Pegasus is a mythological creature described as a beautiful, pure white stallion with wings. He was born from the blood of Medusa, a frightful Gorgon whose gaze could turn men to stone, when the hero Perseus decapitated her.
The moment Pegasus was born he flew to Mount Olympus and placed himself in the service of the chief God, Zeus. For a time, he lived among the gods and bore Zeus’ thunderbolt. Other tales claim that Pegasus served Eos, the goddess of the dawn.
Pegasus is associated with poetry, and in one tale he was tamed by the goddess Athena and presented to the Muses. These nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne the goddess of memory represent the arts, including music and poetry. It was said that whenever Pegasus’ hoof struck a place on the earth a spring would bubble up, and this was how he created the fountain Hippocrene to appear on Mount Helicon. This spring became the fountain of the Muses.
One story claims that when the Muses began to sing the very mountain itself started to rise up with joy, and Poseidon told Pegasus to kick it to make it stop. This was what caused the spring to appear. Other wells and springs that are said to have sprung forth when Pegasus struck the earth were those at Peirene and Troezene.
In one tale, Pegasus bore Perseus on his back when he went to save the Ethiopian princess Andromeda, who was chained to a rock to be a sacrifice for a sea monster. In another version of the story, Perseus did not ride Pegasus at all but flew via winged sandals. Perseus slew the sea monster and later married the princess.
Pegasus is also paired with the hero Bellerophon, who was a son of Poseidon and therefore Pegasus’ half-brother. Bellerophon had been wanting to tame the horse for a long time but had never been able to catch him. Finally, he went to Corinth and found a soothsayer named Polyidus, who told him to sleep in the temple of Athena. As he slept, Bellerophon dreamt that Athena came to him and offered him a golden bridle, which was actually there beside him when he woke up. Later, he came upon Pegasus as he was drinking from the well he had himself had brought into being at Peirene. Bellerophon slipped the bridle on the horse, and tamed him. In other versions, Athena put the bridle on Pegasus and tamed him on Bellerophon’s behalf.
Together, Bellerophon and Pegasus fought the Chimera, a fire-breathing monster that had a lion’s head, a goat’s body and a serpent’s tail. Pegasus and Bellerophon also fought the Solymoi, a fierce tribe who lived in Asia Minor and the Amazons, a race of warrior women who lived on the outskirts of the world known to the Greeks.
This list of victories made Bellerophon arrogant, and he decided one day to ride Pegasus to Mount Olympus to take his place among the gods there. This angered Zeus, who sent a gadfly to bite Pegasus. The winged horse shied and Bellerophon fell off. As he was semi-divine the fall didn’t kill him, but he was cursed to wander the earth. In other versions of the story, Pegasus caught on to Bellerophon’s ambition and tossed him off his back himself and continued on to Mount Olympus. In still other versions, Bellerophon simply fell off the horse’s back because he grew faint-headed.
Zeus rewarded the winged stallion by placing him among the stars. The constellation Pegasus is a fairly large constellation that can be seen in the northern and southern hemispheres in August. Pegasus has been represented throughout the millennia in painting and sculpture. He is on the logo of Mobil oil, and during the second World War the British Airborne Forces’ emblem was Pegasus with Bellerophon on his back.
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