Heroes and Anti-Heroes

23 Perseus and Bellerophon

Bellerophon, wearing a cape and Phrygian cap, riding Pegasus. He has a spear raised to stab down at the chimera, depicted with a snake tail.
Bellerophon and the Chimera, red-figure tondo, 4th century BCE (Palazzo Massimo, Rome)


Both Perseus and Bellerophon were monster-slaying Greek heroes. However, their individual stories became conflated by the end of the Classical period, a development that continued into the Renaissance and beyond. Since Perseus was the earlier, more culturally popular hero, Bellerophon’s deeds are most commonly attributed to Perseus.

Birth of Perseus

[content warning: sexual violence, abduction]

The hero Perseus was the son of Zeus and and Danae, a mortal woman and the only child of King Acrisius of Argos. Acrisius asked the oracle of Delphi whether he would ever have a son. The oracle told him that he would not have a son, but that his daughter would, and he would be killed by his own grandson. To prevent the oracular prophecy from coming true, Acrisius locked his daughter up in a chamber with only a small opening at the top to let in some light and air. In this way he hoped to keep her from ever having sex and giving birth to a child.

However, Zeus saw Danae locked in the chamber and lusted after her. He changed himself into a shower of gold and rained down into the chamber, impregnating Danae. When Danae gave birth a boy, Perseus, Acrisius put her and her son into a wooden chest and set them out to sea, counting on them to drown.

The chest washed ashore on the island of Seriphos, where is was found by a fisherman, Dictys, the brother of the king of the island, Polydectes. Dictys gave Danae a home and raised Perseus.


Lucian, Dialogues of Sea Gods, “Doris and Thetis” (trans. H. W. & F. G. Fowler, adapted by P. Rogak)

Greek satire, 2nd century CE

In the second century CE, the Greek satirical writer Lucian of Samosata envisioned a conversation between the sea nymphs Doris and Thetis (mother of Achilles) about Danae and Perseus shut up in the chest. According to Lucian’s account, it is Doris and Thetis who take action to rescue the mother and baby from drowning.

Crying, dear?


Oh, Doris, I have just seen a lovely girl thrown into a chest by her father, and her little baby with her; and he gave the chest to some sailors, and told them, as soon as they were far enough from the shore, to drop it into the water; he meant them to be drowned, poor things.


Oh, sister, but why? What was it all about? Did you hear?


Her father, Acrisius, wanted to keep her from marrying. And, as she was so pretty, he shut her up in an iron room. And—I don’t know whether it’s true—but they say that Zeus turned himself into gold, and came showering down through the roof, and she caught the gold in her lap,—and it was Zeus the whole time. And then her father found out about it—he is a horrid, jealous old man—and he was furious, and thought she had been receiving a lover; and he put her into the chest, the moment the child was born.


And what did she do then?


She never said a word against her own sentence; she was ready to submit: but she pleaded hard for the child’s life, and cried, and held him up for his grandfather to see; and there was the sweet baby, that thought no harm, smiling at the waves. I am beginning [to cry] again, at the memory of it.


You make me cry, too. And is it all over?


No; the chest has carried them safely so far; it is by Seriphus.


Then why should we not save them? We can put the chest into those fishermen’s nets, look; and then of course they will be hauled in, and come safely to shore.


The very thing. She shall not die; nor the child, sweet treasure!


Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Text/LucianDialoguesGods2.html#12


Pindar, Odes, “Nemean 10” (trans. D. A. Svarlien, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek victory ode, 5th century BCE

Pindar’s victory ode for Theaeus of Argos (ca. 444 BCE) praises the glory of Argos, mentioning Danae and her son Perseus.

Graces, sing of the city of Danaus and his fifty daughters on their splendid thrones, Hera‘s Argos, a home suitable for a god; it blazes with countless excellences because of its bold deeds. Long indeed is the story of Perseus and the Gorgon Medusa, [5] and many are the cities founded in Egypt by the devising of Epaphus. And Hypermnestra did not go astray, when she kept her sword in its scabbard, the only one to make this choice. And once the golden-haired, gray-eyed goddess [ Athena ] made Diomedes an immortal god; and the earth in Thebes, thunder-struck by the bolts of Zeus, swallowed up the prophetic son of Oicles, Amphiaraus, the storm-cloud of war. And Argos has long been the best city for women with beautiful hair; Zeus made this saying clear by visiting Alcmene and Danae, and he united the qualities of intelligence and straightforward justice in the father of Adrastus, and in Lynceus.


Taken from: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0162%3Abook%3DN.%3Apoem%3D10

Birth of Bellerophon

There is no significant myth about the birth of Bellerophon. He is a hero from Corinth, but his parentage varies greatly between sources. Homer’s Iliad (see “Adventures of Bellerophon”) states that Bellerophon is a son of Glaucus, who was the son of Sisyphus, while other sources say that Bellerophon’s father is Poseidon.

Adventures of Perseus

The Quest for the Gorgon’s Head

Perseus is best known for his quest to retrieve the head of the Gorgon Medusa. Polydectes, the king of Seriphos, wished to marry Danae, but could not do so because of her son Perseus. In an attempt to get rid of Perseus, therefore, Polydectes sent him to retrieve the head of Medusa, hoping that Medusa would petrify him, preventing him from returning from this quest

With the help of various divine figures, including Athena, Hermes, and the Graeae, Perseus travelled to the far reaches of the world and beheaded Medusa. Upon his return to Seriphos, Perseus used the head to turn Polydectes to stone and save Danae.

For further discussion of Perseus and Medusa, see chapter 20.


Pindar, Odes, “Pythian 10” (trans. D. A. Svarlien, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek victory ode, 5th century BCE

Neither by ship nor on foot could you find [30] the marvelous road to the meeting-place of the Hyperboreans— Once Perseus, the leader of his people, entered their homes and feasted among them, when he found them sacrificing glorious hecatombs of donkeys to the god [ Apollo ]. In the festivities of those people [35] and in their praises Apollo rejoices most, and he laughs when he sees the erect arrogance of the beasts. The Muse is not absent from their customs; all around swirl the dances of girls, the lyre’s loud chords and the cries of flutes. [40] They wreathe their hair with golden laurel branches and celebrate joyfully. No sickness or ruinous old age is mixed into that sacred race; without toil or battles they live without fear of strict Nemesis. Breathing boldness of spirit [45] once the son of Danae went to that gathering of blessed men, and Athena led him there. He killed the Gorgon, and came back bringing stony death to the islanders, the head that shimmered with hair made of serpents.


Taken from: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0162%3Abook%3DP.%3Apoem%3D10


Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, Book 2 (trans. J. G. Frazer, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek mythography, 2nd century BCE

In the following passage, Pseudo-Apollodorus gives a summary of the birth and adventures of Perseus. The author of this text was originally thought to be Apollodorus of Athens. Over time, however, this attribution became widely considered to be false. Thus, “Pseudo-” (meaning ‘lie’, ‘fake’) precedes the name Apollodorus.

[2.4.1] When Acrisius inquired of the oracle how he should get male children, the god said that his daughter would give birth to a son who would kill him. Fearing that, Acrisius built a brass chamber under ground and there guarded Danae. However, she was seduced, as some say, by Proetus, and that was what caused  the argument between them; but some say that Zeus had intercourse with her in the shape of a stream of gold which poured through the roof into Danae‘s lap. When Acrisius afterwards learned that she had got a child, Perseus, he would not believe that she had been seduced by Zeus, and putting his daughter with the child in a chest, he cast it into the sea. The chest was washed ashore on Seriphus, and Dictys took up the boy and reared him.

[2.4.2] Polydectes, brother of Dictys, was then king of Seriphus and fell in love with Danae, but could not make her his wife, because Perseus was grown to man’s estate. So he called together his friends, including Perseus, under the pretext of collecting contributions towards a wedding gift for Hippodamia, daughter of Oenomaus. Now Perseus declared that he would not hesitate to get even the Gorgon‘s head [as a gift]. Polydectes required the others to gift them horses and, not getting horses from Perseus, he ordered him to bring the Gorgon‘s head. So under the guidance of Hermes and Athena he [Perseus] made his way to the daughters of Phorcus, that is to say, [the Graeae ] Enyo, Pephredo, and Dino; for Phorcus had them by Ceto, and they were sisters of the Gorgons, and old women from their birth. The three had but one eye and one tooth, and these they passed to each other in turn. Perseus got possession of the eye and the tooth, and when they asked for them back, he said he would give them up if they would show him the way to the nymphs. Now these nymphs had winged sandals and the kibisis, which they say was a wallet. [But Pindar and Hesiod in The Shield say of Perseus: — “But all his back had on the head of a dread monster, <The Gorgon,> and round him ran the kibisis].”

The kibisis is so called because dress and food are deposited in it. They also had the cap <of Hades>. When the Phorcides had shown him the way, he gave them back the tooth and the eye, and coming to the nymphs, he got what he wanted. So he slung the wallet (kibisis) about him, fitted the sandals to his ankles, and put the cap on his head. Wearing it, he saw whom he pleased, but was not seen by others. And having received also from Hermes a sickle made of strong metal, he flew to the ocean and caught the Gorgons asleep. They were Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa. Now Medusa alone was mortal; for that reason Perseus was sent to fetch her head. But the Gorgons had heads covered with the scales of dragons, and great tusks like a swine's, and brassy hands, and golden wings, by which they flew; and they turned to stone those who beheld them. So Perseus stood over them as they slept, and while Athena guided his hand and he looked with averted gaze on a brass shield, in which he beheld the image of the Gorgon [ Medusa ], he beheaded her. When her head was cut off, there sprang from the Gorgon the winged horse Pegasus and Chrysaor, the father of Geryon; these she had by Poseidon.

[2.4.3] So Perseus put the head of Medusa in the wallet (kibisis) and went back again; but the Gorgons woke up from their slumber and pursued Perseus: but they could not see him on account of the cap, for he was hidden by it.

Arriving in Ethiopia, of which Cepheus was king, he found the king's daughter Andromeda set out to be the prey of a sea monster. For Cassiopeia, the wife of Cepheus, competed with the Nereids in beauty and boasted to be better than them all; hence the Nereids were angry, and Poseidon, sharing their wrath, sent a flood and a monster to invade the land. But because Ammon[1] predicted deliverance from the calamity if Cassiopeia's daughter Andromeda were exposed as a prey to the monster, Cepheus was compelled by the Ethiopians to do it, and he bound his daughter to a rock. When Perseus beheld her, he loved her and promised Cepheus that he would kill the monster, if he would give him the rescued damsel to be his wife. These terms having been sworn to, Perseus fought and killed the monster and released Andromeda. However, Phineus, who was a brother of Cepheus, and to whom Andromeda had been first betrothed, plotted against him; but Perseus discovered the plot, and by showing the Gorgon turned him and his fellow conspirators at once into stone. And having come to Seriphus he found that his mother and Dictys had taken refuge at the altars on account of the violence of Polydectes; so he entered the palace, where Polydectes had gathered his friends, and with averted face he showed the Gorgon's head; and all who beheld it were turned to stone, each in the pose which he happened to have struck. Having appointed Dictys king of Seriphus, he gave back the sandals and the wallet (kibisis) and the cap to Hermes, but the Gorgon's head he gave to Athena. Hermes restored the aforesaid things to the nymphs and Athena inserted the Gorgon's head in the middle of her shield. But it is alleged by some that Medusa was beheaded for Athena's sake; and they say that the Gorgon was in the habit of comparing herself with the goddess even in beauty.

[2.4.4] Perseus hurried with Danae and Andromeda to Argos hoping to see Acrisius. But he [ Acrisius ], learning of this and dreading the oracle, abandoned Argos and departed to the Pelasgian land. Now Teutamides, king of Larissa, was holding athletic games in honour of his dead father, and Perseus came to compete. He engaged in the pentathlon, but in throwing the discus he struck Acrisius on the foot and killed him instantly. Perceiving that the oracle was fulfilled, he [Perseus] buried Acrisius outside the city, and being ashamed to return to Argos to claim the inheritance of the one who had died by his hand, he went to Megapenthes, son of Proetus, at Tiryns and made an exchange with him, surrendering Argos into his hands. So Megapenthes reigned over the Argives, and Perseus reigned over Tiryns, after fortifying also Midea and Mycenae.

[2.4.5] And he had sons by Andromeda: before he came to Greece he had Perses, whom he left behind with Cepheus (and from him it is said that the kings of Persia are descended); and in Mycenae he had Alcaeus and Sthenelus and Heleus and Mestor and Electryon, and a daughter Gorgophone, whom Perieres married.


Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Text/Apollodorus2.html


On his way back to Seriphos after defeating Medusa, Perseus passed through the region of ancient Ethiopia. There, he encountered the princess Andromeda, who had been chained to a rock as a sacrifice to a sea serpent. According to Ovid's account in Latin, Andromeda's mother, Cassiopeia, had boasted that she was more beautiful than the Nereids, and Poseidon had sent the sea serpent (called Cetus) to punish the kingdom. Cassiopeia and her husband Cepheus then offered their daughter to the serpent to appease it. Perseus rescued Andromeda and brought her back to Seriphos as his wife.

This myth has some parallels with the story of Heracles' rescue of Hesione (see chapter 17).


Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 4 (trans. A. S. Kline, adapted by P. Rogak)

Latin narrative poem, 1st century CE

[content warning for the following source: sexual assault (753-803)]
Ovid recounts how, after a brief encounter with the Titan Atlas, Perseus arrives in Ethiopia and encounters Andromeda. After rescuing and marrying her, Perseus remains some time in Ethiopia and tells of his quest.

[604-662] “Nevertheless, even in their altered form,[2] their grandson Bacchus, whom conquered India worshipped and to whose newly created temples the Achaeans thronged, gave them great consolation. Only Acrisius, son of Abas, born from the same roots (through Belus brother of Agenor), was an exception, who closed Argos within its walls, took up weapons against the god [ Bacchus ], and did not consider him a child of Jupiter. And he did not consider Perseus, as a child of Jupiter whom Danae conceived of a shower of gold, to be his grandson. Though later (such is the power of truth) Acrisius repented for having angered the god, and for not acknowledging his grandson. One [ Bacchus ] had taken his place in the heavens, but the other [Perseus] was travelling through the gentle air, on beating wings, bringing back an amazing, monstrous prize. As the victor [Perseus] flew above the Libyan sands, bloody drops fell from the Gorgon’s head. The earth caught them and gave them life, as species of snakes, and so that country is infested with deadly serpents.

“He was driven away from there by conflicting winds, carried this way and that, through vast spaces, like a rain cloud. He flew over the whole world, looking down through the air from a great height at remote countries. Three times he saw the frozen constellations of the Bears [Ursa Major and Minor], three times the Crab’s [Cancer’s] pincers. Often he was forced below the west, often into the east, and now as the light died, afraid to go fall sleep, he landed in the western regions of Hesperus, in the kingdom of Atlas. He hoped to rest there for a while, until Lucifer [the Morning Star, the planet Venus] summoned up Aurora’s fires, and Aurora brought the chariot of dawn. Here was Atlas, son of Iapetus, exceeding all men in the size of his body.

The most remote land was under Atlas’ rule, as was the ocean, into which Sol’s panting horses plunged, and where his straining axle was welcomed. He had a thousand flocks, and as many herds of cattle wandering through the grass, and no neighbouring land was richer than his. The leaves of the trees, bright with radiant gold, covered branches of gold, and fruit of gold. Perseus said to him, ‘Friend, if high birth impresses you, Jupiter is responsible for my birth. Or if you admire great deeds, you will admire mine. I ask for hospitality and rest.’

Atlas remembered an ancient prophecy. Themis on Parnassus had given that prophecy. ‘Atlas, the time will come when your tree will be stripped of its gold, and he who steals it will be called the son of Jupiter.’ Fearful of this, Atlas had enclosed his orchard with solid walls, and set a huge dragon to guard it, and kept all strangers away from his borders. To Perseus, he said, ‘Go far away, lest the glory of the deeds, that you lie about, and Jupiter himself, fail you!’ He added weight to his threats by trying to push him away with his great hands. But Perseus held his ground resolutely, and combined his resolve with calm words. Inferior in strength (who could equal Atlas in strength?), he said, ‘Well now, since you show me so little kindness, accept a gift’ and turning away himself, he held out Medusa’s foul head, on his left hand side. Atlas became a mountain, as huge as he himself had been. Now his hair and beard were changed into trees, his shoulders and hands into ridges. What had been his head before was the crest on the mountain summit. His bones became stones. Then he grew to an immense height in every part (so you gods determined) and the whole sky, with its many stars, rested on him.

[663-705] “Aeolus, son of Hippotas, had confined the winds in their prison under Mount Etna, and Lucifer, who urges us to work, shone brightest of all in the depths of the eastern sky. Perseus strapped the winged sandals he had put to one side to his feet, armed himself with his curved sword, and cut through the clear air on beating pinions. Leaving innumerable nations behind, below and around him, he came in sight of the Ethiopian peoples, and the fields of Cepheus. There Jupiter Ammon had unjustly ordered the innocent Andromeda to pay the penalty for her mother Cassiopeia’s words.

“As soon as Perseus, great-grandson of Abas, saw her fastened by her arms to the hard rock, he would have thought she was a marble statue, except that a light breeze stirred her hair, and warm tears ran from her eyes. His heart caught fire without him knowing it and he was stunned, and seized by the vision of the form he saw, he almost forgot to flicker his wings in the air. As soon as he had landed, he said ‘O, you do not deserve these chains, but rather those that link passionate lovers together. Tell me your name, I wish to know it, and the name of your country, and why you are wearing these chains.' At first she was silent: a virgin, she did not dare to address a man, and she would have hidden her face modestly with her hands, if they had not been fastened behind her. She used her eyes instead, and they filled with welling tears. At his repeated insistence, so as not to seem to be acknowledging a fault of her own, she told him her name and the name of her country, and what confidence her mother had had in her own beauty.

“Before she had finished speaking, all the waves thundered, and a monster menaced them, rising from the deep sea, and covered the wide waters with its breadth. The girl cried out: her grieving father and mother were together nearby, both wretched, but the mother more justifiably so. They bring no help with them, only weeping and lamentations to suit the moment, and cling to her chained body. Then the stranger [Perseus] speaks, ‘There will be plenty of time left for tears, but we only have a short time to work. If I asked for this girl as Perseus, son of Jupiter and of Danae, imprisoned in the brazen tower, whom Jupiter filled with his rich golden shower; Perseus conqueror of the Gorgon with snakes for hair, he who dared to fly, driven through the air, on soaring wings, then surely I should be preferred to all other suitors as a son-in-law. If the gods favour me, I will try to add further merit to these great gifts. I will make a bargain. Rescued by my courage, she must be mine.’ Her parents accept the contract (who would hesitate?) and, entreating him, promise a kingdom, as well, for a dowry.

[706-752] “See how the creature comes, parting the waves with its surging breast, like a fast ship with a pointed prow ploughing the water, driven by the sweat-covered muscles of her crew. It was as far from the rock as a Balearic sling can send a lead shot through the air, when suddenly the young hero, pushing his feet hard against the earth, shot up high into the clouds. When the shadow of a man appeared on the water’ surface, the creature raged against the shadow it had seen. Like how Jupiter’s eagle, when it sees a snake in an open field showing its livid body to the sun, grabs the snake from behind and fixes its eager talons in the scaly neck in case it twists back its cruel fangs, so the descendant of Inachus, [Perseus], hurling himself headlong, in swift flight, through empty space, attacked the creature’s back, and, as it roared, buried his sword, to the end of the curved blade, in the right side of its neck. Hurt by the deep wound, now it reared high in the air, now it dove underwater, or turned now, like a fierce wild boar when the dogs scare him, and the pack is barking around him. Perseus evades the eager jaws on swift wings, and strikes with his curved sword wherever the monster is exposed, now at the back encrusted with barnacles, now at the sides of the body, now where the tail is slenderest, ending fishlike. The beast vomits seawater mixed with purplish blood. The pinions grow heavy, soaked with spray. Not daring to trust his drenched wings any further, he sees a rock whose highest point stands above quiet water, hidden by rough seas. Resting there, and holding on to the topmost pinnacle with his left hand, he drives his sword in three or four times, repeatedly.

“The shores, and the high places of the gods, fill with the clamour of applause. Cassiopeia and Cepheus rejoice, and greet their son-in-law, acknowledging him as the pillar of their house, and their deliverer. Released from her chains, the girl comes forward, the prize and the cause of his efforts. He washes his hands after the victory in seawater drawn for him and, so that Medusa’s head, covered with its snakes, is not bruised by the harsh sand, he makes the ground soft with leaves, spreads out plants from below the waves and places the head of that daughter of Phorcus on them. The fresh plants, still living inside, and absorbent, respond to the influence of the Gorgon’s head, and harden at its touch, acquiring a new rigidity in branches and fronds. And the ocean nymphs try out this wonder on more plants, and are delighted that the same thing happens at its touch, and repeat it by scattering the seeds from the plants through the waves. Even now corals have the same nature, hardening at a touch of air, and what was alive, under the water, above water is turned to stone.

[753-803] “To the three gods, he builds the same number of altars out of turf: to you Mercury on the left, to you Minerva, warlike virgin, on the right, and an altar of Jupiter in the centre. He sacrifices a cow to Minerva, a calf to the wing-footed god, and a bull to you, greatest of the gods. Then he claims Andromeda, without a dowry, valuing her as the worthiest prize. Hymen and Amor wave the marriage torch, the fires are saturated with strong perfumes, garlands hang from the rafters, and everywhere flutes and pipes, and singing, ring out, the happy evidence of joyful hearts. The doors fold back to show the whole of the golden hall, and the noble Ethiopian princes enter to a richly prepared banquet already set out for them.

“When they have attacked the feast, and their spirits are cheered by wine, the generous gift of Bacchus, Perseus asks about the country and its culture, its customs and the character of its people. At the same time as he instructed him about these, one of the guests said ‘Perseus, I beg you to tell us by what prowess and by what arts you captured that head with snakes for hair.’ The descendant of Agenor told how there was a cave lying below the frozen slopes of Atlas, safely hidden in its solid mass. At the entrance to this place the sisters lived, the Graeae, daughters of Phorcus, similar to each other in appearance and sharing only one eye between them. He removed it [the eye], cleverly, and stealthily, cunningly substituting his own hand while they were passing it from one to another. Far from there, by hidden tracks, and through rocks bristling with shaggy trees, he reached the place where the Gorgons lived. In the fields and along the paths, here and there, he saw the shapes of men and animals changed from their natures to hard stone by Medusa’s gaze. Nevertheless he had himself looked at the dread form of Medusa reflected in a circular shield of polished bronze that he carried on his left arm. And while a deep sleep held the snakes and herself, he struck her head from her neck. And the swift winged horse Pegasus and his brother the warrior Chrysaor, were born from their mother’s blood.

“He told of his long journeys, of dangers that were not imaginary ones, what seas and lands he had seen below from his high flight, and what stars he had brushed against with beating wings. He still finished speaking before they wished. Next one of the many princes asked why Medusa, alone among her sisters, had snakes twining in her hair. The guest replied, ‘Since what you ask is worth telling, hear the answer to your question. She was once most beautiful, and the jealous aspiration of many suitors. Of all her beauties none was more admired than her hair: I came across a man who recalled having seen her. They say that Neptune, lord of the seas, raped her in the temple of Minerva. Jupiter’s daughter [ Minerva ] turned away, and hid her chaste eyes behind her aegis. So that it would not go unpunished, she changed the Gorgon’s hair to foul snakes. And now, to terrify her enemies, to numb them with fear, the goddess wears the snakes that she made as a breastplate.’”


Taken from: https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/Metamorph4.php#anchor_Toc64106269

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2000 All Rights Reserved.


Conon, Narrations (trans. from Greek to French by A. Gedoyn, and from French to English by P. Rogak)

Greek mythography, ca. 1st century CE

This fragment from Conon's Narrations 40 is known from the writings of Photius of Constantinople. Conon was an Athenian mythographer, and here he gives a “euhemerizing” account of the tale of Perseus and Andromeda. A "euhemerism" is an attempt to explain the mythological elements of the story in a more realistic way, such as by drawing on real historical events. In Conon's version, Cetus is the name of Phoinix' ship (rather than an actual sea monster), and the Gorgon's head does not turn people to stone.

The 40th story tells the history of Andromeda quite differently from the Greeks. Cepheus and Phineus, he [Conon] says, were two brothers. Cepheus ruled in the land that is now called Phoenicia but at the time was called Joppa, taking its name from Joppe the seaside city. His realm extended from our sea [the Mediterranean] up to the Arabs who live on the Red Sea. Cepheus had a very beautiful daughter, named Andromeda, and whom both his own brother Phineus, as well as Phoinix, wished to marry. After weighing the options for a long time, Cepheus decided to give her to the latter [ Phoinix ]. But, because he did not want to argue with his brother, he pretended to reject Phoinix, but at the same time allowed him to kidnap her. Andromeda often went to a deserted island to make sacrifices to Venus. Phoinix took this opportunity and kidnapped her, and brought her onto a ship (which was called Cetus [sea monster], either because it looked like one, or for some other reason). Andromeda, assuming she was being kidnapped, began to wail and scream in desperation. In this moment, by some stroke of fortune, Perseus, who was sailing on the sea, came across the ship of Phoinix. He heard the cries, and saw a young woman calling for help. Struck by her beauty, and moved as much by pity as by love, he decided to free her. He attacked the the ship of Phoinix with a rage and took it over; those who were aboard were killed without a fight, as they were frozen with shock. Perseus thus freed Andromeda, brought her onboard his own ship, and brought her to Argos, where they lived and reigned together. From this, the Greeks constructed the myth of the sea monster that was going to eat Andromeda, and of the people turned to stone by the Gorgon Medusa's head.


Taken from: http://remacle.org/bloodwolf/erudits/photius/conon.htm

Adventures of Bellerophon

The Chimera

Anteia, the queen of Argos, fell in love with Bellerophon. When he did not return her affection, she accused him of assaulting her, and told her husband Proetus to kill Bellerophon. Proetus did not wish to kill Bellerophon himself, so he passed the job off to his cousin Iobates, the king of Lycia.

Similarly to how Polydectes attempted to kill Perseus by sending him to fight Medusa (see "Adventures of Perseus," above), Iobates sent Bellerophon to kill the Chimera, assuming that he would die in the attempt. Bellerophon, however, defeated the Chimera and returned to Argos. Iobates attempted a few more times to kill Bellerophon by sending him to fight other enemies (the Solymi and the Amazons), but Bellerophon defeated them all. Impressed by Bellerophon's strength, Iobates stopped trying to kill him, and granted him land in Lycia.


Homer, Iliad, Book 6 (trans. A. S. Kline, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek epic, ca. 8th/7th century BCE

In this passage from Homer's Iliad, Glaucus of Lycia tells Diomedes of Argos about his parentage, and recounts the great deeds of his ancestor Bellerophon.

[119-211] “There’s a town called Ephyre in a corner of Argos, the horse-pasture, and a man lived there called Sisyphus, the craftiest of men, a son of Aeolus. He had a son called Glaucus, and Glaucus was father of the unrivaled Bellerophon, to whom the gods gave beauty and every manly grace. But Zeus made him subject to King Proetus, who was stronger and plotted against him, and drove him from Argive lands. Now Proetus’ wife, the beautiful Anteia, longed madly for Bellerophon, and begged him to sleep with her in secret, but wise Bellerophon was a righteous man and could not be persuaded. So she wove a web of deceit, and said to King Proetus: ‘Kill this Bellerophon, who tried to take me by force, or die trying.’ The king was angered by her words. He would not kill Bellerophon, as his heart shrank from murder, but he sent him off to Lycia. He scratched many deadly signs on a folded tablet, gave him [Bellerophon] that fatal token, and told him to hand it to the Lycian king, his father-in-law, so as to engineer his death. Bellerophon went to Lycia escorted by unrivaled gods, and when he reached the streams of Xanthus, the king of great Lycia, [ Iobates ], welcomed him with honour, entertaining him for nine days, and sacrificing nine oxen. But when rosy-fingered Dawn lit the tenth day, his host questioned him, and asked what token he brought him from his son-in-law Proetus.

“On first deciphering the fatal message, he ordered Bellerophon to kill the monstrous Chimera, born from gods and not men, that had a lion’s head, goat’s body and serpent’s tail, and breathed out deadly blasts of scorching fire. But Bellerophon slew her, guided by the gods. Next he was sent against the notorious Solymi, and fought, he said, the mightiest battle he ever fought. Then thirdly he slaughtered the Amazons, women who were equal to men. The king planned a deadly ruse for his return, staging an ambush by the best of the Lycian warriors. But not one of them returned: the unmatched Bellerophon killed them all. The king then realised he was a true son of the gods, and offered him his daughter and half of his kingdom, to stay. The Lycians moreover marked out for him an estate of the first rank, with tracts of orchards and plough-land for his delight.

“The lady bore to Bellerophon, that warlike man, three children: Isander, Hippolochus and Laodameia. Zeus the Counsellor slept with Laodameia and she bore godlike Sarpedon, now a bronze-clad warrior. But the time came when Bellerophon too was loathed by the gods, and wandered off alone over the Aleian plain, eating his heart away and shunning the ways of men. Ares, unwearied by war, killed his [Bellerophon's] son Isander, in a battle with the glorious Solymi; and Laodameia was slain in anger by Artemis of the Golden Reins. Hippolochus remained and fathered me [ Glaucus ], and from him I am descended. He sent me here to Troy and tasked me earnestly to be the best and bravest, and not bring shame on my ancestors, the best men in Ephyre and all broad Lycia. Such is my lineage, from that blood am I sprung.”


Taken from: https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Greek/Iliad6.php#anchor_Toc239244954

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2009 All Rights Reserved.


The second famous deed of Bellerophon was his taming of the winged horse Pegasus, the child of Medusa and Poseidon (see "Adventures of Perseus," above). This deed is, however, often attributed to Perseus, who likely came to be associated with the Pegasus due to his killing of Medusa.


Pindar, Odes, "Olympian 13" (trans. D. A. Svarlien, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek victory ode, 5th century BCE

In his ode for Xenophon of Corinth (ca. 464 BCE), Pindar compares Xenophon to Bellerophon, and describes how Bellerophon tamed Pegasus with the help of the goddess Athena.

And the Danaans trembled before Glaucus, when he came from Lycia; he boasted to them that in the city of Peirene lay the rule and rich estate and hall of his ancestor, Bellerophon, who once suffered greatly. When beside the spring [at Peirene], he wanted to harness Pegasus, the son of the snake-entwined Gorgon. [65] Then the maiden Pallas brought to him a bridle with golden cheek-pieces. The dream suddenly became waking reality, and she spoke: “Are you sleeping, king, son [descendant] of Aeolus? Come, take this charm for the horse; and, sacrificing a white bull, show it to your ancestor, Poseidon the Horse-Tamer.” [70] The goddess of the dark aegis seemed to say these words to him as he slept in the darkness, and he leapt straight up to his feet. He seized the marvelous thing [the bridle] that lay beside him, and gladly went to the seer of the land. [75] And he told [ Polyidus ] the son of Coeranus the whole story: how, at the seer's bidding, he had gone to sleep for the night on the altar of the goddess, and how the daughter herself of Zeus whose spear is the thunderbolt had given him the spirit-taming gold. The seer told him to obey the dream with all speed; [80] and, when he sacrificed a strong-footed bull to the widely powerful holder of the earth [ Poseidon ], straightaway to dedicate an altar to Athena, goddess of horses. The power of the gods easily accomplishes things that are contrary to oaths and expectations. And so mighty Bellerophon eagerly [85] stretched the gentle charmed bridle around its jaws and caught the winged horse. Mounted on its back and armored in bronze, at once he began to play with weapons. And with Pegasus, from the chilly bosom of the lonely air, he once attacked the Amazons, the female army of archers, [90] and he killed the fire-breathing Chimera, and the Solymi. I shall pass over his death in silence; but Pegasus has found his shelter in the ancient stables of Zeus in Olympus.


Taken from: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0162%3Abook%3DO.%3Apoem%3D13



Death of Perseus

Unlike many Greek heroes, Perseus has no notable myth attached to his death. Rather, it is said that he lived peacefully with his wife Andromeda for many years and fathered many children. He was also credited with the foundation of various cities, most notably Mycenae.

For further discussion of the foundation of Mycenae, see chapter 39.

Death of Bellerophon

After taming Pegasus, Bellerophon was said to have attempted to fly to Mount Olympus, the home of the gods. However, attempts by non-gods to reach Mount Olympus are never successful. The Giants Otus and Ephialtes, for example, piled up mountains in their own attempt to reach Olympus, but were promptly killed by Artemis and Apollo (see chapter 13). As punishment for his hubris, Bellerophon fell from Pegasus to his death.


Pindar, Odes, "Isthmian 7" (trans. D. A. Svarlien, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek victory ode, 5th century BCE

May the envy of the immortals not disturb [40] whatever delight I pursue from day to day as I peacefully make my way towards old age and the allotted span of my life. For we die all alike, but our fates are diverse. If a man looks to things far away, he is too short to reach the bronze-floored home of the gods; winged Pegasus threw his master Bellerophon, who wanted to go to the dwelling-places of heaven and be in the company of Zeus. A thing that is sweet beyond measure is awaited by a most bitter end.


Taken from: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0162%3Abook%3DI.%3Apoem%3D7


Art and Symbolism

Perseus stands with one foot up on a rock. He wears a winged hat and sandals, and a tunic, and holds a spear.
Perseus, white-ground krater, ca. 440 BCE (Archaeological Museum, Agrigento)

Perseus was one of the most popular heroes in Greek myth - and consequently one of the most commonly depicted heroes in Greek art. He was portrayed as a young beardless man, usually wearing Hades’ cap of invisibility or Hermes’ winged sandals (or both), and wielding a curved sword (harpe). He is also often holding a magic bag (kibisis). These items are related to his most famous heroic deed - and the scene in which he was most often depicted, the slaying of the Gorgon Medusa.

Perseus, nude with chlamys cape, curly helm, and winged boots, stands holding a spear. Athena stands next to him holding the head of Medusa. She wears a chiton and carries a spear, and her shield with gorgoneion is propped up beside her. Hermes, nude holding a cadduceus, stands on the right leaning on a tree.
Perseus, Athena, and Hermes with the head of Medusa, tracing from red-figure krater from ca. 400 BCE (accessed via the Boston Museum of Fine Arts)

Perseus is generally shown either diverting his gaze while he kills the monster, or running away after the fact to avoid the wrath of the other two Gorgons. He can be accompanied by Athena or Hermes, the two gods who gave him the necessary magical equipment.


Perseus, wearing winged helm and a chlamys, has his eyes averted as he holds a knife to Medusa's neck. Medusa is a sleeping young winged woman. Athena stands behind Perseus.
Perseus beheading Medusa, red-figure pelike, ca. 450 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York)
Athena, holding her helm and robed with the aegis, stands with a hand out to Perseus. Perseus wears a hat, carries the kibisos, and holds a curved sword and the head of Medusa.
Athena and Perseus, red-figure hydria, ca. 470 BCE (Antikensammlung Berlin)
Perseus, with Phrygian cap and kibisis, and Hermes stand over the sleeping Medusa. Medusa lies on the ground, a young winged woman.
Perseus beheading Medusa, red-figure krater, ca. 450 BCE (Museo Archaeologico Nazionale, Naples)
The headless body of Medusa lies on the ground. The winged horse Pegasus emerges from her neck. Perseus flies away from the scene.
Death of Medusa, black-figure white-ground lekythos, ca. 500 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York)

The second popular myth of Perseus represented in art was the rescue of princess Andromeda from a sea monster discussed above in 'Andromeda.' The hero is generally facing or killing the monster. He is wearing his typical attire (cap, sandals, sword); sometimes he is even riding Pegasus, freshly born from Medusa’s blood.


Bottom row: Perseus, nude with a chlamys, and winged hat and sandals, fights Cetus with his sword. Cetus is a serpentine, dragon-like monster. Above, Andromeda stands richly robed. Various figures, depicting suitors and family, stand around.
Perseus and Andromeda, red-figure loutrophoros, ca. 340 BCE (National Archaeological Museum, Taranto)
Perseus, nude with his hat and kibisos, lunges at Cetus, a large boar-like creature. Andromeda stands behind Perseus.
Perseus and Andromeda, black-figure amphora (Altes Museum, Berlin)

The second hero, Bellerophon, is usually represented as a young beardless man. He is sometimes depicted wearing a Phrygian or Thessalian hat, and is almost always shown riding the winged horse Pegasus while slaying the Chimera.


Bellerophon, wearing a petasos hat and holding a spear, rides Pegasus. The Chimera, lion-like, looks up at him.
Bellerophon and the Chimera, red-figure epinetron, ca. 425 BCE (National Archaeological Museum, Athens)
Bellerophon riding Pegasus, next to the chimera.
Bellerophon and the Chimera, black-figure tondo, ca. 650 BCE (Palazzo Massimo, Rome)










Bellerophon riding Pegasus. He stabs down with a spear at the Chimera on the ground below him.
Bellerophon and the Chimera, gold ring, 4th century BCE (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)
Bellerophon riding Pegasus and wearing his hat. He stabs down at Chimera.
Bellerophon and the Chimera, terracotta flask, 3rd century BCE (British Museum, London)
The Chimera stands with a paw up to scratch Bellerophon. Bellerophon rides Pegasus and holds a spear.
Bellerophon and the Chimera, black-figure kylix, ca. 550 BCE (Louvre Museum, Paris)

Media Attributions and Footnotes

Media Attributions

  1. Referring to an oracle of the god Ammon. Ammon (or Zeus Ammon) is the hellenized form of the Egyptian god Amun (see chapter 5, "Zeus: Art and Symbolism").
  2. This passage comes immediately after Ovid's account of how Cadmus and Harmonia, the founders of Thebes, were transformed into snakes ("their altered form")


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