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Pegasus - Wings of Glory

It shares its name with a constellation, an airline, a medicine, several military projects and companies headquartered everywhere from California to Bangalore. References to it are found everywhere from email clients to anime to the MCU. Its symbolism is ubiquitous across media and the corporate world. I am, of course, talking of the Pegasus. The ancient Greek flying horse has always excited human imagination. Perhaps that is to be expected, given that we have always dreamt of flight and horses have always been the most popular steed throughout most of the world (or at any rate, the Old World). Little surprise then, that some variant of the flying horse has existed across most cultures.


Central Asian cultures, including Mongol, old Turkic, and Tibetan, all talk of the wind horse, generally as a symbol of well being and good fortune. Today, the wind horse can be clearly seen on the emblem of Mongolia. The Hippogriff was also famously a winged horse, created at the end of the medieval period and embodying much of that era's specific romanticism in Europe. In China and Korea, the Qianlima was said to be so fast that no mortal man could mount it, capable of travelling 500 kilometres in a day with ease. Islamic tradition holds that God gifted Haizum, a flaming winged horse capable of travelling between cosmic planes instantaneously to the archangel Gabriel. In Hindu mythology, the Uchchaihshravas arose from the churning of the milk ocean which gave rise to all creation and became the mount of Indra, King of the Gods.



But of all these mythical creatures, it is the Pegasus that is best recognized. In Greek mythology, the Pegasus was born when the Greek hero Perseus decapitated the gorgon Medusa. The blood that emerged mixed with seafoam to gave rise to Pegasus, an offspring of Medusa and Poseidon. The winged horse was a majestic beast that roamed untamed until his tale met that of the hero Bellerophon. Bellerophon may be thought of as a sort of Hercules before Hercules, a swashbuckling monster-slaying hero inspiring awe everywhere rode with his flying horse. His story followed the usual format, starting with an exile for a crime during which he was falsely accused of rape by the wife of his host. Owing to the Greek taboo regarding violating rules of hospitality, however, the host dared not to execute him. Instead, he was sent on a task that was deemed impossible, to find, and kill, another fantastical creature, the Chimera.


The Chimera was a terrifying hybrid creature, composed of the body of a lion with the head of a goat protruding from its back, and a tail that ended with the head of a snake. As if that was not already the stuff of the absurdest nightmares, it had the ability to breathe fire. So Bellerophon sought out the famed seer Polyeidos for advice, who informed him that the only possible way to defeat the monster would be to mount Pegasus for the battle.



On the augur's advice, Bellerophon spent the night at the temple of Athena where the Goddess appeared to him in a dream, bringing the golden bridle he would use to tame Pegasus. The hero, after making a sacrifice to Poseidon, then proceeded on the quests that would make him a legend in the Greek world, and ultimately lead to the hubris that would be his downfall. Atop Pegasus, Bellerophon was unstoppable, a superhero taking on a mythical beast as Pegasus weaved through gouts of flame. It is perhaps that quality which makes it so memorable, the idea of riding a powerful stallion capable of taking to the air. The wildest fantasy of flight and the incredible thrill of riding combined, nimbly dodging the flames as Bellerophon tied a lump of lead to one end of his spear and thrust it inside the fire breathing maw of the Chimera, forever etching their names into the annals of Greek mythology.


6th century Bronze figurine of Pegasus.


Pegasus and Bellerophon's adventures did not end there, and the two continued to soar up the Greek world, defeating the famed Amazon warriors and the Solymoi. As is typically Greek though, Bellerophon met with a less than fortunate end. At the height of his fame, he ruled a powerful kingdom and was beloved by his people, but grew so arrogant of his own achievements that he decided he was equal in status to the Gods themselves and set out for Mount Olympus with Pegasus. Naturally, Zeus was not happy about this presumptuousness. He sent a gadfly to bite Pegasus, who ended up dislodging Bellerophon and sending him crashing to the Earth, doomed to spend the rest of his life as an ignominious cripple.

Coins from the reign of Roman emperor Domitian with Pegasus on the reverse.

The story of Pegasus and Bellerophon served as one of the many cautionary tales of Greek mythology, warning against that fatal flaw of hubris, capable of laying even the greatest of mortals low. Pegasus, however, did make the journey and was made a stable horse by Zeus. After years of faithful service, he was then elevated to a constellation, one of the largest in the night sky. Maybe that's why Bellerophon is largely forgotten, while Pegasus continues to capture our imaginations. He was popular in his homeland of Corinth, where he appeared on wares as early as the 7th century BC and he remains almost surprisingly popular today, appearing everywhere from the Exxon Mobil and Tri-Star logos to sculptures, films, music, and of course, the night sky itself.



  1. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Pegasus-Greek-mythology
  2. https://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/Heroes/Bellerophon/bellerophon.html
  3. https://www.ancient.eu/Pegasus/
  4. http://madelinemiller.com/myth-of-the-week-pegasus-and-bellerophon/
  5. https://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/Heroes/Bellerophon/bellerophon.html
  6. https://iconographic.warburg.sas.ac.uk/vpc/VPC_search/subcats.php?cat_1=5&cat_2=263
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