BELLEROPHON

SISYPHUS, the son of Aeolus, craftiest of all mortals, built and governed the beautiful city of Corinth on the narrow isthmus between two seas and two countries. Because of the many deceitful deeds he had done, his punishment in the underworld was to roll a great block of marble from the plain up a hill, straining against its weight with hand and foot. Whenever he thought that now surely he had reached the top, his load escaped from him, and the knavish stone plunged back down the hill. And so this evildoer had to labor uphill with his burden again and again, until he doubled over in anguish and the sweat flowed from his limbs in streams.

His grandson was Bellerophon, the son of Glaucus, king of Corinth. Because of a murder committed by chance, the youth had been compelled to flee and took refuge in Tiryns, where Proetus ruled. The king received him with kindness and purified him of his crime. Now the immortals had given Bellerophon beauty of form and all manly virtues, and Anteia, the wife of Proetus, conceived a guilty passion for him and tried to tempt him to evil. But Bellerophon met her seductions with coldness, and her love turned to hate. She cast about for a lie that would bring about his ruin, appeared before her husband, and said: “Slay Bellerophon, if you yourself would escape an inglorious death! Your guest has confessed that he loves me, and tried to make me break faith with you.”

When the king heard this, he seethed with blind fury. But because he had loved this grave and eager youth, he put from him the thought of slaying him and pondered some other means to destroy him. He sent his guiltless guest to Iobates, his father-in-law, king of Lycia, and gave Bellerophon a sealed tablet he was to present as an introduction on his arrival. But in reality the tablet contained a command to slay the bearer. Unsuspectingly Bellerophon started on his journey, but the all-powerful gods accorded him their protection.

When he had crossed the sea over to Asia and reached Xanthus, the golden river, he sought out Iobates in Lycia. This kind and hospitable king, following an ancient rule of courtesy, received the stranger without asking who he was or whence he came. His form, his fair face, and his noble bearing were enough to convince him that he was dealing with no common guest. He conferred all possible honors upon the youth, arranged fresh feasts for him day after day, and sacrificed a bullock to the gods every morning. In this way nine days passed, and not until the tenth morning streaked the sky with rose did Iobates ask his guest his name and his purpose in coming. Bellerophon told him that Proetus, Iobates’ son-in-law, had sent him, and handed over his tablet as a token of the truth of his words. When Iobates had read the contents, calling for murder, he was filled with horror, for he had come to love this youth. Yet he could not believe that his son-in-law had condemned him without weighty cause, and so was forced to conclude that Bellerophon had committed a crime deserving death. But he could not decide to kill in cold blood one who had been his guest for so long and whose poise and grace had won his affection.

To escape this unwelcome predicament he resolved to send him on quests that would necessarily result in his death. The first of these was to slay the Chimaera, which was bringing ruin upon Lycia. This monster was of divine origin, begotten by awful Typhon and borne by the giant snake Echidna. Its forepart was a lion, its hindpart a dragon, and the middle a goat. The jaws breathed fire and blasts of searing heat. Even the gods themselves had pity on the innocent youth, launched on so dangerous a mission, and sent him as aid the winged horse Pegasus, sprung from the union of Poseidon and Medusa. But how could Pegasus be of help? This deathless horse had never borne mortal rider on his back. He could neither be caught nor tamed. Exhausted by his vain efforts, Bellerophon fell asleep near the well of Pirene, where he had found the horse. And there in a dream he saw Athene, his patron goddess. She stood before him, holding in her hands a beautiful bridle buckled with gold, and said: “Why do you sleep, O descendant of Aeolus? Take this; it will serve you well. Offer a fine bullock up to Poseidon, and then use the bridle.” So the goddess spoke in his dream, and when she had ended, she shook her dark aegis and vanished. He awoke from his sleep and started up. He reached out, and lo! the bridle given him in his dream was really there, though he was fully awake!

Bellerophon now went to the seer Polyidus and told him his dream and the miracle that had come to pass, whereupon the soothsayer bade him do Athene’s command without delay, slaughter a bullock for Poseidon, and rear an altar to his patron goddess. When all was done, Bellerophon tamed the winged horse with the greatest ease, slipped the golden bridle over his head, and mounted him in his armor. Then, while Pegasus climbed the wind, he shot at the Chimaera, and his arrows, soaring through the air, killed the monster.

After this, Iobates sent him forth against the Solymi, a warlike nation who lived near the borders of Lycia, and when, counter to all expectations, he prevailed in combat with them, the king ordered him off to the Amazons. From this adventure also he returned an unwounded conqueror. And now the king thought it was time to do what his son-in-law had asked of him, and so he laid an ambush for Bellerophon. For this he had chosen the bravest and strongest men in the land, but not one of them returned, for Bellerophon destroyed those who had fallen upon him, to the last man. This proved to the king that the youth could not be an evildoer but must rather be the darling of the gods. Far from persisting in his persecutions, he kept Bellerophon in his realm, shared the throne with him, and gave him his lovely daughter Philonoë in marriage. The Lycians made him gifts of their most fertile lands and most fruitful orchards. His wife bore him three children, two sons and a daughter.

But this was the end of Bellerophon’s good fortune. His eldest son Isander did, indeed, become a mighty hero, but fell in battle with the Solymi. His daughter Laodamia bore Zeus a son, Sarpedon, but died of an arrow shot by Artemis. Only his younger son, Hippolochus, lived to glorious old age and sent a noble son to take part in the war against Troy—Glaucus, who, accompanied by his cousin Sarpedon, came to the aid of the Trojans with a host of valiant men from Lycia.

Bellerophon himself grew insolent and proud because he possessed the winged horse, and he tried to ride it up to Olympus, for though he was mortal, he wanted to mingle in the assemblage of the gods. But the divine horse rebelled against this bold ambition, reared in the air, and threw his human rider down to earth. Bellerophon recovered from his fall, but from that time on the immortals hated him. Shunning his kind, he wandered lonely through many lands, avoiding the abodes of men, and his old age was inglorious and bleak with cares.

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