Mythic Creature: The Chimera

Name: Chimera or Chimaera

Appearance: Awkward in appearance, the chimera possessed three heads–that of a lioness, goat, and snake. The lioness head came first, sometimes depicted with a close-cropped mane, other times with rays or flames surrounding it. This head breathed fire. Then in the middle of the chimera’s back, a horned goat head emerged. In some descriptions, the goat’s head faced forward, in others it was backwards. Occasionally, artists even depicted a goat’s forelegs and udders as part of the beast. The chimera’s hindquarters were dragon-like and its tail ended with the head of a dragon or a snake. Homer described it as “a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire.”

Unique qualities and traits: Unlike many mythic creatures, the chimera was one of a kind, not a species of beast. It was also universally viewed as female. The chimera possessed strength and speed, by means of which it ravaged the countryside in which it dwelt. It destroyed herds and burnt sections of land, holding the countryside captive in fear. The appearance of the chimera was considered an ill omen and a sign of natural disasters to come, especially volcanoes. Over time, the chimera came to symbolize evil–female evil in particular. In the medieval era, it was sometimes used to illustrate and support negative views of women, as seen in the Malleus Maleficarum (a treatise against witches). This book denounced women in general, attributing to them all manner of carnality and wickedness, and comparing them to chimera, “You do not know that woman is the Chimaera, but it is good that you should know it; for that monster was of three forms; its face was that of a radiant and noble lion, it had the filthy belly of a goat, and it was armed with the virulent tail of a viper…a woman is beautiful to look upon, contaminating to the touch, and deadly to keep.”

Quick facts:

  • The word chimera comes from the Greek meaning “she-goat.”
  • The chimera was often accredited with birthing the Sphinx, another Greek monster.
  • Most legends state that the chimera lived in the region of Lycia (now Turkey).

Sources from myth and legend:
The earliest written record of the chimera comes from Homer, in The Iliad, and one of his peers Heriod, who described the chimera in his epic poem Theogony as “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.” Their descriptions provided the standard for the chimera, which became a common figure in Greek mythology. Legends state that Bellerophon, a Greek hero, riding Pegasus, eventually managed to kill the chimera from the air. By the time four or five centuries passed, most people did not believe the chimera’s existence, viewing it as a creature of myth, rather than one that might plausibly dwell in Lycia. In the 1st century AD, Pliny the Elder gives an account that may provide some explanation of the chimera’s origin, “[in Lycia] is Mount Chimaera, which sends forth flames at night, and the city-state of Hephaestium, which also has a mountain range that is often on fire.” On this mountain lived all three of the creatures that make up the chimera, which may have provided inspiration for the legend or at least the association of the creature with volcanoes. In the medieval era, there were a number of references to the chimera, mostly negative, as seen in the Malleus Maleficarum, and in the 1800s the chimera became a legend of interest (along with other areas of Greek mythology). In 1852, Nathaniel Hawthorn recorded the story of Bellerophon, Pegasus, and Chimera in “A Wonder-Book for Boys and Girls,” and it has appeared in a variety of storybooks and mythology collections since.

Overview: A hideous combination of existing creatures, infused with mythic qualities of strength, speed, and fire-breathing, the chimera provided rich fodder for storytellers as early as the 8th century BC. Despite the fact that belief in its existence quickly dwindled, it had lasting impact as a symbol, making its way into fiction and non-fiction accounts, providing a cultural reference, and eventually turning from a symbol of evil to an example of an absurd fancy.

Your opinions:
What caused the chimera to endure as a symbol long after any belief in it faded? Does anything in particular about the creature catch your interest?

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34 Responses to Mythic Creature: The Chimera

  1. janie says:

    thank u so much u helped alot now i can finsh my paper for skul 🙂

  2. Pingback: Chimera creature | Gnboard

  3. courtney says:

    thanks it helped so so so so much now i can get my proper grade in english

  4. Pingback: Chimera: Mythological Significance | Chimera

  5. Nazrin says:

    Thankz a lot sarah!u helped me for my debate! 🙂

  6. Kaser says:

    This was so helpful for my schoolwork! Thanks a lot! 😀

  7. Vero says:

    Just my thought, but it makes me think that the bible copied this element for Revelations. I am referring to the Beast. Again, just a thought, not wanting to cause a religious argument here.

    • casey says:

      Bible times were before the greek gods! duh! and this helped me out so much with my homework!

      • Dave says:

        You do know that the bible was put together by a bunch of guys who picked and choosed what got to be on the bible right?

        • barbra says:

          Actually God chose what was put in the bible because he knows what can help us the most the men who you say chose what goes in it were really just acting as scribes.

  8. shirley matthews says:

    I am writing a book for boys and require a photo of a chimera – cyclops and hydra – do you have any suitable for me to use and how much would they be
    thank you

  9. Chimera A. Zogbaum says:

    Hi, my name is Chimera..yes actually. My mom was a huge feminist when she named me and I was wondering if there was any information on what the Chimera symbolizes in a feminism symbol.

  10. I really love all the cool facts about the chimera you have. I could find no other website that has this much information. Also, I have a few questions to ask; do you think there are species related to the chimera and what kinds. Also, do you belive the chimera was a true creature during the Greeks time, and why do you think that?

  11. Alexandria says:

    Thank you!!!! This really had helped me learn more for my topic in my freshman English class!! Really Appreciative!!

  12. Denise hinkle says:

    this really helped ty

  13. Adam says:

    Is the goat a girl

  14. matt says:

    Although this may have helped me, it wasn’t what I was looking for.

  15. Parzival says:

    Thanks for the information I had need for our 8th grade Greek myth essay.

  16. barbra says:

    You really helped me out with school. thanks:))

  17. Kiemarah says:

    You are so beautiful and we hope you have a great day! This helped us for school so keep up the work and thank you! -K&M

  18. Amber (Aren) Kay says:

    I needed a source for my English Project, and this really helped! Takk! (Thanks in Norwegian)

  19. Yes, I agree! This is a great resource, unlike animoto! Would recommend for when you need to celebrate a chimera themed birthday party! Would NOT recommend animoto for a presentation at said chimera themed birthday party. Very cool comment!

  20. Yes, I agree! This is a great resource, unlike animoto! Would recommend for when you need to celebrate a chimera themed birthday party! Would NOT recommend animoto for a presentation at said chimera themed birthday party. Very cool comment!

    • Beth B. Smith (B stands for Bartholomew) says:

      Whoops! My grandchildren aren’t here to help me with the net. Sorry for the duplicate comments.

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