The Legend of Pegasus
Pegasus is the mythical winged horse of the ancient Greeks.
© SunBlind. Please do not use this text without my permission. [see footnote below]
His story begins when Perseus, said to be the son of Zeus, is sent to kill Medusa by a
man who wanted to marry his mother but did not want the burden of the son. Medusa was one
of the three Gorgons who live on a little island They were winged creatures with writhing
snakes in place of hair and golden scales.
And they are three, the Gorgons, each with wings
And snaky hair, most horrible to mortals.
Whom no man shall behold and draw again
The breath of life,
Anyone who was so unfortunate as to gaze upon her face would be turned to stone. Out
of the three only Medusa could be killed for the others were immortal. Hermes and Athena
came to aid Perseus. Their gifts, which permitted him to kill the Gorgon, were of a magical sword
which would not break upon the Gorgon's scales, a polished shield of bronze which could
function as a mirror and a pair of winged sandals. While Medusa slept he crept up to her
backwards, using the shield to see behind him. This was so he did not have to look upon her,
which would most surely turn him to stone at first sight. When he was close enough, he used the sword to
behead her, Athena guiding the blow. He then placed the helmet of invisibility upon his
head to escape the wrath of Medusa's sisters. From the blood which gushed forth from the
severed neck, Pegasus was born.
During this time, Queen Cassiopeia had compared her beauty and that of her daughter,
Andromeda, to that of the sea-nymphs of the Mediterranean, the Nereids. In their anger
they asked Poseidon, the god of the oceans, the punish her. He created great storms against
the land of Ethiopia, and much flooding occurred. Poseidon also sent the sea dragon Borea
(or Cetus) to slaughter the people on the coasts of the country. The Ethiopians, who were
very afraid, asked for help from the oracle of Ammon. They were told to sacrifice Andromeda
to the dragon.
Perseus heard of Andromeda's sacrifice and mounted Pegasus in the hopes of saving her. He
arrived at the coast where Andromeda was chained to a rock just as the dragon appeared.
He displayed Medusa's head, which he had till then carried in a bag, to the dragon, thus turning the creature
to stone. Then using the
magic sword, killed the dragon and freed Andromeda. They were married and there was much
rejoicing in the land. Thus in the sky one can find the constellation of Pegasus with that
of Andromeda and Perseus nearby.
Minerva (or Athena) carried the young Pegasus to Mount Helicon where he was entrusted to
the care of the Muses. When his hoof had struck the ground, the spring Hippocrene welled
up and began to flow. This spring became sacred for the nine muses.
Another hero, Bellerophon, longed to capture Pegasus, but could not fathom how one could
tame such a wild and magnificent creature. A wise man advised Bellerophon to sleep in the
temple of Athena. There he saw the goddess before him holding a golden bridle in her hand.
When he awoke he was alone but the bridle remained. He ran forth from the temple and found
Pegasus drinking at the Corinthian spring, Pirene. Once Pegasus spotted the shine of the
gold, Bellerophon put the charmed bridle on the noble steed's head with little difficulty.
The bridle in place, Pegasus became gentle and tame. Thus Bellerophon became master of
the winged horse.
While the guest of King Proetus, Bellerophon attracted the attention his host's wife,
Anteia. She had fallen in love with him, and when he would not return her feelings, she
told her husband that he had wronged her and therefore must pay with his life. As Proetus
did not wish to break the bond between host and guest and suffer the wrath of Zeus, Proetus
asked Bellerophon to deliver a letter to the King of Lycia. There the king welcomed him
and entertained him for nine days before reading the letter, which contained the message
that Bellerophon should be killed. Also not wanting to break the trust between guest and
host, he sent Bellerophon to destroy the Chimera, who was said to be undefeatable.
The Chimera was described as a monster with a lion's head, a serpent's tail with a and a goat's
body, or possibly a creature with three heads, one of each animal. It was said to have
been born from a volcano on whose slopes lived these animals. For not only was it a
fearsome creature as is, but it could breath flame upon its victims. By night it would
ravage the kingdom of Lycia, killing the villagers.
Bellerophon agreed to his mission and went to slay the creature. Astride his noble steed he
could fly above the monster's flaming breath and deadly claws. He fired arrows at the
monster, then timing it right, he waited for the creature to open its mouth to release more
flame. He held in his hand a spear with a piece of lead attached to the point. Just as
the creature prepare to flame, Bellerophon threw the lance down the monsters throat. In
the fiery heat of it belly, the lead melted and killed the creature from the inside.
Bellerophon then returned to Proetus, and after several quests over many years, the king
conceded and allowed Bellerophon to marry his daughter.
He lived happily for a while but his ambition and success made him think of greater things,
things which a man should not think. Bellerophon wanted to ride to the top of Mount Olympus
to take his place there with the gods. Some say that Pegasus was wiser and threw his rider
of his own will or that Zeus became displeased and sent an insect to sting Pegasus who then
bucked and dislodged his rider. Bellerophon then either fell to his death, or wandered the earth blind
, "devouring his own soul and avoiding the paths of men".
Pegasus continued towards the peak where he became the servant of of the gods. There he was
the mount of Eos to help bring the dawn, or was ridden by Apollo to bring the sun. Pegasus
also served Zeus by bringing to him the thunder and lightning needed for the thunderbolts.
For all his noble services, Pegasus was honoured by a constellation in the autumn sky.
The Constellation of Pegasus
© Bruno Tomba, in Stories of the Sky (1959)
Pegasus, The Winged Horse, is a constellation that appears in the south in the autumn
for the northern latitudes. Its main
geometrical figure is the "Great Square of Pegasus." To the observers on earth, the winged
horse appears to be flying upside down. The vernal equinox, the sun's location when spring
begins, is not far south of the square. To locate features of this area, it may be
convienient to imagine that the square is the bowl of a large dipper, having as its handle
the line formed by three bright stars of Andromeda (her head and length of body) and a
fourth star in Perseus (his hand holding the Gorgon's head). The hind legs of Pegasus
appear to make up the constellation of Andromeda.
The constellation can be found below the Summer Triangle which has the constellations of
Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila. To the left would be located Aquarius
The main stars (marked with larger star icons) found in this constellation are: Alpheratz (it's the head of Andromeda as well),
Algenib, Scheat and Markab make up the square. The head and neck end with Enif. One hind
leg ends with the star Andromeda.
[Footnote] Since I am a bit slow in responding sometimes, I just want to clear up when you actually need my permission to use this information. What I generally don't want is for you to simply copy this page and stick it up on your own website without asking me first, especially if you claim to have written it yourself. If you are using it for a school project, that's fine, you don't need my permission. Depending on your grade level, you'll know how your teacher wants you to reference the information to avoid plagirism.
For those of you who are interested in reading more about the myth of Pegasus. I will
warn you that most of these books are very old and happen to be the few that I presently own.
View Pegasus Links for other sites.
- Dickinson, Terence. Summer Stargazing. Willowdale, Canada: Firefly Books,
- Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New York: The New American Library, 1961.
- Hawthorn, Nathaniel. A Wonder Book. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1967.
- "Pegasus." Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1966.
- Rich's Pegopedia (moved / gone?)
- Tomba, Bruno. Stories of the Sky. Milano: Casa Editrice Piccoli, 1959.
The two quotes in the text are from Hamilton's Mythology.
Last Updated: July 2000
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