Pegasus was the immortal* winged horse of Greek mythology. The offspring of Medusa and the sea god Poseidon, Pegasus became the magical steed of the mythical Corinthian hero* Bellerophon. Pegasus does not appear in Homer’s Iliad, which includes the earliest surviving references to Bellerophon. However, the horse is mentioned in an ode by the Greek poet Pindar, who wrote in the 400s B.C.

Medusa was pregnant with Poseidon’s child when the hero Perseus killed her by cutting off her head. Pegasus was born either from Medusa’s head or from one of the drops of blood that fell from her body. The winged horse roamed the earth and flew through the air, wild and untamed. Occasionally he touched the ground, his hoofprint becoming a spring of water. The most famous of the springs believed to have been created by Pegasus was the Hippocrene spring on Mt. Helicon in central Greece, which was located near a grove of trees sacred to the Muses, the goddesses of art, music, and literature.

One day, as Pegasus was drinking at a spring near the city of Corinth, a young Corinthian man named Bellerophon approached him, carrying a golden bridle he had received from the goddess Athena. Pegasus allowed Bellerophon to place the bridle over his head, and from that time the winged horse allowed Bellerophon to ride him on land or in the sky. With the help of Pegasus, Bellerophon performed many heroic deeds. He slew the Chimaera, a fire-breathing monster with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent, and he fought the Amazons, the legendary women warriors. Eventually, Bellerophon attempted to fly on Pegasus all the way to Mt. Olympus, the home of the gods. This angered Zeus, the ruler of the gods, who sent a fly to sting Pegasus. Pegasus threw Bellerophon off his back, and the fall disabled Bellerophon, who ended his days as a homeless wanderer. According to some versions of the story, Pegasus went on to carry Zeus’s lightning and thunder.

Pegasus was a symbol of Corinth and appeared on that city’s coins. Scenes from the adventures of Pegasus and Bellerophon were popular subjects for Greek vase paintings. To the Romans, Pegasus became a symbol of immortality, or eternal life. (See also Myths, Greek; Myths, Roman.)

* immortal living forever

* hero in mythology, a person of great strength or ability, often descended from a god

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