Bellerophon: The Hero Who Tamed Pegasus

In the vast tapestry of Greek mythology, where gods and mortals intertwine in tales of valor, love, and tragedy, Bellerophon stands out as a figure of both triumph and downfall. His story, rich with adventures and challenges, serves as a reminder of the delicate balance between hubris and humility.

Bellerophon Key Facts

ParentsGlaucus and Eurymede
SiblingsNone known
OffspringIsander, Hippolochus, and Laodamia
Other namesBellerophontes
Roman nameBellerophontes
Best Known MythTaming of Pegasus and defeat of Chimera

Name and Etymology

Statue of Bellerophon petting Pegasus, from Geyre, Turkey (1st century AD)
William Neuheisel from DC, US, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bellerophon, often referred to as Bellerophontes in some tales, has a name that’s shrouded in mystery. Some scholars believe it means “slayer of Belleros,” suggesting a forgotten myth or an unknown adversary. In the Roman realm, he retained his Greek name, a testament to his fame and the universality of his tales.

His epithets, though not as numerous as some other heroes, often revolve around his most famous feat: taming the winged horse, Pegasus. Thus, he’s sometimes referred to as the “Pegasus rider” or “he who commands Pegasus, the winged horse.” These titles, while straightforward, capture the essence of his most celebrated achievement.

Bellerophon’s Family and Relationships

Born to Glaucus, The Tragic Sea God, the ruler of Corinth, and Eurymede, Bellerophon was of noble lineage. Yet, like many heroes of yore, his life was not without its fair share of challenges. Early on, he found himself exiled from his homeland, a consequence of a grave mistake; he accidentally killed his brother.

During his exile, he sought refuge in the court of King Proetus of Tiryns. There, he caught the eye of the king’s wife, Stheneboea (or Anteia in some versions). When he spurned her advances, she falsely accused him of trying to seduce her, leading to further complications in his life.

His romantic life, however, had its moments of solace. He married Philonoe, the daughter of King Iobates of Lycia, and together they had three children: Isander, Hippolochus, and Laodamia.

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Myths about Bellerophon

Taming of Pegasus

Bellerophon riding Pegasus (1914)
Mary Hamilton Frye, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The tale of Bellerophon and Pegasus is one of the most iconic in Greek mythology. Pegasus, a magnificent winged horse, was born from the blood that spilled when the hero Perseus beheaded Medusa. This creature, with its shimmering wings and majestic stance, was considered untamable by mortals. However, Bellerophon’s destiny was intertwined with this mythical beast. 

Guided by a dream sent by Athena, he approached Pegasus at the Corinthian spring of Peirene. With the golden bridle, a divine gift from the goddess, he managed to mount and tame the horse. This union marked the beginning of numerous adventures, showcasing the unparalleled bond between man and mythical creature.

Battle with the Chimera

Lycia, a region in Anatolia, was under the terror of the Chimera, a monstrous creature that was a hybrid of a lion, goat, and serpent. Its breath was fire, and its very presence spelled doom for villages and towns. King Iobates, seeking to rid his land of this menace, set Bellerophon on the task, secretly hoping it would be an impossible challenge. 

Bellerophon riding Pegasus and slaying the Chimera, central medallion of a Gallo-Roman mosaic from Autun, 2nd to 3rd century AD, Musée Rolin
Anonymous ancient Roman mosaic artist, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Armed with his courage, his trusty steed Pegasus, and his wits, Bellerophon approached the beast. Using the aerial advantage provided by Pegasus, he swooped down on the Chimera. With a lead-tipped lance, he exploited the creature’s fiery breath, causing it to melt the lead and subsequently suffocate the beast. This victory not only solidified Bellerophon’s status as a legendary hero but also showcased the synergy between him and Pegasus.

Attempt to Ascend Mount Olympus

Bellerophon’s numerous feats made him a celebrated figure throughout ancient Greece. However, with such acclaim came an overwhelming hubris. Feeling invincible and perhaps even on par with the gods, he decided to fly to Mount Olympus, the divine abode, on Pegasus. This audacious act was perceived as a direct affront to the divine order. 

As he made his ascent, Zeus, the king of the gods, took note of this brazen attempt. In response, Zeus dispatched a gadfly to sting Pegasus. The sudden sting caused Pegasus to buck, sending Bellerophon hurtling from the sky. Depending on the version of the tale, the consequences of this fall vary. 

Some narratives recount that Bellerophon met his tragic end, dying from the fall. Others suggest that while he survived, he was left crippled and spent the remainder of his days in solitude, lamenting his overreaching ambition. This tale serves as a poignant reminder of the boundaries that mortals, no matter how heroic, should not attempt to transgress.

Depiction And Characteristics

Bellerophon’s appearance, as described in ancient texts and depicted in art, is that of a young, handsome warrior, often seen riding Pegasus. The golden bridle, a gift from Athena, is a recurring symbol associated with him, representing divine intervention and favor.

His personality, shaped by his adventures and trials, is a mix of bravery, determination, and, unfortunately, hubris. His success against the Chimera and other challenges made him overconfident, leading to his eventual downfall when he tried to ascend to Mount Olympus.

Animals associated with Bellerophon, besides Pegasus, are scarce. However, the Chimera, his most famous adversary, often appears in tales and art alongside him.

Representations Of Bellerophon In Art

Bellerophon, astride Pegasus, has been a favorite subject in ancient Greek art. Vases from the classical period often depict the moment he tames Pegasus or his triumphant battle against the Chimera. The hero’s form, poised and determined, contrasts beautifully with the wild, untamed spirit of the creatures he encounters.

Bellerophon Taming Pegasus (1977) by Jacques Lipchitz (1891–1973). Columbia University, New York City (June 2014)
Another Believer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In sculpture, the duo has been immortalized in marble and bronze, capturing the dynamic movement of Pegasus and the focused intent of Bellerophon. These artworks not only celebrate his victories but also serve as a reminder of the fleeting nature of mortal glory.

Mentions in Ancient Texts

Bellerophon’s exploits are chronicled in several ancient texts. Homer’s “Iliad” speaks of his great deeds and his tragic end, painting a picture of a hero who flew too close to the sun, metaphorically speaking. In this epic, Glaucus, a Lycian prince, recounts Bellerophon’s achievements to the Greek hero Diomedes.

A poignant quote from the “Iliad” captures the essence of his tale: “Mighty Bellerophon, who once was a man, but now, they say, in the land of Lycia, he lives as a god.”

Other texts, like the works of Pindar and Hesiod, also touch upon his adventures, each adding layers to the complex tapestry of his life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was Bellerophon’s most famous feat?

He is best known for taming the winged horse, Pegasus, and defeating the Chimera.

Who falsely accused him of seduction?

Stheneboea (or Anteia), the wife of King Proetus, falsely accused him after he rejected her advances.

Which goddess aided him in taming Pegasus?

Athena, the goddess of wisdom, provided him with a golden bridle to tame Pegasus.

Did Bellerophon ever reach Mount Olympus?

No, his attempt to ascend to Mount Olympus on Pegasus was thwarted, leading to his tragic downfall.

How is he associated with the Chimera?

Bellerophon is celebrated for defeating the Chimera, a fire-breathing monster, with the help of Pegasus.

Featured Image Credit: Photograph: TobyJ derivative work: Speravir, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Evangelia Hatzitsinidou is the creator and author of which has been merged with She has been writing about Greek Mythology for almost twenty years. A native to Greece, she teaches and lives just outside Athens.