Bellerophon the Mighty

by Ross Crawford

My name is Bellerophon, but you are forgiven if you have never heard of me. In my day, I was a great hero, but I have been erased from history within my own lifetime.

Raised with larger-than-life stories of great heroes, I longed to be one myself. My favourite was Perseus, slayer of Medusa. I marvelled at his bravery, his martial skill, his wits. But as I approached adulthood, I increasingly began to doubt my idol. For one, his task was not completed alone. Ever the favourite of the Gods, Perseus was crutched upon divine gifts to complete his deadly task: a cap of invisibility, winged sandals, and the sword of Zeus himself. With such trinkets, how could he possibly fail? Where was his innate heroism?

As soon as I was old enough (in truth, younger than that) I left the comfortable confines of my family home to make a name for myself in the world – to be the envy of all and inspire a new generation. And rather than merely follow my childhood hero, I determined to surpass him.

With such burning ambition, sure enough, my deeds far outshone his within a few short months. And all achieved with nothing save my own intellect and strength! Other talents too, like patience, with which I tamed the magnificent winged stallion, Pegasus. Together, we slew the Chimera, routed the fierce Amazons, destroyed a horde of dread pirates marauding south of Lycia, and many other grand adventures.

For these exploits, the people vaunted me, even over the mighty Perseus. Stories of brave and bold Bellerophon now abounded. I wanted to repay their adulation and love. For centuries, the Gods have toyed with man, seeing us as little more than playthings for their amusement. Firestorms and floods were unleashed simply for the spectacle, but in the process making an already wretched world unbearable for many. I pledged to end this torment and sought an audience with the Gods on Olympus, to beseech for justice, and to improve the lot of the common man. Before acting so rashly, I should have considered the fate of Prometheus, but I was young and emboldened by my triumphs, and I carried hope with me.

So, Pegasus and I took flight one last time. We arced through the sky, the tips of his wings gracing the clouds, and soon, Olympus drew near. An agitated whinny from Pegasus warned of danger ahead, but I took no heed.

A bright flash from the mountain top, a bolt thrown faster than sight. Searing pain in my chest. I tumbled backwards off Pegasus. Spiralling sickeningly over and over, I caught glimpses of my winged friend gliding on towards the mountain without me. To join his new master. I blacked out before the final, shattering impact.

I had left for Olympus a golden hero, and returned to earth a helpless cripple.

My adoring fans were quick to dissociate with one so lacking in the necessary hubris. They were understandably fearful that the Gods’ wrath was not yet over. So, I was outcast, a marked man. Lepers received greater hospitality, and even my own sister refused me shelter. I was forced to retreat to the corners, and watch a new generation of would-be heroes emerge. My envy at their youthful agility and strength was mixed with genuine concern for their well-being, but none of them listened to this old invalid. Most paid a premature visit to Hades, and I mourned every one of the poor fools.

Yet to challenge the Gods I was the greatest fool of all, I see that now. We are not their equals, and their whims are law. Years of solitude allows for such reflection, but make no mistake, at first I raged at the uncaring cruelty of these all-powerful beings, matched against my own interminable convalescence. My mind became a boiling pit of hate, and pursuit by the Furies would have been welcomed, if only as distraction. Before consumed outright by madness, I came to a timely realisation. My survival had been no miraculous accident: the thunderbolt and the fall should have been more than sufficient to cut the thread of my life, yet I persisted, frayed and wizened, but alive. This had to be the Gods’ doing. And why would they prolong my miserable life? Clearly, I was to learn the lesson of humility, bluntly imparted by my paralysis. The Gods’ lessons are rarely subtle.

I now live a nameless hermit on the outskirts of Pamphylia, on the edge of the world, a place even the Gods may struggle to reach. Sometimes, lone pilgrims take pity and stop by on their journey west to Delphi. I ask for news of the Gods and heroes. They speak earnestly of Perseus’ great deeds: how he rode Pegasus, and defeated the Chimera, the Amazons, the pirates, and more.

The name of Bellerophon is never heard, even in passing, but I do not protest, nor do I reveal my identity. Perseus and the rest are welcome to my triumphs, as they brought me nothing but misfortune. I suppose Perseus will later be replaced by some other hero – a sad but comforting thought. Stories are nothing but words, and words are of little use to the dead. Men (and it is always men, never women) speak of posthumous fame as equal to immortality, yet what good is eternal life if you’re not alive to enjoy it? Famed heroes invariably die young – it’s an occupational hazard. I for one have grown to appreciate obscurity and fully embrace the long-life it offers.

In what I imagine are my last few years on this earth, I have begun planting olive trees in a valley not far from my hovel. A kindly young shepherd from the mountains carries me there on his back. One day, long after my death, an orchard will grow here, the seeds sown by an unknown gardener, their name lost to the ceaseless march of time.