Chimera (mythology)

The Chimera (/kɪˈmɪərə/ or /kaɪˈmɪərə/, also Chimaera (Chimæra); Greek: Χίμαιρα, Chímaira "she-goat") according to Greek mythology,[1] was a monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature of Lycia in Asia Minor, composed of the parts of more than one animal. It is usually depicted as a lion, with the head of a goat arising from its back, and a tail that might end with a snake's head,[2] and was one of the offspring of Typhon and Echidna and a sibling of such monsters as Cerberus and the Lernaean Hydra.

The term "chimera" has come to describe any mythical or fictional animal with parts taken from various animals, or to describe anything composed of very disparate parts, or perceived as wildly imaginative, implausible, or dazzling.

Chimera Apulia Louvre K362
The Chimera on a red-figure Apulian plate, c. 350–340 BC (Musée du Louvre)


Homer's brief description in the Iliad[3] is the earliest surviving literary reference: "a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle,[4] and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire."[5] Elsewhere in the Iliad, Homer attributes the rearing of Chimera to Amisodorus.[6] Hesiod's Theogony follows the Homeric description: he makes the Chimera the issue of Echidna: "She was the mother of Chimaera who breathed raging fire, a creature fearful, great, swift-footed and strong, who had three heads, one of a grim-eyed lion; in her hinderpart, a dragon; and in her middle, a goat, breathing forth a fearful blast of blazing fire. Her did Pegasus and noble Bellerophon slay."[7] The author of the Bibliotheca concurs:[8] descriptions agree that she breathed fire. The Chimera is generally considered to have been female (see the quotation from Hesiod above) despite the mane adorning her head, the inclusion of a close mane often was depicted on lionesses, but the ears always were visible (that does not occur with depictions of male lions).

Pegasus reel Louvre Bj1887
Gold reel, possibly an ear-stud, with winged Pegasus (outer band) and the Chimera (inner band), Magna Graecia or Etruria, fourth century BC (Louvre)

While there are different genealogies, in one version the Chimera mated with her brother Orthrus and was the mother of the Sphinx and the Nemean lion (others have Orthrus and their mother, Echidna, mating; most attribute all to Typhon and Echidna).

The Chimera finally was defeated by Bellerophon with the help of Pegasus, at the command of King Iobates of Lycia, after terrorizing Lycia and nearby lands. Since Pegasus could fly, Bellerophon shot the Chimera from the air, safe from her heads and breath.[9] A scholiast to Homer adds that he finished her off by equipping his spear with a lump of lead that melted when exposed to the Chimera's fiery breath and consequently killed her, an image drawn from metalworking.[10]

Robert Graves suggests,[11] "The Chimera was, apparently, a calendar-symbol of the tripartite year, of which the seasonal emblems were lion, goat, and serpent."

Bellerophon killing Chimaera (mosaic from Rhodes)
Pebble mosaic depicting Bellerophon killing the Chimera, from Rhodes archaeological museum

The Chimera was situated in foreign Lycia,[12] but her representation in the arts was wholly Greek.[13] An autonomous tradition, one that did not rely on the written word, was represented in the visual repertory of the Greek vase-painters. The Chimera first appears at an early stage in the repertory of the proto-Corinthian pottery-painters, providing some of the earliest identifiable mythological scenes that may be recognized in Greek art. The Corinthian type is fixed, after some early hesitation, in the 670s BC; the variations in the pictorial representations suggests multiple origins to Marilyn Low Schmitt.[14] The fascination with the monstrous devolved by the end of the seventh century into a decorative Chimera-motif in Corinth,[15] while the motif of Bellerophon on Pegasus took on a separate existence alone. A separate Attic tradition, where the goats breathe fire and the animal's rear is serpent-like, begins with such confidence that Marilyn Low Schmitt is convinced there must be unrecognized or undiscovered local precursors.[16] Two vase-painters employed the motif so consistently they are given the pseudonyms the Bellerophon Painter and the Chimaera Painter.

Chimera on vase at Athens' Archaeological Museum
Chimera depicted on an Attic vase

A fire-breathing lioness was one of the earliest of solar and war deities in Ancient Egypt (representations from 3000 years prior to the Greek) and influences are feasible. The lioness represented the war goddess and protector of both cultures that would unite as Ancient Egypt. Sekhmet was one of the dominant deities in upper Egypt and Bast in lower Egypt. As divine mother, and more especially as protector, for Lower Egypt, Bast became strongly associated with Wadjet, the patron goddess of Lower Egypt.

In Etruscan civilization, the Chimera appears in the Orientalizing period that precedes Etruscan Archaic art; that is to say, very early indeed. The Chimera appears in Etruscan wall-paintings of the fourth century BC.

In Indus civilization are pictures of the chimera in many seals. There are different kinds of the chimera composed of animals from Indian subcontinent. It is not known how Indus people called the chimera.

Similar creatures

In Medieval art, although the Chimera of antiquity was forgotten, chimerical figures appear as embodiments of the deceptive, even satanic forces of raw nature. Provided with a human face and a scaly tail, as in Dante's vision of Geryon in Inferno xvii.7–17, 25–27, hybrid monsters, more akin to the Manticore of Pliny's Natural History (viii.90), provided iconic representations of hypocrisy and fraud well into the seventeenth century, through an emblematic representation in Cesare Ripa's Iconologia.[17]

Classical sources

The myths of the Chimera may be found in the Bibliotheca of Pseudo-Apollodorus (book 1), the Iliad (book 16) by Homer, the Fabulae 57 and 151 by Hyginus, the Metamorphoses (book VI 339 by Ovid; IX 648), and the Theogony 319ff by Hesiod.

Virgil, in the Aeneid (book 5) employs Chimaera for the name of gigantic ship of Gyas in the ship-race, with possible allegorical significance in contemporary Roman politics.[18]

Hypothesis about origin

The eternal fires of Chimera in Lycia, modern-day Turkey, where the myth takes place

Pliny the Elder cited Ctesias and quoted Photius identifying the Chimera with an area of permanent gas vents that still may be found by hikers on the Lycian Way in southwest Turkey. Called in Turkish, Yanartaş (flaming rock), the area contains some two dozen vents in the ground, grouped in two patches on the hillside above the Temple of Hephaestus approximately 3 km north of Çıralı, near ancient Olympos, in Lycia. The vents emit burning methane thought to be of metamorphic origin. The fires of these were landmarks in ancient times and used for navigation by sailors.

Museum of Anatolian Civilizations080
Neo-Hittite Chimera from Karkemish, at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations

The Neo-Hittite Chimera from Carchemish, dated to 850–750 BC, which is now housed in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, is believed to be a basis for the Greek legend. It differs, however, from the Greek version in that a winged body of a lioness also has a human head rising from her shoulders.

Use for Chinese mythological creatures

Some western scholars of Chinese art, starting with Victor Segalen, use the word "chimera" generically to refer to winged leonine or mixed species quadrupeds, such as bixie, tianlu, and even qilin.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Becchio, Bruno; Schadé, Johannes P. (2006). Encyclopedia of World Religions. Foreign Media Group. ISBN 9781601360007. Retrieved 27 April 2019.
  2. ^ Peck, "Chimaera".
  3. ^ Homer, Iliad 6.179–182
  4. ^ "The creature was a goat; a young goat that had seen but one winter was called chimaira in Greek". (Kerenyi 1959:82).
  5. ^ In Richmond Lattimore's translation.
  6. ^ Homer, Iliad, 16.328–329
  7. ^ Hesiod Theogony 319–325 in Hugh Evelyn-White's translation.
  8. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2.3.1: "it had the fore part of a lion, the tail of a dragon, and its third head, the middle one, was that of a goat, through which it belched fire. And it devastated the country and harried the cattle; for it was a single creature with the power of three beasts. It is said, too, that this Chimera was bred by Amisodarus, as Homer also affirms,3 and that it was begotten by Typhon on Echidna, as Hesiod relates".
  9. ^ Pindar: Olympian Odes, 13.84–90; Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2.3.2; Hesiod, Theogony 319 ff.
  10. ^ Graves, section 75, note
  11. ^ Graves 1960:sect.34.2.
  12. ^ Homer, Iliad 16.328–329, links her breeding to the Trojan ally Amisodarus of Lycia, as a plague for humans.
  13. ^ Anne Roes "The Representation of the Chimaera" The Journal of Hellenic Studies 54.1 (1934), pp. 21–25, adduces Ancient Near Eastern conventions of winged animals whose wings end in animal heads.
  14. ^ This outline of Chimera motifs follows Marilyn Low Schmitt, "Bellerophon and the Chimaera in Archaic Greek Art" American Journal of Archaeology 70.4 (October 1966), pp. 341–347.
  15. ^ Later coins struck at Sicyon, near Corinth, bear the chimera-motif. (Schmitt 1966:344 note.
  16. ^ Schmitt 1966.
  17. ^ John F. Moffitt, "An Exemplary Humanist Hybrid: Vasari's 'Fraude' with Reference to Bronzino's 'Sphinx'" Renaissance Quarterly 49.2 (Summer 1996), pp. 303–333, traces the chimeric image of Fraud backward from Bronzino.
  18. ^ W.S.M. Nicoll, "Chasing Chimaeras" The Classical Quarterly New Series, 35.1 (1985), pp. 134–139.
  19. ^ Barry Till (1980), "Some Observations on Stone Winged Chimeras at Ancient Chinese Tomb Sites", Artibus Asiae, 42 (4): 261–281, JSTOR 3250032


  • Graves, Robert, (1955) 1960. The Greek Myths (Baltimore: Penguin), section 75.b, pp 252–56
  • Kerenyi, Karl, 1959. The Heroes of the Greeks. (London and New York:Thames and Hudson)
  • Peck, Harry Thurston, 1898. Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities: "Chimaera"

External links

Beast of the Earth

The Beast of the Earth (دابة الأرض Dābbat al-Arḍ), in Islamic eschatology, will be one of the signs of the coming of the Last Day. It will appear after the sun rises in the west, where the Beast will be sighted the first time. The Beast is mentioned in the Quran (in Sura An-Naml) and is also mentioned in the ahadith, which expand upon the characteristics of the beast. Islamic tradition holds that the Beast will precipitate the death of all true believers and the removal of the Quran from the world.The Quran mentions that the Beast will address the unbelievers and admonish them for their lack of attention towards God:

And when the Word is fulfilled against them (the unjust), we shall produce from the earth a beast to (face) them: He will speak to them, for that mankind did not believe with assurance in Our Signs.


Chimera, chimaera, or chimaira may refer to:

Chimera (mythology), a monstrous creature with parts from multiple animals

Mount Chimaera, the region in Lycia that some believe was an inspiration for the myth

Chimera (Marvel Comics)

Chimera is a fictional mutant character appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics.

Grotesque (architecture)

In architecture, a chimera or grotesque is a fantastic or mythical figure used for decorative purposes. Chimerae are often described as gargoyles, although the term gargoyle technically refers to figures carved specifically as terminations to spouts which convey water away from the sides of buildings. In the Middle Ages, the term babewyn was used to refer to both gargoyles and chimerae. This word is derived from the Italian word babuino, which means "baboon".

Bridaham, in his book Gargoyles, Chimeres, and the Grotesque in French Gothic Sculpture points out that the sculptors of the Gothic cathedrals in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were tasked by the Pope to be "a preacher in stone" to the illiterates who populated Europe at the time. It fell to them to not only present the stories of the Bible but also portray the animals and beings who populated the folk lore of the times. Many of these showed up as grotesques and chimerae, carved on the buildings.

Hero System Bestiary

Hero System Bestiary is a compilation of creatures for use with Hero System role-playing game rules. It was published in 2002 for the 5th edition Hero System release. The cover is thick paper and illustrated in color, while the interior is 239 pages in length and illustrated in black and white. An earlier edition of the Hero Bestiary was published in 1992 for the prior edition of Hero.

This work is divided into four chapters and an appendix. The first chapter gives an overview of creatures in a role-playing game, along with descriptions of the game system statistics and how creatures are created using the Hero System point build method. Each of the skills common to animals is described in terms of how it is applied to the various life forms. The application of powers and their limitations is detailed specifically for creatures such as animals, and the various disadvantages are explained in terms of how they are best applied.

New with this release is a section in chapter one on Creature Templates. These are sets of powers with appropriate advantages and limitations that can be applied to modify a creature. Thus there are templates for size modification, elemental forms, undead, venomous creatures, disease carriers, mutations, and so forth. These templates significantly multiply the variety of creatures available to the game master.

The first chapter also has a section on how creatures fight and behave in combat, as well as providing custom hit location tables for common creature forms that differ from a humanoid shape. The chapter closes with some comments on animal populations, as well as the commercial value of various animal parts.

The remaining three chapters consist of creature statistics and descriptions for fantastic beasts, animals, and beasts of science fiction and the movies. Each creature description is about a page in length, and contains a complete listing of the characteristics, powers, skills, and disadvantages, including the point cost for each. This is followed by brief descriptions of the creature's ecology, personality and motivation, powers and combat tactics, their appearance, and the uses of the creature in a role-playing game campaign. The creatures listed include a number that are as intelligent as man (or more so), and can possess their own intricate cultures. All of the creatures are illustrated in black and white.

The book closes with a bibliography and an appendix. The latter includes various sample template-modified creatures, an extensive list of hit location tables, area of effect maps for various powers, and a creature summary table. At the end is an index.

Altogether the book includes complete statictics for the following creatures:

Fantastic Beasts — guardian ape, basilisk, giant vampire bat, centaur, chimera (mythology), cockatrice, giant crab, deadly ooze, various demons and devils, dragons, elementals, giant frog, gargoyle, golems, gorgon, griffin, harpy, hippocampus, hippogriff, homunculus, hydra, giant insects, jackalope, kraken, giant lizard, lycanthropes, manticore, minotaur, pegasus, Phoenix, rakshasa, giant rat, roc, salamander, satyr, sea serpent, simurgh, siren, fantastic snakes, sphinx, tree man, undead (ghost, ghoul, mummy, animated skeleton, vampire, and zombie), unicorn, giant wolf, and giant worm.

Mundane Beasts — barracuda, bat, bears, birds of prey, other birds, boar, buffalo, camel, domestic cat, great cats (cheetah, leopard, lion, smilodon, and tiger), chimpanzee, giant clam, crocodile, deer, dinosaurs, dogs, dolphin, eel, elephant, gorilla, hippopotamus, horses, small mammals, rhinoceros, scorpion, sharks, snakes, spiders, animal swarms, swordfish, whales, and wolves.

Beasts of Science Fiction and the Movies — amorphous horror, animal-men, giant ape, chromedog, engine of destruction, giant carnivorous plants, giant dinosaur, giant space amoeba, living brain, mon'da hunting lizard, neuroparasite, psychovore, robots and androids, slasher, swamp creature, and xenovore creatures.


Kimaris, also known by the alternate names Cimeies, Cimejes and Cimeries, is most widely known as the 66th demon of the first part of the Lemegeton (popularly known as the Ars Goetia).

Les Chimères (painting)

Les Chimères or The Chimaeras is an unfinished painting by the French Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau (6 April 1826 – 18 April 1898) executed in 1884. It depicts a large forest scene wherein various nude women are associated with sundry figures from classical and medieval mythology –not only the titular chimeras, but also centaurs, winged creatures, fawns, minotaurs, etc. The painting is a philosophical meditation on what Moreau saw as the elemental nature of Woman, depicting the internal yearnings and dreams of women (des chimères being a French idiom indicating unrealistic dreams) through complex mythological symbolism. Moreau abandoned the work shortly after his mother's death to work on the darker polyptych La Vie de l'Humanité, considered one of his masterpieces.

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