Who Was Bellerophon?

Adultery, Winged Horses, and Much More!

Pebble mosaic depicting Bellerophon killing Chimaera

TobyJ / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Bellerophon was one of the major heroes of Greek mythology because he was the son of a mortal father. What's in a demigod? Let's take a look at Bellerophon'.

The Birth of a Hero

Remember Sisyphus, the guy punished for being a trickster by having to roll a rock up a hill - then doing it over and over, for eternity? Well, before he got into all that trouble, he was the king of Corinth, an important city in ancient Greece. He married Merope, one of the Pleiades - daughters of the Titan Atlas who were also stars in the sky.

Sisphyus and Merope had one son, Glaucus. When it came time to get married, "Glaucus ... had by Eurymede a son Bellerophon," according to Pseudo-Apollodorus's Library. Homer echoes this in the Iliad, saying, "Sisyphus, son of Aeolus .... begat a son Glaucus; and Glaucus begat peerless Bellerophon." But what made Bellerophon so "peerless"?

For one, Bellerophon was one of many Greek heroes (think Theseus, Heracles, and more) who had both human and divine fathers. Poseidon had relations with his mother, so Bellerophon was counted as both a man and a child of a god. So he's called both Sisyphus and Poseidon's kid. Hyginus numbers Bellerophon among Poseidon's sons in his Fabulae, and Hesiod elaborates even further on it. Hesiod calls Eurymede Eurynome, "to whom Pallas Athene taught all her art, both wit and wisdom too; for she was as wise as the gods." But " she lay in the arms of Poseidon and bare in the house of Glaucus blameless Bellerophon ..." Not bad for a queen - a semi-divine child as her kid!

Pegasus and Pretty Women

As Poseidon's son, Bellerophon was entitled to gifts from his immortal dad. Present number one? A winged horse as a pal. Hesiod writes, "And when he began to roam, his father gave him Pegasus who would bear him most swiftly on his wings, and flew unwearying everywhere over the earth, for like the gales he would course along."

Athena may actually have had a role in this. Pindar claims that Athena helped Bellerophon harness Pegasus by giving him "a bridle with golden cheek-pieces." After sacrificing a bull to Athena, Bellerophon was able to bridle the untameable horse. He "stretched the gentle charmed bridle around its jaws and caught the winged horse. Mounted on its back and armored in bronze, at once he began to play with weapons."

First up on the list? Hanging out with a king named Proteus, whose wife, Antaea, fell in love with their guest. Why was that so bad? "For Antaea, wife of Proetus, lusted after him, and would have had him lie with her in secret; but Bellerophon was an honorable man and would not, so she told lies about him to Proetus," says Homer. Of course, Proteus believed his wife, who claimed that Bellerophon tried to rape her. Interestingly, Diodorus Siculus says that Bellerophon went to visit Proteus because he was "in exile because of a murder he had unwittingly committed."

Proteus would have killed Bellerophon, but the Greeks had a strict policy of taking care of their guests. So, in order to get Bellerophon - but not do the deed himself - Proteus sent Bellerophon and his flying horse off to his father-in-law, King Iobates of Lycia (in Asia Minor). Along with Bellerophon, he sent a closed letter to Iobates, telling him of what B. supposedly did to Iobates's daughter. Needless to say, Iobates wasn't so fond of his new guest and wanted to kill Bellerophon!

How to Get Away with Murder

So he wouldn't violate the guest bond, Iobates tried to get a monster to kill Bellerophon. He "first commanded Bellerophon to kill that savage monster, the Chimaera." This was one terrifying beast, who "had the head of a lion and the tail of a serpent, while her body was that of a goat, and she breathed forth flames of fire." Presumably, not even Bellerophon could defeat this monster, so she'd do the killing for Iobates and Proteus.

Not so fast. Bellerophon was able to use his heroics to defeat the Chimaera, "for he was guided by signs from heaven." He did it from high up, says Pseudo-Apollodorus. " So Bellerophon mounted his winged steed Pegasus, offspring of Medusa and Poseidon, and soaring on high shot down the Chimera from the height."

Next up on his battle list? The Solymi, a tribe in Lycia, recounts Herodotus. Then, Bellerophon took on the Amazons, fierce warrior women of the ancient world, on the command of Iobates. He defeated them, but still the Lycian king plotted against him, for he chose "the bravest warriors in all Lycia, and placed them in ambuscade, but not a man ever came back, for Bellerophon killed every one of them," says Homer.

Finally, Iobates realized he had a good guy on his hands. As a result, he honored Bellerophon and "kept him in Lycia, gave him his daughter in marriage, and made him of equal honor in the kingdom with himself; and the Lycians gave him a piece of land, the best in all the country, fair with vineyards and tilled fields, to have and to hold." Ruling Lycia with his father-in-law, Bellerophon even had three kids. You'd think he had it all ... but this wasn't enough for an egotistical hero.

Downfall from On High

Not content with being a king and a god's son, Bellerophon decided to try to become a god himself. He mounted Pegasus and attempted to fly him to Mount Olympus. Writes Pindar in his Isthmean Ode, "Winged Pegasus threw his master Bellerophon, who wanted to go to the dwelling-places of heaven and the company of Zeus."

Tossed down to earth, Bellerophon had lost his heroic status and lived the rest of his life in indignity. Homer writes that he "came to be hated by all the gods, he wandered all desolate and dismayed upon the Alean plain, gnawing at his own heart, and shunning the path of man." Not a nice way to end a heroic life!

As for his kids, two out of three died due to the gods' anger. "Ares, insatiate of battle, killed his son Isandros while he was fighting the Solymi; his daughter was killed by Artemis of the golden reins, for she was angered with her," writes Homer. But his other son, Hippolochus, lived to father a son named Glaucus, who fought at Troy and narrated his own lineage in the Iliad. Hippolochus encouraged Glaucus to live up to his famous ancestry, noting "he urged me, again and again, to fight ever among the foremost and out-vie my peers, so as not to shame the blood of my fathers who were the noblest in Ephyra and in all Lycia."

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Gill, N.S. "Who Was Bellerophon?" ThoughtCo, Oct. 2, 2021, thoughtco.com/bellerophon-greek-mythology-118981. Gill, N.S. (2021, October 2). Who Was Bellerophon? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/bellerophon-greek-mythology-118981 Gill, N.S. "Who Was Bellerophon?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/bellerophon-greek-mythology-118981 (accessed May 28, 2023).