Pegasus, the winged horse | Apulian red figure vase C4th B.C. | Tampa Museum of Art
Pegasus at the spring, Apulian red-figure vase
C4th B.C., Tampa Museum of Art

Pegasus is one of the best known mythological creatures in Greek mythology. He is a winged divine stallion usually depicted as pure white in color. He was sired by Poseidon, in his role as horse-god, and foaled by the Gorgon Medusa. He was the brother of Chrysaor, born at a single birthing when his mother was decapitated by Perseus. Greco-Roman poets write about his ascent to heaven after his birth and his obeisance to Zeus, king of the gods, who instructed him to bring lightning and thunder from Olympus.

The winged horse Pegasos bursts forth in birth, from the decapitated neck of the Gorgon Medusa. The hero Perseus wings away with her head tucked inside his kibisis sack.
Metropolitan Museum, New York City, USA 

Medusa and Pegasus

Pegasus and Perseus with the head of Medusa - Peter Paul Rubens

     Now she pulled her cowl down again. Her hair writhed with the serpentine undulations. The golden snakes separated from her locks and hissed softly. Perseus stood still, both enthralled and terrified. From her forelock, one strand of hair turned darkest black, red eyes glowing like coals.
     “Do you know who this is, Perseus?”
     “Venpay” he breathed.
     She nodded. “You have seen his children’s work. Venpay has the purest venom in the world. When his fangs sink, my death will be certain, and none can reverse it. He tells me because of my close proximity to him for many months, I will not be spared an instant death. My time will take perhaps a few minutes, and it will be a death of asphyxiation and fear. He advises that it would be a kindness to sever my head." She pointed to the adamant sword. “Using that, it would be instant and painless.”
     He looked away. “I cannot kill the woman I love.”
     She spoke. “I understand the prophesy. Only the man who truly loves me can do this. A strike to me will be a strike to Poseidon himself, and on my behalf.”
     She saw him waver. She walked to him and kissed him gently, softly, then reached and caressed his face, smiling, at peace. “This is the time.”
     She reached back and took the sole black lock from her scalp. She kissed Venpay and stroked his head. She whispered to him, then smiled and spoke to Perseus. “I am thanking him for his gift of his venom. It is a singular honor never before bestowed upon a mortal.”
     She gently took Venpay’s head and held it to her wrist. “Strike at my command, Perseus. Our sons, Cassup, and all within can be saved."
     The ancient serpent god wrapped around her wrist, and then gently sank its fangs into her skin. Even as he watched, stunned, she began to pale and slow.
     “Strike, if you have strength!" The voice was Stheno's.
     “Strike, if you have courage!" The voice was Euryale’s.
     “Strike, if you love me." The voice was Medusa’s, and weakening fast.
     Nearly blinded by tears, he brought the adamant blade in a perfect arc toward her neck. The last mortal words she heard were his cry for forgiveness.

Peter Paul Rubens

     Her lids closed as she awaited the sword’s blessed release. She had planned for her last moments to be in prayer for the delivery of her children, but as her eyes shut, she found herself detached from her body and back in that of the dream horse. Instead of paralysis, the coursing venom seemed to impart immense strength and vitality.
     She ran with all her strength, boldly and without hesitation toward the cliff. Her front hoofs found the edge and she leapt with joy, reaching for the stars themselves breaking through the evening skies. All fear was banished, replaced by elation.
     In the moment when she was perfectly balanced between the strength of the leap and the pull of gravity, a rippling came from her shoulders. Instinctively she pushed down, then up. Huge wings had unfurled, bedecked in white feathers each longer than a man’s arm. She pulled herself up into the air, striving for the beckoning stars, hoofs catching on the air as if it were turf. She cried out in a shout of delight, the sound swirling the cosmos.
     Stars shattered and scattered and realigned. 

Excerpt - S.D. Hine's Medusa


Nonnus, Dionysiaca 31. 13 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :

“As Medousa was slain [by Perseus], the neck was delivered of its twin birth, the Horse [Pegasos] and the Boy [Khrysaor] with the golden sword.”

 Chrysaor, son of the Gorgon at the pediment of the Temple of Artemis in Corfu


From Medusa's dead body the giant Chrysaor and the winged horse Pegasus, her son by Poseidon, sprang forth.  Chrysaor was often depicted as a young man

The hero Perseus flees from the scene of the decapitated Gorgon Medousa. He is depicted as a hero armed with two hunting spears, wearing winged boots, a cap, and the kibisis bag containing the head of Medousa. A second almost identical figure (with chlamys cloak) is the god Hermes. Behind the pair follows Athene with her aigis cloak outstretched. The scene shows all three Gorgones, winged maidens with a pair of serpents sprouting from their waists. The middle sister is the decapitated Medousa, from whom is born the boy Chrysaor and the winged foal Pegasus. 

The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor

From Medusa's decapitated body the giant Chrysaor and the winged horse Pegasus, her son by Poseidon, sprang forth. 

Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor, c. 1876-1885

More Athena and the Aegis

Athena often helped heroes, like Jason and Perseus. She wore an aegis, a goatskin shield which had a fringe of snakes. When Perseus killed the gorgon Medusa, whose face turned men to stone, he gave the gorgon head to Athena, and the goddess placed it on her aegis.

Athena wearing her aegis, with its snake-fringe and gorgon head
Toledo 1963.26, Attic black figure calyx krater, c. 520-515 B.C.

Athena depicted on an Attic red figure amphora from ca. 525 BC. Her aegis is positioned over her right shoulder so that the Gorgon head—the head of serpents—is seen in full frontal-face. The look of the Gorgon Medusa had the power to turn men to stone. The glare of Medusa still mesmerizes those who don’t look away to Genesis to discern Athena’s true identity.

Athena and the Aegis

Medusa was killed by the hero Perseus with the help of Athena and Hermes. He killed her by cutting of her head and gave it to Athena, who placed it in the center of her Aegis, which she wore over her breastplate.

The Aegis is a protective device that was originally associated with Zeus, but also, and later solely, with Athena. It is variously considered to be a bright-edged thundercloud (because when Zeus used it lightning flashed and thunder sounded) fashioned by Hephaestus, or the skin of the divine goat Amaltheia. It is represented as a sort of cloak, sometimes covered with scales and fringed with serpents, and with the head of Medusa fastened in the middle. The Aegis could also serve as a shield and in that fashion Athena wears it upon her breastplate. 

This statue of Athena from the old Parthenon, now in the Acropolis Museum, shows her snaky aegis well. 

Perseus Delivers the Head of Medusa

Edward Burne Jones depicts Perseus showing Andromeda the head of the slain Medusa.  According to mythology, even looking at the dead Medusa would turn you to stone and she could only be viewed safely through her reflection.

Notice while Andromeda is looking at Medusa, Perseus is gazing steadily at Andromeda.