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Definition: Bellerophon from The Macquarie Dictionary

Greek Legend

a hero of Corinth who, on the winged horse Pegasus, slew the monster Chimera.


Summary Article: Bellerophon (Βελλεροφόντης) from The Homer Encyclopedia

Nothing certain can be said about the origin and original significance of the character of Bellerophontês (thus the Homeric form, otherwise also Bellerophôn). The name was etymologized by the ancients as “killer of Belleros” (for various theories, see Kullmann 1956, 23n.1; Peppermüller 1961). In the Iliad, Bellerophon is a member of the royal house of Ephyra (Corinth); he is the grandson of Sisyphos and the grandfather of the Lycian leaders Sarpedon and Glaukos. Bellerophon's story is told by Glaukos (6.152-205) as he rehearses his genealogy to Diomedes: Bellerophon was a handsome man; while staying with king Proitos he resisted the advances of the king's wife Anteia; she then accused Bellerophon of rape. Instead of having him killed, Proitos dispatched Bellerophon to Anteia's father, the king of Lycia, with “baneful signs” (sêmata lugra) on a folded tablet (see Writing, in Homer). After nine days of entertainment, the king asked to see the tablet; he then sent Bellerophon out to fight, first, the Chimaira, whom he killed, “obeying the portents of the immortals” (6.183), then the Solymi, and, finally, the Amazons, whom he also conquered. After Bellerophon's successful return, the king had him ambushed by the best men of Lycia, all of whom were killed, however. The king then recognized Bellerophon's royal stock. He gave Bellerophon his daughter and much else besides. Bellerophon fathered three children: Hippolochos (1) (father of Glaukos), Isandros (killed by Ares when fighting the Solymi), and Laodameia (mother of Sarpedon, killed by Artemis in anger). Of Bellerophon himself, we suddenly learn that “even he was hated by all the immortals,” and wandered about the Aleian Plain, shying away from men (6.200-203).

The account reads like a summary of a well-known story, perhaps a kleinepos, if it does not rely on the tradition of Eumelus’ Corinthiaca (West, GEF 232-244). We do not learn why Bellerophon is with Proitos (fleeing after the killing of Belleros), or that Proitos rules in Tiryns, or the name of the Lycian king (Iobates) or his daughter (Philonoe). The story is full of traditional motifs: the “Potiphar's Wife motif” of the rejected adulterous wife (see Folktale), the secret message that brings the messenger trouble, the nine days, the three trials, the princess's hand. The Chimaira of “divine, not human stock” is depicted in all her unnaturalness (6.179-182), but the reason why we hear nothing of Bellerophon's famously riding on the winged horse Pegasos, either in attacking the Chimaira (as we see him doing already on a vase-painting from before the mid-7th century bce; LIMC VII.2 XXX s.v. Pegasus), or triumphantly after the deed, may be Homer's reluctance to admit certain varieties of the supernatural (see Monsters). Bellerophon's somber end in the Aleian Plain remains without explanation in the Iliad; on the other hand, the fact that “even he” (6.200) was hated by all the gods links the fate of Bellerophon to the paradigm of Lykourgos (1) and to the theme of the relationship between men and gods that is so prominent in connection with Diomedes.

See also Glaukos-Diomedes Episode.

øIVIND ANDERSEN
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

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