The impossible monster. The ancient chimera had the head of a lion, she-goat, and serpent, with the wings of a dragon erupting from it's back. More modern descriptions can include any monster that is un-natural melding together of multiple beasts, usually predators.
"She was a most singular portent, a lion in front, a serpent behind, a goat in between…
A fearful creature, great and swift of foot and strong,
Whose breath was flame unquenchable."
– Edith Hamilton, Mythology
This excerpt, describing the classical chimera, tells us much. First and foremost, a chimera is something singular. A defining characteristic of any chimera is its unlikely existence. It is a creature that, once encountered, is impossible to forget, and yet, impossible to describe.
The first description ever recorded was by Homer. He described it as a creature with a lion's head, a she-goat's body, and a serpent as a tail. Later descriptions by Hesiod and recent zoologists claim it is three-headed, still representing the lion, goat, and serpent. Sometimes the serpent's aspect includes the wings of a dragon. The idea that it is three-headed may have basis in another claim that the chimera was the offspring of the legendary monsters Typhon and Echidna. Those two birthed the well-known hellhound Cerberus. All agree that the original chimera was female.
Finally, we note that a chimera is something to be feared. It is equipped with the strengths of multiple great predators. In addition, it has the fire-breath of dragons, described as "flame unquenchable". Some say you can travel to modern day Yanartaş in Turkey to witness the eternal fires from below the earth that gave birth to the chimera. That region was once called Lycia, and was home to a volcano which had snakes infesting the base, goats grazing on the hillside, and lion's dens at the fiery summit. It was there that the original chimera sprang forth.
Bellerophon, Pegasus, and the Chimera
There is a famous story of a hero named Bellerophon. Using a magic, golden bridle given to him by the gods, he was able to tame the legendary horse Pegasus. Pegasus was equipped with wings, and could fly as fast as the wind. The horse eventually went on to live amongst the gods and serve Zeus directly, but that is a story for another day.
After angering a king (as many heroes do), Bellerophon was asked to slay the ancient Chimera. In this way the king hoped to kill him indirectly, since he was bound by Hospitium not to murder him outright.
Mounted upon Pegasus, Bellerophon soared through the air and was able to easily mitigate the Chimera's attacks, shooting it with arrows from the sky. In this way, he slayed the beast. This is the reason you will often find ancient depictions of chimeras paired with depictions of the winged-horse Pegasus.
The modern chimera
In the centuries that have passed since Bellerophon defeated the original chimera, this creature has evolved to become something even more dangerous. We must now think of it more as an adjective; a chimerical thing. A modern chimera is an impossible monster. It is any combination of things that go against the natural order, of multiple animals and predatory aspects smashed together. A "chimera" may even be defined as a figment of the imagination, given how difficult it is to hold in the mind's eye.
For examples look to the virus named "chimera" created by Biocyte Pharmaceuticals, the monstrosities encountered by the Fullmetal Alchemist, and the beasts at the Tower of Latria or the depths of Blackwing.
Though the modern chimera is ever-evolving, it will always remain an impossible predator.
Written by Giles Ravensong.