Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

The Horse with Wings

In the country of Lycia lived a monster called the Chimæra. It was part lion, part goat, and part dragon, but altogether ugly and terrible. Its breath was fire, and wherever it went the grainfields and cottages were burned. It ate cattle and people, so that the whole land groaned and trembled because of this dreadful creature.

The king was very anxious to find some hero who would kill the monster, but everybody was afraid. One day a handsome young man went to the palace and asked the king for something to do. The king told him about the Chimæra, and asked him if he would dare to meet and fight the beast. Bellerophon—that was the young man's name—said, "I am willing to try, but first I must find a wise man who can give me good advice."

They led him to an old wizard, or soothsayer, who told him, "The best thing you can do is to get the winged horse, Pegasus."

"But where shall I find him?" asked the young man.

"You must go to the temple of Athene to-night and sleep there. It may be that the goddess will appear to you and tell you what you wish to know."

Bellerophon went to the temple, and when night came lay down and slept. The goddess appeared to him in a dream and gave him a magic bridle, made of gold and precious stones. When he awoke the bridle was in his hand.

That day the kind Athene led him to a well where Pegasus was drinking. He was a beautiful horse with silver wings. He could gallop faster than any earthly horse and fly higher than any eagle.

The young man drew near to him and said, "Beautiful horse, do not fly away. Help me kill a monster which makes a whole country unhappy. See, Athene has given you this splendid bridle. No other horse ever had one so fine. Let me put it over your head."

Pegasus stood still, took the bit into his mouth, and let Bellerophon buckle the bridle. Then the youth jumped on the horse's back and said, "Now for Lycia and the Chimæra! Up, gallant steed, and make the people wonder as they see us sailing through the air."

Bellerophon and Pegasus


Up they rose, and flew over mountains and rivers until they reached Lycia. They found the Chimæra in a cave. It came out hissing and spitting fire, and there was a dreadful battle. But a horse with wings could easily get out of the monster's way and fly upon him before he could turn around. First Bellerophon cut off the goat's head. The lion's head and claws fought the more savagely, but the good sword cut away that head too, and then the horse with wings stamped on the dragon's body until it lay quite still. The Chimæra was conquered and killed.

Bellerophon rode proudly to the palace, and the king was glad to hear the good news. He asked Bellerophon to do a great many other hard and dangerous things, and with the help of Pegasus he did them all.

Then of course he married the king's daughter and lived very happily for a while.

But the young man grew very proud and insulting, even to the gods. He said he would fly up into heaven and live there, and nobody could hinder him. Zeus was angry and send a gadfly to sting the horse. Pegasus gave such an unexpected jump that his rider was thrown and fell a long distance to the ground.

Friends picked him up. "You are not much hurt, Bellerophon," they said, to comfort him.

"Oh, yes!" he answered. "I cannot see, and I can hardly walk, and I have lost my horse with wings."

He wandered about in the fields lonely and blind and sorrowful, and after a while died in poverty and grief.

The horse with wings flew back to Mount Helicon where his real owners, the Muses, lived. Sometimes men caught him and kept him for a while, but he could fly away as well as run away.

Once a poet caught him and rode him for some time. But poems sold for very little money in the market, and the poet said, "I can feed neither my horse nor myself. I will sell him, and the money will buy bread for some weeks."

He took the horse to a fair and sold him to a farmer, who hitched him to a cart. He kicked the cart to pieces. They put him before a plow, but he galloped around the field and broke the plow. The farmer took a club and beat him cruelly. The horse hung his head and would not move.

The neighbors gathered around. They said, "Your horse seems balky. You were cheated when you bought him."

"Yes, yes," said the farmer. "I wish I had my good money back in my pocket."

A young man had been looking closely at the horse.

"Neighbor," he said, "let me try what I can do with this animal. Unhitch him from the plow and take off the broken harness."

This was done. The young man went to the horse's head and whispered, "By your bright eyes and wings I see you are not of common earth. Let me mount upon your back, and we will astonish these dull people."

The horse gave a soft whinny. The young man leaped on his back. Pegasus lifted his head, spread his wings, and sprang from the ground. Higher and higher they went, and while the people below stood with open eyes and mouths, Pegasus and his rider flew away to the mountain of the Muses.