The Pegasii

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.

Pegasii
Pegasii

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.

Horse Illustrated

In researching Eclipsed by Shadow and the other books of the Great Horse trilogy, it became clear there is a universal equestrian literary tradition. From the ancient Greek General Xenophon’s Anabasis, one of the earliest surviving works of journalism, through chivalric literature to Romantic novels to pulp westerns and up through today, horses have been popular subjects in countless works. 

da Vinci's "Rearing Horse"
Leonardo da Vinci's "Rearing Horse"

Authors from Saki to Mark Twain have written stories about horses, a tradition continued in contemporary works such as Farley’s “The Black Stallion” and Hillenbrand’s “Seabiscuit.”

It is difficult to find expressive terms to describe how close and longstanding is mankind’s partnership with the horse: We can talk of horses in very bold terms. The depth and universality of man’s relationship with horses is illustrated through one of our oldest creative impulses: Art.  And it seems horses inhabit all the arts.

Besides mankind itself, no living creature is so celebrated in art as our ancient partner. Horses have adorned virtually every medium of artistic conception, which makes horsemanship one of the most well-documented historical activities of mankind.

The idea that horses are a source of human inspiration is a theme running through history. The Muses of Greek mythology–a sisterhood of divine beings who inspired creative art–were entrusted with the care of Pegasus and held the winged horse sacred. The history of the world moves to the sound of hoof beats … and art records it.

Researching “The Legend of the Great Horse”

Ancient stonework of a chariot accident

The Legend of the Great Horse trilogy takes place across many historical eras, from pre-history to modern times, and research was fundamental to telling the most accurate story I could. I followed a method I found enjoyable and fascinating, and it’s one I believe brought authenticity to the work.

Basically, I gathered writings from each era visited in the book, and spent significant time immersing myself in that culture. The thoughts and emotions of a literate society are reflected in its writing, and I found that by experiencing (reading) a variety of preserved texts a picture of the society could surface. I found a lot of surprises.

For example, one of the historical periods visited in Eclipsed by Shadow is ancient Rome. There’s no shortage of writing from our Roman ancestors, but there is a profusion of literary works of quality during the late Republic and early days of Empire. The first “novel,” Satyricon, was written then, and also the historical works of the great chronicler Tacitus. Reading facts about Rome along with works of Romans themselves reveals their world in a new and authentic way—through the eyes of our ancestors.

I learned how Rome grew as a new idea in the hearts of man: one of shared citizenship and the power of harmony. This early melting pot of foreign peoples was gradually corrupted by ongoing appeal to military virtues and primacy of commerce. Well, that’s a bit foreboding.

Tacitus was a former Consul who lived through nine emperors; he wrote bravely as his world was descending into debased madness that eventually ended in annihilation. Western civilization—the one I live in—literally died once before. If I’d been taught this history, I didn’t fully appreciate it in those terms.

I hope that my research provides the reader with something valuable and different in their knowledge of the world. The experience changed me. History is not always what it seems, and it is certainly not a closed book.

“What’s a Dressage?”

It’s hard not to notice the disdain with which some sports watchers treat Dressage. They give silly quotes to media people that produce articles like: “Olympic dressage events leave Hong Kong’s horse racing fans yawning.”

Well of course they are yawning. You don’t get your Olympic thrills through eventing dressage, which is only more interesting than attractively-drying cement if it’s being done wrong. Olympic thrills are found on the next day, the Cross-County. Someone should have told the spectators, or at least the media. There is so much confusion in the world.

It is actually understandable that equestrian sports are such an oddity to the public, in spite of humanity’s millennia-old partnership with the animal. An uninitiated person would naturally assume modern equestrian sports have all existed since ancient times–in fact some of the most popular and exciting are hardly a century old.

It is an amazing bit of historical timing that an ancient skill like horsemanship was perfected to point it could conceive of athletic sports like 3-Day and Jumping … at the same time as the invention of automobiles. And today we have more horses than ever before.

Dressage, however, is truly as ancient as people assume all horseback riding is. It is a proven method of schooling horses that is at least 2500 years old. The origins were the battlefield, where discipline and athleticism were vital to cavalry success. Dressage is a gymnastics program for developing the horse’s physical abilities, and equally importantly, develops positive state of communication between the horse and rider. The system is utterly humane, to the degree of emphasizing only natural movements and requiring the horse be calm and relaxed at all times. Dressage is, in words of modern culture, the Jedi force that animates horsemanship. It is art, and there is magic in it.

Like all the arts, Dressage was lost with the decay of Western civilization during the Dark Ages. European Horsemanship disintegrated into barbarity as humanity lapsed into bestial conditions. The re-discovery of the ancient Classical art of Dressage was part of the earliest flowering of the Renaissance which sparked our current age.

There are multiple levels of dressage and as the levels go higher, the horse begins to develop more expressively until his gait becomes dancing. Some say dressage is like ballet, and as an educated art it is, though since dressage pre-dates ballet by over a millennium perhaps it is more accurate to say ballet is like dressage. (Dressage is also older than Classical music, that upstart.) The highest standard is the Grand Prix, exemplified in the competitive display of the Olympic Games. High level Dressage is a cultural event, as it was in the original Olympics themselves.

So that judge’s stand only looks like a bookie’s window, racing fans. I think the media gives too little credit to Hong Kong’s citizens. When Dressage is put to music at the final Freestyle, even racing fans may see the sparks which ignited during the Renaissance.

Why You Might Like the Book: “Eclipsed by Shadow”

Eclipsed by Shadow begins a horseback ride from pre-historic times back to modern day. This first volume of the trilogy The Legend of the Great Horse starts a journey through civilization.

If you enjoy horses this will be a fun book because horses are the hero. The main character is a young, enthusiastic rider. The story follows Meagan as she visits different historical cultures and experiences how horses were a part of the day.

If you like learning while you read something fun, this is a book you should enjoy. Whether or not you have interest in horses, consider taking a journey across cultures from prehistoric man to present day. You will become immersed in the development of humankind from a bestial brute to modern man.

If you like historical fiction, this book was written for you! Each of the fourteen time periods traveled are well-researched and detailed. The characters are lively and accurate to period, creating a worthwhile and page-turning journey through history.  Please check out the book’s website for more information and reviews.

If you enjoy literary works, you may especially wish to explore this title. The First Chapter gives a sample of the story. Reading time is precious and books must be selected carefully, so please do check out the book’s website for awards, reviews and other information to help you decide!

Horses & the Olympics

In writing Eclipsed by Shadow, I researched the history of the original Olympic Games and their relation to horses. The original Olympics were a religious ceremony, and were as much a poetry contest as a sporting event. The equestrian events were considered an athletic poem. They were a major focus of the original Games.

We have chosen to honor the “Olympics,” but there were actually four major Grecian Games, the Olympian, Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian. These were held in yearly cycles, so that the largest Games near Olympia were held every four years. The equestrian events were the most popular and religiously significant. The contests included flat Racing, Dressage and Chariot Racing (today the sports are Dressage, Eventing and Jumping). Note that Dressage is the definition of “classical.”

The fact that the ancient Games were religious in nature has given a special moral character to the modern Olympic movement. There were two sports in the original Games: Athletics and Equestrian. Each type of competition held a specific meaning. Athletics represented the striving for human excellence, and Equestrian events represented man’s survival and conquest against the elements.

Inclusion of horses ennoble the Games, and the honorary aspect of equestrian sport is the origin of the famous “Olympic spirit.” The integrity of the Olympic ideal is upheld in the equestrian sport above all, for it is the horse which competes for no prize except the joy of taking part, and horsemanship which puts the mount’s welfare higher even than the Olympic rewards of money and fame.

Are Horses Important in the Modern World?

Here is a question whose answer may not be obvious: “Since we now have internal combustion engines, why bother with horses anymore?”

Horses have been mankind’s transportation, and yes, today cars have replaced horses on the interstates and parking lots. However there are more horses today than ever before, so it seems this affection is universal in the world. Does this affection matter, or is it nostalgic sentimentality only?

Horses play roles besides the one of passenger propulsion. Antiquity revered the horse as a symbol of power and prestige, an inspiration to artists and warriors, a respected teacher of youth and the partner of kings. The ancient world provided modern society’s foundation, so this is a significant world view. The upcoming Olympic Games in Asia this summer will provide an opportunity to view the modern revival of an ancient equestrian sports ceremony, which the media will cover badly or simply ignore as part of mankind’s ongoing loss of ancient knowledge. But beyond the ancient roles, what importance does the horse have in the 21st Century and beyond?

One can point to spiritual roles, as in the recreational or therapeutic aspects of horsemanship, or to the material roles where horse-keeping provides economic benefits both enormous and widely dispersed. More deeply, horses have helped build the fabric of our society. The rhythms of our lives and institutions move to the cadence of hoofbeats.

The commercial cycle remains horse-centric. Industries such as those of automobiles and television first consciously mimicked habits from our common history. Examples are how new “models” are introduced (born) each year, or how product obsolescence was planned to match a horse’s prime working life, some three or four years, followed by a longer serviceable period as a “used” commodity.

Belief that horses have been made obsolete by technology also forgets the central role of horses as teachers and human inspiration. Riding teaches leadership, and the results of its wide absence is well within view. Yet much of modern humanity has seemingly decided that now is the time to discard ancient wisdom and dismount the partnership that brought civilization to its current technological state. This is not, in my view, a good decision. The sanity of the “forgetful” human race may in some way depend upon simple horse-sense.

Equines are too ancient to have become domesticated by man’s last-minute meddling, and perhaps it is beneficial to humankind to have an unchanging partner entwined with our swaying societal structures. We may not need the horse for mass transportation (though it may yet) but we should not dismiss the value of modern horsemanship to our culture–not only for what is known and remembered, but for what is not.

How I started writing

An inability to type started this author on the road to writing. By mid-semester in high school typing class I was still too slow to appear on the progress chart, which began at at a ridiculously fast 40 words-per-minute. Happily, the teacher banished me to the school library instead of redoing the chart.

In the library I discovered the card catalog (part of a different era) and lots of old books. I was fascinated by the layers of history made available simply by the passage of time and recent cuts in education funding. The remainder of my typing term was spent among cavalry manuals and yellowing books filled with lithograph images. The idea for this story grew out of those quiet hours serving “detention.”

I gained several valuable skills that semester … though, not typing. I found that by reading something interesting and then looking up related stuff to read, and then reading that, I was doing “research.” And I learned that I loved it.

The horses? It was my sister who was originally interested in horses, and had actually obtained one with the help of my horse-loving mom and a wonderful horsewoman named Sally Lasater. We had land but no horse-sense, so we faced a long learning curve that I now realize vanishes into the mists of Olympus.

During my detention I looked to see if the card catalogs had anything to say about this giant pet we had acquired, this oddly-timid tank of a creature that ate grass and pooped fertilizer and destroyed lawns by the mere act of walking upon them. I looked horses up in the card catalog to see if there was anything written about them, and there was an entire amazing world…