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Mythological Monsters: Did they ever exist?

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Author Topic: Mythological Monsters: Did they ever exist?  (Read 2630 times)
Moira Kelliey
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« on: February 24, 2007, 08:47:28 pm »

In Greek mythology, the Chimera (Greek Χίμαιρα (ChÝmaira); Latin Chimaera) is a monstrous creature of Lycia in Asia Minor, which was made of the parts of multiple animals. Chimera was one of the offspring of Typhon and Echidna and sister of such monsters as Cerberus and the Lernaean Hydra.


Homer's brief description in the Iliad[1] is the earliest literary reference: "a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle,[2] and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire".[3] Hesiod's Theogony follows the Homeric description: he makes the Chimera the issue of Echidna: "She was the mother of Chimaera who breathed raging fire, a creature fearful, great, swift-footed and strong, who had three heads, one of a grim-eyed lion; in her hinderpart, a dragon; and in her middle, a goat, breathing forth a fearful blast of blazing fire. Her did Pegasus and noble Bellerophon slay"[4] The author of Bibliotheke concurs:[5] descriptions agree that it breathed fire. The Chimera is generally considered to have been female (see the quotation from Hesiod above); despite the mane adorning its lion's head. Sighting the chimera[citation needed] was a sign of storms, shipwrecks, and natural disasters (particularly volcanos).

While there are different genealogies, in one version it mated with its brother Orthrus and mothered the Sphinx and the Nemean Lion.

The Chimera was finally defeated by Bellerophon with the help of Pegasus at the command of King Iobates of Lycia. He shot the Chimera from the air, safe from her heads and breath, since Pegasus could fly;[6] a scholiast to Homer adds that he finished her off putting a lump of lead on his spear that melted when exposed to Chimera's fiery breath and consequently killed it, an image drawn from metalworking.[7]

The Chimera motif

The Chimaera was placed in foreign Lycia,[8] but its representations in the arts was wholly Greek.[9] An autonomous tradition, one that did not rely on the written word, was represented in the visual repertory of the Greek vase-painters. The Chimera first appears at an early stage in the proto-Corinthian pottery-painters' repertory, providing some of the earliest identifiable mythological scenes that can be recognized in Greek art. The Corinthian type is fixed, after some early hesitation, in the 670s BCE; the variations in the pictorial representations suggest to Marilyn Low Schmitt[10]a multiple origin. The fascination with the monstrous devolved by the end of the seventh century into a decorative Chimera-motif in Corinth,[11] while the motif of Bellerophon on Pegasus took on a separate existence alone. A separate Attic tradition, where the goats breathe fire and the animal's rear is serpent-like, begins with such confidence that Marilyn Low Schmitt is convinced there must be unrecognized earlier local prototypes. Two vase-painters employed the motif so consistently they are given the pseudonyms the Bellerophon Painter and the Chimaera Painter.

In Etruscan civilization, the Chimera appears in the "Orientalizing" period that precedes Etruscan Archaic art; that is to say, very early indeed. The Chimera appears in Etruscan wall-paintings of the fourth century BCE.

Robert Graves suggests[12] that "the Chimaera was, apparently, a calendar-symbol of the tripartite year, of which the seasonal emblems were lion, goat and serpent."

In Medieval Christian art, the chimera appears as a symbol of Satanic forces. Over time, the Chimera has also been lifted from mythology to represent not only the fantastic, but that which cannot be--a concept originating from the quixotic physical representations of the Chimera as impossible amalgam. In this way its usage was extended by classically-educated botantists: see Chimera (botany).


"Chimera of Arezzo:" an Etruscan bronze
Classical sources
The myths of the Chimera can be found in Apollodorous' Library (book 1), Homer's Iliad (book 6); Hyginus Fabulae 57; Ovid's Metamorphoses (book VI 339; IX 648) and Hesiod's Theogony 319ff.

Virgil, in the Aeneid (book 5) employs Chimaera for the name of Gyas' gigantic ship in the ship-race, with possible allegorical significance in contemporary Roman politics.[13]

Theory about origin

"Even in antiquity the Chimaera was regarded as a symbol of the volcanic character of the Lycian soil," Harry Thurston Peck noted. (Peck 1898). Ctesias (as cited by Pliny the Elder and quoted by Photius) identified the Chimaera with an area of permanent gas vents which can still be found today by hikers on the Lycian Way in southwest Turkey. Called in Turkish Yanartaş (flaming rock), it consists of some two dozen vents in the ground, grouped in two patches on the hillside above the Temple of Hephaestus about 3 km north of ăıralı, near ancient Olympos, in Lycia. The vents emit burning methane thought to be of metamorphic origin, which in ancient times sailors could navigate by, and which today the custodian uses to brew tea. (Strabo held the Chimaera to be a ravine on a different mountain in Lycia.) [1]
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