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Bellerophon: Rise and Fall of a Greek Mythological Hero

Bellerophon, also known as Bellerophontes, was the greatest Greek hero, before the times of Hercules and Perseus. Called the slayer of monsters for his incredible feat of defeating the Chimera, Bellerophon rose to become a king. But his pride and arrogance led to his undoing. Let’s take a closer look at the story of Bellerophon.

Who Is Bellerophon?

Bellerophon was the son of Poseidon, the god of the sea, and Eurynome, wife of Glaucus, king of Corinth. From an early age, he showed great qualities required of a hero. According to some sources, he managed to tame Pegasus when the winged horse was drinking from a fountain; other authors state that Pegasus, son of Poseidon and Medusa, was a gift from his father.

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Bellerophon riding Pegasus and slaying the Chimera
Bellerophon riding Pegasus and slaying the Chimera, public domain

His short story in Corinth would come to its end after he reportedly killed a member of his family and was exiled to Argus.

Bellerophon and King Proetus

The hero arrived at King Proetus’ court in Argus looking to expiate his sins. However, an unexpected event made him a dishonorable guest at Proetus’ house. Proetus’ wife, Stheneboea, tried to seduce Bellerophon, but since he was an honorable man, he rejected the attempts of the queen; this infuriated Stheneboea to the extent that she accused Bellerophon of attempting to rape her.

King Proetus believed his wife and condemned the actions of Bellerophon, exiling him from Argus without making the scandal public. Proetus sent the hero to Stheneboea’s father, King Iobates in Lycia. Bellerophon carried with him a letter from the king, explaining what had happened in Argus and requesting King Iobates to execute the young man.

Bellerophon and King Iobates’ Tasks

When King Iobates received Bellerophon, he refused to execute the hero himself; instead, he started assigning impossible tasks to the young man, hoping that he would die trying to accomplish one.

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1- The Chimera  

This is Bellerophon’s most famous story. The first task King Iobates assigned to Bellerophon was the slaying of the fire-breathing Chimera: a hideous hybrid monster who had been ravaging the land and causing pain and agony to its inhabitants.

The hero threw himself into battle without hesitation, on the back of Pegasus, and managed to slay the beast by driving a spear into his gullet. Some sources say that he shot the beast from a safe distance, taking advantage of his great archery skills.

2- The Solymoi Tribe

After defeating the Chimera, King Iobates ordered Bellerophon to take on the Solymoi tribes, who had been the enemy tribe of the king for a long time. It is said that Bellerophon used Pegasus to fly over his enemies and throw boulders to defeat them.

3- The Amazons

When Bellerophon returned triumphantly to king Iobates after having defeated his enemies, he was sent to his new task. He was to defeat the Amazons, the group of warrior women who lived near the shore of the black sea.

Once again, with the help of Pegasus, Bellerophon used the same method he used against the Solymoi and defeated the Amazons.

Bellerophon managed to accomplish all the impossible tasks that he was assigned to do, and his reputation as a great hero grew.

4- Iobates’ Last Attempt

When Iobates found himself unable to assign a task that would kill Bellerophon, he decided to plan an ambush with his own men to kill the hero. When the men attacked the young hero, he managed to kill them all.

After this, Iobates realized that if he could not kill Bellerophon, he must have been the son of a god. Iobates welcomed him into his family, gave him one of his daughters to marry and they remained in peace. 

Stheneboea’s Fate

It is said that Bellerophon returned to Argus looking for Stheneboea to take revenge for her false accusations. Some accounts state that he took flight with her on the back of Pegasus and then pushed her off the winged horse, causing her death. Some other sources, however, some say that she committed suicide after finding out that the Slayer of Monsters had married one of her sisters.

Bellerophon’s Fall from Grace

After all the great deeds he had done, Bellerophon had gained the appreciation and recognition of men and the favor of the gods. He inherited the throne and was married to Iobates’ daughter, Philonoe, with whom he had two sons, Isander and Hippolochus, and a daughter, Laodomeia.  His marvelous feats were sung all around the world, but this was not enough for the hero.

One day, he decided to fly to Mt. Olympus, where the gods resided, on the back of Pegasus. His insolence angered Zeus, who sent a gadfly to bite Pegasus, causing Bellerophon to dismount and fall to the ground. Pegasus reached Olympus, where he was given different tasks among the gods from then onwards.

The stories after his fall vary greatly. In some tales, he lands safely in Cilicia. In others, he falls upon a bush and ends up blind, and yet another myth says that the fall crippled the hero. However, all the stories agree on his final fate: he spent his last days wandering alone in the world. After what Bellerophon did, men no longer praised him, and, as Homer puts it, he was hated by all gods.

Bellerophon origins

Bellerophon’s Symbols and Symbolism

Bellerophon has become a symbol of how arrogance and greed can be one’s downfall. Although he had accomplished great deeds and had the reputation of being a hero, he wasn’t content and angered the gods. He can be seen as a reminder that pride goes before the fall, which in Bellerophon’s case is true in both the figurative and the literal sense.

In terms of his symbols, Bellerophon is typically depicted with Pegasus and his spear.

Bellerophon’s Significance

Bellerophon appears as a prominent figure in the writings Sophocles, Euripides, Homer, and Hesiod. In paintings and sculptures, he is typically depicted either fighting the Chimera or mounted on Pegasus.

An image of Bellerophon mounted on Pegasus is the emblem of the British airborne units.

Wrapping Up

Bellerophon remains among the greatest of the Greek heroes. However, his reputation is tainted with his pride and his eventual fall from grace.

Affiliate Disclosures
Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.