The flying horse Pegasus is one of Western culture’s most popular and durable myths. What may be surprising to many is that the idea of a winged horse is not isolated to Greek mythology, but is a universal notion in ancient religion.
The theme of my new trilogy, The Legend of the Great Horse, is the depth of man’s partnership with horses and the animal’s foundational importance to civilization. When discussing the influence of horses it is almost impossible to throw too wide a net, and the legend of a winged horse is an example.
Early Christianity was combined with the Sun-worshipping belief that the Emperor departed earth upon his death in a chariot pulled by winged immortal horses, and various beliefs herald the Second Coming of Christ upon the winged horse Avatar. Islam records the gift to Adam of the winged horse Mamoun. Hindus honored Vivasvat, the Seven-Headed Sun Horse that symbolized the workings of the Seven Chakras. Buddha was said to have flown across the heavens as a white horse, and both Norse and Celtic religions had a stableful of supernatural mounts.
In modern times, mythology is remembered as a group of fantasy stories involving the gods of Olympus and exotic animals like the Chimera, Basilisk, Hydra, along with soaring Pegasus. But in the time of their practice, the “mythology” of the Greeks was their religion: a complex, inter-woven, often conflicting world enmeshed with the natural. The gods lived upon Mt. Olympus: their home could be seen by Greek villagers carrying on their daily lives.
Today’s popular conception of mythology is a pale summary of the original. We may have learned that Pegasus was a gift from the gods, or that the flying horse was the mount of Zeus with hoofbeats which caused thunder. But it is less remembered that the first gift of a horse was rejected by the people of Athens in favor of Athena’s offering of an olive tree, one of antiquity’s great examples of the wisdom of choosing butter (olive oil) instead of guns (cavalry). It is forgotten in popular imagination that that Pegasus sired a race of immortal winged horses, the Pegasii; or that Pegasus had a brother named Celeris, the mount of one of the Geminii twins (Castor, “The Horseman”) who were honored as a cult by the legions of Rome, and given placement, as was Pegasus, in his own constellation: The Colt.
The immortal Pegasii were of many colors, not only white, and they had varying powers of transport and appearance and purpose. The Pegasii were associated with dreams and inspiration, and all were benefactors of mankind or agents of the natural world.
The “legend” of Eclipsed by Shadow and the rest of The Legend of the Great Horse trilogy concerns the strangely universal idea that horses were gifted to man by the Creator. The “Great Horses” of history are descended from this first horse. Promise, the Great Horse belonging to the book’s main character, Meagan, shares the essential characteristics of the Pegasii.