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Chimaera

Q182790

Chimaera (Χίμαιρα. "she-goat"): a monster from the ancient Greek mythology, killed by Bellerophon.

Greek plate with a picture of the Chimaera. Louvre, Paris (France)
Greek plate with a picture of the Chimaera. Louvre, Paris (France)
The Chimaera was a fire-breathing monster that is mentioned for the first time by the legendary Greek poet Homer:

Its front part was a lion,
its tail a snake, and in between a goat. [Iliad, 6.181]

Representations in ancient art -the most famous one is a statue from Arezzo that is now in the museum of Florence- prove that this does not mean a lion's head, a goat's body and a pointed snake's tail. The Chimaera was a three-headed monster.

Megiste, Bellerophon sarcophagus. National Archaeological Museum, Athens (Greece)
Megiste, Bellerophon sarcophagus. National Archaeological Museum, Athens (Greece)
Homer's younger colleague Hesiod adds that it was a child of Typhon -another monster with several heads- and Echidna, a sister of Cerberus and the Hydra of Lerna. The Chimaera was subdued by Orthus and gave birth to two other monsters, the Sphinx and the Nemean Lion (Theogony, 319-326). Homer again informs us that the Chimaera had been brought up by a Lycian named Amisodarus.

Homer also knows that the monster had been killed by Bellerophon, who had first mastered the winged horse Pegasus, and could attack the Chimaera from an unexpected direction, evading the fire-breathing goat's head.

Chimaera, natural gas
Chimaera, natural gas
The ancients, however, had more than one story about the Chimaera. According to several theories, the monster was still breathing. For example, the fourth-century historian Ctesias of Cnidus writes:

Near Phaselis in Lycia there is a fire which never goes out, but burns on a rock both night and day. It cannot be extinguished by water, which rather increases the flame, but only by throwing earth upon it. [Ctesias, Indica, §20]

Indeed, in western Lycia, one can still see and smell the Chimaera's fiery breath: a natural source of methane gas. On this rocky platform, every now and then, flames start to flare up from one of the little 'mouths' of the earth.

This page was created in 2008; last modified on 22 March 2014.