Pegasus is the winged horse of Greek mythology, which has practically more origin myths than feathers in his wings, and continues to be an indelible symbol of flight, strength and inspiration. The Greek words associated with Pegasus, can be connected to lightening, and to the idea of springing forth. Since he is often associated with the Muses, and sometimes is the bearer of lightening for Zeus, both ideas combine to symbolically represent flashes of inspiration, especially in the arts.
The concept of a winged horse may originate in Egyptian mythology, and thus predate Greek origin myths, but today pegasi (pl.) are seen as uniquely Greek. Two of the most common myths of Pegasus’ creation are that he was created of Medusa’s blood after her beheading by the hero Perseus, or that he is the son of Medusa and Poseidon, and brother to Chryasaor, a giant. The myth that Pegasus was created by Zeus and given as a companion to Hercules, is largely a Disney invention for their Hercules cartoon.
Instead, Pegasus is often connected with two heroes, Perseus, and Bellerophon. Some myths suggest that Athena gave the horse to Bellerophon as a gift after she had found and tamed him. Other legends name Bellerophon as the discoverer of Pegasus, and his tamer. Bellerophon and Perseus in different accounts are both said to have had Pegasus’ aid in defeating the Amazons and the Chimera. In some myths, Athena gives the horse to Perseus; this is the more modern account given in Ray Harryhausen’s film Clash of the Titans, though it must be understood that the writers of the film took considerable liberty with Greek mythology.
In later years, after aiding heroes, Pegasus is said to have lived on Mount Olympus, in the service of Zeus or alternately served as the mount for Eos, the goddess of dawn. He married, and he and his wife Euippe, had children and began the race of flying horses. Despite the origin of pegasi, they are not immortal creatures, but Zeus sought to honor Pegasus’ service by setting him in the stars. Thus we have the beautiful Pegasus constellation, which forms a square, with lines leading out from the top left, and bottom right to slightly resemble a grazing horse. It does take some stretch of the imagination to visualize the constellation as connected to the mythical beast.
Representations of winged horses proliferate in Western culture. The Greeks used them on coins, and Exxon Mobil uses a winged horse as its symbol. An interesting take on the Pegasus myth is J.K. Rowlings creation of thestrals, invisible winged horses that are carnivorous, but actually fairly well behaved. They can only be seen by people who have seen death, and in this way Rowling reinvents the myth of Pegasus and references the more gruesome origin stories of the myth. Thestrals, however, lack the beauty and majesty of pegasi, though they are quite useful when tamed.