Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Which Olympian Created the First Horse? by Grace Elliot

Welcome to History Undressed, today's guest author, Grace Elliot. I love the Olympics, and I'm thrilled they are in London this year. But beyond that, I love the history behind the Olympics. Grace has written us a fun post today in that regard. Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of her novel, Eulogy's Secret.

Which Olympian Created the First Horse?

 by Grace Elliot

Tunnel entrance to
Olympia stadium in Greece
Hello!  My name is Grace Elliot and today I'm going to post about two of the things that fascinate me - history and animals!

I live in the UK and this summer, London plays host to the 2012 Olympics. Any excuse and it's on the news, yesterday it was a cycling event in the new velodrome and tomorrow it will probably be the over-inflated price of Olympic souvenirs. But did you know that the first Olympic games were held around 776 BC?

Apparently this date was arrived at by working backwards in four year leaps from a definitive date written about by Thucydides in 420 BC.

Unlike our games, the ancients held four sets of sacred games which commemorated the daring deeds of their heroes: the Pythian, Isthmian, Nemean and Olympic games. Over the millennia it is only the Olympics that still hold any significance for us today.

The Olympics were so named after a group of twelve superhumans who came from Olympia and were worshipped by the Pisatans. They thought Zeus lived on the top of Mount Olympus with his wife (who was also his sister!), Hera and their family. The ancient Greeks also believed that what Zeus and his family did had influence over their lives and so they were keen to please their gods. They did this by displays of athleticism, and running races to the altar of Zeus, which then went on to become the basis of their festival. 

So that is a potted history of the origins of the Olympics - but I mentioned animals - where do they fit in? Well, many of the original Olympians were associated with animals. First, let's look at Poseidon (Zeus' brother), god of the sea and earthquakes, and consider how he came to create that most magnificent of animals, the horse.

Apparently Poseidon fell in love with Demeter, the goddess of the earth and harvest. However Demeter didn’t feel the same but didn’t want to anger him. She hit on a plan to buy time and agreed to marry Poseidon on the condition he created a new animal that was more beautiful than anything on earth. Demeter felt she was on pretty safe ground because Poseidon's forte was making ugly serpents and sea monsters. As it happened, Demeter was safe, but not for the reason she thought. Poseidon did create an animal - the horse - but was so struck by the creatures beauty and power that he forgot all about Demeter!

Poseidon eventually fathered the legendary winged horse, Pegasus, after a union with Medusa. The story goes that when the Greek hero, Perseus, slew the Medusa, Pegasus sprang from her pregnant body and with one kick of his hoof made the river Hippocrene flow: the waters of which are reputed to inspire the poets.

Bellerophon riding Pegasus
The Winged Horse (1914)
The unbroken Pegusus was given by the gods, as a gift to a Corinthian hero, Bellerophon, for killing a fire-breathing monster that had a lion's head, goat's body and serpent's tail. But Bellerophon needed help to break Pegasus and make him rideable. This assistance came in the form of the goddess Athena who told him where to find the golden bridle which would tame the winged horse.

Sadly, having such a wonderful mount went to Bellerophon's head. He became arrogant and decided to visit the home of the gods at the top of Mount Olympus. The watching Zeus was not amused by this invasion of privacy. He sent a gadfly to sting Pegasus who reared and threw Bellerophon off - and being mortal, the fall to earth killed him.

However the winged stallion eventually became the bearer of Zeus’ thunderbolts and was rewarded with his own constellation in the heavens.

Keeping things in the family, the Olympian Hephaestus [son of Zeus and Hera] became the god of Blacksmiths and Artemis [daughter of Zeus and Leto]  the goddess of the Hunt. Their half brother Hermes [son of Zeus and Maia] a bit of a wastrel by comparison, found an empty tortoiseshell, strung it with strings and invented the first lyre.

So there we have it - Poseidon took time off from making sea-serpents and monsters to create the horse!

Eulogy's Secret...

In the four weeks since her guardians’ death, Eulogy Foster has lost everything.
Penniless and alone she seeks the help of her estranged brother, Lord Lucien Devlin. But Devlin turns Eulogy onto the streets, where she is attacked and thrown onto the mercy of a passing stranger, Jack Huntley. As Eulogy seeks the truth behind her birth, she is drawn into the world of art and artists, where her morals are challenged and nothing is as it seems.
Jack Huntley: bitter, cynical and betrayed in love. He believes women are devious, scheming, untrustworthy creatures - and when he rescues a na├»ve Miss from being raped, his life is about to change forever. There is something about Miss Foster that haunts him and challenges his emotions. But despite their growing attraction, Eulogy will not share her secret, which means he cannot trust her. Caught in a deadlock, both denying their true feelings, events take a sinister turn as someone seeks to silence Eulogy….forever.
Eulogy's Secret: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Grace's other books:

A Dead Man's DebtAmazon US / Amazon UK
Cat Pies - Feline Historical Trivia: Amazon US / Amazon UK
Author Bio:
Grace Elliot leads a double life as a veterinarian by day and author of historical romance by night. Grace lives near London and is addicted to cats, acting as housekeeping staff to five mischievous moggies.
Grace believes intelligent people need romantic fiction in their lives as an antidote to the modern world and as an avid reader of historicals she turned to writing as a release from the emotionally draining side of veterinary work. Her second novel ‘Eulogy’s Secret’ is a story of greed, blackmail and a stolen identity.

Visit Grace:


Artemis said...

Thanks for the refresher about Poseidon and Pegasus. Whenever I think of horses and the gods, it is usually of the Trojan Horse.

Grace Elliot said...

Thank you for the comment, Artemis, and what an apt name (winks)
Grace x