Chimeras and Chimera Mythology
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
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.
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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
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
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?
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
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
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
"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
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