her.  Bellerophon, prince of Corinth (and the grandson of wily Sisyphus) fled from his father’s court after committing murder.  He took refuge in Tiryns, where he was a favorite guest until the queen accused him of ravishing her.  The king of Tiryn sent Bellerophon to his father-in-law with a sealed note to kill the bearer (coincidentally, do such death warrants ever work properly in fiction?). The father-in-law also had qualms about murdering a guest, and so he dispatched Bellerophon on a suicide mission to kill the Chimera.  With assistance from Athena and Poseidon, Bellerophon tamed the magnificent winged horse Pegasus.  In order to deal with the Chimera’s fiery breath, Bellerophon attached a hunk of lead to a spear.  When the Chimera breathed on the lead the soft metal melted down the creature’s throat causing the poor animal to suffocate.

Bellerophon fighting the Chimera (watercolor by Walter Crane, 1895)

Bellerophon performed a few other heroic deeds and ultimately became king.  However the dark shadows in his character did not vanish with a crown. After a few years of increasingly tyrannical behavior, he resolved to fly Pegasus to Mount Olympos and join the gods as an equal.  Zeus sent a blowfly to sting the winged horse, and Bellerophon was thrown down into a thorn bush.  Maimed and blinded, he wondered Greece as a beggar, while former subjects pretended not to recognize him. The moral of the story is that Greek gods can tolerate murder, rape, chimeracide, and despotism, but woe to those guilty of hubris!  And thus does Bellerophon’s troubling story come to a stupid end.

Fortunately modern biologists do not agree with nonexistent gods (or their adherents) as to what constitutes hubris.  This is relevant because the creation and study of “chimeras” in biology has become widespread.  In the context of biology, a chimera is an organism (or a part of an organism) with tissues created from more than one distinctive sets of genetic information. Such an organism can come about through organ transplant, grafting, or genetic engineering.  Some chimerical organisms have a long history and are familiar–like grafted rose bushes or organ-transplant recipients.  Other chimeras, particularly those created by genetic tinkering, are rather more apt to stir up passion among the traditionally-minded.  For example, in 2003, Chinese biologists created an early stage embryo which combined rabbit and human parts. Bio-ethics and our transgenic future merit further writing, however splicing the genes of organisms together is about to become more frequent.  Why not join the wave of the future with some delightful, high-quality morphing toys!

You are not getting off this merry-go-round!

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

September 2019
M T W T F S S
« Aug    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30