The Myth of Bellerophon
The mythical story of Bellerophon
by Lilian Stoughton Hyde
The Myth of Bellerophon
When the summer suns had scorched the plains and dried the rivers of Greece till hardly any green thing was left, there were meadows, high on the snowy sides of Mount Helicon, that were bright with soft young grasses, and dotted with flowers of every color.
In these meadows were the most glorious fountains. At certain times they sent their waters spouting far up into the blue sky, whence they came tumbling down again, to rise once more in a fine spray, in which could be seen a thousand rainbows.
The most beautiful fountain of all, and the one where the water was the sweetest and the coolest, was called the Fountain of Hippocrene. The waters of this fountain had a wonderful magic. There had been a time when no such fountain was to be seen on Mount Helicon. One bright moonlight night Pegasus, the winged horse, alighted in these meadows. He uttered a silvery neigh, and then struck the ground a sharp blow with his hoof. Immediately this Fountain of Hippocrene gushed forth. Pegasus drank of its sweet waters, and then flew away, far above the clouds. But he sometimes came back to drink of those waters again. There was no place on earth where a plain mortal would be more likely to see him.
The Muses, too, haunted these beautiful meadows of Helicon. They were nine sisters, with hair so black that it seemed violet in the moonlight. On nights when a full moon was in the sky, they used to come and dance around the Fountain of Hippocrene. Some people believed that Pegasus belonged to them.
Shepherds who fed their sheep at the foot of Mount Helicon, and watched all night long, lest some prowling wolf should attack the flock, sometimes caught a glimpse of Pegasus or the Muses; but very few people in the towns below even believed that either the winged horse or the nine sisters really existed at all.
Now it happened one day that a certain young hero, named Bellerophon, came to Mount Helicon to look for Pegasus. He had been sent by a king to slay the Chimaera, a kind of monstrous dragon with three heads, that was laying waste the country in a certain part of Asia. He thought that, with the help of the winged horse, he might win an easy victory over any earth-born monster.
So, night after night, Bellerophon came to the Fountain of Hippocrene and watched for Pegasus. For a long time he could not see so much as a feather of the horse's glorious wings; although, once or twice, when the moon was shining more brightly than usual, he did think that a shadow passed lightly over the grass, but when he looked up, there was nothing to be seen. Another time he heard a sudden rush of wings, and caught a glimpse of something white among the trees.
At last, it chanced one night that he found a lost child on the lower slopes of Mount Helicon, and knowing that it was in great danger of being devoured by wild beasts, he took it to one of the shepherds who were watching their sheep near by. Then he went on to the spring, where he arrived much later than usual.
That night he saw Pegasus careering gayly about the meadows. The horse's silvery wings were held high over his back, and his dainty pink hoofs scarcely touched the ground. His whinnying was like the tremulous music of a flute; but when he saw Bellerophon, he spread his great white wings, and soared away up into the depths of the sky.
Catch Pegasus! Bellerophon saw that it was of no use to try, and gave it up. Then he lay down and slept on the soft grass of the meadow.
But people who slept near the Fountain of Hippocrene were apt to dream. While Bellerophon slept, he dreamed that Minerva stood at his side with a golden bridle in her hand. In the dream she gave him the bridle, and then Pegasus came up to him, and bent his beautiful head to have it put on.
He woke in the morning with the first sunbeams shining in his face, and found the golden bridle of his dream in his hands. The head-piece was set with jewels, and the whole bridle was so gorgeous that it seemed fit, even for so wonderful a horse as Pegasus.
Picture of Bellerophon and Pegasus
Bellerophon did not go down to the town that day, but stayed on Mount Helicon, and lived on berries and sweet acorns. When night came, he again waited by the fountain for Pegasus.
With a light heart, he went to his usual place, where he was screened by the bushes. He had hardly seated himself before he saw a faint white speck in the sky, which grew larger and larger, and soon took the shape of a winged horse.
As the beautiful creature descended lower, he began to fly in great circles, as you have seen a hawk fly. But his shining white wings were more like the wings of an albatross than like those of any other bird we know. He came lower, and lower, till his feet touched the meadow; and then he cantered up to Bellerophon, and held down his head for the jewelled bridle, just as he had done in Bellerophon's dream. A moment more, and the bridle was over his head.
A more gentle horse than Pegasus never lived, nor one fonder of his rider. He seemed willing to take the owner of the bridle for his master, and was obedient to the slightest touch of the rein. It was wonderful when he tried his wings. Up above the clouds he soared, with Bellerophon on his back. Who need fear the Chimaera now?
This Chimaera was a frightful monster with three heads - the head of a lion, the head of a goat, and the head of a snake. Its body was something like the shaggy body of a goat in the middle, but ended in a dragon's tail. When the creature was roused, it could belch out fire and smoke from its three cavernous throats. Nearly the whole of the mountainous country it inhabited was a waste of ashes. The few people who had not lost their lives, nor left their homes and their flocks, but still inhabited that region, lived in constant terror of this creature. So if one brave enough and strong enough could be found, there was need of a hero to slay the Chimera.
When Bellerophon felt that he had perfect control of Pegasus, he guided him straight toward the mountains of the Chimaera. Pegasus, with all his wonderful power of flight, sped through the air like an arrow, and in a very short time was hovering over the cruel monster, which lay sprawling in the midst of the waste it had caused.
Obedient to Bellerophon's wish, Pegasus swooped straight down to within striking distance of the Chimera. Then, a flash from Bellerophon's lance, and the goat's head hung limp. What a roar followed from the lion's head! All the air became filled with the sickening odor, and it began to grow dark with smoke. But Bellerophon and Pegasus were safe, high above the earth.
They waited till the monster was quiet again, then made another quick dash, and off went the lion's head. There was no roaring this time, and not so much fire and smoke, although the angry writhing of the creature was terrible to see. But the Chimaera could not follow Pegasus into the pure upper air. Once more horse and rider dashed down, and the snake's head was severed from the Chimaera's body. Then the terrible fires burned themselves out, and that was the end of the Chimaera.
The people of that country soon learned that the Chimaera was dead, and came back to their homes. Not long after, the hills, that had been so gray and desolate, were covered with vineyards and growing crops.
After this, Bellerophon, with the help of Pegasus, performed other wonderful feats, and became very famous. He married a king's daughter, and received half of her father's kingdom.
At last he felt as if, mounted on Pegasus, he was as strong as the gods themselves, and might ascend to Olympus. One day he was foolish enough to make the attempt. Then Jupiter caused Pegasus to throw him. Blinded by the near sight of Olympus, and lamed by the fall, he wandered about, for many years, an unhappy, helpless old man.
The time came when the gods took Pegasus up to Mount Olympus, and let us hope that Bellerophon, too, reached Olympus at last.
The Legend and Myth of Bellerophon