Mythology Mondays: Bellerophon

Every Monday, I highlight a different Greek myth that has woven its way into the Turning Creek series. The first book, Lightning in the Dark, is out now. If you pay close attention to the details, you will see where some of the elements and history of the series originated.

Bellerophon, was said to be the son of Poseidon and the Corinthian princess, Eurynome. Eurynome was, of course, married when she became with child by Poseidon. The joining may have been by mutual agreement as her husband, Glaucus, was the son of Sisyphus who had been cursed by Zeus to have his family line die out.

It never is simple with the Greeks.

Bellerophon has the ordinary life of a rich, titled prince until he commits murder. There are various stories about who he killed, either a brother or another noble of Corinth. Either way, he was exiled for his actions and sent to live in the court of Proetus.

Enter in the deceitful woman. Proetus’s wife tries to get Bellerophon in her bed. He refuses. Repeatedly. She does not take kindly to being rebuffed and tells Proetus that Bellerophon has made inappropriate overtures to her. She demands that her husband kill Bellerophon in retribution for her threatened virtue.

Bellerophon is a charming man and Proetus likes him. He is loathe to kill a man he admires. I would venture to say it is was also probably likely that Proetus was not ignorant of his wife’s character. Proetus comes up with an idea that he believes will both soothe his conscience and appease his snake of a wife.

Proetus sends Bellerophon to his father-in-law, Iobates of Lycia, with a sealed note instructing the man to kill Bellerophon. Iobates feasts for nine days with his guest before opening the letter. When he does so, he does not want to comply with the request. It was considered very bad form to murder a person to which you had extended your hospitality.

Instead of killing Bellerophon, Iobates sends him on a quest, which he believes will probably kill the young man. Bellerophon amazes everyone and completes the quest, and the next one, and the next, and the next.

It is in this manner that one of the greatest heroes in Greek mythology begins. By the time Bellerophon is done, he has completed the following feats:

  • Captures Pegasus, the winged horse, with the help of a golden bridle from Athena.
  • Slays the fire-breathing Chimera.
  • Defeats the Solymi, a war-like tribe of Lycia.
  • Defeats the Amazons, women who fought like men.
  • Kills the Carian pirate, Cheirmarrhus, who had been sent to assassinate him.
  • When Proetus’s castle guard is sent to assassinate him, Bellerophon calls upon Poseidon, who floods the plain and drowns the soldiers.
A floor mosaic from Syria depicting Bellerophon and Pegasus defeating the Chimera.
A floor mosaic from Syria depicting Bellerophon and Pegasus defeating the Chimera.

Iobates realizes his plan has failed and, in true ancient history fashion, gifts his daughter to Bellerophon and makes him heir to the throne. Bellerophon sired three children with his wife, Isander, Hippolochus, and Laodamia.

Over time, Bellerophon began to believe he deserved to be welcomed into the halls of Mount Olympus. He was eaten up by his pride. He attempted to fly Pegasus up Mount Olympus to join the gods by force. Zeus was angered by his impertinence and sent a gadfly to bite the flank of Pegasus. The horse threw off Bellerophon who fell to the earth and landed in a bramble of thorns.

Pegasus was welcomed into Zeus’s stable. He carried Zeus’s lightning bolts when the god went off to war.

Bellerophon, blinded and crippled from his fall, spent the rest of his life as a wandering hermit consumed with bitter gall for his treatment.

In Turning Creek, I fudged the details about Bellerophon a bit, but his pride and sense of entitlement are definitely intact.