The Story of Pegasus: More than a Winged Horse

Pegasus is a creature from ancient Greek mythology often depicted as a majestic winged horse, said to have been born from the blood of the Gorgon Medusa when she was killed by the hero Perseus.

Pegasus is usually portrayed as a magnificent white horse with large wings attached to its back. These wings allowed Pegasus to fly with great speed and agility.

One of the most famous stories involving Pegasus is the tale of Bellerophon who managed to tame Pegasus with the help of a golden bridle given to him by the goddess Athena.

Who or What is Pegasus? Pegasus in Greek Mythology

While Pegasus is mostly characterized as a creature with the body parts of a horse, he was actually considered magical because of his beautiful wings. He is known to be created by Poseidon, the Greek sea god.

The Birth and Upbringing of Pegasus

There are many Greek gods, but the Greek god of the sea is not necessarily a god that you would relate to a creature that lives anywhere but the sea. Still, the ancient Greeks thought that when he created Pegasus, father Poseidon drew inspiration from waves that looked like horses’ manes.

Perseus and Medusa

Poseidon ‘created’ Pegasus in the sense that it didn’t really happen through the most biological means. So while you might say that he birthed Pegasus, that wouldn’t tell the whole story. A Greek hero Perseus was partly responsible for the creation of Pegasus.

At one point Perseus was deemed to be the perfect fit to battle the only gorgon that was considered mortal. She went by the name of Medusa.

While most beings would turn into stone by looking at Medusa, Perseus didn’t due to the special objects that other gods gave him such as Athena‘s reflective bronze shield, Hade‘s Cap of Invisibility (otherwise known as the Hade’s Helmet), Hermes‘ winged sandals, and Hephaestus‘ sword. He was actually capable of killing Medusa with a single swing of his sword when he found her in her cave. Unknowingly, Perseus would be the initiator of Pegasus’ birth.

After Medusa was killed, Perseus put her head away and eventually used it to kill the astronomical sea monster Cetus. But, the blood of Medusa would interact with the seawater in the cave (or, Poseidon), which would eventually lead to the birth of Pegasus.

Birthing by an interaction between blood and an entity like the sea is something that actually happens in several Greek myths. For example, Aphrodite and the Furies had a similar way of being born.

READ MORE: Aphrodite Family Tree: A Family of the Greek Goddess of Love

So, indeed, god Poseidon can be considered the father of Pegasus while Gorgon Medusa can technically be considered the mother.

Athena Tamed Pegasus on Mount Olympus

Because Poseidon was a mighty figure on Mount Olympus, Pegasus was allowed to live with him in the place where all Olympian gods reside.

Goddess Athena saw that Pegasus was indeed beautiful, but still a wild horse with its occasional tantrums. Therefore, the war goddess decided to tame Pegasus with a golden bridle.

Bellerophon, Zeus, and Pegasus

One particular story related to the myth of the flying horse is that one of Bellerophon.

Bellerophon was the son of Poseidon and the mortal Eurynome, but also a renowned hero. He was banned from Corinth after he murdered his brother. While desperately searching for a place to live, he eventually moved to Argos. However, Bellerophon would accidentally seduce the wife of the king of Argos: queen Anteia.

The hero Bellerophon was so thankful for being able to stay in Argos, however, that he would deny the presence of the queen. Anteia didn’t agree with it, so she made up a story about how Bellerophon tried to ravish her. Because of this, the king of Artos sent him to the kingdom of Lycia to see the father of Queen Ateia: King Iobates.

The Fate of Bellerophon

So, Bellerophon was sent away with the task to deliver a message to the king of Lycea. But what he didn’t know was that this letter would contain his own death sentence. Indeed, the letter explained the situation and said that Iobates should kill Bellerophon.

However, King Iobates felt bad for the Greek hero and wasn’t able to kill the young man himself. Instead, he decided to let something else decide the fate of Bellerophon. He gave the hero the task to kill a creature that destroyed the surroundings of Lycia. King Iobates assumed, however, that the creature would kill Bellerophon first.

Bellerophon was, after all, tasked with the killing of the Chimera: a fire-breathing monster with the head of a lion, a dragon, and a goat. After he got an idea of how powerful the monster was, Bellerophon knew that he had to pray to the war goddess Athena for advice.

Winged Horses to the Rescue

After praying to the goddess Athena, he obtained the very golden bridle that Athena used herself to tame Pegasus. Therefore, Pegasus allowed Bellerophon to mount on his back and ride him to the battle. While riding the flying horse, he was able to stab the monster and kill it.

Killing the monster was so easy that Bellerophon began to believe that he was a god himself and should gain a higher place, among Greek gods.

READ MORE: The Greek God Family Tree: A Complete Family Tree of All Greek Deities

Making Zeus Angry

Bellerophon rode Pegasus to the skies, higher and higher, searching for the mountain where all the gods reside. But, the ruler of all gods, Zeus, saw him coming, became very angry with the hero, and sent a huge fly to sting and disturb Pegasus. Once the fly stung the horse, he threw off his rider and Bellerophon fell down to earth and into his death.

The Springs of Pegasus

For many ancient Greeks, Pegasus was a highly inspiring figure. Mostly this was the case for ancient Greek poets. The bodies of water that would open when Pegasus was walking epitomize this very idea. In particular, the one on Mount Helicon is a spring the Pegasus is most famous for.

Pegasus and the Muses

Pegasus was believed to be very thoroughly linked to figures that are known as the personifications of the arts and knowledge in ancient Greek mythology. The nine sisters go by the name of the Muses. It is believed that without them, there would be a distinct lack of creation and discovery made by humankind.

The relationship between Pegasus and the Muses is very thorough, to the point that the Muses are referred to as Pegasides.

Originating from Pegasus?

In one tale, it is believed that the hoof of Pegasus would hit the ground down so hard that it would create a spring or a fountain. Out of these springs, the water nymphs that became known as the Pegasides would sprout. The Muses are, in this sense, known as water nymphs and hence Pegasides.

READ MORE: Who Invented Water? History of the Water Molecule

So in this sense, Pegasus would come first, create the springs, and allow the Pegasides to exist. Nine particularly interesting Pegasides would live around the springs and often immersed themselves in the waters when tired or in need of fresh inspiration.

After bathing and obtaining their new inspiration, they would dance and sing on the tender greensward that bordered the springs. Because of their excellent skills, they would become known as the Muses: the archetypes for creativity and discovery.

This story, too, implies that Pegasus is somewhat the god of springs. This would make sense since his father was Poseidon, the god of the seas.

However, another myth goes that the Muses already existed and only later became related to Pegasus. It is a story that might be a bit more celebrated in modern times than it was in antiquity. So, really, it is a bit unclear which story was actually believed to be true in ancient Greece. But, this version is definitely more entertaining.

The nine Muses engaged in a singing contest with the nine daughters of Pierus at Mount Helicon. As soon as the daughters of Pierus began to sing, the darkness came. But, as soon as the Muses began to sing, the heaven, the sea, and all the rivers stood still to listen. The mountain on which the contest was held would rise to heaven.

Poseidon saw this, so he sent Pegasus to fix the problem. He flew from Mount Olympus to the swelling mountain and kicked his hoof to the earth.

From this kick arose Hippocrene, literally translated to the horse spring. This spring became later known as the source of poetic inspiration. Many poets traveled to the spring to drink its water and enjoy its inspiration. So in this case, only after the creation of Hippocrene the Muses would become linked to Pegagus and referred to as Pegasides.

Constellation Pegasus

The stories of Greek gods and Greek myths taking their places among the stars are ample. The god of thunder, Zeus, was responsible for their promotion into star constellations. Pegasus too took his place among the stars. Nowadays, this constellation is known as the seventh-largest constellation in the sky.

Two Narratives

There are two narratives surrounding the promotion of Pegasus into the stars. The first of the two myths tells that the winged horse was allowed to continue his flight to heaven. By doing so, Zeus basically granted him a place amongst the stars.

In the second myth, Pegasus was believed to carry the lightning bolts that Zeus would throw at his enemies during a war. Sometimes during battles, the enemy would be very strong and Zeus’ army would get scared. Still, the winged horse always stayed with Zeus, even when the enemy fought very hard.

For the loyalty and bravery of Pegasus, Zeus rewarded his companion with a place in the sky as a constellation.

READ MORE: Zeus Family Tree: The Family Tree of the King of the Gods

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