Unit 4: Hubris and Nemesis
Bellerophon and the Chimera
Adapted from Stories of the Ancient Greeks by Charles D. Shaw,
In the country of Lycia lived a monster called the Chimera. It was part lion, part goat and part dragon, but altogether ugly and terrible. It breathed fire, and wherever it went the fields and villages were burned. It ate cattle and people, so that the whole land groaned and trembled because of this dreadful creature.
The king was very anxious to find some hero who would kill the monster, but everybody was afraid. One day a handsome young man went to the palace and asked the king for something to do. The king told him about the Chimera and asked him if he would dare to meet and fight the beast. Bellerophon, the young man, said, “I am willing to try, but first I must find a wise man who can give me good advice.”
They led him to an old oracle who told him, “The best thing you can do is to get the winged horse, Pegasus.”
“But where shall I find him?” asked the young man.
“You must go to the temple of Athena tonight and sleep there. It may be that the goddess will appear to you and tell you what you wish to know,” the oracle said.
Bellerophon went to the temple, and when night came, lay down and slept. The goddess appeared to him in a dream and gave him a magic bridle made of gold and precious stones. When he awoke, the bridle was in his hand. That day the kind Athena led him to a well where Pegasus was drinking. He was a beautiful horse with silver wings. He could gallop faster than any earthly horse and fly higher than any eagle.
The young man drew near to him and said, “Beautiful horse, do not fly away. Help me kill a monster which makes a whole country unhappy. See, Athena has given you this beautiful bridle. No other horse ever had one so fine. Let me put it over your head.” Pegasus stood still, took the bit into his mouth, and let Bellerophon fasten the bridle. Then the youth jumped on the horse’s back and said, “Now for Lycia and the Chimera! Let’s go and make the people wonder as they see us sailing through the air!”
Up they rose and flew over mountains and rivers until they reached Lycia. They found the Chimera in a cave. It came out hissing and spitting fire, and there was a dreadful battle. Athena warned Bellerophon that the Chimera could only be killed from above, and with lead. With the spear he had brought, Bellerophon drove it with a piece of hot, melted lead on the end straight through one of the Chimera’s mouths. The Chimera was conquered and killed.
Bellerophon rode proudly to the palace, and the king was glad to hear the good news. He asked Bellerophon to do a great many other hard and dangerous things, and with the help of Pegasus he did them all. Then of course he married the king’s daughter and lived very happily for a while.
But the young man grew very proud and insulting, even to the gods. He said he would fly up into heaven and live there, and nobody could stop him. Zeus was angry and send a gadfly to sting the horse. Pegasus gave such an unexpected jump that his rider was thrown and fell a long distance to the ground.
Friends picked him up. “You are not much hurt, Bellerophon,” they said, to comfort him. He answered, “I cannot see, and I can hardly walk, and I have lost my horse with wings.” He wandered about in the fields lonely and blind and sorrowful, and after a while died in poverty and grief.
The horse with wings flew back to Mount Helicon where his real owners, the Muses, lived. Sometimes men caught him and kept him for a while, but he could fly away as well as run away.
One time, Pegasus decided it would be the last time someone tries to catch him. A young man mounted his back. Pegasus lifted his head, spread his wings and sprang from the ground. Higher and higher they went, and while the people below stood with open eyes and mouths, Pegasus and his rider flew away to the mountain of the Muses. Higher and higher they flew until Zeus placed Pegasus among the stars as a constellation.
Answer the following questions according to the story.
- Describe the chimera.
- What must Bellerophon do to kill the chimera?
- After Bellerophon defeated the chimera, what happened to him?
- What happened to Pegasus at the end of the story?
Answer the following questions. Compare your answers with a partner.
- We get the word “chimera” from this story. It has several different meanings. What are they?
- Go to http://www.bellerophon-project.eu/about-bellerophon. What do you notice about their logo? What is their goal?
- What is Bellerophon’s “hubris and nemesis”?
CEFR Level: CEF Level B2