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Pegasus is a term used to describe any winged horse, but is used most often to describe the mythological beast of the same name, most famous in Greek mythology. Pegasus was the offspring of the god Poseidon and the Gorgon Medusa. According to most Classical legends, he either burst forth from the neck of Medusa when Perseus beheaded her, or sprang from her blood when it fell into the water of the sea. Although his name is a proper noun and technically refers to the one and only original, Pegasus has come to be used as a generic for any winged horse.
The goddess Athena is credited for taming Pegasus and presenting him to the Muses, with whose temples and worship he is often associated. He was later ridden by Bellerophon in a number of quests and adventures, culminating in an attempt to fly to the peak of Mount Olympus. Zeus was angered by the hubris of this quest, and sent a gadfly to sting Pegasus and cause him to buck his rider off. Falling back to earth, Bellerophon was forever separated from his beloved mount, and spent the rest of his days wandering the earth in search of Pegasus. Because his father was a god, Pegasus has the status of demigod, and ultimately was transformed into a constellation located in the sky between his first rider, Perseus, and Andromeda, whom he helped to rescue.
Pegasus himself took a mate, Euippe, and begot at least two offspring: Celeris, a white stallion, and Melanippe, a black mare. Presumably, all flying horses are descended from the lineage of Pegasus or Arion, another flying horse in Greek legend.
Some have pointed out that, more properly, winged horses should be called hippopteroi, or simply flying horses. Winged horses are a symbol of both strength and freedom, and figure large in fantasy worlds and dreams, so it is no wonder that they are encountered now and then as role-playing characters or fursonas.
In art, it is worthy of note that while an actual flying horse might be physically possible, it would require considerably more wingspan than is usually depicted. Most likely such a creature would have the lighter, hollow bones typical of avians, and the slight build of an Arabian or similar light breed. While Pegasus and his get have been frequently depicted in art through the centuries, the wings are rarely shown in suitable proportion.
- Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch's Mythology (Avenel Books, 1978)
- Kirkwood, G. M. A Short Guide to Classical Mythology (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1959)