Chimera, at the sound of the word we instantly imagine the mythological creature. The combination of several animals morphing into one monstrous being. We have grown up witnessing its voyage in the Greek mythology and throughout the modern days in popular culture. Those who have a fascination for myths and the history behind them must have some knowledge of how they came to be, but if you are still new to this, here we will give you what you need to know.
We can define chimera as a monstrous fire-breathing creature of Lycia, composed of the parts of multiple animals: the body of a lioness with a tail that terminated in a snake’s head, the head of a goat arose on her back at the center of her spine (Greek Mythology).
In other descriptions it is said to have 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. The word Chimera means “she-goat or monster.” Its second definition can be “An unreal creature of the imagination, a mere fancy; an un-found conception.” Although it was one creature the chimera was said to be incredibly vicious and powerful for it possessed the abilities of three separate animals.
Some of the most ancient stories believe that the origin of the Chimera comes or starts on Mount Chimaera, a place in ancient Lycia well known for its volcanic phenomena. One to start this theory is Ctesias. On the second book of Historia Naturalis, the Chimera is identified with the permanent gas vents in Mount Chimaera.
With no exact location of the mountain described, Strabo mentioned the Chimaera to be a ravine on a different mountain in Lycia. Others imitate Homer’s description: lions on the peak of the mountain, pastures full of goats in the middle, and serpents all about the base. For years it has been a subject of discussion of its exact location, starting in 1844 by Forbiger.
One of the earliest surviving literary reference is of Homer’s Iliad, in which Homer describes it as a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat’s head on the top of the forehead and a lions on the bottom, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire”. Despite the mane adorning its lion’s head the Chimera has been generally considered to be female. Some believed that sighting the Chimera was an omen of storms, shipwrecks, and natural disasters (particularly volcanoes).
One of the myths describes the Chimera mating with her brother Orthrus, mothering the Sphinx and the Nemean lion. The Chimera was defeated by Bellerophon, with the help of Pegasus. The King Lobates of Lycia sent Bellerophon on a mission to kill the beast, knowing full well that he would perish in the act. Since Pegasus could fly, Bellerophon shot the Chimera from the air, safe from her heads and breath. He finished her off by equipping his spear with a lump of lead that melted when exposed to the Chimera’s fiery breath consequently killing her.
Nowadays the term “chimera” has been used to describe real-life entities that arise or are created as amalgams of previously separate entities in fields such as botany, genetics, and molecular biology.
Composed of several different animals, hybrids can all be found in The Hunger Games book by author Suzanne Collins. In her story we find creatures like the Jabberjay a form of mutation that were created in the DNA labs of the Capitol as a means of espionage. It could perfectly mimic voices and sounds.
Another creature was the Mockingjay, which was a mixture between mockingbirds and jabberjays. They can relay songs back and forth between any beings. They are described as being as tough as rocks, being able to thrive in almost any environment. It is considered a symbol of rebellion to adorn a garment or assessment with a Mockingjay.
And finally we have the Tracker Jackers, dangerous and deadly they are genetically-altered wasps trained to kill and destroy. They have a body of gold, making them unmistakably visible in any light setting. Their venom brings on hallucinations that can drive a person to madness. This venom can also kill a person with a minimal number of stings, though some live through the horrible experience.
This Chimera or Hybrid can be also found in modern books like in Laurell K. Hamilton’s novel Narcissus in Chains, part of the Anita Blake series, the antagonist is known as Chimera, a panware capable of shifting into several were-animals. Those animals included lion, cobra, leopard, wolf and bear.
They are also mention in the “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” by Harry Potter´s author J.K. Rowling. Where they are classified by the Ministry of Magic as XXXXX (very dangerous).
In Rick Riordan’s series, The Lightning Thief, Percy is attacked by a Chimera and Echidna in the Gateway Arch (too bad we didn’t see that in the movie.)
One of my favorite authors, Marjorie M. Liu, also takes the Chimera and adapting it in her own way in the Dirk and Steele series, where in book The Fire King the main male character Karr is a Chimera, being the offspring of two shape shifters of different animals having as a mother a dragon and as a father a lion.
Representations of the Chimera were wholly Greek although she was from foreign Lycia. Its first appearances were at the early stage in the proto-Corinthian pottery-painters’ repertory, providing some of the earliest identifiable mythological scenes that can be recognized in Greek art. The fascination with the monstrous devolved by the end of the seventh century into a decorative Chimera-motif in Corinth, while the motif of Bellerophon on Pegasus took on a separate existence alone. Two vase-painters employed the motif so consistently they are given the pseudonyms the Bellerophon Painter and the Chimaera Painter. A fire-breathing lioness was one of the earliest of solar and war deities in Ancient Egypt.
The Chimera appears in Etruscan wall-paintings of the fourth century BCE. In Medieval art, though 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.
Movies and TV
Within the film industry the term Chimera is mention in the Mission Impossible sequel, where a pharmaceutical company creates a virus called Chimera in order to generate a market demand for the antidote it also created, Bellerophon (what better way to name it 😉 ).
In the anime world in several episodes of the animated series Fullmetal Alchemist , Chimeras also make their appearance as the result of a specific alchemy spell. Some of them are a fusion of two animals and there are some that are a fusion of a human and an animal. (Great series by the way 🙂 ). And just like these examples there are plenty of more.
Games and more
Role-playing games feature Chimeras mostly as obstacles that the players must defeat. One popular being Dungeons & Dragons.
Chimeras can be also found the zombie thrilling Resident Evil games “Resident Evil 4,” where after retrieving the three pieces, one of Lion, Goat, and Snake of an obstacle, the puzzle reveals itself as a Chimera. In Age of Mythology, the chimera is a trainable myth unit under the worship of Artemis. The Chimeras have also appeared randomly in the famous Final Fantasy games. And so on in many more.
How much did you know about the Chimera?
What was the thing that most interested you?
Don’t forget to check out The Hunger Games and join us in the discussion!