Chimaera has become one of the most famous female monsters described in Greek mythology. An aura of mystery has always surrounded this creature. (Even today, the name “chimaera” sometimes refers to a genetic puzzle.)
Greek sailors considered it a very bad omen to see Chimaera. She usually appeared right before a disaster!
A Lion, a Goat And a Snake?
Like many mythological creatures, Chimaera displayed the features of several different animals. Early Greek writers believed she possessed the head of a fire-breathing lion. A goat’s head arose from her back. Her tail ended in the head of a serpent. In many respects, the ferocious Chimaera combined several fearsome animal attributes. She embodies the strength of a lion, the intelligence of a goat and the cunning of a snake!
The Greeks disagreed sometimes about Chimaera’s family background. Homer wrote about her in his famous work of poetry, The Iliad. He claimed a man named “Amisodorus” had raised Chimaera. Amisodorus also reared several sons who later became great warriors.
However, according to Hesiod, a half-woman and half-monster named Echidna gave birth to Chimaera. Echidna spent most her time living alone in a cave. She became the mate of another monster, Typhon, and together the two produced several of the most feared creatures in Greek mythology: Orthrus, a dog with two heads; Cerberus, a multi-headed dog; the Lernaean Hydra, a snake with multiple heads; and Chimaera.
Chimaera would usually appear to Greek sailors immediately before the arrival of grave misfortune. When someone saw her, a shipwreck, a terrible storm, or even a volcanic eruption usually followed.
Chimaera according to mythology moved to a land in Asia Minor called “Lycia”. In some parts of that region, due to seismic activity beneath the ground, fires would erupt onto the surface. The ancient Greeks did not understand volcanic activity. They claimed the fires resulted from Chimaera breathing fire across Lycia.
The ancient Greeks regarded Chimaera as a dreadful monster. According to some early myths, she mated with her brother, Orthrus, before giving birth to two children: the Nemean Lion and the Sphinx. (Most legends claim these children actually belonged to Echidna and her monster husband, Typhon.)
The Nemean Lion, a huge lion, terrorized the land of Nemea. Eventually, a Greek hero named “Hercules” killed him.
The Sphinx somewhat resembled Chimaera in appearance. The Greeks believed this mythological creature boasted the head of a human, the body of a lion and the wings of a bird. Today a famous Sphinx statue stands beside the famous Egyptian Pyramids of Giza. According to Greek legends, the Sphinx would sometimes appear in front of travelers and ask them a riddle. If the unfortunate humans could not answer this puzzle correctly, the Sphinx would devour them!
Chimaera developed a fearsome reputation as a monster. According to legend, she terrorized the Kingdom of Lycia. Then one day a Greek exile named Bellerophon visited the region. He met the King of Lycia, Iobates (also sometimes called King Amphianax in some legends).
King Proetus of Tiryns secretly asked King Iobates to kill young Bellerophon! However, the Lycian ruler did not want to take this action directly. He feared murdering the young visitor would cause a war. Instead, King Iobates asked Bellerophon to kill the Chimaera. Possibly, he believed the monster would prevail over Bellerophon.
However, events did not happen quite the way everyone expected. Bellerophon gained an important ally in his struggle against the Chimaera: a beautiful winged horse named Pegasus. Greek legends disagree about the way Pegasus and Bellerophon met.
According to one legend, Bellerophon earned the favor of the Greek goddess Athena. She decided to send him the flying horse in order to assist him in his mission against Chimaera. Another version of the story credits Bellerophon with asking the wisest man in Lycia, Polyidus, to advise him how to capture Pegasus? Following the old man’s advice, Bellerophon spent the night sleeping in the temple of Athena. The goddess visited him in a dream and placed a golden bridle beside him. When Belleraphone awoke the next morning, he discovered the bridle and used it to harness Pegasus.
Previously, no one had succeeded in killing Chimaera because the fire-breathing monster could destroy attackers on the ground from a great distance using her fire-laden breath. Bellerophon climbed on top of Pegasus and the winged horse flew him above Chimaera’s head.
Bellerophon placed a chunk of lead on the end of his spear. When Chimaera tried to incinerate him with her breath, he threw the spear into her throat. Chimaera suffocated on the melting lead.
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