open country

The darkness is a comfort. The day’s toil is finished. I am walking along the hummocky field with no torch; I rise and fall over a surface I can barely see. I am floating and then I stumble. The sky above is half dark cloud and half constellations. The river is high and murky. The loch has some gentle light on it.

An image from childhood comes to mind. A winged horse lands by a moonlit pool and bends his head to the water to drink. He lifts his head and some water droplets fall glistening to the ground. He is not real. He is a creature of myth and legend. He is present in my consciousness. He is that beautiful image that can fill the imagination with something pure and beautiful, something that could help man fly before the invention of the aeroplane.

He is Pegasus. His constellation looks down upon the dark side of the Earth. Greek mythology tells us that he was the brother of Chrysaor. They were born in a single birth from the blood spilled when Perseus beheaded Medusa. My understanding of the role Pegasus played in Perseus’ story is different from the original story. The film Clash of the Titans, made in the 1981, draws on several myths.

What the film has done is draw the main events in the story of Perseus’ life and connect them to create a feature film story. Although Pegasus has the power to carry heroes on his back to slay monsters, this was not how Perseus slew the sea monster as the film would have us believe.

In the traditional myth, Perseus comes to Andromeda’s rescue on flying sandals. I suppose if I was a script writer, director or producer I would have been thinking along the same lines. Winged sandals are just not as evocative as a winged horse. Despite the poets and artists of the Renaissance staying true to the traditional story, the film makers rule in our modern culture. Without further research we are a slave to their abbreviated versions of stories.

The actual tamer of Pegasus is Bellerophon, like Perseus, one of the great heroes of Greek mythology famed for killing monsters. He was instructed by a seer to sleep in a temple dedicated to Athena. She left a golden bridle for him and told him to seek the divine beast while it drinks from a well.

The name Pegasus is believed to come from the word for spring or well. In fact one of the horse’s powers was that a well would spring wherever he stomped a hoof on the ground. Other jobs he held before becoming a constellation was bringer of thunderbolts and lightning with Zeus as his boss.

Pegasus has also enjoyed symbolism which has developed through the centuries. He has been a symbol of wisdom, poetry and inspiration for poets.

Carl Jung, 20th century psychiatrist, considered this winged creature to be bound to the spiritual energy that is required to enter the home of the gods on Mount Olympus. The symbology is mysterious and can only be understood and channelled by a select group – it is an esoteric idea.

To the British Army the symbol of Bellerophon riding Pegasus is not esoteric. To them it has a clear message. Bellerophon is believed to be the first recorded airborne warrior. This pedigree was the reason that Lieutenant-General Frederick Browning choose the image of the hero on his winged charger for the parachute regiment. The airborne infantry was not raised until 1941.

Zeus transformed Pegasus into a constellation because of his faithful service to him. Some versions of his final resting place say that when he took his place in the skies, a single feather fell to Earth. I look up at the stars not obscured by clouds. I know why ancient people wrote the stuff of legends – they were closer to nature. I still remember that tiny feather that fell on the field when the ducks flew back to the loch.