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Since humans domesticated horses around 5,000 years ago, the elegant and powerful animals have been favorite companion. Horses have always captivated our imagination and played a central role in many legends and myths. Here are five of the most significant mythical horses and horse-like creatures in history.
A well known mythical creature that has been described since antiquity as a beast with a single large, pointed, spiraling horn projecting from its forehead. They are sometimes depicted as having cloven hooves like a goat or deer. Unicorns are most often depicted as being white, although they can come in every color. The unicorn first appeared in early Mesopotamian artworks, and also in the ancient myths of India and China. Later, they appeared in ancient Greek texts described as a creature with a snow-white donkey body, a dark red head, cloven hooves, and a two-foot-long horn that was white at the base, black in the middle, and bright red at the tip. They are also mentioned in many other ancient texts including the bible.
When people think of mythological horses, Pegasus, one of the most recognised creatures in Greek mythology, is usualy the first to come to mind. A mythical white winged stallion is a child of the Olympian god Poseidon, in his role as a horse-god. He was foaled by the Gorgon Medusa upon her death, when the hero Perseus decapitated her.
Greco-Roman poets wrote about the ascent of Pegasus to heaven after his birth, and his subsequent obeisance to Zeus, king of the gods, who instructed him to bring lightning and thunder from Olympus.
Pegasus was caught by the Greek hero Bellerophon, near the fountain Peirene, with the help of Athena and Poseidon. Pegasus allowed Bellerophon to ride him in order to defeat the monstrous Chimera, which led to many other exploits. Bellerophon later fell from the winged horse’s back while trying to reach Mount Olympus. Afterwards, Zeus transformed Pegasus into the eponymous constellation.
The hippocampus or hippocamp is a mythological creature shared by Phoenician and Greek mythology, though the name by which it is recognised is purely Greek. It was also adopted into Etruscan mythology. The hippocampus has typically been depicted as having the upper body of a horse with the lower body of a fish. The ancients believed they were the adult-form of the small fish we call the “sea-horse”. Hippokamps were the mounts of Nereid nymphs and sea-gods, and Poseidon drove a chariot drawn by two or four of the creatures.
In Norse mythology, Sleipnir is the eight-legged horse of the god Odin. Sleipnir is one of Odin’s many shamanic helping spirits, ranks that also include the valkyries and Hugin and Munin, and he can probably be classified as a fylgja. In modern times, Sleipnir appears in Icelandic folklore as the creator of Ásbyrgi, in works of art, literature, software, and in the names of ships.
Bucephalus or Bucephalas was the horse of Alexander the Great, and one of the most famous actual horses of antiquity.A massive creature with a massive head, Bucephalus is described as having a black coat with a large white star on his brow. Plutarch tells the story of how, in 344 BC, at twelve or thirteen years of age, Alexander won the horse by making a wager with his father: A horse dealer named Philonicus the Thessalian offered Bucephalus to King Philip II for the remarkably high sum of 13 talents, but because no one could tame the animal, Philip was not interested. However, Alexander was, and he offered to pay himself should he fail to tame it. Alexander was given a chance and surprised all by subduing it. He spoke soothingly to the horse and turned it toward the sun so that it could no longer see its own shadow, which had been the cause of its distress. Dropping his fluttering cloak as well, Alexander successfully tamed the horse.