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Pegasus (The Horse for Battles)

Pegasus, a Northern constellation and the 7th largest in the sky (even though only half of the horse is depicted), is quite unique among the constellations. Within Pegasus is the star 51 Pegasi, a Sun-like star that was the first found to have a planet orbiting it. Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz announced the exoplanet’s discovery in 1995, with confirmation coming from Drs. Geoffrey Marcy and Paul Butler. The planet, 51 Pegasi b, informally goes by the name Bellerophon, very fitting when the mythology of Pegasus is considered.

Medusa painting by Caravaggio 1595-1596
Medusa, as a young Princess was quite beautiful. Poseidon (King of the Sea) fell in love with Medusa and seduced her in Athena’s temple. This enraged Athena and to exact revenge Athena turned Medusa’s long, lustrous hair into animate serpents and made Medusa’s face so terrible to behold that anyone who saw Medusa’s face would be turned instantly to stone.

Perseus was sent, in a test of his skill and courage, to find and kill the Gorgon Medusa. He was expected to return with Medusa’s head to prove he had accomplished the task. Using a magical mirror provided by Athena, Perseus was able to behead Medusa without looking directly at her and being turned to stone.

Pegasus had been conceived in the union of Poseidon and Medusa before Medusa was turned into a Gorgon. Pegasus and his brother, Chrysaor, sprang from the neck of Medusa upon her beheading. Pegasus left his mother’s body and flew to Mount Helicon in Boeotia, home of the Muses.

A singing contest between the nine daughters of Pierus and the nine Muses caused Mount Helicon to rise heavenward with sheer delight. As advised by Poseidon, Pegasus kicked the ground with his hoof to stop the mountain from continuing to rise. To the joy of the Muses, his hoof opened up Hippocrene (horse’s fountain) which was the inspiring well of the Muses.

Bellerophon, a great hero and slayer of monsters, found himself in need of Pegasus. King Iobates sent Bellerophon on a nearly impossible mission to slay Chimera, a fire-breathing monster with the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a serpent.

Painting by Mary Hamilton Frye, 1914
Polyeidos, the Lycian seer, told Bellerophon to sleep in the Temple of Athena in order to obtain the services of Pegasus. In a dream, Athena presented Bellerophon with a golden bridle to help him ride Pegasus. When Bellerophon awoke, the golden bridle was there at his side. Polyeidos told Bellerophon that to capture Pegasus, he must approach Pegasus while the horse was drinking from the well Pierene. Using the golden bridle, Bellerophon mounted Pegasus and flew to fight the Chimera.

Bellerophon defeated the Chimera from above by shooting arrows into her back. He then went on to defeat Solymi and the Amazons. These conquests caused Bellerophon to feel that he was entitled to fly to Mount Olympus, realm of the Gods. Zeus, angered by Bellerophon’s arrogance, sent a gadfly to sting Pegasus, sending Bellerophon falling back to Earth. Bellerophon, blinded and crippled by the fall, lived the rest of his life shunned; alone and in disgrace.

Pegasus continued alone to Mount Olympus and was taken in by Zeus to transport his lightning bolts and thunder, common weapons of Zeus. Zeus then immortalized Pegasus by putting him in the constellations to forever be enjoyed.

Pegasus is featured in many of the Greek mythological tales of the constellations. Another great tale with Pegasus as an important factor is the story of the constellation Andromeda.

For Help Finding Pegasus in the Sky: See the Northern Autumn, Southern Spring constellation map by Jim Kaler and Stan Wyatt.

Author Resource: Written by Starr Hendon


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