Miscellaneous Myths: Bellerophon

You know, for all the popularity of anti-heroes, modern literature is remarkably black and white. Characters are either good or bad. And even if it looks like they’re somewhere in the middle, you know they’ll end up doing something that tips the scales one way or the other. And then there are the flawed characters, those moral paragons with one or two character quirks cracking their pedestals ever so slightly. But those flaws rarely serve to actually hurt them in any way, assuming they’re even real flaws at all. Yeah, here’s a hint: If the worst thing you can say about your hero is that he just likes his friends too much, that’s not a character flaw. So today, we’ll be looking at a hero whose flaw actually was his downfall. A heroic lad by the name of Bellerophon or Bellerophontes, depending on who you ask. So Bellerophon has the distinction of being Poseidon’s son and, as a consequence, is a stellar equestrian. Yeah, I’m afraid outside the world of young adult fiction, being a demigod only earns you the lamest of your deific parent’s abilities. But his most prominent feature is his ability to constantly get himself exiled by pissing off the resident King. First, he gets himself exiled by killing someone, either his own brother or some random person. The story is unclear. And he hikes over King Proteus to be cleansed of the crime. But while he’s there, Proteus’s wife tries to seduce him. And when he’s like, “Nah”, she instead accuses him of trying to seduce her which prompts King Proteus to kick him out. Proteus sends Bellerophon to his father-in-law King Iobates with a message telling the king to kill Bellerophon. Iobates takes in Bellerophon as a guest, then opens the letter, and learns he’s supposed to kill him instead. But unfortunately, it’s against the rules of hospitality to murder your house guests. So Iobates kicks out Bellerophon and tells him to go slay the Chimera that’s been terrorizing his kingdom, in hopes that maybe the monster will solve his little conflict of interests. So after that needlessly complicated setup, we finally have our conflict. Bellerophon vs. the Chimera Now in case you’re unfamiliar, the Chimera is a fire-breathing fusion of several animals. A goat forms the body. A snake makes the tail. And “I’ll form the head”. Hahahahaha No, but seriously, she has a lion head. “GO WATCH THE NEW VOLTRON
it’s fantastic and also on netflix”

Dang, that reference was serendipitous. Anyway, on his way to probably die, Bellerophon bumps into a seer Polyeidos who, continuing the trend of characters only serving to redirect the plot without actually contributing, points Bellerophon in the direction of the temple of Athena, where he instructs the lad to go take a nap. So Bellerophon does and while he sleeps, Athena drops a golden bridle next to him and tells him where to find the Pegasus. Now, most of you probably know what the Pegasus is. But his origins are a little wackier than you might think. Yep, even wackier than that. See, Pegasus was born from the Medusa’s severed head. When our buddy Perseus cut it off, Pegasus sprang fully formed from her neck stump along with his brother Chrysaor. Now you’ve probably never heard of Chrysaor which is mostly because we barely know anything about him. His name means “He who has a golden sword”. And he’s sometimes shown as a giant. But he’s also been represented as a giant winged boar. He hardly features in any known stories and people have cobbled together characters with his name from his grab bag of traits. Sometimes, he’s a winged dude with golden armor. Sometimes, he’s a tusked monster. I don’t know, man. Someone get this kid a solid characterization. Stat. No, not you, Saint Seiya. You had your chance. That hairstyle is unforgivable. But anyway, Pegasus: fancy winged horse. You know the drill. Bellerophon drops the bridle on him, makes an appropriate sacrifice to Poseidon, and boom, instant besties. So Bellerophon hops onto Pegasus and they fly off to the Chimera’s lair. But unfortunately, the Chimera is really stupid strong. And Bellerophon can’t put a scratch on her. But all the fire breathing gives him an idea. He finds a large block of lead (presumably somewhere in hammer space) and sticks it to the end of his spear. Then he jams that sucker down the Chimera’s throat. And when she breathes fire, it melts the lead, suffocating her. Yay? So Bellerophon scoots on back to King Iobates who immediately send them off to do more perilous questing, in the hopes that maybe this time, it’ll stick. But Bellerophon cheerfully prevails over his next two challenges, defeating both the Solymi tribe and the Amazons. Iobates decides to stop screwing around and orders his guards to kill Bellerophon. But after a confusing incident involving some divine intervention from Poseidon and a whole bunch of naked women, Iobates finally gives up on trying to kill Bellerophon, reasoning that anyone that lucky has to have at least one god on his side. Iobates gives Bellerophon half his kingdom and his daughter’s hand in marriage. Very classic. And all seems well. But remember how I said Bellerophon has a flaw? Besides ending up with the lamest superpower ever, Bellerophon has an unfortunate tendency towards hubris. And all his victories only serve to fuel that particular fire. Eventually, Bellerophon starts wondering why he doesn’t get to live on Olympus, given that he’s so great and everything. Then he remembers that he has a flying horse, puts two and two together, and hops on Pegasus with destination Mount Olympus. Unfortunately, this pisses off Zeus because apparently, only he gets to indiscriminately invade other people’s homes. And he sends down a gadfly which stings Pegasus and causes the horse to throw Bellerophon off its back. Our hero plummets to Earth, felled by his own hubris. Or, more accurately, by Zeus’s hubris getting territorial. And thus ends the tale of the hero Bellerophon. He died as he lived, getting sent places by other people with no real agency of his own. [Music: Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'”]

“Hey, bright side: Bellerophon isn’t always presented as having DIED from his fall” [Music: Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'”]

“sometimes he lives on as a blind, crippled madman!” “Yaaaaay!” [Music: Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'”]

“If you’re ever in Chicago, hit up the Pegasus restaurant in Greektown – their avgolemono soup is REALLY good” [Music: Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'”]

“I’d apologize for using this song two videos in a row, but really it’s the fault of the greeks for doing the same object lesson twice.” “This has been an overly sarcastic production”
Video source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NN-ZHZvs-YY

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