This abstract and hazy painting, by the American artist Albert Pinkham Ryder (c. 1847-1917), depicts the famous flying horse, Pegasus, surrounded by other figures from ancient Greek mythology. Ryder’s painting was likely inspired by the myths of Pegasus and the Greek hero, Bellerophon (or Bellerophontes)—a man who had the rare privilege of riding Pegasus into battle. Besides Bellerophon, Pegasus was also associated with the Muses and Athena, and these women might be represented by the female figures painted to the left and right of Pegasus. A myth connecting Pegasus, Bellerophon and Athena was recorded by the Greek scholar, Pausanias (c. 2nd century), who wrote, “Athena, they say, was the divinity who gave most help to Bellerophontes, and she delivered to him Pegasos (Pegasus), having herself broken in and bridled him” (Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.4.1). This, then, is a likely explanation for the vague painting depicted above. The brown-colored figure riding atop Pegasus is almost certainly Bellerophon. On the right side of the painting, the woman who faintly looks to be equipped with a shield and a shoulder pad is likely Athena. As for the other woman, she is harder to identify, but one of the Muses is a safe choice.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Description of Greece, by Pausanias, translated by W. H. S. Jones and H. A. Omerod (Harvard University Press, 1918), reprint by Delphi Classics, 2014.