This psychedelic and colorful artwork, by the Polish artist Josef Mehoffer (c. 1869 – 1946), depicts the legendary flying horse, Pegasus, and two godly Muses from Greek mythology. Although Mehoffer was not explicit in labeling which, if any, particular myth he wanted to represent in his work, the scene does resemble one incident from the mythological tales where Pegasus stamped his hoof against the ground, creating a magnificent water spring or fountain that the delighted Muses quickly claimed as their own. The Roman poet, Ovid (c. 43 BCE-17 CE), wrote of this myth in his epic poem, Metamorphoses, framing the scene so that the Muses gave the goddess, Minerva (aka Athena), a tour of the spring. Ovid wrote:
“[Minerva] made for Thebes and the mountain of Helicon, home of the Muses.
Here she landed and spoke to the sisters who govern the arts:
‘A rumor has come to my ears of a fountain that started to gush
when the earth was struck by the hoof of the winged horse sprung from Medusa.
Hence my arrival. I wanted to see this amazing spring…
[The Muse] Uránia answered: ‘Whatever your reason for coming to visit us
here in our home, kind goddess, we feel great pleasure.
The story you heard is correct: the winged horse Pégasus started
our spring;’ and she took Minerva down to the sacred fountain.
Slowly admiring the waters which Pegasus’ hoof had created,
the goddess surveyed the clusters of grand, primeval trees,
mysterious caves and grass bejeweled with myriads of flowers.
She declared that Memory’s daughters [the Muses] were truly blessed in their dwelling”
(Ovid, Metamorphoses, 5.254-267)
It is this myth, or something similar to it, that Josef Mehoffer seems to be re-creating in his artwork. Pegasus can be seen, perhaps in the act of landing or taking off, and the Muse on the right side of the scene looks as if she is gesturing to the ground and Pegasus’ hooves. It may be the moments leading up to the creation of the sacred fountain of the Muses that is being displayed in the artwork.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Metamorphoses by Ovid. Translated by David Raeburn. Penguin Classics; Revised Edition, 2004.