Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Mythological Monster of the Month: Chimera

December’s Roman Calendar Feature

The 2019–2020 Roman Calendar features twelve mythical monsters from the 2019 edition of Martia Dementia, Bolchazy-Carducci’s annual spring bracket tournament. Visit us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and our blog) for announcements regarding the 2020 Martia Dementia.

This month’s creature is the Chimera, a deadly beast composed of parts of other animals. Descriptions of the Chimera vary, but it is often described as having the head of a lion, the tail of a snake, and extending from its back the head of a goat. The term “chimera” has come to mean figuratively something illusory, or a hybrid animal or other organism.

Chimera by Pintoricchio (Bernardino di Betto, 1454–1513)
(© Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported/Sailko)
 As noted in September’s feature on Argus, Pintoricchio (1454–1513), whose name means “little painter” in Italian, was a Renaissance painter known for his frescoes. Though his real name was Bernardino di Betto, he acquired the nickname Pintoricchio due to his short stature. This image is taken from the Ceiling of the Demigods in the Palazzo dei Penitenzieri in Rome. The ceiling features 63 mythological figures.

Bellerophon killing the Chimera (fourth-century BCE Roman mosaic)
(Public Domain)

This Roman mosaic, now in the collection of the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes, features the hero Bellerophon astride Pegasus as he kills the Chimera. Homer describes the monster thus (Iliad 6.180–183):

180      ... ἣ δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἔην θεῖον γένος οὐδ᾽ ἀνθρώπων,
            πρόσθε λέων, ὄπιθεν δὲ δράκων, μέσση δὲ χίμαιρα,
            δεινὸν ἀποπνείουσα πυρὸς μένος αἰθομένοιο,
            καὶ τὴν μὲν κατέπεφνε θεῶν τεράεσσι πιθήσας.

She was of divine stock, not of men, in the fore part a lion, in the hinder a serpent, and in the midst a goat, breathing forth in terrible wise the might of blazing fire. And Bellerophon slew her, trusting in the signs of the gods.
translation in Homer: The Iliad with an English Translation by A. T. Murray

The Chimera of Arezzo (ca. 400 BCE) (© Creative Commons 2.0/Carole Raddato)

The Chimera of Arezzo, located in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence, is a famous Etruscan bronze sculpture that corresponds to Homer’s description of the Chimera. It may have belonged to a sculpture group depicting Bellerophon slaying the Chimera.
The Epicurean philosopher Lucretius (a favorite of B-C founder Lou Bolchazy) includes the Chimera in a list of mythological monsters whose supposed attributes make their existence impossible (De Rerum Natura 5.901–6):

            flamma quidem vero cum corpora fulva leonum
            tam soleat torrere atque urere quam genus omne
            visceris in terris quod cumque et sanguinis extet,
            qui fieri potuit, triplici cum corpore ut una,
905      prima leo, postrema draco, media ipsa, Chimaera
            ore foras acrem flaret de corpore flammam?

And how could there be the chimaera—a creature that has three different bodies combined in one (a lion up front, a goat in the middle, and a snake behind) and breathes hot flames from its belly—since any animal that is made up of flesh and blood, including the yellow lion, will be consumed by fire?
translation in Lucretius: The Nature of the Universe by G. B. Cobbold

The Chimera presents several opportunities for classroom discussion in Latin:
  • Introduce or review the Latin terms for animals and body parts. Ask students to draw and label the body parts of animals, or provide pictures. Depending on the level of the class, the teacher may supply a word bank or ask students to list the words that they remember in groups or as a class.
  •  Describe the Chimera as a picture talk, or begin with a drawing dictation after review of some key vocabulary. Narration can be quite simple: “Pingite monstrum, quod habet tria corpora. Prima pars monstri est leo ferocissimus! Id est, hoc monstrum habet caput leonis. . . .” After students have drawn their monsters, they can share their drawings in pairs and point out the different body parts and components (tantum Latine). Then, the teacher can reveal the different artistic representations, and students can compare with their drawings of the Chimera.
  • Preview or review the genitive of possession. As appropriate for the class, provide the genitive forms of various animals and remind students of the genitive endings of each declension.

—Laurel Draper, Editor

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