Pegasus the Winged Horse
The northern evening sky in southern Australia is dominated by the asterism known as the Great Sqaure of Pegasus.  Although one corner of this great square marks the head of the neighbouring constellation of Andromeda, it is usually shared between the two.  Like Capricornus and several other constellations the origin of the horse in the sky has very ancient origins and the Greeks merely added their own interpretation to explain the pattern in the stars.

Pegasus was born when the blood of Medusa splashed into the sea after being slain by Perseus.  Not much is said about where he roamed after this but he came back to earth to dwell Mount Helicon at the direction of Poseidon.  The Muses were having a singing competition with the Pierides, the nine mortal daughters of Pieros.  The story goes when the Muses sang the whole world stopped to listen and the mountain itself swelled with rapture.  Pegasus was commanded to strike the mountain with his hooves to stop it growing towards the heavens and where the horse did so a spring came forth, which became known as the Hippocrene.  It was here that Bellerophon found Pegasus in a later time. 

Bellerophon was a warrior who came to the court of King Proteus of Argos to be purified of a murder he had committed.  While there the wife of Proteus, Stheneboea, tried to seduce him but the upright Bellerophon rejected his advances.  In a rage she told Proteus that Bellerophon had tried to dishonour her, so he sent Bellerophon to his father-in-law Iobates of Lycia with a sealed message.  The message told Iobates to arrange the death of Bellerophon.  So Iobates sent Bellerophon to the kill the Chimera, a beast with three heads; a lion and a goat that all spat flame and tail that was a striking serpent.  This was no easy task so Bellerophon went to the temple of Athena to pray for guidence.  Athena game him a magical golden bridle and told him where to find Pegasus.  So tamed the spirited horse by throwing Athena's bridle over the white neck and he was then allowed by Pegasus to ride upon his back.

Pegasus flew close enough to the Chimera that Bellerophon was able to defeat it by throwing balls of lead into it's mouths.  The lead melted in the flames and choked the Chimera.  Iobates set Bellerophon some further tasks when he survived the first challenge but these too he acomplished with the help of Pegasus.  Eventually Iobates showed Bellerophon the message from Proteus and asked him to stay in Lycia, where he married Iobates daughter.  Pegasus remained with him in friendship.  One day in his later years Bellerophon tried to fly Pegasus to the top of Mount Olympus.  For his arrogance Zeus struck Bellerophon from the back of Pegasus and he fell back to earth and was blinded for the rest of his days.  The horse was placed amongst the stars in reward for his faithful services to the gods. 

An excerpt from Johan van Keulen's Boeck zee-kaardt, 1709.
Only the front half of the flying horse is depicted in the sky.
The horizontal dashed line is the celestial equator.
In the bottom right of the picture another dashed line, the ecliptic,
crosses the equator and above is the symbol for Aries.
This marks the First Point of Aries. The exact time the Sun crosses this point 
in it's annual path through the stars is what we call the Vernal Equinox, 
or the Equinox of Spring (in the Northern Hemipshere), 

Alpha (a) Pegasi is called Markab and marks the shoulder of the horse.  It is loosely translated from the  Arabic for "anything that is ridden upon", such as a saddle or vehicle.  The meaning of Scheat, beta (b) Pegasi, is less clear and may mean the foreleg or the upper part of the arm.  Algenib, gamma (g) Pegasi most probably means "the Side (of the Horse)" but could also mean "the Wing".  Enif, epsilon (e) Pegasi, means "the Nose". 

Alpheratz, which means "the Horse's Navel",  is both delta (d) Pegasi and alpha Andromedae.  (This is not the only instance of one star being shared by two constellations, Taurus and Auriga both share the star El Nath).   However it is considered to belong more to Andromeda and Pegasus, where it marks the head of the Woman in Chains.

This article is ©2001 Stargazers Astronomy Shop

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