mardi 23 septembre 2008

Pegasus 2

Pegasus was the winged horse best known for his association with the Greek hero Bellerophon. The manner of the horse’s birth was unusual, to say the least. Its mother was Medusa, the Gorgon, who in her youth was famed for her beauty, particularly her flowing hair. Many suitors approached her, but the one who took her virginity was Poseidon, who is both god of the sea and god of horses. Unfortunately, the seduction happened in the temple of Athene. Outraged by having her temple defiled, the goddess Athene changed Medusa into a snake-haired monster whose gaze could turn men to stone.
When Perseus decapitated Medusa, Pegasus and the warrior Chrysaor sprang from her body. The name Pegasus comes from the Greek word pegai, meaning ‘springs’ or ‘waters’. Chrysaor’s name means ‘golden sword’, in description of the blade he carried when he was born. Chrysaor played no further part in the story of Pegasus; he later became father of Geryon, the three-bodied monster whom Heracles slew.
Pegasus stretched his wings and flew away from the body of his mother, eventually arriving at Mount Helicon in Boeotia, home of the Muses. There, he struck the ground with his hoof and, to the delight of the Muses, from the rock gushed a spring of water which was named Hippocrene, ‘horse’s fountain’. The goddess Athene later came to see it.

Pegasus is sometimes depicted as the steed of Perseus, but this is wrong. He was, in fact, ridden by another hero, Bellerophon, son of Glaucus. King Iobates of Lycia sent Bellerophon on a mission to kill the Chimaera, a fire-breathing monster that was devastating Lycia. According to Hesiod the Chimaera was the offspring of Typhon and Echidne, and had three heads, one like a lion, another like a goat and the third like a dragon. But Homer said in the Iliad that it had the front of a lion, the tail of a snake and a middle like a goat, the description that most other authors have followed.
Bellerophon found Pegasus drinking at the spring of Peirene in Corinth and tamed him with a golden bridle given by Athene. Ascending into the sky on the divine horse, Bellerophon swooped down on the Chimaera, killing it with arrows and a lance. After undertaking other tasks for King Iobates, Bellerophon seems to have got over-inflated ideas, for he attempted to fly up on Pegasus to join the gods on Olympus. Before he got there he fell back to Earth; but Pegasus completed the trip and Zeus used him for a while to carry his thunder and lightning, according to Hesiod. Zeus later put Pegasus among the constellations.
Eratosthenes doubted this story because, he said, the horse in the sky has no wings. It is true that Aratus does not mention wings on the celestial horse, but he identifies the constellation as Pegasus, and Ptolemy in his Almagest definitely mentions wings, so Eratosthenes must be mistaken. Germanicus Caesar is in no doubt. Pegasus, he writes, ‘beats his swift wings in the topmost circle of the sky and rejoices in his stellification’. Eratosthenes repeats the claim of the playwright Euripides that this constellation represents Melanippe, daughter of Chiron the centaur (see Equuleus).
In the sky, only the top half of the horse is shown – even so, it is still the seventh-largest constellation. Its body is represented by the famous Square of Pegasus whose corners are marked by four stars. In Greek times, one star was considered common with Andromeda, marking both the horse’s navel and the top of Andromeda’s head. Now, it is allocated exclusively to Andromeda, and is known as Alpha Andromedae. The remaining three stars of the Square are Alpha Pegasi, also known as Markab from the Arabic for ‘shoulder’; Beta Pegasi, called Scheat from the Arabic meaning ‘the shin’; and Gamma Pegasi, or Algenib, meaning ‘the side’ in Arabic. A star on the horse’s muzzle, Epsilon Pegasi, is called Enif from the Arabic meaning ‘nose’. Germanicus Caesar said it lies ‘where the animal chews the bit, his mouth foaming’.

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