The history of Pegasus begins with the beautiful maiden Medusa. The god Poseidon became enamored of her and seduced her in the temple of Athena. This annoyed the goddess so much that she punished Medusa by turning her into a Gorgon. The Gorgons were immortal women whose hair was comprised of snakes and whose gaze could turn a human into a stone statue. However Medusa was not immortal as she had not been born a Gorgon and she could be killed.
Perseus was a mortal favoured by the gods in Greek Mythology. Polydectes, a king, fell in love with Danae, the mother of Perseus. In order to get Perseus out of the way Polydectes sent the young man on many dangerous quests. One of these was to get the head of one of the Gorgons. Perseus when to the fountain of Delphi to get advice, where the goddess Athena presented him with a highly polished shield and the winged shoes of Hermes. He used to shoes to fly to the location of the Gorgons and while they were sleeping he used the mirror-like shield to cut off the head of Medusa without looking at her directly. Pegasus sprang full-grown from the blood (or trunk depending on the version). The name of Pegasus is rather curious in that it seems to pre-date Greek civilization. It is possible that since winged animals were not a common theme in Greek mythology that the original myth was from the east, where flying animals such as the Sphinx were popular.
There are two versions to the next actions taken by Pegasus. One says that Perseus rode Pegasus back home, but on the way he heard a woman's cries for help and rescued Andromeda from the sea monster. He then married Andromeda and set Pegasus free. In the second Pegasus flew off to Mount Helicon, where he struck the ground with his hoof and created the spring of Hippocrene. The fountain was sacred to the nine Muses and was believed to be the source for all poetic inspiration, which is why Pegasus is a favourite of many poets and playwrights including Shakespeare.
Bellerophon, the grandson of Sisyphus (a selfish man punished by the Gods for his arrogance by being forced to continually push an enormous boulder to the top of a hill, only for it to roll back down just as the goal seemed within reach) was sent to the court of Iobates as a warrior. He carried letters of recommendation from Proteus, who was the son-in-law of Iobates. Unknown to Bellerophon the letter also instructed Iobates to kill the young man. Proteus was worried that his young wife was enamored of Bellerophon and wanted to get him out of the way. Iobates did not want to kill him outright, as killing a guest would anger the gods. Therefore he sent him on a very dangerous mission to kill the Chimaera, a fearful fire-breathing monster that was killing the citizens of Lycia.
On the advice of a seer, Bellerophon spent a night in the temple of Athena. As he slept, the goddess appeared in his dreams and instructed him to capture the winged horse Pegasus at the Peirene spring in Corinth. When he awoke he found a golden bridle lying beside him. He then traveled to Corinth and waited for Pegasus to appear at the spring. When Pegasus landed Bellerophon leaped out and threw the bridle over the horse's head, whereupon he became docile and allowed Bellerophon to mount. The two of them flew to engage the Chimaera and slew it. Bellerophon and Pegasus were sent on many other quests by Iobates in an effort to get the young man killed, but after they defeated an army of Amazons, Iobates decided that Bellerophon was favoured by the gods and that killing him would not be in his best interest! Iobates gave his daughter in marriage to Bellerophon and made him the successor to the throne.
This could have been one of those "happily ever after" stories except for the fact that in his later years Bellerophon became arrogant and believed that he should be honoured by the gods and become one of them. He flew Pegasus up Mount Olympus. As could be expected, this did not please Zeus, the chief god. Zeus sent a gadfly to bite Pegasus and this caused Bellerophon to fall to the earth. While he did not die, he was blinded and crippled. Bellerophon then wandered the rest of his life, shunned by most people. Pegasus was rewarded with a place in the stable of Zeus and carried his thunderbolts. Pegasus was also honoured by being placed in the heavens as a constellation.
Written and researched by Jorge Desjardins
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