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The Chimera in Greek Mythology

Updated on August 26, 2016
Colin Quartermain profile image

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

As an ancient religion, gods and goddesses were of course central to the mythology of Ancient Greece, and the gods of Mount Olympus were of prime importance to the Hellenic people. The tales of Greek mythology though, also revolve around the actions of a number of heroes, and their adventures.

In antiquity, the actions of Perseus, Theseus and Heracles, were even more famous than they are today, and each hero needed obstacles and adversaries to overcome. To this end, Greek mythology if full of monsters to be defeated; and one such monster, was the Chimera.

A description of the Chimera

The monstrous Chimera is described in many ancient texts, including works undertaken by Homer, Hesiod and Pindar. Almost all of the ancient sources would describe the Chimera as a hybrid animal, combining the body and head of a lion, the midsection and second head of a she-goat, and the head and body of a snake acting as a tail. The lion’s head would also have the ability to send forth a stream of fire. The Chimera was said to be a female monster.

As with many of the most famous monsters from Greek mythology, the Chimera was thought of as the offspring of Typhon and Echidna; Typhon being the most gigantic and horrendous of all monsters, and Echidna being Typhon’s monstrous mate.

This parentage would make Chimera sibling to Cerberus, the Lernean Hydra, and Colchian Dragon.

In the Theogony, Hesiod states that the Chimera was mother to the Sphinx and the Nemean Lion, although other ancient sources would consider these two monsters to be further children of Echidna.

The Chimera

Pearson Scott Foresman Released into PD
Pearson Scott Foresman Released into PD | Source

The Chimera in Lycia

As was the case with many of its siblings, the Chimera would become associated with one particular area of the ancient world; and in the case of the Chimera, this region was Lycia in Asia Minor.

Homer and Apollodorus would write as to how the Chimera was raised by King Amisodarus of Lycia, before the monster was released into the Lycian countryside.

Once released, the Chimera was said to terrorise and kill locals and passers-by. The very sight of the Chimera, away from Lycia, was also thought to be a forewarning of a natural disaster.

It was though in Lycia where the Chimera would be bested, as the Greek hero Bellerophon did battle with the monster.

Bellerophon attacking the Chimera

CC-BY-4.0
CC-BY-4.0 | Source

Pegasus vs. Chimera DVD

Bellerophon versus the Chimera

Bellerophon, a prince of Corinth, was sent to Lycia, by King Proetus of Tiryns; Bellerophon had been a quest of Proetus, but Proetus’ wife had lied about improper advances made by the prince, and so Proetus now looked to do away with his quest. Simply murdering Bellerophon would have brought the wrath of the Erinyes (Furies) down on the king, so subterfuge was required.

King Iobates was King of Lycia when Bellerophon arrived, and was father-in-law to Proetus. Iobates sought to help his son-in-law by giving Bellerophon a task which would seemingly guarantee his death. Bellerophon was to kill the Chimera.

Aided by the goddess Athena, Bellerophon would firstly harness the winged horse Pegasus, and then fly to the layer of the Chimera. Riding Pegasus high into the air, Bellerophon commenced to fire down arrows upon the monster; the skin of the Chimera though, proved to be impervious to the arrows that hit her.

Bellerophon had to come up with a new plan, and the hero returned to the fight again onboard Pegasus, this time Bellerophon was armed with a lance that held a block of lead on its tip. Flying above the Chimera, Pegasus swooped down, and Bellerophon managed to drop the block of lead down the fire breathing head of the Chimera. The block of lead melted, and as it did, the Chimera quickly suffocated.

Whilst Bellerophon’s adventures would continue, another child of Typhon and Echidna had been killed.

Bellerophon killing the Chimera

Tonyj Released into PD
Tonyj Released into PD | Source

Yanartas

Jyri Leskinen CC-BY-SA-3.0
Jyri Leskinen CC-BY-SA-3.0 | Source

Origins of the Chimera Myth

Many of the monsters from Greek mythology were simply personifications of dangers that those in the ancient world encountered; and it is possible to give an explanation for the origin of the Chimera myth.

In antiquity, the Chimera was associated with Mount Chimera or Yanartas as it is also referred to; Yanartas is a Turkish word meaning “flaming rock”.

Mount Chimera is to be found in the Olympos Valley, and on the hillside are found 25 or more vents, exhausting gases from deep inside. The gases are mostly made up of methane, and are alight.

These vents have been burning for well over 2000 years, and were well known to the Ancient Greeks, often being used as beacons for passing sailing vessels. It is quite easy to think of the vents as a fire breathing monster.

The description of the Chimera can also be explained as in the time of the Ancient Greeks, on the hillsides of Mount Chimera could be found lions, goats and snakes, the animals that make up the monstrous Chimera.

The concept of the Chimera lives on today, and is a term used in biology especially, when the word is used to describe an organism containing differing genetic material.

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