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|Written by Kelsa Staffa|
|Tuesday, 06 December 2011 21:53|
In mythology, horses have been described as fire-breathing, many-legged, immortal, part-horse, able to swim, able to fly, steed to the gods, and steed to kings. Horses can be found in the mythologies of many different cultures around the world, and below is a summary of some of the most intriguing.
The Anemoi (Greek)
The Anemoi were the gods of the four winds: Boreas, the North Wind; Zephyros, the West Wind; Notos, the South Wind; and, Euros, the East Wind. The wind-gods were often represented as horses or horse-like creatures, and grazed on the shores of the river Okeanos (the stream circling the Earth) or were stabled in the caverns of Aiolos Hippotades ("the Horse-Reiner"), king of the winds. The female counterparts of the Anemoi were the Aellai Harpyiai (also known as Harpies). Mating between the Anemoi and the Harpies produced swift, immortal horses.
Sleipnir ("the slipper") was a grey, eight-legged horse that pulled Odin's chariot and was believed to be the greateast of all horses. A son of the trickster god Loki (who was in the form of a mare at the time), evidence of the belief in Sleipnir can be found as far back as the 8th century A.D.. According to Icelandic folklore, the horseshoe-shaped canyon Ásbyrgi located in Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, northern Iceland, was formed by Sleipnir's hoof striking the ground.
Unicorns (Greek, European)
Accounts of unicorns (horses with one horn in the middle of their foreheads) were found in Greek natural history texts but not in mythology, as the Greeks believed that unicorns truly existed. The earliest note describes them as red, white, and black, with a horn a cubit and a half in length (1.5 times the length of a forearm). In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, unicorns became extremely important, commonly described as extremely wild forest creatures, a symbol of purity and grace, which could only be captured by a virgin. Its horn was said to have the power to render poisoned water potable and to heal sickness. Until the 19th century, belief in unicorns was widespread among historians, alchemists, writers, poets, naturalists, physicians, and theologians. Originally, when the bible was translated into English, the word "unicorn" was used in the place of modern "wild ox."
Embarr ("imagination") is widely considered in Irish mythology to be the horse of Niamh, one of the Celtic queens of Tír na nÓg (the Land of Youth) and the daughter of the Celtic God Manannán mac Lir. Embarr had the ability to run across sea or land, and could not be killed by man or god. Niamh invited the hero Oisin to travel with her upon Embarr to Tir Tairnigiri (the Land of Promise). After 300 years, Niamh allowed Oisin to take Embarr to the mortal world to visit, but warned that he was not to touch the ground. An accident unhorsed Oisin, and when he touched the ground he turned instantly into an old man, never to return to the enchanted land.
In Celtic mythology, Embarr of the Flowing Mane is also considered to be the name of the horse of Manannán mac Lir (the father of Niamh), fabled to live on the Isle of Man.
The Tikbalang (Phillippino)
A tikbalang is a tall, bony, humanoid creature with the head and feet of an animal, usually a horse, who can also transform into a human form or turn invisible to humans. Tikbalangs are said to scare travelers and lead them astray. Tikbalangs like to play tricks on travelers; for example, they can return the traveler to an arbitrary path no matter how he tries to set his own path. According to superstition, this is counteracted by asking permission to pass by, by remaining quiet in order not to offend or disturb the tikbalang, or by wearing one's shirt inside out.
A superstition popular with the Tagalog of Rizal Province is that tikbalangs are benevolent guardians of elemental kingdoms, guarding against unwanted actions upon their kingdoms' territories. Tikbalangs are generally associated with dark, sparsely populated, vegetated areas, and legends variously identify their natural habitat as being beneath bridges, in bamboo or banana groves, and atop Kalumpang or Balete trees.
Pegasus was a winged white horse sired by Poseidon, and the Gorgon Medusa. According to legend, everywhere the winged horse struck his hoof to the earth, an inspiring spring burst forth. One of these springs was upon the Muses' Mount Helicon, the Hippocrene ("horse spring"). In order to defeat the Chimera and the Amazons, Athena presented the Greek hero Bellerophon with a golden bridle to use to capture Pegasus while he was drinking from a fountain. Once tamed, Pegasus carried Bellerophon throughout many heroic deeds; however, Bellerophon believed that due to his victory over the Chimera he deserved to fly to Mount Olympus, to be among the gods. In anger, Zeus sent an insect to sting Pegasus, who threw Bellerophon back to earth and continued his flight to Olympus alone. Once on Olympus, Pegasus carried thunderbolts for Zeus. In thanks for his loyal service, Zeus changed him into a constellation of stars and placed him in the sky.
Hippocampi (Phoenician, Greek)
Poseidon, the sea-god, is most often described as riding in a chariot pulled by hippocampi. The hippocampi have the fore-body of a horse and a fish's body and tail, although in Etruscan mythology they were sometimes also provided wings. Some people believed that seahorses (not to be confused with sea-horses, which refer to hippocampi and not the fish) would grow up into hippocampi. The sea-horses were also believed to be the mounts of the Nereids, goddesses of the sea and part of the retinue of Poseidon.
In British legend, Gringolet was the war charger of Sir Gawain, one of the Knights of the Round Table. Gringolet appears in many romances in several languages, renowned far and wide for his ability in combat. It is suggested that his name derives partly from a Welsh word meaning "hardy." Gringolet was the favoured mount of Sir Gawain; he was the horse who carried him to find the Green Chapel, for his meeting with the Green Knight. Conflicting stories appear about Gringolet's origin; one story indicates that Gringolet was won from a Saxon warrior, while another states that Gringolet comes from the stable of the Grail castle and bears its mark. One description of him includes his shining gold-embossed bridle, "fore-harness," and "fine skirts," with a red blanket trimmed in gold.
Mares of Diomedes (Greek)
Heracles, a mythical Greek hero, was required to fulfill ten labours as punishment for killing his own children. His eighth labour was to steal the Mares of Diomedes, sometimes called the Mares of Thrace (Thrace being a historical geographical area in southeast Europe). Podagros ("the fast"), Lampon ("the shining"), Xanthos ("the blond") and Deinos ("the terrible") were mad, probably due to the fact that they were fed a diet of human flesh. Heracles left his treasured companion with the uncontrollable horses while he fought the giant Diomedes, and when he returned he found that the mares had eaten the boy. In revenge, Heracles fed Diomedes to the mares. An alternate version makes no mention of Heracles' companion, and merely states that Diomedes was fed to the mares to calm them.
Following Heracles' return to Tiryns, the kingdom of the man who ordered him to do his labours, the horses were either allowed to roam, now that they were calm (one version), or sent up Mount Olympus as a sacrifice (another version). Bucephalus, Alexander the Great's horse, is said to be a descendent of these mares.
There you have it, a brief survey of the different representations of horses in mythologies from around the world. It is clear that the horse's importance to culture and everyday life was and continues to be significant, and that in the eyes of the humans who depend on them, these great creatures deserve a place among the gods.
Tags: art, culture, etruscan, faith, greek, horses, literature, mythology, noble steed, norse, pegasus is totally the best, phillippino, so many weird words, welsh