Skyscript home page

Page not found

Star Lore of the Constellations:  Pegasus - The Winged Horse - by Deborah Houlding

Notable stars in Pegasus: Epoch 2000
Longitude Name Nature Mag. Position Lat. Dec.
23 Pis 29 Markab Mars Mercury 2.6 Horse's shoulder 19N 15N
29 Pis 22 Scheat Mars Mercury 2.6 Horse's leg 31N 28N
09 Ari 09 Algenib Mars Mercury 2.9 Horse's wing 13N 15N

Pegasus was born from the union of Medusa and Neptune when Perseus threw Medusa's head into the sea after he had used it to rescue the chained maiden, Andromeda. The winged horse is famed in mythology for creating a fountain of water at Helicon with a stamp of his hoof, and was described as snowy white in colour, high-spirited, and brave, though somewhat vain and destructive. He is said to have been caught by ambitious Bellerophon. who rode him to defeat the bestial chimera and then attempted to ascend to heaven on his back. Such boldness angered Jupiter, who caused an insect to sting Pegasus and throw his rider: Bold Bellerophon (so Jove decreed in wrath) fell headlong from the fields of air - wrote Wordsworth. Thereupon Pegasus rose alone to his place of honour, where he was known as 'The Thundering Horse of Jove' and reputed to carry his master's lightning and thunder-bolts.

The name of Pegasus is believed to predate Greek culture[1] but in early sources the constellation is known simply as Equus, 'The Horse', or prefixed 'The Winged Horse'. It is only ever shown as the forepart of a horse, usually with wings, but often in the classical period, without. Neither Manilius, Ptolemy or Firmicus referred to this group of stars by the name of Pegasus. Aratus knew it as "the huge horse, parted at the navel with only half a body".[2]

Amongst the classical authors there was a considerable resemblance between the meaning of this group and that of Auriga, the Charioteer. Both were listed by Ptolemy as being like Mars and Mercury in influence and both were noted by Manilius to show swiftness of movement, alert limbs and an affinity with horses. Manilius also reveals some similarity with Centaurus where he claims its natives will:

... heal a horse's wounds with the sap of common plants, and will know the herbs which bring aid to an animal's limbs and those which grow for the use of man. [3]

Firmicus said of the constellation:

Whoever has this star rising will be an especially famous charioteer, driver, horseman, or courier of scouts; he will not be a physician but will make medicines out of herbs for men and animals. But if this star is in its setting with malefic planets in aspect, he will be killed by kick of a hoof or a fall from an overturned chariot [4]

However, such qualities are rarely referred to in later works and modern books tend to give the constellation a malevolent reputation. Robson reports that it is associated with ambition, vanity, intuition, enthusiasm, caprice and bad judgement,[5] while generally its Martian/Mercurial influence links it with forceful oratory skills and intellectual rashness. Its subjects can display the reckless and valiant spirit of Pegasus, or the pride and ambition of Bellerophon, and whilst the constellation may show great feats of fortune and honour, it can equally signify violent disaster and misfortune.

The most prominent star is Markab, a 2nd magnitude, white star situated on the wing. Its name is an Arabic term used to mean something ridden on, such as a saddle, ship or any kind of vehicle. Astrologers have traditionally viewed it as a dangerous omen and it is extensively associated with cuts, stabs, fire and explosions.

Another star widely known for its pronounced malevolence is Scheat. This is also a 2nd magnitude star although its brilliance can vary considerably. It is of a deep yellow colour and situated on the left leg. The derivation of its name is uncertain.

The Arabians knew the noticeable square formed by the three prominent stars of Pegasus, along with Alpheratz of Andromeda (which was often included in this constellation), as 'the Water bucket'.[6] Of this Scheat was known as the 'Upper Spout', probably because it was regarded as an extremely dangerous star, from which poured forth with all kinds of disaster and misfortune associated with water. Catastrophies, floods, shipwreck, mining accidents, airplane accidents, and suicide attempts have been recorded as the effects of this star by Ebertin and Hoffman, whilst Robson acknowledges it as a star of extreme misfortune. [7]

Algenib, a 3rd magnitude white star, marks the extreme wing of Pegasus. Its name is a corruption of Al Janah 'The Wing'. Lilly knew it as the 'Back of Pegasus' and claimed that when an infortune is with this star, and the Moon is with the Girdle of Orion, the Native will be drowned.[8] It has sometimes been known as the Rear Spout (of the Bucket mentioned above) and, like the other two prominent stars of Pegasus, is believed to indicate violence and misfortune. Ebertin and Hoffman note that the French astrologer Jean Baptiste Morin (b. 1583) claimed it gives a good memory. From their own research, they find that the star promotes a penetrating mind and a strong will as well as determination, an impressive way of speaking and a gift for oratory. [9]

The Great Square which connects the three stars of Pegasus with Alpheratz of Andromeda is most prominent in sky towards the end of summer and through autumn for northern latitudes. Pegasus hangs in the sky upside down, making it difficult to connect its stars with the appearance of a horse. Alpheratz, Mirach, Almach and Mirfak (the alpha star of Perseus) can be seen as four bright stars that appear to make a circular line around Cassiopeia (the easy to identify W-shape group of stars).

The Sun crosses Algenib around 26th April, Schedar around 28th April, Cih around 5th May, Rucha around 8th May and Segin around 15th May each year.

Notes & References:
  1 ] It is believed to originate from the Phoenician Pega + Sus, Bridled Horse.
Back to text

  2 ] Phaenomena 205-220.
Back to text

  3 ] Manilius, Astronomica, (c.10 AD), translated by G.P. Goold, (Harvard Heinemann, Loeb Classical Library, London, 1976), 5.631-644 (pp.351-353).
Back to text

  4 ] Firmicus, Matheseos Libri VIII, 4th century, VIII.XVII.3
Back to text

  5 ] Vivian Robson, The Fixed Stars and Constellations, p.56.
Back to text

  6 ] Al Biruni 163; Allen, Star Names and their Lore and Meaning, p.326.
The star Alpheratz was said by Aratus to be common to the Horse's navel and the head of Andromeda. It is this star which Lilly called 'the Navill of Pegasus' when he listed two aphorisms concerning death from its conjunction with the malefics:

an infortune with the Navill of Pegasus, and the Moon with the furious Dog star, the Native will dye by some fiery, cutting weapon, or by hurt from Beasts. An infortune with the Navill of Pegasus and the Moon with the bright star of Lyra, the Native will perish by some violent death.
Back to text

  7 ] Ebertin and Hoffman, Fixed Stars and their Interpretation, p.82; Robson, p.93.
Back to text

  8 ] Lilly, p.649.
Back to text

  9 ] Ebertin and Hoffman, p.12
Back to text


© Deborah Houlding. First published in The Traditional Astrologer Magazine, issue 18; March 1999. Published online March 2007.

Stars & Constellations