Now *this* is interesting – quite a familiar shape, you’ll see the various Christian depictions of St George engaged in a spot of dragon-slaying, for instance.
However, what’s depicted here is Bellerophon (mounted upon Pegasus) slaying the Chimaera, from a floor mosaic on Rhodes, circa 300-270 BC.
I am not saying that various much more recent Christian depictions are deliberately drawing from this ancient template. After all – there are only so many ways one can reasonably aesthetically present a man on horseback armed with a spear slaying a terrible monster.
But it does seem a symbolic resonancy on that level, at least.
In any case, it wouldn’t be a Curwen Ares Rolinson post without some further Indo-European comparative analysis. And so …
We have long intended to write up something in relation to the figure of Pegasus – and how the mythological details we are given look *suspiciously* similar to the accountings in the Coronation / Regal Empowerment rituals of the Shatapatha Brahmana.
Particularly the bit around a Horse, from the Waters, that flies as swiftly as the Wind (and which is keyed to the Sun) being rather important for Kingship.
Which we can tell is likely a very archaic Indo-European ritualistic understanding given the (admittedly brief) mention in Herodotus for a Massagetae horse-sacrifice that has recognizably resonant features to it. That is to say – it’s not simply a Vedic presentation, but one preserved in the Steppe Iranics of the Scythian sphere … and also, it would seem, residually recalled in the Greek mythos.
(You can find quite a lot more about some generally important conceptry for this in my earlier work – ‘The Sea Horse Of Sovereignty – On Hellenic Poseidon , Vedic Varuna, Scythian Thagimasidas , And The Essential Equine Elevator-Empowerer Of The Ancient Indo-European King’; available at –
How does this relate to Bellerophon?
Well, other than the obvious figure of Pegasus – via the manner in which Bellerophon is enabled to *claim* Pegasus.
Bellerophon spends a night in Athena’s Temple, wherein he experiences a dream of Athena presenting him with a golden bridle and band, along with instruction to piously approach Poseidon in relation to this and with bull sacrifice, and also construct (and assumedly make use of) an altar to Athena also as Ἱππια (Hippia) – the Goddess of Horses.
(Athena’s other epithet as Χαλινιτις (Khalinitis), ‘The Bridler’, would assumedly also be pertinent – and, indeed, Pausanias records that Athena with this title is worshipped for exactly this reason in Corinth under this name)
(We would also note with some interest Athena’s hailing here as ἐγχεικέραυνος – that is to say, the Spearer/Piercer with the Thunderbolt (some translations render ἔγχος / ἐγχει (‘Enkhe’) as ‘Hurler’, others go with ‘Whose Spear is the …’, and still others suggest ‘Sword’ rather than ‘Spear’; κεραυνός (‘Keraunos’), meanwhile, is rather interesting to mean ‘Thunderbolt’ due to just which PIE term it might derive from. More upon that some other time)
Upon waking, Bellerophon finds that the mystical device given to him in his dream is, in fact, real; and so commences with the action necessary to win the winged horse – namely, finding him at a certain mystical spring (other versions have the hoof-tap of the horse *causing* the spring to flow in earnest).
We note with some interest that the spring in question appears to have some significant connexion to the Muses (and, in terms of the spring at Mt Helicon also linked to the tale in some renditions – Orpheus is similarly prominently featured).
Something which would concord with what I suspect rather strongly the spring to actually signify – namely, the stream of liquid that, in the Vedic understanding, is that famed inspiration under the aegis of Vak … the Mead of Poetry (er .. Soma. The Mead of Poetry being the Nordic equivalent. But strongly coterminous for reasons that are obviously apparent).
So … how does all of this fit together?
It should seem that the Empowerment that is bestowed by the Goddess (and also the Sky Father – viz. Poseidon … and Varuna has such a role in the SBr rendition) grants a man the ability to ‘rule’ and ‘direct’ a rather mighty force indeed.
It is not hard to see how such a mythically impressive steed as the Pegasus might take the potency of the mounted warrior ‘up to eleven’ and then some, even afore the ‘solar’ and other such characteristics are to be taken into consideration from the likely PIE underpinnings to the narrative account.
We might also ponder whether, as concerns the Chimaera in particular, the three heads might have something to do with RV X 124 – an oft-hugely misinterpreted hymnal (in my opinion), that has been (positively) argued to actually contain a ‘coronation’ conceptry. One wherein three ‘essences’ keyed to particular Gods (Soma, Agni, and Varuna) are ‘drawn down’ into the presumptive princeling and soon-to-be-regent-apparent (designated, it should seem, as an ‘Indra’). Which, yes, does also feature mention of a combat against a draconic adversary.
However, Bellerophon is not really a ‘king’ figure (one might surmise that his hubristic attempt at placing himself amongst the Gods proper put paid to that … ) – even if his name *does* seem *suspiciously* resonant with that of Indra’s mythic deed.
To speak more overtly to that – ‘phon’ as in ‘killer’ – from our familiar PIE *gʷʰen- that produces the ‘slayer of-‘, ‘-aghni’ etc. in ‘Vritraghni’ and the like; the same PIE root also turning up in Herakles’ characterization against other dire foes.
Meanwhile the ‘Belle-‘ component is .. difficult. One (not unreasonable) proposal goes for the ‘Bel’ in βέλα, βᾰ́λλω, etc. that also produces our modern English ‘Ballistic’. And certainly, Indra ‘hurls’ or ‘throws’ the Thunderbolt that Smashes the Foe.
However, I find myself pondering alternate possibilities.
One of which builds from the *other* frequently encountered academic speculation – that of Bellerophon meaning the ‘Slayer of Belleros’. With Belleros being otherwise unattested within the Greek corpus, and presumably (given other details to Bellerophon’s tale and setting) being of Lycian origination.
Why is this of interest to us?
If we recall my recent excerpt looking at a plausible ‘alternate’ etymology for Bacchus – wherein the term, in truth, should be ‘Vacchus’ or ‘Vakkhos’ – there is an observable phenomenon adjacent to Ancient Greek of the ‘Beta’ in fact also representing a ‘V’ sound.
There is some debate as to how far back in time this might go prior to Koine Greek (where it is most prominent); however I have suspicions that it may have been prominent ‘on the margins’ and in dealing with ‘foreign’ cultures for some time prior to that.
Lycian is one of those Anatolian Indo-European languages, which had ‘branched off’ from the PIE sphere relatively early. It is incredibly fragmentarily attested, and much of what we know (or think we know) is built from inferences around elements found in spheres in contact with it – or ‘bridging’ from other Anatolian IE languages such as its Luwian relative (indeed, Lycian is, strictly speaking, part of the Luwic subfamily).
I would ponder whether a derivative of PIE *welH might show up in such a language, as it was spoken some thousands of years ago. And if so, whether it would retain its first consonant.
This would render it rather unlike Ancient Greek – wherein the descendant terms from PIE *welH have tended to simply become “e-” or “he-” in their initial soundings [‘Helix’ is a good example; ‘Eiluo’, a ‘covering’, another] … but rather like terms found in other IE languages like Latin ‘Vallum’ (whence English ‘Wall’ – and of similar meaning), or Sanskrit ‘Vala’ ( वल … and we shall explain this in more depth in a moment).
If I am right – and I must emphasize that this is merely speculatory at this stage – then we might comfortably parse ‘Bellerophon’ as ‘Slayer of’ a figure with a name etymologically cognate with ‘Vala’.
Experienced delvers into the Indo-European mytholinguistics and associated fields shall *instantly* perceive where I am going with this.
Vritra is well-known – the ‘enveloper’, ‘encircler’, ‘encloser’; the demon-dragon of the waters that is the adversary of Indra (inter alia) and must be fought by Him. Also features to an extent in the aforementioned RV X 124, as it happens.
Vala is less-known – and is a brother to Vritra, acting in rather similar fashion in many respects. A demon-dragon, that ‘hides’, ‘obscures’ some purloined wealth or precious high-value objective worth having. Hence the name.
Does Indra slay Vala? Certainly. Indeed, we can fairly argue that the coterminities between the two Combats are such that these are effectively ‘refractions’ of the same instance, when it comes to the archaic PIE underpinnings of each, I feel. [Although the occurrence wherein it is the Sky Father that smites a Vala – well, that is probably another, yet closely related, ‘parallel undertaking’ of sorts. Another (set of) story for another time.]
Is there anything which might support my otherwise rather outlandish theory in terms of actual Anatolian IE linguistics?
Well, as a matter of fact … yes, yes there is.
It would appear that there is a Luwian stem – *Walipp- – that refers to ‘Enveloping’, ‘Wrapping’, hence assumedly ‘Walippantalla’ as ‘The Enveloper’. (We might figuratively think of the action of a constrictor serpent – coiling up around its prey; or, perhaps more aptly, a dragon that is to be found, as every fairy-story has it, lying upon a hoard of treasure).
So … if at some point, that ‘W’ sound in fact turned into a ‘B’ via calquing (as we can demonstrate to likely have occurred elsewhere, when terms have turned up from the fringes of the Greek sphere) … then ‘Bellerophon’ as the ‘Slayer of the Enveloper’ should seem not entirely, outlandishly implausible.
Perhaps the tricephalic nature of the Chimera might be pertinent in this regard – after all, even though ostensibly this, too, should be a somewhat separate foe of the Striker/Thunderer deific (ref: Trisiras (‘Three Headed’) in Vedic terms, or the Geryon and Cacus of Herakles’ and Hercules’ slaying respectively) … there exists enough evidence to observe that conflations have occurred from time to time – as can be seen with those various ‘three-headed’ (or similar) tellings of the Hydra that we considered at some length in previous works upon the subject, for example.
Further investigation is evidently required for actual and more tangible ‘resonancies’ to be directly uncovered between the mythology around Bellerophon, and that around other possible related Indo-European instances from elsewhere.
After all, with deference to this fine mosaic depiction – how *else* are we to get the ‘pieces to fit’ together into a coherent shape and outline !