On Thursday our topic in Classical Mythology was Bellerophon.
Bellerophon was one of the Heroes of Ancient Greek myth, and his story is particularly important because it covers what happens to him after all of his trials are over and he settles down into his life post-heroic deeds.
To give you some back story on Bellerophon, we first have to clarify that he was the one with the Pegasus. This is going to be a multiple choice question on the test and if we select Perseus instead we will get marked wrong. The pained look on my Professor’s face when Heracles was mentioned was slightly hilarious and he adamantly told us he would not be making him an option.*
Moving forward, Bellerophon is actually really interesting. Reportedly, an ancient hero equal at some points in Greek history to Perseus and Cadmus, he was the classic hero type: kills the monster and gets the princess.
If you are interested in more details about Bellerophon, here are a few of my class notes, but feel free to skip them:
Bellerophon in Homer
- In Iliad 6, the Trojan ally Glaukos meets Diomedes on the field
- Glaukos’ ancestor Bellerophon lived in Argos
- The king Proetus hated him because of his wife
- Anteia wanted to have sex with Bellerophon, but he wouldn’t
- Proetus sent Bellerophon to Lykia with a sealed message to give to the king who was
- Anteia’s father Iobates
- The message said to kill him
- Potiphar’s Wife Motif: the adulterous wife who turns on her desired lover
- Joseph, sold into slavery, was purchased by an Egyptian officer named Potiphar
- Potiphar made him overseer of the house
- His wife asked him to sleep with her, but he refused
- She told Potiphar that Joseph tried to rape her
- Joseph ended up in prison where his dream interpretations attracted the attentions of the Pharaoh
- Iobates cannot kill Bellerophon because of their guest-host relationship, so he sent
- Bellerophon on one-way missions
- to kill the Chimaera
- qto fight the Solymoi
- to battle the Amazons
- He set an ambush for him, but Bellerophon defeated the best men
- Iobates had him marry his daughter and rule with him in Lykia
- According to Homer, Bellerophon fell out of favor with the gods for no specified reason
Eventually, Bellerophon tries to ride the Pegasus up to Mt. Olympus to become a god, but this is reaching to far so the Pegasus betrays him and Zeus strikes him down with a lightning bolt.
I enjoy the tale of Bellerophon for many reasons, but primarily because of the two questions I feel it raises most clearly:
1. What does it mean to “reach too far”?
2. What happens to the hero after the fight is over?
As for the first, in class my Professor stated something along the lines of: “What is the line between telling people that they can ‘be whatever they want to be’ (which is a lie) and ‘stay in your lane’?” This is a super interesting question for me, because there is undoubtedly a line there, and one that is particularly precarious, especially when raising children.~
It brings me back to Harry Potter, among other things. Take Voldemort for example. He was so obsessed with becoming immortal that he dies at the mere age of 71, where if he had simply lived the long life that wizards tend to get then he would have made it into his hundreds.
To stop and think through our actions and their affects can be difficult for people, and thinking that we can help ourselves and others to rise up in the world can sometimes be our downfall. It’s an important lesson, and one that I value. It is also a lesson that I learned from Bellerophon, when reading the myths as a kid. So this story is important to me in that way, and also in the sense of the second question I have.
Stories tend to end right after the battle ends, after the lovers admit their true love to one another, as a family is miraculously reunited and so forth. But what happens to the heroes after the battles are over, they attain their desired lover, etc.? They get their happily ever after, but what does that mean? If you have read/seen Harry Potter and the Cursed Child you know that according to the play, Harry settles into middle age and not super successfully raising his kids. And with Bellerophon we see that he gets bored and causes trouble, leading to his death.
My Professor brought up the stereotypical rules that many (myself included) are told to play: Primary School, Secondary School, then the optional sets of College, Grad School, Employment, Marriage, Kids, Retirement – then what? What is there to do once you have crossed the benchmarks of life?
Now these things are by no means necessary. Many people that I know have either rejected this path, or done it out of order, or intend not to follow it at all. But in the end, whatever benchmarks we set for ourselves, there is an after.° And I think that the prospect of this is terrifying, because although the sense of relaxation can be good, there is that saying that ‘Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.’ When it is all said and done, I don’t know why Bellerophon wanted to be immortal, because honestly an eternity of boredom is what I would expect. Then again, I’m a bit of a pessimist.
*Apologizes to the Disney fans but that movie was so inaccurate that a drinking game could give you alcohol poisoning.
~Which I’m not, but I have lots of younger cousins.
°Unless we die, but I’m trying to stay positive here.