Pegasus: History of Horses

 Pegasus depited in ancient art
Patricia Crane Logo A history of the famous winged horse, written by John Reismiller.

Origins of Pegasus

Pegasus was the son of the god Poseidon, and the Gorgon Medusa. He sprung by his father's command from the blood of the Medusa's head. Some blood dropped into the sea's white foam, Pegasus arose and took the form of a horse because Poseidon had been in that shape at the time of his seduction of Medusa. Pegasus' name means the "springs of the sea", because he was born from the blood which fell into it.

Pegasus was raised by the Muses of Mt. Helicon. Athena caught him, gave him wings the color of alabaster, and tamed him with her magic bridle,. The fountain Hippocrene on the Muses' sacred mountain of Helicon was opened by a kick from his hoof. Whatever earth Pegasus struck with his hoof caused the fountain of inspiration to flow. Urania, the Muse of Astronomy, and Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, showed the most interest in the young nurturing years of Pegasus.  Together, they predicted fhis future heroic deeds and Urania prophesied the eventual elevation of Pegasus to the stars. Aphrodite grieved the most when Bellerophon, at Athena's beckoning, came to take Pegasus away from Mt. Helicon.

Pegasus was a friendly fellow and became a kind of an ambassador between Earth and Olympus. He loved to frolic around, often in the heavenly fields, at times on the earthly plains, and frequently glided over the waters from which he had been born. During a singing contest between the Pierises, devotees of Orpheus, and the Muses, Mount Helicon swelled with pleasure. Poseidon commanded Pegasus to strike the mountain with his hoof to return it to its normal size. Mount Helicon obeyed, but at the spot where Pegasus struck there gushed a spring; the Hippocrene or Horse Spring. It was said to have divine power in its waters, If one were to drink from the waters, one would be gifted with the art of poetry.

Bellerophon meets Pegasus

When he turned sixteen, the youth Bellerophon (the eventual rider of Pegasus) longed for daring adventures and set out to find them. Along his journey he met Proteus who pretended friendship but was insanely jealous of Bellerophon and sought to cause his death. Proteus was the son-in-law of Lobates, King of Lycia. Slyly acting as a friend, Proteus gave Bellerophon a sealed message to carry to King Lobates.

Upon his arrival in Lycia, Bellerophon found that terror was spreading throughout the countryside. Each night, a monster called the Chimera with the head of a lion and the tail of a dragon swept down upon the land and carried off women, children, and livestock. The bones of his many victims lay strewn along the mountainside. The population lived in mortal fear.

When Lobates read the letter Bellerophon had delivered, he found that Proteus requested Bellerophon be put to death. Though he wanted to please his son-in-law, he knew that the killing of the youth would cause war with the Corinthians. Lobates knew that if he tricked Bellerophon by counting on the youth's thirst for daring and dangerous adventure, he was sure that he would never return alive.

Bellerophon, still longing for excitement, was not frightened by the idea of facing the monster. In fact, he was overjoyed with this chance to rid the people of Lycia from this horrible devastation.

Before he set out on his new adventure, Bellerophon sought the advice of Polyidus, the wisest man in Lycia. Impressed by the youth's courage, Polyidus told him of the legendary Pegasus. He urged him to spend a night in Athena's temple and offer her many gifts. In return, the goddess might help him procure Pegasus.

Bellerophon took his advice, and Athena appeared to him that night in a dream. She gave him her golden bridle and instructions for finding the well from which Pegasus drank. In the morning, Bellerophon awoke to find the golden bridle beside him. He knew that his dream had been real.

Bellerophon journeyed into the forest, locating the well of which Athena had spoken. He hid in the bushes. and when the Pegasus finally arrived, Bellerophon waited till Pegasus kneeled down to drink, at which time the youth jumped up from his hiding place, slipping the bridle onto Pegasus' head. Pegasus flew into the air, trying desperately to shake Bellerophon off. But Bellerophon, an accomplished horseman and skilled in the handling of fierce horses, was equal to the great horse's attempts to throw him, Pegasus now had a new master!

After a brief rest, Bellerophon set out to find the den where the Chimera dwelt. Armed with a long spear, he charged the Chimera. The Chimera exhaled a puff of its horrible fire. Pegasus darted backward to evade the burning breath. Before the Chimera could breathe again, Pegasus quickly advanced and Bellerophon drove the spear through the Chimera's heart.

When Bellerphon returned to the palace riding a steed with wings, carrying the head of the dreaded Chimera, all Lycia rejoiced. The people cheered the youth's bravery and that of the wonderful winged Pegasus which he rode. King Lobates gave his willing daughter to Bellerophon as a bride.

For years the couple was happy, and when Lobates died, Bellerophon took his place as King. But still Bellerophon sought greater adventures. Finally, he decided to ride up to Mount Olympus to visit the gods.

Mounting his Olympian steed, he urged Pegasus skyward, beyond the mountain-tops themselves! Zeus, displeased with Bellerophon's hubris to attempt to scale Mount Olympus, sent a gadfly to punish the mortal youth for daring to ascend to the home of the immortal gods. The fly stung Pegasus and so startled him that he suddenly reared and Bellerophon was hurled off of his back and plummeted to the ground.

Athena spared his life by causing him to land on soft ground. But for the rest of his life, Bellerophon traveled, lonely and crippled, in search of his marvelous Olympian horse, Pegasus, now lost forever.

After Pegusus threw Bellerophon down to the Earth, Pegasus, then without a rider, became the Thundering steed of Zeus and carrier of the divine lightning.

Afterwards, Zeus honored Pegasus by placing him in the Heavens as a constellation, where he can be seen today.

The Muses, who had cared for Pegasus when he lived with them on Mt. Helicon, now knew his greatness had been at last realized. Urania and Aphrodite had prophesied that Pegasus would be elevated to the stars.

Pegasus, the Constellation

Location of Pegaus in the heavens.

Pegasus is a northern constellation, named after the mythological Pegasus. It is one of the 88 modern constellations, and was also one of the 48 constellations listed by Ptolemy. Its three brightest stars together with Alpha Andromeda form the large asterism known as the Square of Pegasus. A star in this constellation, 51 Pegasi, is orbited by the first true extrasolar planets (planets orbiting a star other than the Sun) to have been discovered. Neighboring constellations: Vulpecula - Delphinus - Equuleus - Aquarius - Pisces - Andromeda - Lacerta - Cygnus.

Pegasus is "home" to the globular cluster of stars M15 and M15 is one of the brightest in the sky. It lies slightly northwest of the "head" of Pegasus. which is made of the star Enif.

About a dozen galaxies are within Pegasus, the brightest being NGC7331. It is located north of Pegasus' "knees".

In the early evenings of October, and later in earlier months, look straight up at the zenith and measure one palm-width to the south and one to the east; you will find the Great Square of Pegasus. Confusingly,  Pegasus flies upside down. The southwestern-most of the stars of the square is white Markab. Its neighboring corners are deep yellow Scheat and fainter white Algenib. You can probably make out the the head, neck and front legs of Pegasus extending to the west.

October 20 1995, two Swiss astronomers, Didier Queloz and Michael Mayor discovered a sun star that was a twin of the sun in our solar system. Around this sun star they found an orbiting planet. This was confirmed by Geoffrey Marcy and Paul Butler of San Francisco State University. This had never happened before. The discovery was called 51 Peg in the constellation Pegasus, in the sign of Aquarius.

Notes of Interest:

All copyrights to "Hail to the Chief", written by Jack Reismiller, remain with the author.

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Photo Credits:
Top photo from Museum Collection: The J Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, Californnia, USA

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© All Photos and Sculpture Copyright 2000 - 2017, Patricia Crane.