Mythursday Mythonday: I Will A Your Q
Hello. It has been a while. I have been busy performing a task that is more or less equivalent to walking into a crowded Applebee’s at happy hour and trying one’s best to get the whole restaurant to listen while you tell them some ideas about Odysseus.
I said to myself, “I can’t wait to get back to the internet, where I can talk about mythology to people who *want* to hear about it!” And then I remembered that the last time I spent a couple of hours writing 2000 words for this shit, I got like two notes, so I took another couple of weeks off.
Anyways, here’s a question from koltron:
“The term “chimera” gets bandied about and has been diluted thanks to a lot of video games and cartoons - what is the dizzle on chimeras?”
First off: there was only one chimera.
The chimera was the offspring of Typhon, greatest and most deadly of the giants, and Echidna, known as the Mother of All Monsters. This makes the chimera sister to monsters such as Cerberus and the Hydra, as well as lesser known monsters like Orthrus, the two-headed dog that lives forever in the shadow of his brother.
The chimera itself was a beast of three parts. Homer says: “a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire.”
Yes: part lion, part goat, part dragon. This is depicted in different ways, but possibly the most traditional looks like a lion with a goat head sticking out of its back, and a long serpent’s tail.
She lived in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and, like most monsters, is most famous for being killed. The chimera was killed by—well, let’s see if you know.
All right, class, which hero rode Pegasus?
Now if you are thirty or older, your answer was either Perseus or Harry Hamlin. If you are younger than thirty, your answer was undoubtedly Hercules. In all instances, your answer was wrong.
The rider of Pegasus was a hero named Bellerophon, who—and I waffle on this point myself—just might be the most underrated hero in Greek mythology. He is so underrated that you have never heard of him until I said his name just now.
Bellerophon was a young man who, through a series of wacky circumstances involving manslaughter and rape allegations that I won’t go into here, ended up on a quest to kill the chimera. Thanks to help from Athena, he was able to find and tame the flying horse Pegasus (and, like the chimera—despite what My Little Pony might have told you—there was only one Pegasus), which allowed him, a mortal with no exceptional strength—to gain the advantage over the fire-breathing beast.
According to one scholiast (look it up; I’m not going into it), Bellerophon defeats the chimera by shoving a lump of lead down its throat, which melts in the heat of the fire breath, pouring down into the chimera’s gullet and killing it.
Bellerophon would go on to defeat an entire army single-handedly and then also beat the whole nation of Amazons, something even heroes like Heracles and Theseus struggled to do. But then he got dumb and tried to ride Pegasus up to Mount Olympus and Zeus struck him down and then he lived the rest of his life as the crazy homeless man outside McDonalds, trying to tell you about his magic pony.
Anyway, we use the term “chimera” today to refer to anything cobbled together from discrete parts, such as in genetics, where it means a single animal or plant made by combining two zygotes. Also it is sometimes a metaphor.
So there you go.