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.......Curiosity Corner .......

THE CHIMERA

Although this fabulous monster has not yet appeared in British heraldry, and is rare in continental Europe, it has a genuine armorial identity that will allow its future employment on shields, as crests, and as supporters, if and when the kings-of-arms so wish.

However, while historians can agree upon its biographical details, there is no consensus on its physical description, a failing that may be owed to the dangers of approaching the beast, and the risk of cremation by its fiery breath.

single-headed Chimera
The Chimera of Arezzo,
Etruscan art of the 4th Century BC ~
here it has the body of a lion with a serpent for a tail and a goat’s head growing from its back.
three-headed Chimera
The simplest version of the many descriptions of this monster is that depicted by an Etruscan sculptor and shown above. Other near-contemporary reports give it the head and forequarters of a lion, the trunk of a goat and the rear quarters of a dragon. This explains accounts of a dragon’s tail in the place of the serpent.

However, the consistency of the chimera comprising parts of three beasts has led some writers to insist that it has three heads, as shown here on the left, where it supposedly possesses the heads of a lion, a goat and a dragon (and the cloven hooves of the goat, the rear paws of the lion, and the serpent tail) ~ all of which might persuade an independent observer that the artist’s perception was wholly imaginary.

A few commentators have insisted that the chimera is female, perhaps because some of the early representations gave it (together with a goat’s body, the legs of a lion and the tail of a dragon) the head and breasts of a beautiful woman, but at least one respected antiquary has observed that although the face is that of “a sweet maiden”, a glance at the rear of the body reveals that it is most certainly not at all feminine.
The first record of one of these monsters tells of its reign of terror in Lycia, on the southern coast of Anatolia, now Turkey. Bellerophon, mounted on Pegasus (his half-brother, sired by his father, Poseidon, on Medusa), was tasked with the destruction of the Lycian Chimera by the Lycian King Iobates, who thereby hoped to have him killed as (an unjust) punishment for attempting to seduce his daughter (who had lied). Bellerophon killed the beast with his javelin, thrown from the saddle, although some later accounts suggest he used arrows.

(How could the warrior Bellerophon have a horse, a winged horse, for a half-brother? Don’t ask! But if you wait a while you might learn more in a future article in Curiosity Corner.)




A Supplement on the Cockatrice

We wrote recently of the Cockatrice and its cousin the Basilisk.

arms featuring Cockatrice
The Editor has received letters from two journalists, members of a profession whose practitioners tend to believe nothing, both thanking him for the information published in Curiosity Corner. However, he has received also a letter of complaint from a film producer, a member of a profession that habitually believes anything and everything, insisting that The Curiosity Corner articles are unreliable. It went further. The writer stated that in particular the description of the Cockatrice was complete nonsense.

Accordingly, to refute this calumny, we publish here the arms of David Komnenos, Emperor of Trebizon, as recorded in the Wappenbuch of Conrad Grunenburg in 1483. (Perceptive readers will note that this is a young Cockatrice whose tail has not yet developed its barb.)

martlet icon
The Martlet featured in Curiosity Corner ~ 1
gryphon icon
The Gryphon (of Griffin) featured in Curiosity Corner ~ 2
cockatrice icon
The Cockatrice (and Basilisk) featured in Curiosity Corner ~ 3
dragon icon
The Dragon featured in Curiosity Corner ~ 4
The Raven featured in Curiosity Corner ~ 5
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The Baronage Content Page March-April 2000
© 2000 The Baronage Press and Pegasus Associates Ltd
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