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Who is Pegasus?

You may have seen the flying horse from Greek mythology, but how much do you really know about Pegasus?

Pegasus is one of the most famous magical creatures in mythology. The beautiful winged horse was a favorite subject of Greek artists and continues to be an often-used form today.

The flying horse is arguably more famous today than the hero who tamed him. Bellerophon killed the Chimera, but the most well-known part of the story was that he did so on the back of Pegasus.

Despite the animal’s enduring popularity, few people are as familiar with the story of its origins. As unlikely as it may seem, the legendary horse was the offspring of a powerful god and a horrific monster.

The stories of Pegasus and his connections to Poseidon and Medusa make it clear that there was more to the horse than his ability to soar through the air. While Pegasus is seen among the clouds, he was actually rooted in water.

The Flying Horse Pegasus

Pegasus is usually considered a beautiful, noble creature. His origins, however, were with a hideous monster.

The flying horse’s parents were Poseidon and Medusa. While a later story claimed the Gorgon had once been a beautiful woman, earlier sources were unclear as to how or why Poseidon had mated with a monster.

The hero Perseus beheaded Medusa with help from Athena. He crept up on her as she slept, using the shining shield of Athena to look at her reflection instead of her petrifying face.

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When Medusa was struck by the hero’s sword, her blood spilled on the floor of the cavern in which she and her sisters had made their lair. From the spilled blood, her two children were born.

Her son Chrysaor would not play a major role in later myths. He was the father of the giant Geryon, whose cattle Heracles stole, but he otherwise played no role in later stories.

Pegasus, however, was much more famous than his brother. The immortal horse that was born of Medusa’s blood would become one of the most famous beasts in mythology.

The most well known of the myths that feature Pegasus is that of Bellerophon. Having been falsely accused of a crime, the Corinthian hero was tasked with slaying the Chimera.

The fire-breathing monster was almost invulnerable, so the quest was meant to ensure Bellerophon’s death. The seer Polyidus to him that he could win, however, if he enlisted the aid of Pegasus.

The flying horse was untamed, though. Bellerophon appealed to Athena and Poseidon, both gods associated with horses and equestrian inventions, to obtain a bridle that would tame Pegasus.

Following Polyidus’s instructions, Bellerophon found Pegasus drinking at the Pirene spring outside of Corinth. When the hero slipped Athena’s magical bridle onto the horse, it followed his instructions and allowed him to mount it.

Pegasus flew his first rider to confront the Chimera. The flying horse’s great speed and agility saved Bellerophon from being engulfed by the monster’s fiery breath.

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Bellerophon shot arrows at the monster, but none could penetrate its skin. He urged Pegasus into a daring dive to ram his lead-tipped spear into the Chimer’s throat instead.

Unable to breathe out its flames, the Chimera was burned from within and died. The speed of Pegasus had allowed Bellerophon to complete his impossible quest.

The flying horse aided Bellerophon in many later adventures as well. Striking from far above, the hero was able to out maneuver and ambush any enemies he faced.

Eventually, however, Pegasus would play a role in Bellerophon’s downfall. After many great victories, the hero became convinced that he had earned a place among the gods and he urged his horse to fly to Mount Olympus.

There are several different stories about what happened to Bellerophon when he tried to ride Pegasus to Olympus. According to one, Zeus was so angered by the mortal’s arrogance that he sent a gadfly to sting Pegasus on the back.

Like any horse, Pegasus bucked and reared when he was stung. Bellerophon was thrown from its back. Injured in the fall, he lived the rest of his life disabled and alone.

Other stories say that the hero became filled with doubt as he neared Olympus, believing it was not really the home of the gods. When he looked down at the earth below him he lost his grip and fell to his death, his lack of faith preventing him from becoming a god.

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Pegasus, however, continued his flight. Poseidon’s equine son made it to Olympus and took a place in the stables of Zeus.

My Modern Interpretation

Pegasus had the features of a common land animal and flew through the sky but the element he was most closely connected to, surprisingly, was water.

Poseidon was the winged horse’s father. He was not just the god of the sea; he was also said to have created the first horses on land.

Poseidon was even known to change himself into a horse. He did so to chase his sister, Demeter, and the son that resulted from that union was an immortal horse named Arion.

It was not unusual to link horses and the sea in ancient cultures. The movement of the waves was often compared to the fluid galloping motion of a herd of horses.

Medusa, too, was connected to the sea. Her parents were both sea gods – Oceanus and Phorcys, a primordial sea elemental.

Some scholars theorize that Medusa may have originated as a representation of the dangers of the sea, specifically hidden rocks that could cause shipwrecks. Many monsters in Greek mythology began in this way and Perseus killed a sea monster as his first act after slaying the Gorgon.

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Pegasus was therefore connected to water through both of his parents as well as his equine form. In his myths he was often connected to fresh water, specifically the cold springs that were found throughout the mountains of Greece.

The name Pegasus was related to both the site of his birth and to the springs he was associated with. Pegai in Greek were the springs that were the source of the river Oceanus.

It was said that wherever Pegasus came down on land, a spring formed. The most famous of these Hippocrene, or “Horse Spring,” sites was on Mount Helicon.

According to legend, the waters of Mount Helicon were endowed with the power to grant inspiration. The Muses lived on that mountain and poets believed that the waters of the Hippocrene were endowed with miraculous properties.

The people of Corinth had a particular attachment to the legend of Bellerophon and Pegasus. Poseidon was their patron god and the hero was born in that city.

When Bellerophon tamed Pegasus, he returned to Corinth to do so. The Pirene spring outside the city was one of the horse’s favorite places to drink, and the Corinthians believed that the influence of Pegasus ensured that the water never ran dry.

While Pegasus may appear to have been connected to the sky, his family connections, form, and legends make it clear that he was a water-based creature.

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In Summary

Pegasus was a winged horse in Greek mythology. He was famously the steed of the hero Bellerophon, who tamed him to slay the Chimera.

Bellerophon performed many great deeds with the help of his immortal mount. When he tried to fly to Olympus to make himself a god, however, the hero was thrown from the horse’s back.

Pegasus remained on Mount Olympus as one of the immortal horses of Zeus. This was not the first Olympian he was connected to.

The flying horse’s father was the sea god Poseidon. His mother was the monstrous Gorgon Medusa, from whose blood he was born when she was beheaded.

Both Medusa and Poseidon had strong connections to the water. He was the god of the seas while she embodied one of its dangers.

Horses themselves were connected to water in Greek thought, and much of the mythology of Pegasus revolves around that element.

Pegasus was associated with freshwater springs and was said to create one wherever his hooves touched land. Most famously, he was credited with the miraculous Hippocrene stream that the Muses lived beside.

Water appears frequently in the stories of Pegasus, making it clear that the flying horse was more associated with liquid than with the air he flew through.

My name is Mike and for as long as I can remember (too long!) I have been in love with all things related to Mythology. I am the owner and chief researcher at this site. My work has also been published on Buzzfeed and most recently in Time magazine. Please like and share this article if you found it useful.

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