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Pegasus (Greek: Πήγασος, PḗgasosLatinPegasus, Pegasos) is a mythical winged divine stallion, and one of the most recognized creatures in Greek mythology. Usually depicted as pure white, Pegasus is a child of the Olympian god Poseidon. He was foaled by the Gorgon Medusa[1] upon her death, when the hero Perseus decapitated her. Pegasus is the brother of Chrysaor and the uncle of Geryon.

Greco-Roman poets wrote about the ascent of Pegasus to heaven after his birth, and his subsequent obeisance to Zeus, king of the gods, who instructed him to bring lightning and thunder from Olympus. Friend of the Muses, Pegasus created Hippocrene, the fountain on Mt. Helicon.

Pegasus was caught by the Greek hero Bellerophon, near the fountain Peirene, with the help of Athena and Poseidon. Pegasus allowed Bellerophon to ride him in order to defeat the monstrous Chimera, which led to many other exploits. Bellerophon later fell from the winged horse's back while trying to reach Mount Olympus. Afterwards, Zeus transformed Pegasus into the eponymous constellation.

The symbolism of Pegasus varies with time. Symbolic of wisdom and fame from the Middle Ages until the Renaissance, Pegasus became associated with poetry around the 19th century, as the fountainhead of sources from which the poets gained their inspiration. Pegasus is the subject of a very rich iconography, especially throughout ancient Greek pottery and paintings and sculptures of the Renaissance. Hypotheses have been proposed regarding the relationship between Pegasus and the Muses, the gods AthenaPoseidonZeusApollo, and the hero Perseus.

Etymology

The poet Hesiod presents a folk etymology of the name Pegasus as derived from πηγή pēgē "spring, well": "the pegai of Okeanos, where he was born."[2]

A proposed etymology of the name is Luwian pihassas, meaning "lightning", and Pihassassi, a local Luwian-Hittite name in southern Cilicia of a weather god represented with thunder and lightning. The proponents of this etymology adduce Pegasus' role, reported as early as Hesiod, as the bringer of thunderbolts to Zeus. It was first suggested in 1952 and remains widely accepted,[3] but Robin Lane Fox (2009) has criticized it as implausible.[4]

Pegasus and springs

According to legend, everywhere the winged horse struck his hoof to the earth, an inspiring water spring burst forth. One of these springs was upon the MusesMount Helicon, the Hippocrene("horse spring"),[5] opened, Antoninus Liberalis suggested,[6] at the behest of Poseidon to prevent the mountain swelling with rapture at the song of the Muses; another was at Troezen.[7] Hesiod relates how Pegasus was peacefully drinking from a spring when the hero Bellerophon captured him. Hesiod also says Pegasus carried thunderbolts for Zeus.

Birth

There are several versions of the birth of the winged stallion and his brother Chrysaor in the far distant place at the edge of Earth, Hesiod's "springs of Oceanus, which encircles the inhabited earth, where Perseus found Medusa:

One is that they sprang from the blood issuing from Medusa's neck as Perseus was beheading her,[8] similar to the manner in which Athena was born from the head of Zeus. In another version, when Perseus beheaded Medusa, they were born of the Earth, fed by the Gorgon's blood. A variation of this story holds that they were formed from the mingling of Medusa's blood, pain and sea foam, implying that Poseidon had involvement in their making. The last version bears resemblance to Hesiod's account of the birth of Aphrodite from the foam created when Uranus's severed genitals were cast into the sea by Cronus.

Pedigree of Pegasus

Sire

Poseidon

Cronus Uranus Gaïa or Nyx
Gaïa or Nyx
Gaïa Chaos
Chaos
Rhea Uranus Gaïa or Nyx
Gaïa or Nyx
Gaïa Chaos
Chaos
Dam

Medusa

Phorcys Pontus Ether or Uranus
Gaïa
Gaïa Chaos
Chaos
Ceto Pontus Ether or Uranus
Gaïa
Gaïa Chaos
Chaos

Bellerophon

Pegasus aided the hero Bellerophon in his fight against the Chimera. There are varying tales about how Bellerophon found Pegasus; the most common[9] being that the hero was told by Polyeidos to sleep in the temple of Athena, where the goddess visited him in the night and presented him with a golden bridle. The next morning, still clutching the bridle, Bellerophon found Pegasus drinking at the Pierian spring, caught him and eventually tamed him.

Perseus

Michaud's Biographie universelle relates that when Pegasus was born, he flew to where thunder and lightning are released. Then, according to certain versions of the myth, Athena tamed him and gave him to Perseus, who flew to Ethiopia to help Andromeda.[10]

In fact, Pegasus is a late addition to the story of Perseus, who flew on his own with the sandals loaned him by Hermes.

Gallery

References

  1. Medusa, in her archaic centaur-like form. She appears in the incised relief on a mid-7th century BCE vase from Boeotia at the Louvre (CA795), illustrated in John Boardman, Jasper Griffin and Oswyn Murray, Greece and the Hellenistic World (Oxford University Press) 1988, fig p 87.
  2. Noted by Karl KerényiThe Heroes of the Greeks, 1959:80: "In the name Pegasos itself the connection with a spring, pege, is expressed."
  3. The connection of Pegasus with Pihassas was suggested by H.T. Bossert, "Die phönikisch-hethitischen Bilinguen vom Karatepe", Jahrbuch für kleinasiatische Forschung21952/53:333, P. Frei, "Die Bellerophontessaga und das Alte Testament", in B. Janowski, K. Koch and G. Wilhelm, eds., Religionsgeschichtliche Beziehungen zwischen Kleinasien, Nordsyrien und der Alte Testament, 1993:48f, and Hutter, "Der luwische Wettergott pihašsašsi under der griechischen Pegasos", in Chr. Zinko, ed. Studia Onomastica et Indogermanica...1995:79–98. Commentary was provided by R. S. P. Beekes in his Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 1183.
  4. "a storm god is not the origin of a horse. However, he had a like-sounding name, and Greek visitors to Cilicia may have connected their existing Pegasus with Zeus's lightning after hearing about this 'Pihassassi' and his functions and assuming, wrongly, he was their own Pegasus in a foreign land." Robin Lane Fox, Travelling Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2009, ISBN 9780307271518, pp. 207ff.
  5. Pausanias, 9. 31. 3.
  6. Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 9
  7. Pausanias, 2. 31. 9.
  8. HesiodTheogony 281; Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke 2. 42, et al. Harris, Stephen L. and Gloria Platzner. Classical Mythology: Images and Insights. 2nd ed. (New York: Mayfield Publishing), 1998. 234.
  9. For example in Pindar, Olympian Ode 13.
  10. Michaud, Joseph F. & Michaud, Louis G. (1833). Michaud Frères, ed. Biographie universelle, ancienne et moderne, ou Histoire, par ordre alphabétique, de la vie publique et privée de tous les hommes qui se sont fait remarquer par leurs écrits, leurs actions, leurs talents, leurs vertus ou leurs crimes (in French). 5. Retrieved 23 June 2009.