Bellerophon (he who slays the monster) In Greek mythology, a hero, son of Glaucus of Corinth or Poseidon and Eurymede; brother of Deliades; grandson of Sisyphus; married Philinoe; father of Deidameia, Hippolochus, Islander, and Laodameia.

Bellerophon was a virtuous man who was betrayed by a spurned love. According to Homer’s Iliad (book 6), Antaea, wife of King Proteus, had a mad passion for Bellerophon, but Bellerophon, being a man of honor, would not have an affair with another man’s wife. Antaea, furious at the rejection, told her husband lies about Bellerophon, that he had attempted to rape her, and begged the king to have Bellerophon killed. Proteus, who abhorred violence, demurred, but to placate Antaea, he agreed to send Bellerophon to her father, king of Lycia, to be dealt with. Bellerophon was sent to Lycia with sealed letters to the king telling of his alleged crime and begging Antaea’s father to see to his punishment. Accordingly, Bellerophon was sent out to slay the Chimera, a fire-breathing monster—lion in front, serpent behind, and goat in the middle. Bellerophon succeeded with the aid of his winged horse, Pegasus. He then went on to conquer the Solymi and the Amazons. Later he married Philline and had children. Pindar adds to the Homeric account by telling how Bellerophon, proud of his feats, wanted to mount to heaven on Pegasus, but Zeus drove the horse insane with a gadfly and Bellerophon fell to earth and died.

Bellerophon appears in Edward Young’s Night Thoughts, William Morris’s “Earthly Paradise,” and George Meredith’s “Bellerophon.” In Paradise Lost (book 7) Milton asks his Muse Urania, who has helped him soar “above the flight of Pegasean wing,” to descend again:

. . . up led by thee
Into the Heav’n of Heav’ns I have presum’d
An earthly Guest, and drawn Empyreal Aire,
Thy tempring; with like safeties guided down
Return me to my Native element:
Lest from this flying Steed unrein’d, (as once Bellerophon, though from a lower Clime)
Dismounted, on th’ Aleian Field I fall
Erroneous, there to wander and forlorne.

The phrase “letters of Bellerophon” is sometimes applied to documents that are dangerous or prejudicial to the bearer.


Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow– Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante