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Chimeras and Chimera Mythology

Updated on January 28, 2015
Chimera on Apulian red-figure dish
Chimera on Apulian red-figure dish | Source

Chimeras are Hybrid Mythical Creatures

The Chimera is found in Greek mythology - a monstrous creature, apparently a combination of several different animals. Although the chimera, or hybrid creature, may exist only in legend and myth, the creatures from which it is composed are real. Some chimeras are even part human. The Greek chimera had a lion's head, the body of a goat, the tail of a snake, and breathed fire - clearly very dangerous!

However, many other famous mythological hybrids exist, and some have good characteristics and have proven helpful to human beings. The concept of a chimera, then, is not necessarily that of an evil monster, but rather a being that combines the strengths of a number of creatures.

The Greek Chimera

Chimera of Arezzo
Chimera of Arezzo | Source

The chimera in Greek mythology is described in Homer's Iliad as having the body of a goat, the head of a lion, and tail of a snake. Having the strength of these three animals, the chimera was feared as a vicious, powerful creature. On top of that, legend held that it also breathed fire!

The chimera is best known for its death at the hands of Bellerophon who triumphed over it with the help of Pegasus, the flying horse. Able to fly above the chimera, and so out of the range of the fire coming out of its mouth, Bellerophon shot arrows at the beast wounding and finally killing it.

For more information on Greek chimeras, read the New World Encyclopedia article "Chimera (mythology)".

Pegasus is also a Chimera! - A horse with wings, Pegasus is a chimera or hybrid creature.

Pegasus, the Winged Horse

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Unlike the fearsome chimera slain by Bellerophon, Pegasus is a noble creature. When Bellerophon became too proud and tried to fly to Mount Olympus where the Gods dwelt, Pegasus threw him off and was rewarded with a place in Mount Olympus in the stable of Zeus' horses.

So, being a chimera doesn't always make you an evil and fearsome monster!

To learn more about Pegasus, check out my article on Pegasus - the winged horse.

Basilisk or Cockatrice - Reptile and rooster

Basilisk with Basel Coat of Arms
Basilisk with Basel Coat of Arms | Source

The mythical basilisk or cockatrice is a composite of a reptile and rooster, with the head and front legs of the rooster and a reptilian tail.

Sometimes the creatures have wings, and then they are called cockatrices. Both versions are dangerous, evil creatures with the power to kill with a single glance.

The Griffin - A lion with wings

Sculpture of a griffin by Carl Piper (1888–1891), Moltke bridge, Berlin.
Sculpture of a griffin by Carl Piper (1888–1891), Moltke bridge, Berlin. | Source

The Griffin (also spelled gryphon) is a chimera or hybrid creature. It has the body of a lion, the head and wings of an eagle, and often the ears of a horse. Legends told of griffins that hoarded gold and hidden treasure. Being a combination of lion and eagle it was considered pretty fierce!

In later ages the griffin came to symbolize more positive characteristics, from strength and valor to fidelity - griffins mate for life and if one died the other did not mate again.

To learn more about Griffins, read the article "Griffin" on New World Encyclopedia.

What's your Favorite Chimera?

Which chimera do you like best?

See results

Human-Animal Combinations

Many chimeras or hybrid creatures are combinations of a human being and one or more other creatures. For example, the centaur is a combination of a man and horse, the minotaur of a man and bull, the mermaid is the combination of a woman and a fish.

Some of these creatures, like many other mythical and legendary creatures are good, some evil; and some, like the sphinx, are mysterious and confusing.

The Centaur - Part man, part horse

The Centaur Chiron.
The Centaur Chiron. | Source

In Greek mythology the centaurs were a race of mythical creatures, with the head and torso of a man with his waist joined to the horse's withers. Some have speculated that they were the first reaction of a non-riding culture when they saw nomads mounted on horses.

The centaur brings together the human being, able to talk, think, and reason, with the strength and speed of a strong, swift animal. Although the original centaurs of Greek mythology were barbaric, dangerous creatures, modern portrayals of centaurs focus more on their human characteristics and are often on the side of goodness.

The Minotaur - Part bull, part man

Tile Design - Theseus and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth by Edward Burne-Jones
Tile Design - Theseus and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth by Edward Burne-Jones | Source

Also appearing in Greek mythology, the Minotaur was part man and part bull. King Minos of Crete kept the creature in the center of a "labyrinth," actually a maze designed by the architect Daedalus specifically for the Minotaur. The Minotaur was an evil creature, and was kept placated by human sacrifices. Of course, this set up the scene for a hero to kill the beast and save the Athenians who would have otherwise been sacrificed. And sure enough, Theseus took on the task. He slew the Minotaur and even escaped the maze (with a little help from his friend Daedalus who, in most versions of the tale, gave him a ball of thread to retrace his path).


The Sphinx

Variety of forms - body of a lion, head of a bird, ram, or human, and sometimes wings

The sphinx is always a creature of secrecy and intrigue. Sphinxes are composites of two or more animals, usually with the body of a lion, and sometimes part human. Egyptian sphinxes had the head of a bird, a ram, or a person, usually a pharoah.

Great Sphinx of Giza

The Great Sphinx of Giza
The Great Sphinx of Giza | Source

Some sphinxes are part human, such as the Great Sphinx of Giza of Ancient Egypt, which has the body of a lion and the head of a Pharoah.

Greek Sphinxes

Encountering a sphinx is an opportunity to gain wisdom, but is also a confusing and dangerous experience. In Greek mythology the sphinx appears as a female, often beautiful, with the body of a lion and the wings of an eagle.

Oedipus and the sphinx.
Oedipus and the sphinx. | Source

In many tales the sphinx speaks in riddles. The sphinx appears to be very beautiful but is very dangerous to those who fail to answer her riddles correctly. Those who seek to obtain her knowledge or to pass through whatever she is guarding must solve the riddles.

Fauns

"A Faun Feeding a Squirrel" by Marianne Stokes

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In Greek mythology, fauns are forest spirits, part human part goat. Their upper part is human and the lower part goat, and they have goats' horns on their heads.

As you can see in this painting, young fauns are quite cute and play their role as nature spirits rather well!

To know more about Fauns, check out my article on Fauns and Faun Mythology.

Mermaids and Mermen - Humans with the lower body and tail of a fish

"Das Spiel der Najaden" by Arnold Böcklin, 1886
"Das Spiel der Najaden" by Arnold Böcklin, 1886 | Source

Merpeople have the head and upper body of a human attached to the tail of a fish. The female mermaid is much more common, but many legends also speak of "mermen." Mermaids are generally portrayed as beautiful sea creatures, but may use their enchanting voices to lure sailors to their death with their songs.

© 2009 Jennifer P Tanabe

If you were creating a chimeric creature, which would you go for?

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    • profile image

      isaac-recinos-94 3 years ago

      combination of a manticore which they didn't put in,cockatrice, and pegasus

    • Alana-r profile image

      Alana-r 4 years ago

      What a great read, the Griffin is my favorite, thanks so much for sharing!

    • MrMojo01 profile image

      MrMojo01 5 years ago

      I enjoyed reading your lens, thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Amazing lens! I think the chimera is my favorite mythological creature of all. Just the combination of animals astounds me.

    • profile image

      bonelessdriedsquid 5 years ago

      i though of seeing this creature in my bathroom

    • jstarley profile image

      jstarley 5 years ago

      I love your lens! There's something so fascinating about such creatures and they always make the best stories. I love them all!

    • Thrinsdream profile image

      Thrinsdream 5 years ago

      I have just meandered through your article with lots of "ooh, I didn't know that . . " really beautiful pictures especially for me, the Griffin. If I had to create a creature it would be a Swink Half swan half mink. A bird that could really protect itself! With thanks and appreciation. Cathi x ps loved the big grey cat in your bio, it's beautiful.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      bird/snake/human

    • BryanLSC profile image

      BryanLSC 6 years ago

      A hybrid of a great white shark and a man would be nice!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      How about mixing human with cat and wolf, possibly cheetah as well, with eyesight of a hawk but eyes that are reptilian.....I would love to be like that myself.I'll get to be as such when genetic engineering ascends to higher levels ^_^

    • writercb1 profile image

      writercb1 6 years ago from United States

      I think snake and lion would be an interesting combo...but my favorite is the Greek Chimera! I am also fond of the fauns and the noble griffin.

    • mewmew7 profile image

      mewmew7 6 years ago

      This lens is awesome great job =D

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 6 years ago from Iowa

      Really fascinating and nicely done. :)

    • profile image

      XBlade 6 years ago

      This lens is amazeing and my favorite identity from mythology that is part human part animal is anubus.

    • GardenArbor profile image

      GardenArbor 6 years ago

      Enjoyed this very much - thank you!

    • Glenn619 profile image

      Glenn619 6 years ago

      A very beautifully placed lens. good job

    • Amy Fricano profile image

      Amy Fricano 6 years ago from WNY

      A blessing on a chimeric-ally terrific lens.

    • Amy Fricano profile image

      Amy Fricano 6 years ago from WNY

      Very detailed, fascinating.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Very interesting lens!

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 6 years ago from California

      @Sensitive Fern: That's Schweinhund, an extremely vulgar word in German, which makes it even sillier... and also, as usual for Monty Python, bordering on bad taste. ;)

      And my captcha is pigzoom. Whee!

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 6 years ago from California

      Excellent lens -- I don't know how I missed it before! Lensrolling to my mythical beasties Squidquiz. :)

    • Sensitive Fern profile image

      Sensitive Fern 6 years ago

      All I can think of is that funny line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the french guy calls Sir Robin a "pig dog". At least I think that's how it goes.

    • jptanabe profile image
      Author

      Jennifer P Tanabe 6 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      @anonymous: Thanks, I just added a poll!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Pegasus has to be my fav Chimera - am wondering if this lens would benefit from a Poll asking that exact question ;) Congrats on the Purple Star :)

    • missbat profile image

      missbat 6 years ago

      I'd have to say Pegasus and the Sphinx are my favorites. Great lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      The best for me is the merpeople and also the great sphinx. They are all awesome and great lens too! :)

    • AuthorNormaBudden profile image

      AuthorNormaBudden 7 years ago

      The Purple Star Trademark looks good at the top of your page; it really stands out.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Well look at that Purple Star glistening at the top of this page! Well deserved, my friend!

    • joanhall profile image

      Joan Hall 7 years ago from Los Angeles

      Congratulations on your purple star!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Oh, I love this lens! Mythology always fascinates me.

    • divacratus 2 profile image

      divacratus 2 7 years ago

      I like the centaur the best. At least in this picture I do :)

    • pkmcruk profile image

      pkmcr 7 years ago from Cheshire UK

      Congratulations on your well deserved Purple Star!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Great lens to receive a Purple Star. Congratulations, I'm so happy for you.

      Angel blessing too.

      Best wishes

      Susie

    • myraggededge profile image

      myraggededge 7 years ago

      I like them all, especially the one with the six-pack! And I've also found myself strangely attracted to Pan.

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 7 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      Ooo, that means I'm a chimera, too! (Ramkitten, see. Hard-headed and ... hmm ... cute?)

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      My favorite chimera is probably pan he was 1/2 man 1/2 gaote. gods count right

    • joanhall profile image

      Joan Hall 7 years ago from Los Angeles

      I think I'd choose to be a hybrid of human, bird, and fish. Then I would be at home in any environment, air or land or sea.

    • KOrazem profile image

      Seeking Pearls 7 years ago from Pueblo West

      I would have to say the mermaid for my little Cierra.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

      That's an easy question. My favorite Chimera is Pegasus followed closely by the Griffin. I guess I just like winged creatures. Great lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Very interesting topic about the Chimeric creatures. Not sure what one would look like if I created one. I would want it to be gentle in nature with a kind heart, wise, and a protector of children.