Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art

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Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art

By John Vinycomb

Chimerical Creatures of the Dragon and Serpent kind - The Chimera

An imaginary fire-breathing monster of great swiftness and strength, invented by the ancient Greek poets. Though mentioned by heraldic authorities, it is not met with in British coat armour; it is described as having the head, mane and legs of a 
lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a dragon. From this creature the term "chimerical" is applied to all such figures as have no other existence but in the imagination. It is represented upon the coins of Sycion during the Achæan League.

The origin of the story of the chimera is ascribed to a mountain in Lycia which had a volcano on its top and nourished lions; the middle part afforded pasture for goats, and the bottom was infested with serpents; according to Hesiod it had three heads, that of a lion, a goat, and a dragon. Bellerophon destroyed the monster by raising himself in the air on his winged steed Pegasus, and shooting it with his arrows.

"Amid the troops, and like the leading god,
 High o’er the rest in arms the graceful Turnus rode;
 A triple pile of plumes his crest adorned,
 On which with belching flames chimera burned:
 The more the kindled combat rises higher,
 The more with fury burns the blazing fire."
                           Virgil, Æneid, Book vii.

Phillip II. of Spain, after his marriage with Queen Mary of England, assumed as a device, Bellerophon fighting with the chimera, and the motto, "Hinc vigilo," the monster being intended by him for a type of England's heresies which he waited his time to destroy.

The family of Fada of Verona have for arms: Gules a winged chimera argent, the head and breasts carnation (or proper), and the wings and feet of an eagle. The illustration, however, has the head and breasts of a woman, and eagle's wings and feet, and makes it a different creature entirely, and should more properly be blazoned harpy.



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