B is for Bellerophon

Published April 2, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

So, Thursdays are myth days.  And April is Blogging-A-to-Z, so…realistically, this needed to be a couple of weeks’ myths, but there was no way to divide it up within the month without usurping a day I already had set aside for something else.  (C for Chimera or P for Pegasus are no-goes.  I have more important discussions planned for those days…)  Next week’s myth isn’t going to be this long.  (Actually, hopefully none of them will be this long.  I spent way longer on this yesterday than I did on Camp NaNo…)


At the neck connecting the Peloponnese to the rest of Hellas rests the polis now known as Corinth. Back in the days when it was still known as Ephyra, its king was Glaucos, son of Sisyphos. Glaucos’ wife, Eurymede, was so beautiful that one day, when she was walking along the beach, she attracted the attention of Poseidon himself, who came to her in the form of a giant wave, leaving her with child.

When that child was born, Glaucos had no idea that the boy was not his own son, and he named the child Hipponoos. Naturally, with such a name, the boy grew to manhood surrounded by horses, and could ride so well that men said he understood what the beasts thought, and that his body acted as one with that of the horse he was riding. But ordinary horses were too boring for Hipponoos, and when he became a man, he decided he wanted the finest horse in all the world.

When Hipponoos learned that a winged horse had been seen flying over Ephyra, he determined to make it his steed. He spent many weeks trying to follow it from the ground, hoping to catch and tame it when it finally landed for food or water. But the horse would never land when he was near, and Hipponoos returned to Ephyra in defeat. His mother comforted him, and suggested that he consult a seer for advice. Obediently, Hipponoos went to see Polyidus, and told him of his desire to tame the beautiful winged horse.

Polyidus nodded his head sagely. “You are not the only young man to wish to gain its services, but I wonder if it can even be done? Such a being must be of immortal blood, perhaps born of a harpy or a wind. If it was fathered by a kindly wind, it may well be friendly to mankind, but if it was fathered by the harsh north wind, or if it was mothered by a harpy, you would not like what you had tamed, even if you were to obtain it.”

“I don’t care! I have to have it! It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!” Hipponoos assured him.

“Very well then,” Polyidus sighed. “There is an altar to Athene built in the mountains near here. Sleep tonight upon that altar, and if the goddess feels you worthy of obtaining the horse, as you desire, then she will surely tell you what you must do.”

Hipponoos thanked the seer, and hurried into the mountains to do his bidding. As night fell, he climbed up onto the rough slab of the altar, where he quickly fell into a deep sleep. As he slept, he dreamed that he was approached by a beautiful woman wearing full armor and carrying a spear. The hideous face of the Gorgon Medusa glared down at him from the aegis upon her chest even as the goddess Athene smiled at Hipponoos, her storm-grey eyes glowing kindly at him.

“What brings you to my altar, my mortal cousin?” she asked.

“I want to tame the winged horse,” Hipponoos told her, though his voice nearly caught in his throat. Why had the goddess of wisdom called him her cousin? What did she know that he didn’t?

“Pegasus is very proud, and very intelligent,” Athene informed him, “but he has known nothing of love. He was born violently, emerging from her neck after his mother’s head was removed from her body.” She patted the face upon her aegis. “You will have to show him kindness and treat him as a friend—a brother—if you wish him to obey you. Even then, I cannot guarantee he will wish to serve you.” She smiled again, and handed him a golden bridle. “When you awaken, sacrifice a bull to your father, Poseidon the Tamer, and ask him to send the horse to your side. If Pegasus appears before you, use this bridle, and he should answer your commands.”

Before Hipponoos could ask how it was that Poseidon could be his father, he awoke from the dream, and was once more lying on the stone slab of Athene’s altar. Had it been only a dream?

As he hopped down off the altar, Hipponoos saw that the golden bridle was lying on the ground near his feet. It had not been a mere dream!

Hipponoos snatched up the bridle, and hurried out of the mountains. He made his way straight to the plain where his father’s herds were kept, and informed the cowherd there that he required a bull to sacrifice to Poseidon. The cowherd obediently selected the finest, most pure bull, its unblemished hide so pale as to be nearly white. Hipponoos quickly sacrificed the bull, praying to Poseidon the Tamer, asking him to let Hipponoos win the winged horse, Pegasus, for his own.

Hipponoos had half expected to see the horse fly down out of the sky and land before him, but of course that didn’t happen. Instead, Hipponoos began slowly to make his way home, disappointed that it had all come to naught, even though he had sacrificed such a fine bull. Perhaps, despite the bridle that has appeared beside him, it had all been just a dream after all?

But as he passed by a sweet spring, Hipponoos was astonished to see Pegasus standing there, taking a drink of the clear, cool water. Cautiously, Hipponoos began to approach the winged horse, which soon lifted its head to look at him uncertainly.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Hipponoos promised the stallion. “I want to be your friend. This is just to help me tell you where I want to go,” he added, showing the horse the golden bridle.

Pegasus backed away a little at the sight of the bridle, but he didn’t take to the sky again. Hipponoos continued advancing, ever so slowly, all the while speaking calmly and comfortingly. The normal horses usually responded well when he talked to them that way, so he hoped that this immortal horse would, too.

When Hipponoos finally reached the winged horse, he set the bridle on top of the horse’s snowy white head, and although Pegasus whinnied uncomfortably, he didn’t attempt to escape, and calmly allowed Hipponoos to fasten the bridle in place. “Now I’m going to climb up onto your back, so I can fly, too,” Hipponoos told the horse gently, patting his nose to keep him from getting skittish. “Then we’ll fly back to my home, and I’ll have the servants groom you—you’ll like that, being brushed and fussed over like a king—and give you the finest meal any horse ever had!”

As if he understood Hipponoos’ words, the horse dipped his head, and allowed the mortal to carefully find a position on his back. Hipponoos soon realized that perching on the winged horse’s back was going to be much more difficult than simply riding an ordinary horse: if he moved too far back, he’d interfere with the beating of Pegasus’ enormous wings, but if he was too far forward, he worried that his legs might be too close to the horse’s head, causing the stallion alarm, if not injury as well.

Once Hipponoos thought he was in a good position, he took a gentle hold of the reigns, and gently nudged the horse’s sides with his heels. “Let’s take flight!” he exclaimed, giddily. How long had he been waiting for this moment?

With an excited whinny, Pegasus leapt off the ground, and his snowy wings began to beat, drawing him higher and higher into the sky. The view was probably spectacular…

…but Hipponoos couldn’t be sure, because the unexpected momentum had somehow shoved him forward against Pegasus’ neck, and all he could see was the horse’s white mane. And he’d dropped the reigns, so he couldn’t pull on them to tell the horse to land again. And his mouth was filled with the long hairs of the mane, so he couldn’t even call out.

By the time Pegasus landed of his own will, Hipponoos felt like he might faint.

He gave the horse a stern talking-to about his conduct on that joyride, and had talked so long that his throat began to hurt before he even realized that he had no idea where he was. Just how far had they flown? It didn’t look anything like any of the land near Ephyra. He started in another lecture for the winged horse, until he noticed the sad way Pegasus’ ears were drooping.

Hipponoos sighed, and patted the horse on its forehead. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long day for both of us. Come, let’s find something to eat and drink, and then we’ll rest a while before figuring out how to handle flying without me falling helpless like that.”

Pegasus whinnied his agreement, and they set off walking through the foreign landscape in search of food and water. They found both in a grove of fruit trees growing beside a sweet little stream. The area surrounding the grove was flat and level, clear of any obstacles, and made the perfect site to practice taking off and landing. The grass beneath the trees was soft for Hipponoos to sleep on, and from the gusto with which Pegasus ate it, it must have tasted pretty good, too.

It took more than a week for Hipponoos to master riding the winged horse, and he was beginning to fear that his mother would be worried about him. But when she saw him flying back into Ephyra on the back of Pegasus, surely she would understand!

Gladdened by that thought, Hipponoos mounted his steed, and told him to take them back to Ephyra as quickly as possible.

Pegasus obeyed, and they were soon flying through the air once more, and after some time had passed, Hipponoos began to recognize landmarks in the countryside below him. But as they drew near Ephyra, he realized that something was wrong. Smoke rose from the city in places it shouldn’t, and there was a great crowd of people in front of one of the small farms a half day’s travel outside the city.

“Pegasus, let’s land where those people are,” Hipponoos said. “I want to know what’s going on.”

The horse obeyed quickly, and they astonished everyone as they landed. But more astonishing, to Hipponoos, was the sight of his parents among the people huddled in front of the tiny farmstead.

“My son!” his mother exclaimed, throwing her arms around him. “I thought you dead!”

“Mother? Father? What—what’s going on?”

“That bastard Bellerus staged a coup, that’s what’s going on!” Glaucos told him angrily. “I barely escaped with my life!”

“Bellerus?” Hipponoos repeated, shocked. The man had some royal blood, it was true, but to oust the king and take his place as a tyrant? It just wasn’t done! “Don’t worry, Father,” Hipponoos said, “I’ll take care of that usurper.”

“No, Hipponoos, don’t get yourself killed!” his mother pleaded with him. “What would I do if I lost you?”

“You have other children,” Hipponoos reminded her. “Besides, I have the winged horse on my side! I can kill him without him even seeing me. I just need my trusty bow.”

“But that’s in the palace,” Eurymede pointed out. “How will you get it without Bellerus catching you? He’ll have you killed on the spot!”

Hipponoos sighed sadly, and shook his head. “Don’t worry, Mother. I can take care of myself. I’ll go in after dark. He’ll never see me coming, I promise.”

But no mother can stop worrying just because her child tells her not to worry, and Eurymede spent so long trying to talk Hipponoos out of his rash plan that the sun had nearly set by the time Glaucos finally told her to let the boy have his will.

Before he left, Hipponoos sacrificed a ram to Athene, asking her to watch over him and help him in fighting the usurper. He and the myriad refugees feasted on the rest of the ram, then—since full night had fallen—Hipponoos climbed upon Pegasus’ back, and gently urged the winged horse into the sky.

“We’ll need to land on the roof of the palace,” Hipponoos told him. “Near the western side. And quietly!”

The horse nodded, and they flew through the air without a sound, and landed on the western edge of the palace roof, all as quietly as a dove. Hipponoos hastily dismounted, then climbed down off the roof onto the balcony beside his chambers. But as he entered them, he was shocked to see that they were not vacant: a young lady stood in the center of the room, and on seeing him, she inhaled sharply, clearly about to scream.

Hipponoos dashed the two steps it took him to reach her, and covered her mouth with his hand before she could start her scream. “These are my rooms,” he explained to her. “I’ve come to eject the tyrant and restore my father to his throne.” Cautiously, he released her mouth, ready to cover it again if she should start to scream.

She did not scream; she merely smiled sadly. “You call him ‘tyrant,’” she said, “but I call him ‘Father.’”

“If you’ll get me to him, I’ll find a way to force him off the throne without killing him,” Hipponoos promised.

The girl hesitated a moment, then sighed, and admitted that she had no choice, since Hipponoos could easily kill her if she didn’t cooperate with him. But she insisted that he swear a binding oath that he wouldn’t harm her father.

Having sworn his oath, Hipponoos followed Bellerus’ daughter to what had always been his own father’s chambers—rather, to the chambers of the mortal man he had always believed to be his father. Bellerus was shocked to see Hipponoos, and horrified that his own daughter had led him there.

The girl left them alone together, making Hipponoos realize that he had a very short amount of time to convince the tyrant to step down and restore the throne to its rightful occupant. But no matter what logic he used, Bellerus would not listen to reason.

And soon Hipponoos could hear the clanking as the guards hurried towards the king’s chambers.

He had no choice. Hipponoos drew the short sword slung over his shoulder, and plunged it into Bellerus’ chest. The tyrant died cursing his name, but he was very dead by the time the guards arrived.

Uncertainly, the guards admitted that with Bellerus dead, the throne properly belonged to Glaucos once more. But Bellerus’ daughter told everyone how Hipponoos had sworn he would not harm Bellerus. It wasn’t self-defense. It wasn’t avenging the usurped throne. It was murder.

That being the case, Glaucos had no choice. Once he was back upon his throne, the first thing he did—the only thing custom permitted him to do!—was to banish his beloved son Hipponoos for the homicide. If a murderer was allowed to stay, the gods might punish the whole community, after all.

Hipponoos duly gathered the few belongings he couldn’t live without, said goodbye to the parents who had raised him, and made his solemn way out of the town where he had been born and raised. As he passed by the people of Ephyra, he could hear them whispering amongst themselves. “Bellerophontes,” they repeated, over and over again. “The one who killed Bellerus.”

He wasn’t even sure if they meant it as a compliment or a statement of dread. But he realized that he had shaped the rest of his life by that solitary act of violence. There was nothing to do but accept, even embrace it.

“Take us to Argos,” he told Pegasus, as he climbed up onto the winged horse’s back. “I need to be purified of this stain.”

The winged horse whinnied sadly, as if he recognized his master’s misery, and gently took off into the air, then flew the short distance to Argos. The people of Argos were greatly astonished to see the winged horse landing in their midst, and the people of the town led him to their king, Proitos, without delay. Proitos, a good and regal king if ever there was one, accepted his mysterious guest without question, and welcomed him with a feast.

Once his guest had been properly fed, only then did Proitos ask his name and his business.

“I…I am called Bellerophon,” the sad youth replied, “and I have been exiled from my native Ephyra for murder.”

Proitos gladly purified the fine young man of his crime, and Bellerophon settled in to a fine life as part of the Argive court. He used his skill at riding the winged horse to run scouting missions for the king, and soon began to feel that he could truly call Argos his new home.

Until, that is, the day that Queen Anteia summoned him to the privacy of her chambers. Bellerophon expected that she wished to discuss with him some business of her husband’s. But instead he was astonished to hear her confessing her love for him. “I’ve loved you from the moment I saw your handsome face!” she assured him. “My husband is an ugly dolt! Surely you can understand my pain?”

Horrified, Bellerophon assured her that he could not betray his host, and quickly left the room. He had never imagined that a married woman could ever conceive of such a bizarre fixation on a man other than her husband! So what if her husband was fully twice her age? He was still her husband! It was inconceivable that she should care for any other man.

Therefore, surely, that had been a test. Proitos had been testing Bellerophon to see if he was a proper and true guest. And surely he had passed by refusing the woman’s false advances.

So convinced, Bellerophon turned in for the night, and slept peacefully.

But Anteia’s disgust at her husband’s bed had been genuine, and her passion for Bellerophon had been, if not genuine, at least born of the true desire to rid herself of an unwanted husband. If Bellerophon had slain one king, surely he could slay another, and help himself to the man’s kingdom by marrying the king’s widow. Anteia had been sure he would form that plan on his own as soon as she began to make overtures towards him. The idea that he would not have the ambition to rule had been utterly inconceivable to her.

As a handsome young man, he had seemed like an ideal husband: pretty to look at, but not too bright, and even more easily controlled that Proitos. But he had refused her, making him worthless as an ornament and worthless as a tool.

Worse, now he was dangerous.

If he told Proitos what Anteia had done…even if Proitos didn’t realize that she had been plotting his death, he would still spurn her for her attempted adultery. A woman so scorned had no hope of ever again leading a happy and peaceful life.

Bellerophon was going to have to go. And quickly.

That night, Anteia went to her husband’s side, weeping pitifully, and told him that Bellerophon had forced himself upon her, despite her attempts to defend herself and her honor. The gullible fool believed every word of it, and promised her that he would see Bellerophon properly punished for his actions.

But Proitos dreaded the idea of executing a guest. As a host, he had a sacred duty to give every kindness to his guests. No, he couldn’t just punish Bellerophon. Zeus would never forgive him for such an outrage. But if he could maneuver Bellerophon into some dangerous place…

Proitos spent the whole night plotting and scheming, and eventually came up with a method that he was fairly sure wouldn’t win him the anger of Zeus. He took a hinged tablet, and scratched a message into the wax enclosed within it, then carefully sealed it shut. That task done, he called Bellerophon to him.

“I have a gift I wish to send to Iobates, King of Lycia,” Proitos told him. “Since you have the winged horse, surely you will be able to get it to him faster and more reliably than any other courier. Would you be willing to do me this favor?”

“Certainly, your majesty,” Bellerophon replied, accepting the sealed tablet. “Pegasus and I have never flown so far, but I’m sure he’s up to the challenge.”

“You should stay a while in Lycia and get to know the land,” Proitos added. “Anatolia has many beautiful sights. Or so I’m told.”

“Perhaps I will,” Bellerophon agreed. Just in case Anteia’s offer had been serious, he certainly felt no desire to return to Argos any time soon.

So Bellerophon departed from Argos, headed to Lycia, to the court of Iobates. Proitos and Anteia both felt certain that Iobates would rid the world of Bellerophon quite promptly; he was, after all, Anteia’s father, and therefore sure to wish to avenge his daughter’s alleged ravishment.

But when Bellerophon arrived in Lycia, Iobates was so amazed by the sight of the winged horse and its plainly noble rider that he set aside the tablet without opening it, and promptly ordered a fine feast to celebrate his new guest.

Bellerophon had been at the court of Iobates for ten days by the time the king finally recalled the tablet. Once he opened it and read the message his son-in-law had inscribed there, he fell into a state of unease. Proitos repeated Anteia’s claim that Bellerophon had forced himself upon her, and asked that Iobates, as the wronged queen’s father, should kill Bellerophon immediately, since Proitos—as his host—could not harm him without incurring divine wrath.

But by now Iobates was also Bellerophon’s host. The same wrath would now fall upon him. What to do? He couldn’t allow his daughter’s ravishment to go unpunished. But he couldn’t harm his own guest!

Like Proitos, Iobates resorted to sending his innocuous guest into harm’s way. But instead of relying on yet another potential host and another message that could go astray, he decided to send Bellerophon into a fight he could never win.

“I hope I won’t seem an improper host, but I was wondering if you could help me with a small problem my kingdom has been facing lately,” Iobates said to Bellerophon the next morning.

“I’d be glad to help out any way I can,” Bellerophon assured him. “What seems to be the problem?”

“Some of my people have been complaining of being attacked by a terrible beast,” Iobates told him. “I’m sure they’re exaggerating when they describe it as a monster. No doubt it’s just a lion, but they’d all be greatly relieved if you would kill the beast.”

“Nothing simpler,” Bellerophon replied, and Iobates quickly told him just where to look for the beast.

This, surely, would be the end of Bellerophon, Iobates reflected as the youth left the throne room. What he had claimed might be only a lion was, as he knew well, the monstrous Chimera, daughter of Echidna by the terrible Typhon. The beast could breathe fire, and fly as well, so Iobates was sure that even the aid of the winged horse would not suffice to save Bellerophon from this foe.

Bellerophon, of course, was clueless as to this attempt on his life. He slung his bow and quiver over his shoulders, and mounted his winged horse, then urged Pegasus up into the sky. But as they drew near the area where he had been told the beast could be found, he was surprised to see an enormous cloud of smoke on the ground, with gouts of flame escaping from it in all directions.

“What do you suppose that could be?” Bellerophon asked, even as Pegasus came to a halt in the air near the smoke.

As if it had heard Bellerophon’s voice, the Chimera rose out of the smoke with a screech. It had the front end of a lion, the back legs of a goat, a snake for a tail, and a goat’s head rose out of the center of its back. Each of its three heads—the lion’s the goat’s and the snakes—breathed fire as it rose into the air on leathery wings attached to its sides.

“And Iobates thought it was just a lion?!” Bellerophon exclaimed, horrified, even as he began to get his bow ready. “Keep us well away from it!” he shouted to Pegasus.

The winged horse needed no such instruction, and was keeping his distance already. Soon, Bellerophon was firing arrow after arrow at the monster, which roared in agony with each successful strike. It didn’t take long before the beast plummeted to the ground, dead.

Triumphantly, Bellerophon flew back to Iobates and reported on the death of the monstrous beast. While Iobates was dismayed that his attempt to rid himself of his suddenly unwanted guest had failed, he was certainly relieved to be rid of the plague that had been the Chimera, and more than a little impressed that Bellerophon had managed to slay such a monster single-handed.

But he couldn’t allow his daughter’s ravishment to go unpunished! So Iobates resolved to try again, and soon enough he was calling Bellerophon back before him.

“I hate to ask you for another dangerous favor,” he stared, “but it seems my enemies are massing to march against me. I was wondering if you could lend your spear to the fight?”

“Of course, your majesty,” Bellerophon agreed pleasantly.

Iobates explained the causes of the enmity between Lycia and the Solymi, and Bellerophon was soon setting off once more. This time, Iobates was sure it would work, because the Solymi were brutal, vicious warriors, and he had already picked out his weakest soldiers to accompany Bellerophon in the fight.

But Bellerophon didn’t wait for the Lycian troops to prepare for battle. “I’m just going to scout a little,” he assured the Lycians, then mounted Pegasus and was off through the sky before anyone could respond. He found the Solymi marching towards Lycia, and flew over their heads, firing arrows down at them. Once in a while, a Solymi archer would be able to fire an arrow high enough that it came near to Bellerophon, but by the time it had gotten that high, it was moving so slowly that Bellerophon was able to snatch it out of the air and fire it right back at the unfortunate fellow who had fired it.

The Solymi were soon retreating in disarray, and Bellerophon returned to Iobates to report his success.

Iobates began to despair of ever fulfilling his son-in-law’s request. Bellerophon was too skilled; surely there had to be a god watching over the handsome young man!

But he felt obliged to try once more. So when he heard news of a tribe of Amazons marauding through Lycia, Iobates was sure that this time he would succeed. He called Bellerophon before him and explained the situation with the Amazons, telling the youth that since the Amazons had heard about Bellerophon’s exploits, they would surely hide if they saw any sign of Pegasus in the sky.

Bellerophon duly set out on foot with several dozen of Iobates’ worst men. The Amazons outnumbered them three to one, but Bellerophon was able to win the day, though all of Iobates’ men were slain during the battle.

Worn and weary, Bellerophon began the long walk back to the palace, wishing that he had Pegasus with him to spare him the long and boring trek. But it did not remain boring for long! As he passed through a narrow gorge, Bellerophon found himself beset by enemies on all sides.

There were almost two dozen of them, but Bellerophon somehow managed to kill every last one of them. As he was searching the corpses to make sure they were all truly dead, he was horrified to realize that he knew their faces; he had seen them in Iobates’ palace.

Why had he been attacked by his own host’s men?

Bellerophon raced back to the palace as quickly as he could, and confronted Iobates. Sadly, Iobates showed Bellerophon the message that Proitos had sent, and swore that he would make up for his past failures as a host. To prove his point, Iobates immediately gave Bellerophon the hand of his youngest daughter, Philonoe, and half of his kingdom to rule.

Bellerophon was pleased to gain a wife—especially since Philonoe was even prettier than her elder sister, and far less intelligent, so she was much more docile—but he couldn’t help stewing over the injustice. He had behaved honorably at every turn, but he had been mistreated by two hosts in a row! And as to Anteia…!

Bellerophon swore to himself that he would avenge himself on that treacherous wench, even if he was now her brother-in-law.

But the years passed, and Philonoe bore Bellerophon three lovely children—two sons and a daughter—and Iobates eventually passed away, leaving Bellerophon in control of all of Lycia. The longer he ruled, the more Bellerophon began to feel the itch for vengeance.

Eventually, a rumor reached his court that seemed the ideal opportunity. “I’ve just heard that Oineus of Calydon has lost his son, Meleager,” he told his wife. “I’m going to fly up there and give him my condolences.”

“That’s very kind of you, my love,” Philonoe replied, smiling at him sweetly, as she always did.

Bellerophon took his place upon the back of his trusty winged steed, and set off flying back north towards Hellas. Flying past his native Ephyra, he continued on to Calydon, where he tried his best to comfort the grieving father and widow of Meleager. He remained their guest for some weeks, gathering all the information he could about the current state of affairs, particularly in Argos. Proitos still sat on the throne, he learned, and Anteia sat beside him, blissfully ignorant of the wrath she had stirred up.

When he took his leave of Oineus, Bellerophon flew Pegasus back to Argos, and landed just outside the palace, immediately in view of the queen’s window. Astonished—and more than a little alarmed—Anteia hurried outside to see what he wanted. Bellerophon began to assure her that he loved her, and invited her to join him on Pegasus’ back, to fly away with him to his own kingdom.

Terrified by the hate in his eyes and unconvinced by his words of love, Anteia tried to escape back into the palace, but Bellerophon grabbed her tightly and leapt onto Pegasus’ back, slashing at the horse’s neck with the reigns when he didn’t leap into the air at a word of command.

With an angry cry, the winged horse did as he was ordered, and flew high into the sky above the sea. Once they were so high that the land was a faint smear below them, Bellerophon told Anteia all that her father had done against him, then shoved her off the horse’s back. Her screams soon faded with distance, but Bellerophon watched her until she disappeared into the water far below.

Pegasus began to behave erratically after that, and even as he began to fly back to Anatolia, he kept bobbing up and down, as if something was wrong.

“What?!” Bellerophon finally demanded, once they were back over dry land. “You think I shouldn’t have killed her?”

The horse nodded his head firmly.

“After all she did to me?! She deserved death! She ought to be glad that I didn’t expose her crimes for all the world to see!”

The winged horse didn’t seem to agree with Bellerophon, but his flight began to be less erratic. However, as he started to fly lower, heading back towards the palace, Bellerophon tugged on the reigns. “No, I don’t want to go back yet,” he said. “There’s something wrong with this whole situation. Why would the gods have set such a practice into effect? If Proitos had just attacked me himself right away…” He scowled, and shook his head. “There’s no point in just talking about it. If I want to fix it…ah, I have it! I need to speak to Zeus about this! Up! We’ll go up to Mt. Olympos and have a word with that irresponsible god and see to it that hosts are no longer bound by such stupid conventions!”

He tugged on the reigns to force Pegasus to go higher, but the horse resisted. Bellerophon continued to tug and struggle, and began cursing the horse for refusing his commands.

Suddenly, Bellerophon found himself plummeting.

He wasn’t sure what had happened. Had…had Pegasus thrown him? Like an ordinary horse might do to an ordinary man?

But Bellerophon was supposed to be the son of Poseidon himself, the god of horses and horse-taming….

His collision with the ground was sudden and horrifically painful. But it didn’t kill him. They hadn’t been high enough for that. His legs were ruined, but he was still alive.

Pegasus flew down to land beside his former master, glaring down at the ruined and broken man with contempt in his eyes.

“You traitor!” Bellerophon screamed at him.

“I never agreed to betray my kin,” Pegasus replied in human speech. “And I never agreed to be used as a tool for murder, either!”

For a long moment, Bellerophon could only stare at the horse. “You…can talk…?” Why hadn’t he ever spoken before, then?!

“Of course I can,” Pegasus laughed. “But brother or no, I couldn’t let you get away with using me to kill that woman,” he added, taking off into the air again.

“Brother?” Bellerophon repeated. “What do you mean by that?”

Pegasus chortled cruelly before answering. “Poseidon was my father, too,” he informed the astonished mortal, before flying off into the sky and vanishing from Bellerophon’s sight forever.

Now helplessly crippled, Bellerophon learned to live on the ground. His wife spurned his bed, and his own children mocked him, so he set out wandering the world as a miserable outcast, until he eventually faded away from the mortal plane, forgotten and alone.


Okay, so, what do I need to point out?  Uh….let’s see…well, the bit with Bellerus and his daughter is awkward.  The whole thing with killing Bellerus is only one possible explanation for his exile:  in other versions, he’s accidentally killed his own brother.  (Obviously, in those versions, he’s named Bellerophon (rather, Bellerophontes) from the start.)  The daughter is entirely the product of my own imagination, but after I made Bellerus the usurper who tried to oust Glaucos, I had to find a reason that killing him would still merit punishment rather than reward.  I’m not sure I did very well on that score.  And I meant to bring up the whole breaking his oath to the girl thing later on, to make it part of the reason for his fall from grace, but…there just wasn’t a good time to do so.

Anteia is her name in Homer, while later authors call her Stheneboea.  Later authors including Euripides, whose fragmentary play by her name is the source of the story about Bellerophon coming back to take vengeance on her.  I tried to re-work her reasons for her behavior towards Bellerophon to make them more believable (what woman immediately goes from rejection to attempted murder?) but I’m not sure I managed to remove any of the misogyny of that aspect of the story.  (I did a better job of that in one of my books, where I had Diomedes–hearing the story for the second time in a single afternoon–started analyzing it and pointing out–mentally–all the reasons it was obviously not true.)

As to when and why he ends up in Calydon…yeah, that was my own invention.  But he was Oineus’ guest at some point, and that was the point in my telling of the story where it seemed to fit most easily.  As to the ending, well, usually it’s Zeus who forces Pegasus to throw Bellerophon, but I liked making it Pegasus’ own idea.  I don’t know of any ancient source that makes Pegasus able to speak (nor any modern one, for that matter), but there is a very famous case of a different horse speaking…which I’ll be talking about later this month, so I won’t go into details right now.  Likewise, I’m not sure Bellerophon–in the versions of the myth in which Poseidon is his father rather than Glaucos–ever finds out that Pegasus is his half-brother, but it seemed fitting here.

So…yeah, written more than a bit in haste.  Definitely not my best work.  But…hey, I can always re-write it later!  And it covered B nicely…

 

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5 comments on “B is for Bellerophon

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