About
Creature

Chimera

The Chimera was a monster with a hybrid body: part lion, part snake, and part goat. The hero Bellerophon tracked the Chimera to its remote mountain lair and killed it with the help of his winged steed Pegasus.

By Avi Kapach6 min read • Last updated on May. 2nd, 2022
  • The Chimera was killed by Bellerophon, a Greek hero and a son of Poseidon.

  • The Chimera was the offspring of the monsters Typhoeus and Echidna.

  • According to most sources, the Chimera lived somewhere in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey).

The Chimera, one of the terrifying offspring of Typhoeus and Echidna, was a hybrid monster made up of the body parts of a lion, a goat, and a snake. Many sources claimed that it also breathed fire. For years, the Chimera terrorized the inhabitants of the foothills where it had made its home—a reign that only ended with the arrival of the hero Bellerophon, a son of Poseidon. Riding the winged horse Pegasus, Bellerophon tracked down the Chimera, fought it, and killed it.

#Etymology

The Chimera’s name comes from the Greek word chimaira, meaning “one-year-old animal” or, more specifically, “she-goat.” It is related to other Indo-European words for baby livestock, such as the Old Norse gymbr (“young sheep”). The name “Chimera” may also be related to the Greek cheimōn/cheima and the Indo-European ǵʰ-ei-m-, meaning “winter.”1

#Pronunciation

  • English
    Greek

    Chimera

    Χίμαιρα

  • Phonetic
    IPA

    [ki-MEER-uh, kahy-]

    /kɪˈmɪər ə, kaɪ-/

#Attributes

#Locale

The Chimera was said to have lived in the mountains of Lycia, an ancient kingdom on the southwest coast of modern Turkey. The geographer Strabo traced the Chimera to an even more specific location: Mount Cragus on the coast of Lycia.2 In Virgil’s Aeneid, the Chimera came to live at the gates of the Underworld (in the company of many other mythical monsters) after it was defeated by Bellerophon.3

#Appearance and Abilities

The Chimera was a hybrid monster, comprising parts of a lion, a goat, and a snake. The earliest description of the creature comes from Homer’s Iliad, where it is said that the Chimera was “in the fore part a lion, in the hinder a serpent, and in the midst a goat, breathing forth in terrible wise the might of blazing fire.”4 Hesiod gives the same description,5 as do all major subsequent literary sources.

The Chimera also breathed fire, though Hesiod and later writers specified that it was only the goat’s head (the middle one) that held this power.6

#Iconography

In the visual arts, the Chimera was commonly represented with the head of a lion in front, the head of a goat in the middle, and a serpent tail. There were some small variations—for example, the Chimera could be represented with or without a mane, with the forelegs of a goat (in addition to a goat’s head), or even without any serpent tail.7

Chimera Apulia Louvre

Apulian red-figure dish showing the Chimera by the Lampas Group (ca. 350–340 BCE).

Jastrow / Public Domain

#Family

The Chimera was the child of Typhoeus and Echidna, monsters born soon after the creation of the cosmos. Typhoeus and Echidna were multi-headed, serpentine creatures whose offspring were multi-headed as well. Hesiod names the Chimera’s fearsome siblings as the two-headed dog Orthus, the Hydra, and Cerberus.8 The Chimera, together with Orthus, gave birth to the Nemean Lion and the Sphinx.9

#Family Tree

#Mythology

The origins of the Chimera are obscure. Ancient sources agreed that the hybrid monster was the offspring of Typhoeus and Echidna and lived somewhere in Lycia. According to Homer’s Iliad, the Chimera was raised by a certain Amisodarus to be “a bane to many men.”10 Beyond this detail, the Chimera only shows up in the mythology of Bellerophon.

In the common tradition,11 Bellerophon had incurred the unjust anger of Proetus, the king of Argos (who wrongly believed that Bellerophon had seduced his wife). Proetus wanted Bellerophon dead but was unwilling to carry out the deed himself. Thus, he sent Bellerophon to his friend Iobates, king of Lycia, with a letter. Unbeknownst to Bellerophon, the letter contained instructions that the bearer was to be killed straight away.

When Iobates read the letter, he was understandably hesitant to carry out Proetus’ dirty work himself. He therefore came up with the idea of sending Bellerophon to fight the Chimera, which was terrorizing the countryside, fully expecting the monster to easily kill the mortal hero.

But Bellerophon, who was a son of the sea god Poseidon, had the favor of the gods. The poet Pindar tells of how Bellerophon was able to tame the immortal winged horse Pegasus with the help of Athena and the prophet Polyidus.12

Soaring atop Pegasus, Bellerophon tracked down the Chimera and attacked it from above. According to one tradition, transmitted by a relatively late source, the hero came up with a clever strategy to kill the Chimera: he attached a ball of lead to the end of a spear, which he then thrust into the monster’s fire-breathing mouth. The Chimera choked on the molten lead.13 

Bellerophon killing Chimaera (mosaic from Rhodes)

Mosaic depicting Bellerophon killing the Chimera (ca. 300–270 BCE). Rhodes Archaeological Museum, Rhodes, Greece.

TobyJ / Public Domain

#Pop Culture

The Chimera has made numerous appearances in modern popular culture, though liberties are often taken. There is a kind of Chimera in the 2012 film Wrath of the Titans, though it differs considerably in appearance from the traditional Chimera of Greek myth (for example, instead of having the heads of a lion, a goat, and a snake, this Chimera has two heads and the wings of a bat). 

In the 2000 film Mission: Impossible 2, the name Chimera is given to a fictional virus produced by a pharmaceutical company in order to generate demand for its antidote (appropriately called Bellerophon).

The Chimera frequently appears in literature as well. In the first installment of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, Percy Jackson fights the Chimera and its mother, Echidna, on top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. There are also references to Chimeras in some fantasy novels, such as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. 

Finally, the Chimera has been adapted as a monster in various television shows, including Super Sentai/Power Rangers, Mon Colle Knights, and Yu-Gi-Oh!, as well as numerous video games and video game franchises, including Warcraft, Final Fantasy, and Age of Mythology.

#Further Reading

#Primary Sources

Greek

  • Homer: The earliest account of the myth of Bellerophon and the Chimera appears in Book 6 of the Iliad (lines 144–205), an epic usually dated to the eighth century BCE.

  • Hesiod: The Chimera’s mythology and genealogy are mentioned briefly in the Theogony and the fragments of the Catalogue of Women (seventh or sixth century BCE).

  • Pindar: The myth of Bellerophon and the Chimera features in Pindar’s Olympian Ode 13 (ca. 464 BCE). 

  • Strabo, Geography: A late first-century BCE geographical treatise and an important source for many local Greek myths, institutions, and religious practices from antiquity.

  • Pausanias, Description of Greece: A second-century CE travelogue; like Strabo’s Geography, an important source for local myths and customs.

  • Apollodorus, Library: A mythological handbook from the first century BCE or the first few centuries CE with references to the myth of the Chimera.

Roman

  • Virgil: In Book 6 of the Aeneid (19 BCE), Virgil places the Chimera among the monsters living at the gates of the Underworld.

  • Ovid: There are very brief references to the Chimera in Books 6 and 9 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (ca. 8 CE).

  • Pliny: In Book 5 of his Natural History (first century CE), Pliny traces the origin of the Chimera myth to permanent gas vents in ancient Lycia.

  • Hyginus: The Astronomica, written in the first or second century CE, briefly describes Bellerophon’s battle with the Chimera; the Fabulae also includes sections on the myth of the Chimera.

#Secondary Sources

Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. 2 vols. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Graf, Fritz. “Chimaera.” In Brill’s New Pauly, edited by Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider, Christine F. Salazar, Manfred Landfester, and Francis G. Gentry. Published online 2006. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e232590.

Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. London: Penguin, 1955.

Griffiths, Alan H. “Chimaera.” In The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 4th ed., edited by Simon Hornblower, Antony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow, 310. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Jacquemin, Anne. “Chimaira.” In Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, Vol. 3, 249–59. Zurich: Artemis, 1988.

Kerényi, Károly. The Heroes of the Greeks. London: Thames and Hudson, 1974.

Ogden, Daniel. Dragons, Serpents, and Slayers in the Classical and early Christian Worlds: A Sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Ogden, Daniel. Drakōn: Dragon Myth and Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Rose, H. J. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Methuen, 1929.

Smith, William. “Chimaera.” In A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Spottiswoode and Company, 1873. Perseus Digital Library. Accessed March 12, 2021. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0104%3Aalphabetic+letter%3DC%3Aentry+group%3D19%3Aentry%3Dchimaera-bio-1.

Theoi Project. “Khimaira.” Published online 2000–2017. https://www.theoi.com/Ther/Khimaira.html.