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Ian-Hornak-Acrylic-Canvas-Pegasus-1991

Pegasus, 1991 painting by Ian Hornak in the National Hellenic Museum.

Pegasus (Ancient Greek: Πήγασος, Pégasos, Latin: Pegasus) is one of the best known mythological creatures in Greek mythology. He is a winged divine horse, usually depicted as white in colour. He was sired by Poseidon, in his role as horse-god, and foaled by the Gorgon Medusa.[1] He was the brother of Chrysaor, born at a single birthing when his mother was decapitated by Perseus. Greco-Roman poets write about his ascent to heaven after his birth and his obeisance to Zeus, king of the gods, who instructed him to bring lightning and thunder from Olympus. Friend of the Muses, Pegasus is the creator of Hippocrene, the fountain on Mount Helicon. He was captured by the Greek hero Bellerophon near the fountain Peirene with the help of Athena and Poseidon. Pegasus allows the hero to ride him to defeat a monster, the Chimera, before realizing many other exploits. His rider, however, falls off his back trying to reach Mount Olympus. Zeus transformed him into the constellation Pegasus and placed him up in the sky. Hypotheses have been proposed regarding its relationship with the Muses, the gods Athena, Poseidon, Zeus, Apollo, and the hero Perseus.

The symbolism of Pegasus varies with time. Symbol of wisdom and especially of fame from the Middle Ages until the Renaissance, he became one symbol of the poetry and the creator of sources in which the poets come to draw inspiration, particularly in the 19th century. Pegasus is the subject of a very rich iconography, especially through the ancient Greek pottery and paintings and sculptures of the Renaissance. Personification of the water, solar myth, or shaman mount, Carl Jung and his followers have seen in Pegasus a profound symbolic esoteric in relation to the spiritual energy that allows to access to the realm of the gods on Mount Olympus.

In the 20th and 21st century, he appeared in movies, in fantasy, in video games and in role play, where by extension, the term "pegasus" is often used to refer to any winged horse.

Etymology

The poet Hesiod connects the name Pegasus with the word for "spring, well", pēgē: "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 bringer of thunderbolts to Zeus.[3] Fox (2009) criticizes this suggestion, saying that the connection of Pegasus with lightning bolts may be secondary, based on the "like-sounding name" of the Luwian god.[4]

Pegasus and springs

According to legend, everywhere the winged horse struck his hoof to the earth, an inspiring spring burst forth. One of these springs was upon the Muses' Mount 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

Woodcut illustration of Medusa and Neptune embracing beside a winged horse (either Pegasus or Chrysaor), with Perseus mounted upon Pegasus (following later developments of the Perseus legend) in the background - Penn Provenance Project

15th century German woodcut which depicts Pegasus, Neptune (Poseidon) and Medusa embracing and Perseus mounted on Pegasus.

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 the birth of Aphrodite.

Bellerophon

Pegasus aided the hero Bellerophon in his fight against both the Chimera and the Amazons. There are varying tales as to how Bellerophon found Pegasus; the most common[9] says 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, he found Pegasus drinking at the Pierian spring

Perseus

Cabinet sala di Gualdrada Palazzo Vecchio n02

Image from a cabinet in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy, created circa 1650 to 1700, which depicts Perseus riding Pegasus.

Michaud's Biographie universelle relates that when Pegasus was born, he flew to where thunder and lightning is 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.

Olympus

Pegasus and Athena left Bellerophon and continued to Olympus where he was stabled with Zeus' other steeds, and was given the task of carrying Zeus' thunderbolts. Because of his faithful service to Zeus, he was honored with transformation into a constellation.[11] On the day of his catasterism, when Zeus transformed him into a constellation, a single feather fell to the earth near the city of Tarsus.[12]

Legacy

World War II

British Airborne Units

Insignia of the World War II British Airborne Units which depicts Bellerophon mounted on Pegasus.

During World War II, the silhouetted image of Bellerophon the warrior, mounted on the winged Pegasus, was adopted by the United Kingdom's newly-raised parachute troops in 1941 as their upper sleeve insignia. The image clearly symbolized a warrior arriving at a battle by air, the same tactics used by paratroopers. The square upper-sleeve insignia comprised Bellerophon/Pegasus in light blue on a maroon background. The insignia was designed by famous English novelist Daphne du Maurier, who was married to the commander of the 1st Airborne Division (and later the expanded British Airborne Forces), General Frederick "Boy" Browning. The maroon background on the insignia was later used again by the Airborne Forces when they adopted the famous maroon beret in Summer 1942. The beret was the origin of the German nickname for British airborne troops, The Red Devils. Today's Parachute Regiment carries on the maroon beret tradition.

During the airborne phase of the Normandy invasion on the night of 5–6 June 1944, British 6th Airborne Division captured all its key objectives in advance of the seaborne assault, including the capture and holding at all costs of a vital bridge over the Caen Canal, near Ouistreham. In memory of their tenacity, the bridge has been known ever since as Pegasus Bridge.

Popular culture

The winged horse that has provided an instantly recognizable corporate logo or emblem of inspiration.

References

  1. Medusa, in her archaic centaur-like form. He 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 Kerenyi, The 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 Forschung, 2 1952/53:333, 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, all noted in Robin Lane Fox, Travelling Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer, 2009:207f.
  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." Fox 2009:208.
  5. Pausanias, 9. 31. 3.
  6. Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 9
  7. Pausanias, 2. 31. 9.
  8. Hesiod, Theogony 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 (in French). 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. 5. http://books.google.com/?id=HGRIAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA284&dq=P%C3%A9gase. Retrieved 23 June 2009 
  11. Aratus, Phaenomena 206; Scott Littleton, Mythology. The Illustrated Anthology of World Myth & Storytelling London: Duncan Baird, 2002:147. ISBN 1-903296-37-4
  12. Grimal, Pierre (4 September 1996). Trans. by A. R. Maxwell-Hyslop. ed. The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. p. 349. ISBN 978-0-631-20102-1. 

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