Chimera referenced in Hesiod’s seventh-century B.C. Theogony and featured in Homer’s the Iliad was a monstrous jumble of disparate parts: a lion in front a goat in the middle and a dragon or snake on the end. She breathed fire flew and ravaged helpless towns. In particular she terrorized Lycia an ancient maritime district in what is now southwest Turkey until the hero Bellerophon managed to lodge a lead-tipped spear in her throat and choke her to death.
Of all the fictional monsters Chimera may have had the strongest roots in reality. Several later historians including Pliny the Elder argue that her story is an example of a “euhemerism” when ancient myth might have corresponded to historical fact. In Chimera’s case the people of Lycia may have been inspired by nearby geological activity at Mount Chimera a geothermally active area where methane gas ignites and seeps through cracks in the rocks creating little bursts of flames.
“You can go take a hike there today and people boil their tea on top of these little spurts of geological activity” Zimmerman says.
For ancient Greeks who told stories about the monster Chimera’s particular union of dangerous beasts and the domestic goat represented a hybrid contradictory horror that mirrored the way women were perceived as both symbols of domesticity and potential threats. On one hand writes Zimmerman Chimera’s goat body “carries all the burdens of the home protects babies … and feeds them from her body.” On the other her monstrous elements “roar and cry and breathe fire.”
She adds “What [the goat] adds is not new strength but another kind of fearsomeness: the fear of the irreducible of the unpredictable.”
Chimera’s legend proved so influential that it even seeped into modern language: In scientific communities “chimera” now refers to any creature with two sets of DNA. More generally the term refers to a fantastical figment of someone’s imagination.