[The AMAIC considers the Middle East – West comparisons of John R. Salverda as interesting, with some of them we think being very likely. But we do not necessarily agree with all of the following]
Bellerophon and Pegasus
by John R. Salverda
Bellerophon: The Successor of Perseus
Following the story of Perseus in Greek mythology is the story of “Bellerophon,” he was a descendant of Sisyphus from the Corinthian cycle of myths, not from the Argive cycle as was the Danaan Perseus. The two stories do not appear to have been originally connected in the Greek myths. However the story of Bellerophon was apparently recognized by the Danaans as the follow up to the story of Perseus, it was therefore added on to it and thus intrudes itself into the Argive mythology. Later mythographers, presumably the astrologers from the priesthood of Micah’s idol (because Pegasus is also a constellation) the same ones who added the story of Perseus at Joppa on to the earlier stories of Perseus, (as their priesthood, these would logically have accompanied the Danites to Mycenae) make Bellerophon out to be the rider of the winged horse Pegasus. Homer however, the earliest of the Greek Mythographers, says nothing about it. (Although he was well familiar with both the Argive mythic cycle containing Perseus, and told an extensive version of the story of Bellerophon from the Corinthian mythic cycle, Homer apparently did not have a nexus between them, and makes no mention of Bellerophon riding Pegasus at all.)
Because they thought it reasonable to place Bellerophon chronologically right after Perseus, we can ourselves draw some conclusions in regards to placing his deeds into the sequence of mythological events. We have learned from abundant ancient sources, that Pegasus was born out of the blood that flowed at the slaying, by Perseus, of Medusa.
While Homer is silent on Pegasus, Hesiod nearly as ancient, tells us; “But when Perseus had cut off the head of Medusa there sprang from her blood, stout-hearted Chrysaor and the horse Pegasus so named from the pegai (springs) of Okeanus, where he was born.” (Hesiod, Theogony 280 ff).
Ovid tells us that Perseus “looked at her ghastly head reflected in the bright bronze of the shield in his left hand, and while deep sleep held fast Medusa and her snakes, he severed it clean from her neck; and from their mother’s blood swift-flying Pegasus and his brother sprang.”
(Metamorphoses 4.770). From Apollodorus we get, “Perseus, therefore, with Athene guiding his hand, kept his eyes on the reflection in a bronze shield as he stood over the sleeping Gorgons, and when he saw the image of Medusa, he beheaded her. As soon as her head was severed there leaped from her body the winged horse Pegasus and Chrysaor the father of Geryon. The father of these two was Poseidon.” (Apollodorus 2.38-46). In keeping with the theory that the slaying of Medusa was a Greek version of the Hebrew law giving, we shall extend the logic to assign the mythical battles of Bellerophon, to the time shortly after the Scriptural Exodus. As this was the time when Joshua, taking over from Moses, undertook the conquest of Canaan, so we are compelled to attempt to coordinate the deeds of the conquering Greek hero Bellerophon, with the activities and attributes of the conquering Hebrew hero Joshua.
The Scriptures tell us that Joshua was an Ephraimite descendant of Joseph, while according to the Greek myths, Bellerophon, was a citizen of Ephyra, and was a descendant, the grandson, of the Ephyraean Sisyphus. As Homer puts it; “There is a city Ephyra, ‘ there lived Sisyphus, Aeolus’ son, and he had a son named Glaucus, and Glaucus in turn sired Bellerophon the blameless.” (Iliad Book 6. Page 144 ff) Therefore the identification of Bellerophon with Joshua is consistent with not only the Perseus being Moses association, but also with the Sisyphus being Joseph association that I have made elsewhere.
Bellerophon was famous for being exceptionally chaste. (Homer and Hesiod in the most ancient of accounts, both introduce him as, “Bellerophon the blameless.”) The wide spread notion that Bellerophon exhibited a superior morality when it comes to controlling his sexual desires, displays itself in the Greek myth in just the way one would expect the descendants of the Biblical Joseph to display it. For the well known story of Joseph and the wife of Potiphar, which would have been very familiar to people from the tribe of Joseph, was also used to illustrate the virtue of Bellerophon. The Israelites had the following account about Joseph; “And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favored. (Ginzberg, from “Legends of the Jews” puts it this way; “Joseph was of ravishing beauty, and the wife of his master was filled with invincible passion for him.”) And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. But he refused, … And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out. … And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home. And she spoke unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me: And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out. And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled.” (Gen. 39:7-19) Now, notice the similarities in structure, detail, and order, that we get from the very ancient Homeric account concerning the “mythical” Bellerophon; “To Bellerophon the gods granted beauty and desirable manhood; … Beautiful Anteia the wife of Proetus was stricken with passion to lie in love with him, and yet she could not beguile valiant Bellerophon, whose will was virtuous. So she went to Proetus the king and uttered her falsehood : ‘… Bellerophon who tried to lie with me in love, though I was unwilling.’ So she spoke, and anger took hold of the king at her story.” (Homer, Iliad 6. 144 ff), remarkably coincidental indeed for two supposedly unrelated stories.
The Exodus from Egypt was accompanied by an aerial phenomenon, the pillar of cloud and fire flew around in the sky and accomplished many of the major miracles of the story. That is why the Greek myths have Perseus, the “mythical” Moses, flying around on winged sandals as he accomplished his fabulous tasks. The defeat of the Amorites by Joshua was also an aerial manifestation “‘Yahweh cast down great stones from heaven upon them’ more died from hailstones than Israel slew with the sword.” (Joshua 10:11). That is why the Greek myths have Bellerophon, the “mythical” Joshua, flying around on the winged horse Pegasus as he accomplished his fabulous tasks. The two airborne incidents were considered to be related by the Jews as well, for according to Ginzberg’s research, “The hot hailstones which, at Moses’ intercession, had remained suspended in the air when they were about to fall upon the Egyptians, were now cast down upon the Canaanites.” (“Legends of the Jews”). The character known as Pegasus was apparently developed as a symbolic poetic devise that was specifically designed to link the two stories, the Danaan tale of Perseus to that of the Corinthian story of Bellerophon. Accordingly we can find the links between Moses and Joshua integrated throughout the “myth” of Pegasus.
Because of the way in which the Greek myths depict the winged horse Pegasus as having been born, not just of Medusa, but from her spilt blood, the result of the successful quest of Perseus, it may be surmised that Bellerophon, the rider of Pegasus, owed his miraculous conquering abilities, as well as his commission, to the famous act of Perseus. This mythological point has it’s Scriptural parallel in that Moses had turned over to Joshua the “reins of power,” so to speak, for the conquest of Canaan (Num.27:15-23; Deut.31:7-8,23; Josh.3:7-10). But why did Moses have to give up his office to Joshua’ We are told in the Scriptures that Moses would have been allowed to lead the people to the promised land except for one thing, he had committed the sin of presumptuous arrogance when he struck a rock to produce a spring.
Pegasus (whose name means, “of the springs,” or wells) was more than once associated with the wonderful creation of springs by striking rocks at certain mountains. The spring Hippocrene miraculously sprang from a rock that laid below Mount Helicon, the mountain of the Muses, (That’s Muses not Moses, they both had a mountain where a rock was struck to produce a spring and both were attributed with inspired writing, but the gender, the number, and the spelling, were all different. I’ll explain their relationship, but it will have to wait until a future article.) when Pegasus struck the rock with his hoof. Here quoting Hyginus, “Pegasus, offspring of Poseidon and the Gorgon Medusa, who on Helicon, a mountain of Boeotia, opened up a spring by striking the rock with his hoof. From him the spring is called Hippocrene (Horse Fountain).” (Astronomica 2. 18). Strabo tells us the equivalent, “The same horse (Pegasus), it is said, caused Hippocrene to spring up on Helicon when he struck with his hoof the rock that lay below that mountain.” (Geography 8. 6. 20). Also, there is the very Moses like story about how the rider of Pegasus was not allowed to enter Olympus when he was thrown from the back of the winged horse. “Bellerophon ‘after the creation of the spring, as he was attempting to fly to heaven, and had almost reached it, he became terrified looking down at the earth, and fell off and was killed.” (Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 18) Notice here that striking the rock is connected to the denial of entrance to the “sacred” place. And also see how there was a lofty vision of the earth just before the hero died. “And Yahweh spoke unto Moses that selfsame day, saying, Get thee up into this mountain’ and behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession: And die in the mount whither thou goest up,’ Because ye trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah’ Yet you shall see the land before thee; but you shall not go thither'” (Deut. 32:48-52) Also, from Hyginus again, “When Bellerophon had come ‘ riding on Pegasus, and he is said to have fallen in the Aleian plains and to have dislocated his hip.” (Fabulae 57). “And as to Levi he said: ‘ put to the test at Massah. You began to contend with him by the waters of Meribah, ‘Wound severely in their hips those who rise up against him, ‘that they may not rise up.” (Deut 33:8-11) Note the odd detail of the injured hip received for rising up.
This entire series of similar motifs leads me to believe that this part of the Greek myth is, although somewhat garbled, a version of the story of the Levite Moses, who following divine instructions, had struck a rock at mount Sinai with his rod miraculously forming a spring. Then later he tried it again without following the instructions and because of this he was not allowed to enter the promised land. This was why he had to commission Joshua to take over the leadership of Israel in his stead. Presumptuous arrogance was the error and the moral of the story in each case. “Pegasus winged high threw down to earth his lord Bellerophon, who thought to reach the abodes of heaven, and share the company of Zeus. Sweets gained un-rightly await an end most bitter.” (Pindar, Isthmian Ode 7. 44 ff). It should perhaps be pointed out at this juncture that it was not only Moses but Aaron, Miriam and the entire generation of complainers that were “bucked” off on the way of the wells to the promised land. Contrary to the Bellerophon myth, Joshua and Caleb were the only two people allowed to complete the journey.
For more articles by John R. Salverda on the Hebraic Connections of Greek Mythology, see: