Beautiful and astounding in many ways, horses have long been our close companions, animals of extraordinary appearance and spirit.
In probably all cultures and traditions around the world, since the dawn of civilization until present day, people have been worshiping horses and considering them creatures of truly breathtaking qualities.
Although humans tamed horses, the admiration and awe still live on.
Horses have been with us for thousands of years and no wonder that such a beautiful creature has been a common motif in art, literature, mythology and religion since ancient history.
Symbolism of horse is complex and not as easy to define and summarize. Horses are present in mythology, folklore and religious beliefs.
Sometimes, they are related to cults of the dead and other times with cycles of life and existence.
Horses are also associated with wilderness, with instincts and primal forces that drive all the living things.
For ancient Indo European peoples, horses represented the power and strength especially that of a warrior, a strong man, a king or a leader in general.
Adding wings to such an already magnificent creature only makes its symbolism more complex and stronger.
The most famous winged horse of all times is definitely Pegasus, the magical horse from Greek mythology.
The meaning of the name Pegasus still remains a mystery. One of the most widespread opinions and interpretations associate the name with the term ‘mighty’ or ‘strong’, but another connects the name with the Greek word for ‘a spring’ or ‘a well’.
The latter interpretation corresponds with the myth of Pegasus’ birth. The beautiful creature was born from the ocean. There are several versions of Pegasus’ birth. The prevailing folk belief says the mythical horse was a child of Poseidon and Medusa and is often regarded as misinterpretation.
There are other possible interpretations, amongst which those associating the name with terms of colors, black or white.
The name of Pegasus remains enigmatic, as well as the origin of the horse’s mythical appearance.
The most commonly accepted interpretation claims winged horses, just as other mythical winged creatures all come from the east. Besides winged horses, there are gryphon and sphinx, for example.
One of early depictions of a being in a shape of a winged horse come from Assyrian-Babylonian art.
Most probably, these early depictions have later developed into the character of Pegasus.
According to some analyses, it is most likely that the depiction of a winged horse comes from Assyria. This theory suggests that Phoenicians introduced it into Greek culture and mythology.
However, some other authors believe that the motif of a winged horse was an original Greek creation.
Winged horse is to be found in neither Egyptian nor Mycenae tradition and so it is most likely of indo European origin, the theory suggests. It would probably be wrong to claim that Pegasus comes from the east.
Most likely, Pegasus originates from northern Peloponnesus, of which there are material evidences. Pegasus is definitely one of the most intriguing and mysterious beings from Greek mythology.
What is very interesting is that the motif of a winged horse is still worldwide popular. The name Pegasus is often used as generic term, describing a motif of a winged horse, in common talk these days.
In modern day, Pegasus represents values of liberty, divine force, something free and pure, brave and beautiful.
Let us turn back into time and dive into the legendary world of the mythical Pegasus.
Pegasus in Greek mythology
Pegasus is present in several Greek myths. Perhaps the one to start with is that of the mysterious winged horse’s origin.
According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Pegasus was born out of relationship between Poseidon and medusa.
They were both in the shape of horses and Pegasus was born on a meadow of spring flowers. The myth says the magical horse came to the world in a completely natural way, as horses do.
Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, however claims that Poseidon made love to Medusa in the temple of Athens. Neither of these two myths is popular as the most dramatic one we are about to tell.
The magical horse Pegasus is often connected with the story of the mythical hero Perseus. According to legends, it was he who was responsible for the birth of Pegasus and in the strangest way.
In the myth of Perseus, the young man was sent to find the Gorgon Medusa and bring her head to the king of Seriphos Island, Polydectes.
The king was in love with Perseus’ mother Danae, but her son tried to keep her away from him, so the king made a plot to get rid of the young man. He thought Perseus would never manage to kill her.
Gorgon medusa was known to have a deadly look that would turn one into stone. Perseus was given a shining shield by the goddess Athens and so he used it to watch the reflection of Medusa, instead of looking her into eyes.
Once he cut of the head of the creature, two magical being came out of it, her ‘sons’. They were Chrysaor, the giant with a golden sword and Pegasus, the beautiful winged horse.
Another version of the same myth says that Pegasus was not born out of medusa’s head but from her blood, after Perseus decapitated her.
Other myths do not associate Pegasus with Medusa, but with certain Pegasis and with Eos, the goddess of Dawn. Myths that have nothing to do with Pegasus birth but are about him are myths about the hero Bellerophon.
Pegasus and the myth of Bellerophon
The most interesting part of the myth about the hero Bellerophon is that about killing Chimera, the dreadful supernatural creature that was one third a lion, the other third a dragon and a goat in between.
After false accusation that of Bellerophon’s attempt of raping his wife, Proteus, the king of Tiryns, sent Bellerophon to kill Chimera, instead of killing the guest under his own roof.
Chimera could be killed only from the air, so Bellerophon needed the assistance of the magical flying horse, Pegasus. Myths are not consistent in explanation on how he tamed Pegasus in the first place.
There are several very different versions on how Bellerophon came into position of the horse.
According to one version, he caught the horse while the creature was drinking water from a spring.
The other story says Pegasus was given to the hero by his true father. Another legend gets the goddess Athens involved. It was she who caught the horse and handed him over to Bellerophon.
However, the most popular is Pindar’s poem in which he tells about how Bellerophon caught and tamed Pegasus though with much difficulties.
In this story, the goddess Athens gave Bellerophon golden brindles after appearing in his dream. He used the brindles to tame Pegasus and after succeeding in it, he flew away to fight Chimera, mighty Solymi warriors and Amazons.
All of his deeds made the king Proteus grew fond of him and eventually became friends with Bellerophon, instead of previous ill blood between them.
Pegasus, the divine horse
There is a mythical glorious ending for the mighty Pegasus. After Bellerophon made peace with Proteus and married his daughter, he lead a fine and good life, but his greed and ambitions started to grow bigger than ever.
In fact, he was so proud of himself that he desired to fly up to Olympus and take place amongst the immortals. He was so obsessed with the idea that he actually tried to ride Pegasus up there.
However, the magical creature was not only strong, beautiful and agile, but also wise.
Pegasus knew it was not right for a mortal do have such pride. Pegasus refused to take Bellerophon to Olympus and, in fact, threw him down from his back. Bellerophon faced bitter ending.
The divine ones hated him and he spent the rest of his life wandering alone, eating up his own soul.
Pegasus was welcomed by the Gods of Olympus and took shelter amongst Zeus’ steeds; at last, Pegasus was indeed a supernatural being. He was praised and much loved by gods of Olympus. Poets have made songs about the mighty horse.
It was believed that he was the one to assist the almighty Zeus in his divine doings. Pegasus was responsible for bringing thunders and lightings to Zeus, so that he could cast them on earth.
Pegasus’ contemporary symbolism
Legends about Pegasus say about his supernatural origin and his wild and proud nature.
Pegasus is a flying horse and the very ability of flying has always been considered universal symbol of liberty and free spirit. Pegasus symbolizes the idea of spiritual freedom, but he could also be tamed.
However, Pegasus remained free in his heart and wise beyond human understanding.
Pegasus, in a way, represents the divine order of things; it is not for mortal men to aspire to heavenly seat. Thus, the story of Pegasus is a reminder of where ill ambitions could lead us.
Poor Bellerophon, who was once a great hero, admired and praised by all, fell for his own ambitions and lost it all. The wise Pegasus refused to serve him.
Pegasus is a motif present in art throughout the history of civilization. Many famous artists featured Pegasus in their artworks. Pegasus is also present in popular culture and contemporary design.
Many companies use a motif of a winged horse as a logo, suggesting the openness to new ideas and liberty of thinking in general.
Pegasus is a common motif found in contemporary designs related to airline companies or touristic ones.