Pegasus – Birth Story, Family, Meaning, Symbols & Powers
Pegasus: Fast Facts
Mother – Medusa
Father – Poseidon
Brother – Chrysaor
Nephew – Geryon, the giant of the island of Erytheia
Association – Bellerophon, Perseus, Athena, Poseidon
Epithet – the Bringer of thunderbolts to Zeus
Pegasus, Latin Pegasus or Pegasos, is the powerful winged horse in Greek mythology. Pegasus was the son of the terrifying Gorgon Medusa and Poseidon, god of the sea and one of the 12 Olympian deities.
Pegasus and his brother Chrysaor were born after the head of Medusa was decapitated by the Greek hero Perseus. In Greek myth he is commonly described as living in the sky on Mount Olympus, the heaven-like residence of the Greek gods.
What else is this winged stallion most famous for in Greek mythology?
Below WHE takes a quick look at the major myths and facts surrounding Pegasus’ origin story, family, abilities and symbols.
The generally accepted view is that Pegasus in ancient Greek meant ‘spring, well’. This meaning was coined by ancient Greek poet Hesiod. The meaning of the name stems from where Pegasus was born – the pegai of Okeanos (Oceanus). Okeanos in Greek mythology refers to the Titan offspring of primordial goddess Gaia and sky god Uranus. Okeanos could also mean the great river that encircles the world.
In another source, his name means ‘lightning’ – a reference to his speed and agility. It’s also in reference to his role as the bringer of thunderbolts to Zeus, the chief of the Olympian gods.
The commonly held myth about the birth of Pegasus is that – Pegasus, along with his brother Chrysaor, is believed to have sprung from the decapitated head of his mother Medusa. Greek hero Perseus had been sent by the ruler of Seiphos to on an impossible mission to bring him the head of the Gorgon Medusa.
With Medusa decapitated, Pegasus and his brother Chrysaor sprang from the blood that dripped from the neck of Medusa. According to myth, Medusa got pregnant after Poseidon, Greek sea god, raped her in the temple of Athena. A priestess of Athena and a woman that was once beautiful, Medusa was transformed into a terrifying snaked-hair Gorgon, whom when gazed upon turned the person into stone.
It was only after the Gorgon’s death did those children of hers get born.
In a different account of the story, Medusa’s children sprang from the Earth (Gaia) after her blood made contact with the Earth.
Read more: The Defilement of Medusa by Poseidon
Family tree of Pegasus
Role, powers and abilities
In addition to his amazing abilities of flight, speed and agility, Pegasus was said to be responsible for creating water springs. In the myths, wherever this divine winged horse’s hoof touched, a water spring came gushing out of the earth. Most notable example of springs created by Pegasus is the Hippcrene (“Horse’s Fountain”), the spring on Mount Helicon (in modern day Boetia, Greece), which is the residence of the Muses in Greek mythology. It is also stated in some accounts that he created a water fountain at Troezen (in northeastern Peloponnese, Greece).
Another very important role of his in Greek mythology is to serve as the bringer of thunderbolts to Zeus. The thunderbolts of Zeus are powerful weapons, perhaps the most powerful in the Greek pantheon. They were given to Zeus by the Cyclopes, the giant one-eyed creatures and offspring of Gaia and Uranus.
Pegasus and Greek hero Bellerophon
Before Corinth-born hero Bellerophon embarked on his mission to kill the Chimera, he received very sound advice from the Corinthian seer Polyeidos. The seer told Bellorophon that he could increases his chances of killing the Chimera by acquiring the divine winged horse Pegasus. The Chimera is described as an extremely terrifying beast with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent. The offspring of Typhon and Echidna, Chimera had a powerful breath in the form of a burning flame that could incinerate the target within seconds.
According to the seer Polyeidos, Bellerophon would need to acquire Greek goddess Athena’s charmed golden bridle in order to acquire Pegasus. Therefore the seer further instructed Bellerophon to sleep in the temple of Athena.
With the magical bridle in his hands, Bellerophon slowly approached Pegasus while the divine horse was drinking from the fountain Peirene (Pierian). Calling on every ounce of courage in him, the young hero was able to tame the horse.
In a different version of the story, Athena walked Pegasus, who was already tamed and bridled, to where Bellerophon was sleeping. Other accounts state that Poseidon was the one who brought the winged horse to Bellerophon. Bear in mind, Poseidon was also the god of horses. And as stated above Bellerophon was sometimes depicted as the son of Poseidon.
Following the acquisition of Pegasus, Bellerophon rode the winged horse on so many adventures, most notable the mission to kill the Chimera lion.
Ride to Mount Olympus
Bellerophon’s failed attempt to make it to the home of the gods on Mount Olympus is a classic case of a character biting more than he could chew. With his new found ability of flight, kind courtesy of Pegasus, Bellerophon perhaps got carried away as he thought he could fly all the to Mount Olympus. He also reasoned that he deserved to reside with the gods considering the fact that he had just slain the Chimera.
The hero was in touching distance of Mount Olympus when the horse that he was flying on got stung by a gadfly. Apparently Zeus had sent the little insect to disrupt Bellerophon’s ride to Mount Olympus.
Pegasus and Athena continued their journey to Mount Olympus even after Bellerophon had fallen off Pegasus. Upon arriving at Mount Olympus, the gods gave him a magnificent stable. Zeus then tasked him with bringing his thunderbolts.
So what happened to Bellerophon? According to the myths, Bellerophon fell on top of a thorny hedge in Cilicia. As a result he sustained a number of injuries, including losing his eyesight. Distraught and pained about the failed journey to Mount Olympus, Bellerophon spent the remainder of his life a pale shadow of himself until he passed away.
The Pegasus Constellation
Due to his devotion and loyalty to gods, Pegasus was treated very well on Mount Olympus. Zeus even honored him by transforming him into a constellation – the Pegasus Constellation.
Did you know?
The United Kingdom’s parachute troops (the British Airborne Forces) during World War II used an emblem that contained the image of Bellerophon riding the winged Pegasus. The official account states that the insignia was designed by English artist Major Edward Seago (1910-1974) in 1942.