I recently had the pleasure of staying in Chicago’s Palmer House hotel. To quote the plaque on the statue named Bella Rophan; “The focal point of our lobby elevator foyer is the dramatic bronze sculpture created in France in the mid 19th century.” The artist was Emile Herbert 1828-1893. “The piece depicts a mythical Greek Warrior on a bridle-free stallion. The fact that the horse is not tethered has been interrupted that the creature is the spirit of the wind and that the warrior simply along for the ride having no control over the winged steed.“ Which is odd because in Pindar, Olympian Ode 13 the poet states that “Till Pallas [Athena], goddess maid, brought him (Bellerophon) the bridle and golden headband.” I was reminded of the Helmet of Invisibility lent to Perseus, another flying hero.
The plaque continues with “ A curiosity of the work is the python around the warrior’s head, arms and hand. The inclusion of the serpent is puzzling and no explanation has been determined.” Looking at the statue from the back side I noticed that the body of the “python” as it trailed down the warrior’s back, grew stouter, wider and shaggier. I think most classicists would recognize this as the “Chimera, who snorted raging fire, a beast great and terrible, and strong and swift-footed. Her heads were three: one was that of a glare-eyed lion, one of a goat, and the third of a snake,” (Hesiod, Theogony 319) Apparently Bellerophon didn’t want to take the whole beast back as proof of the kill and chose to return to King Iobates of Lycia with the smallest of the three heads.
I thought the sculpture’s choice of weapons was interesting . Legend holds that the Chimera was slain with a lead-tipped lance shoved into the fire-breathing head or shot to death from above by Bellerophon astride the flying Pegasus with his bow and arrows. Instead the artist placed into the warriors hand and object to heavy and un-winged to be an arrow. Maybe the business end of a broken ashen shafted, bronze tipped spear. At first glance I was reminded of the double lotus blossom shape of Zeus’ lightning bolt, but that doesn’t really work either.