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Middle East Abeja Dispatch

The Head of a Lion? The Body of a Goat? The Tail of What?!
February 9, 2000

Where's Pegasus?! Yo! Winged horse! Jazzy and I want to go up to see the Chimera, that eternal flame up on the hill. You know what I'm talking about, right? You flew up there with that young murderer-turned-hero Bellerophontes on your back, when the Chimera was still a horrible beast. You saw it, right, while dodging its fiery breath?

So tell me the truth, Pegasus, did the Chimera have a lion's front, a goat's middle and a snake's tail? Or did it have the heads of all three beasts, and some strange mixture of body parts , as other versions of the story would lead us to believe. Come on! Fess up! Kids around the world are reading my dispatch, and inquiring minds want to know!

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Well, fine then, I'll just have to go ask the gods of Olimpos , next door. And Jasmine and I can walk up the hill, through the beautiful pine forest, in the Mediterranean sun. We don't need your mighty wings, we have trekker legs!

I promise I'm not losing my mind. We're really here! Blue waters, pebble beaches , and the small Turkish village of Cirali mark the spot on the Mediterranean coast where the story of the Chimera takes place. For the next few weeks, Jasmine and I will be visiting many places that are famous from Greek history and mythology-including the Odyssey! The entire Mediterranean and Aegean coastline of Turkey is dotted with ancient fishing villages that were once cities in some of the ancient kingdoms of Homer's classics. I really wish I'd paid more attention in Ms. Baginski's 11th grade mythology class!

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At the foot of the mountain, right off the beautiful beach and along both sides of a rocky green valley, are the ruins of the town of Olimpos. This was the ancient capital of the Lycian kingdom, which is central to this story. Nearby is Uludag mountain, which was once called Mt. Olimpos-you know, where the Gods live! Now it's an expensive ski resort . Maybe the Odyssey will pay for me to go…it's all in the name of research, after all!

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The myth of the Chimera originates from Anatolia, the Asian part of Turkey, but then the Greeks came and made it their own. Since it is a really old story, there are a lot of versions that don't all agree with one another. But as Jasmine and I work our way up this big hill to see the Chimera, I'll tell you my own version, and you'll just have to compare it with the one you learn.

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It all starts off rather tragically. This guy Bellerophontes, who is the son of the king of Ephyras, kills someone. Some say it was his brother, Belleros, and that the name Bellerophontes means "He who ate Belleros" - but I think that's sick, so we'll just say it was an accident, ok, and we'll call him 'B' for short. After all, this guy is the hero of our story, not some cannibalistic psychopath.

After being exiled for a while, King Proetus, of the neighboring kingdom of Tiryns, forgives him and welcomes him into his home. But then the king's wife Stheneboea (yes, Stheneboea) wants a little more than just friendly dinner conversation with our young hero, if you know what I mean. Now, of course, this is just a story, and nobody REALLY knows what happened, but they say that he turned her down (with a name like Stheneboea, it must be hard to get a date) . So Stheneboea (geez, I can't even pronounce it!) told her husband that it was really 'B' who made a pass at her. The drama, the intrigue! What's a hospitable king to do? He wants to kill 'B', but it would be such bad manners, after being such a good host! So King Proetus writes a letter to his father-in-law, King Iobates of Lycia, (the one who gave poor Stheneboea that awful name, I suppose). The letter says, ""Dear Iobates, please do me a favor and kill the person who hands you this." Then he asks 'B' to deliver the letter to the king in Lycia for him.

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And that, my friends, is where we are right now, in the heart of Lycia, where King Iobates lived. There is one little problem about this story though, even before we get to flying horses and multi-headed fire-breathing monsters , that lets us know that this isn't really true. You see, when the Lycian kingdom existed, around 1200-600 BCE, no one in this part of the world knew how to write! Ok, maybe there was some way to tally up merchandise, since they were traders, but that's it. Letters, therefore, were also non-existent. Messages could only be delivered verbally. So, even though the sanity of our young psychopath-I-mean-hero- has already been questioned, I really doubt that he went to the king and said "Kill me, dude."


metamorphosis- a complete change of form, structure, or substance
volcanic - pertaining to or produced by a volcano
combustion- the act of process of burning
emit - to send forth, to issue
methane - a colorless, odorless, flammable gas, CH4

Anyway, King 'Io' doesn't feel that murder is an appropriate way to show hospitality, either. Instead, he wines and dines young 'B,' and gets to know him a bit. What he finds is that our murderer-turned-hero is a proud man, who's always up for a challenge. The Lycian kingdom has always had a little pest problem, you see. King 'Io' explains to 'B' that the Chimera is directly related to other mythical pests like the many-headed Hydra, and Cerberus, watchdog of Hades. And that no one has been able to kill him, yet. "Please!" He begs of 'B,' "Will you slay the horrible Chimera?" Of course, what he's thinking is more like: "Hey, stupid! Why don't you go climb that mountain and get yourself killed?"

So what is this stuff, anyway?

The exact composition of gas coming out of the rocks is unknown, because it is combusting and is already mixed with air when it comes out. Basically, though, it contains some methane , and scientists think that it is "metamorphic," not "volcanic" or "organic" in origin. What I think that means is that it is emitted from a slow, natural chemical reaction in the rocks below. I don't have the luxury of having Mr. Cooper, my life sciences teacher, right down the hall anymore! Maybe one of you can ask what that means and get back to me, ok? Anyway, this is what the sign says it is:

O2 9.2%
N2 32.64%
CO2 0.05%
Cl 57.57%
C2 0.16%
C3 0.05%
iC4 0.03%
NC4 0.04%
iC5 0.03%
Nc5 0.03%
g 13CH4 -11.64%

Until I get word from you, though, I'm just going to continue to believe that the fire comes from a horrible monster who's been turned into a mound of molten lead , ok?

'B' rises to the challenge, and heads out. With little bits of advice from the gods of Olimpos, he goes prepared. First, he returns to Corinth, where he befriended the mighty Pegasus as a child. After getting a spear made with a big blob of lead on the tip, he finds his old friend, the flying horse, and heads back to Lycia.

I'm sure, on the back of Pegasus, it didn't take 'B' anywhere near as long as it's taking us to climb this huge hill! I bet the battle was fierce and exciting, too, but you're just going to have to go read the classics to get all the action-packed details. Let's just say that, when the lead tipped spears hit the fire in the Chimera's mouth, it wasn't a pretty sight. Imagine molten lead slowly running down its throat and then re-solidifying. Yuck.

So that's the end of the ancient Chimera's story, but not of ours. Jasmine and I, along with our new friend Will, know that we're getting close. There are the rubbly ruins of the Temple of Hephaestos (also known as Vulcan) the god of fire , and the ruins of an old Christian church built on top of that. I scramble up the ruins to the top, hoping to be the first one to see the Chimera. I am! "Over there!" I point, and Will and Jasmine head that way. "And there!" I see another. "And there!"

Behind me, a valley opens downwards, and we can see the Mediterranean in the distance. But right in front of me is the miracle--a large rocky area, with dozens of little holes, black from soot, with fire coming out of them. This is the Chimera, the eternal flame that the Olympic torch is said to represent, the Yanartash, or 'burning rock,' in Turkish.

We run around finding new ones. I try to blow the big ones out, but they just light back up, like those trick birthday candles . Some of the smaller holes are out, and Will re-lights them with his lighter. We toast the cookies Jasmine brought, and wish we had marshmallows to make S'mores!

It is said that they used to be much bigger and brighter, and ships could use the Chimera for navigation. Smaller now, perhaps, but it's still a miracle. Flames coming out of rock. In a world full of such magic, it's no wonder fabulous myths were told. If I can see a rock eternally on fire, I can believe in Pegasus, too!

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For more details on the legend of the Chimera, check out this site:

Also, check


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Jasmine - Anatolia: Spirits of Old and New
Andrew - Turkish Torture
Kavitha - Seeds of a Revolution
Monica - The City Mouse and the Country Mouse

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