Pegasus Meanings, Symbolism, and Mythology

Pegasus

Pegasus, the mythical flying horse in Greek mythology, was famous for helping gods and heroes achieve great victories. He is a popular and enduring figure who has special meaning to many people. For example, Pegasus meanings include freedom, power, and the eternal spring of imagination and creativity.

In this post, you’ll learn about Pegasus meanings and symbolism, some of the Greek myths in which he appeared, and more.

Dark Pegasus

Quick Facts

  • Culture of origin: Greece
  • Parents: Medusa (mother) and Poseidon (father)
  • Home: Mount Olympus
  • Special Features: Wings

Pegasus’ Powers

  • Flight
  • Carrying thunder and lightning to Zeus
  • Creating springs of water by pounding his hoof
  • Immortality

Who was Pegasus?

Perseus beheading Medusa
Perseus slaying Medusa and the birth of Pegasus. Artist: John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). Source: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA.

Pegasus was an immortal flying horse. He was the son of the god of the sea, Poseidon, and the winged and snake-haired gorgon Medusa. A powerful figure in his own right, Pegasus joined forces with Greek gods and heroes to help them achieve nearly impossible feats.

Pegasus was born when the Greek hero Perseus cut off the head of the monster Medusa. From Medusa’s headless neck, Pegasus sprang, fully formed, along with his brother Chrysaor. (Chrysaor is depicted as a giant man or a winged boar.)

Is Pegasus real?

Pegasus is a mythical animal. Though he was often depicted as a white stallion, what set Pegasus apart from other horses was that he had wings and could fly. So, Pegasus was not a real horse.

Was Pegasus a unicorn?

Pegasus was not a unicorn. To begin, he didn’t have a horn on his head like unicorns do. And unicorns don’t have a pair of wings to fly with as Pegasus did.

According to different legends, unicorns are extremely rare. However, Pegasus was even rarer as he was one of a kind. Furthermore, unlike unicorns, Pegasus was immortal.
Pegasus does share some qualities with unicorns though. Like the unicorn, he was often depicted as a pure white horse. In addition, he was endowed with mythical powers and was a figure in numerous legends.

Etymology of the Name Pegasus

Linguists don’t agree on the origins of the name Pegasus. Some have argued that his name comes from the word pege, which means fountain. According to the legend of Pegasus’ birth, when Perseus killed Medusa by cutting off her head, Pegasus sprang from Medusa’s body.

Springs and fountains have additional significance in Pegasus myths. For example, when Pegasus struck the ground with his hoof, a spring or fountains would emerge. Thus, he was a water diviner of sorts.

Recent research into the meaning behind Pegasus’ name suggests it might be derived from an ancient Anatolian weather god named Pihassassi. In Greek myths, Pegasus carried thunderbolts and lightning to Zeus. Thus, being named for a storm-god makes perfect sense.

What does Pegasus symbolize?

Pegasus and Rainbow

Pegasus meanings and symbols include:

  • Freedom
  • Adventure
  • Power
  • Wisdom
  • The Eternal Spring of Imagination and Creativity

Because Pegasus was a land animal who could fly, he represents the ability for human beings to imagine a world that is more magical than that of everyday life. Thus, he is a powerful symbol for freedom and limitless imagination and creativity.

Pegasus is also associated with multiple elements:

  • Earth because he was a land animal
  • Air because he could fly
  • Water because he could create fountains and springs by stomping his hoof
  • Fire because he carried lightning bolts for Zeus

In Medieval times, Pegasus symbolized wisdom because he moved between the two spheres of Heaven and Earth. By the time of the Renaissance, artists who were inspired by Greek and Roman traditions were fond of painting winged horses.

Flying Horse Mythology

Mesopotamian Winged Horse
Assyrian seal featuring a winged horse. Ca. 14th – 13th century BC. Source: Met Museum.

Many Greek myths were based on earlier stories from other cultures, such as the story of the Hydra, which is based on earlier myths about sea monsters. The inspiration behind the story of Pegasus is less clear, however.

The ancient Assyrians told stories about different creatures that had wings, including winged lions, bulls, and even horses. In Assyrian mythology, the winged horses had claws and horns. (The horns might possibly tie Pegasus to the origins of the unicorn after all.) However, the Assyrians’ winged horses were depicted as more sinister and dangerous compared to Pegasus’ heroic purity.

Greek Mythology

Testament to his popularity and importance, Pegasus appears in a number of Greek myths. In addition to the story of his miraculous birth, Pegasus helped gods and mortals alike.

Pegasus and Zeus

Like humans, the Greek gods used horses pull their chariots, carry supplies for battle, and more for other tasks.

While some myths say that Pegasus created the thunder and lightning bolts and brought them to Zeus, other say he simply carried them for the king of gods. Pegasus’ bravery was recognized by Zeus, who used the thunderbolts and lightning when the gods went to war and to keep mortals in line.

Pegasus and the Muses

According to the legends, Pegasus and his brother, Chrysaor, were raised by the Muses at Mount Helicon. The Muses were goddesses who ruled the arts and sciences. They cared for the two young demi-gods, guiding them into adulthood.

Pegasus and Perseus

As mentioned earlier, when Perseus slayed the gorgon Medusa, Pegasus spring from her headless neck.

In some versions of the story, Perseus rode on Pegasus’ back after he slayed Medusa. And one his journey home, he stopped at the island of Seriphos to rescue the beautiful Andromeda from the sea monster who was about to devour her.

However, other versions of the story say that Perseus didn’t ride Pegasus at all, as he already had winged sandals and could fly himself.

Athena

Athena and Pegasus
Athena and Pegasus. Ca. 1654. Artist: Theodoor van Thulden(1606–1669). Source: Private Collection.

Pegasus had a special relationship with Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. According to the story, it was Athena who had the power to tame Pegasus. She brought him to live on Mount Olympus, the home of the gods and goddesses. There, he lived in the stables with the horses who worked for the gods.

The Legend of Bellerophon

Bellerophon battle the Chimera
Cover for the musical score of the opera The Bellerophon Tragedy featuring Bellerophon and Pegasus battling the Chimera. Ca. 1714. Source: Royal Conservatory Antwerp and Brigham Young University.

Pegasus is also well-known for helping the mortal hero Bellerophon on an important quest.
According to the myth, Bellerophon, who was the son of a king, faced the penalty of death after he committed murder. However, instead of executing him, Bellerophon’s father-in-law ordered him to slay the fearsome Chimera, a fire-breathing, two-headed monster.

Bellerophon knew he couldn’t defeat the monster on his own. He realized that he would have to attack the fire-breathing monster from above for any chance to defeat him. This was the perfect job for a flying horse. Bellerophon knew he needed the help of the mighty Pegasus. The only problem was that he know he couldn’t just walk up to Olympus and ask for help.

Enter Athena

Bellerophon prayed for help and the goddess of wisdom responded. Athena gave Bellerophon a golden bridle to put on Pegasus. When Pegasus saw the bridle, he understood it was at the request of Athena, so he allowed Bellerophon to put it on him and climb aboard.

Defeating the Chimera

Even on Pegasus’s back, Bellerophon had trouble slaying the Chimera. The beast breathed fire, which made it almost impossible to get close enough to slay him.
To achieve victory over the monster, Bellerophon got a lead-tipped spear, which he managed to throw into the Chimera’s mouth. The lead melted in Chimera’s fiery mouth, causing him to cease breathing. Thus, he defeated the fearsome beast.

Pegasus and the Gadfly

As things go, after he defeated the Chimera, Bellerophon was feeling very good about himself. Letting his pride get the best of him, he decided that he deserved to visit the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus. Of course, he would make his entrance on the majestic Pegasus.

Unfortunately for Bellerophon, his hubris rubbed Zeus the wrong way. So, Zeus sent a gadfly to sting Pegasus. Feeling the sting, Pegasus reared in pain, throwing Bellerophon off of his back. Bellerophon fell to Earth and was so badly injured that he was permanently disabled. However, the uninjured Pegasus flew home to his stable on Mount Olympus.

Pegasus Constellation

Pegasus Constellation
Pegasus, Delphinus, and Equuleus constellations by John Flamsteed. Ca. 1776. Source: Raremaps.com.

According to the Greek myths, Pegasus was such a loyal companion to the gods that Zeus rewarded him by placing him the sky among the stars.

The Pegasus constellation is one of the oldest-known constellations in the night sky. The astronomer Ptolomey wrote about it in the 2nd century. However, it’s likely that people were watching the winged horse constellation in the sky far earlier than that.

One of the largest constellations viewable in the night sky, Pegasus is made up of a collection of very bright stars and deep-sky objects. It includes the 51 Pegasi star, which is a sun-like star that has a planet orbiting it. It also contains a Messier 15 (a globular star cluster), which is one of the most densely packed regions of the Milky Way.

Because it’s so large and vibrant, the Pegasus constellation is fairly easy for amateur star-gazers to find. In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s visible from the end of summer until early winter. In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s visible from late winter through early summer.

Pegasus Symbols in the Modern World

Tuscan flag
Tuscan flag.

Underscoring his popularity, like the Greek goddess Gaia, Pegasus is an enduring symbol in the modern world.

During World War II and for years afterwards, the British Airborne used Pegasus as their symbol. Patches sewn onto uniforms of British paratroopers show a warrior brandishing a spear as he rides a winged horse. In addition, there is an airline fittingly named after the winged horse.

In addition, the Tuscan flag depicts a silver Pegasus against a white background. And Pegasus is a fixture on the logo for Mobil gas. Furthermore, in the widely popular Harry Potter stories, the Abraxan is a breed of winged horse that resemble a golden palomino.

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