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Pegasus - Tales of the Ancient Greeks

Updated on December 12, 2014
Pegasus, the Winged Horse
Pegasus, the Winged Horse | Source

The Real Story of Pegasus the Winged Horse

Pegasus, the white winged horse, is the result of a close encounter between Medusa the Gorgon, and Poseidon the dishonourable God of the Sea..

When Perseus slew the Gorgon, blood flew out of her head and mingled with the foam of the ocean and Pegasus was born.

With a slash of his hoof, the winged horse created the Hippocrene, the sacred spring of the Muses which still gushes forth its sparkling waters on Mt. Helicon today.

And that may have been the last we heard of Pegasus if it were not for human jealousy and distrust.

How it all began in the Temple of Athena

This is where the story really starts

Poor Medusa! She was a well-mannered, pleasantly spoken young lady who served in the Temple of Athena.

She was a strange goddess, this Athena, with an unenviable reputation of cold hearted dealings toward women, and continually demonstrating her contempt for those of her own gender. Athena was a 'man's goddess', a patriarchal figure.

Poseidon and Medusa

This is the unpleasant part

Poseidon saw Medusa. (Poor girl). At first sight the lusty God of the Sea determined to have his way with her.

One morning Poseidon appeared, disguised as a horse, in the sacred inner sanctum of Athena's temple where he knew Medusa would be alone tending to the sacred flame. Medusa, her shining hair reflected in the glow of the lamps, carefully trimmed the wicks of each one and Poseidon was ... wait... let's skip over this bit of the story and go straight to the end avoiding the truly unpleasant parts.

Athena was furious at the violation of her temple but instead of being angry with Poseidon she reserved all her rage for Medusa.

Medusa was banished, her beautiful hair a writhing mass of snakes, to live in a dark damp cave near the ocean.

Poor Medusa!

When Perseus hacked off the head of Medusa, drops of her blood fell into the ocean, mingled with the foam, and became Pegasus.

Frans Snyders


Now we get to a new Hero

In the kingdom of Lycia, a young man called Bellerephon arrived as a messenger bringing letters to the King. The letters had been carried faithfully from the King's son-in-law Proetus. But what King Iobates read meant death for the messenger!

Proetus was distrustful of the friendship between his wife and the young man Bellerophon, and had ordered him to carry the fateful message with the request for his own death.

Rather than ordering his guards to dispatch Bellerephon, King Iobates decided to send the young man to fix the problem of a chimera which was creating great havoc in the countryside at the time.

Homer tells us the Chimera was in the forepart a lion, in the hindpart a serpent, and in the middle a goat, breathing forth in a terrible manner the force of blazing fire..

Each night, the fearsome beast swept down upon the valley and carried off the sheep and goats, plus the occasional peasant or two who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The bones of her many victims lay strewn along the mountainside and the population lived in constant fear.

A quick answer to the jealousy of Proteus was fortuitously to hand and Bellerophon was duly dispatched to combat. No man had faced the Chimerae and lived!

Athena appears to Bellerophon

And Pegasus is bridled

So there was Bellerephon ordered to look for a fire-breathing monster and having no idea what to do. Fatigued and fretful, he finally slept. As he slept, a dream came to him of Athena.

Giving him a golden bridle, the goddess Athena revealed a vision of a beautiful white horse drinking at the well of Pirene.

In his dream, the young warrior crept closer.

The stallion was of pure unblemished white, about 20 hands high, with a proudly elevated silver crest. His neck was elegantly curved, his capacious shoulders and head exquisitely sloped, his shoulders were deeper and lay further into his back than any horse Bellerophon had seen.

Behind his shoulders there rose, wondrously, a pair of great golden wings! When Pegasus caught sight of the gleaming bridle he came up and bowed his noble head. Bellerophon awoke, and the bridle was still in his hand.

And so it happened. Bellerophon went to the well, bridled Pegasus, and, mounting, rose with him into the air. Soon enough they found the Chimera.

Bellerophon flew above the beast and thrust between her jaws a huge lump of lead which melted in her fiery breath, flowed down her throat and burned her to death.

Pegasus, unbridled

Pegasus | Source

The Pride of Bellerophon

The Gods Punish Hubris

After the conquest of the Chimera, Bellerophon was exposed to further trials and labours by his unfriendly host, but with the assistance of Pegasus he triumphed in them all.

He grew arrogant at this, and his pride and presumption drew the anger of the gods. He even attempted to fly up into the home of the gods themselves on Mt Olympus!

Zeus sent a gadfly, which stung Pegasus and he reared, throwing off Bellerophon who fell on the rocks below.

Athena spared the life of Bellerephon by causing him to land on soft ground, but for the rest of his life, Bellerophon traveled, lonely and crippled, in search of his wonderful steed.

And Pegasus was never seen by Bellerophon again.

Was the Chimera a Dragon?

Look at these two pictures ......

On the left is a third century Roman mosaic from Palmyra showing Bellerephon slaying the Chimera. On the right is a 14th century painting of that old favourite St George.

Perhaps the chimera was a dragon.

Lycia was a region in Anatolia in what is now the province of Antalya on the southern coast of Turkey. It's an area of volcanic activity, with burning rocks and other eerie sights, was this the fire of the Chimera?

All comments are greatly appreciated. You don't have to be a flying horse to leave yours.

© 2008 Susanna Duffy


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