Pegasus, being the horse of the Muses, has always been at the service of the poets. Schiller tells a pretty story of his having been sold by a needy poet, and put to the cart and the plough. He was not fit for such service, and his clownish master could make nothing of him. But a youth stepped forth and asked leave to try him. As soon as he was seated on his back, the horse, which had appeared at first vicious, and afterwards spirit-broken, rose kingly, a spirit, a god; unfolded the splendor of his wings and soared towards heaven. Our own poet Longfellow also records an adventure of this famous steed in his Pegasus in Pound.
Shakespeare alludes to Pegasus in Henry IV, where Vernon describes Prince Henry:
"I saw young Harry, with his beaver on, His cuishes on his thighs, gallantly armed, Rise from the ground like feathered Mercury, And vaulted with such ease into his seat, As if an angel dropped down from the clouds, To turn and wind a fiery Pegasus, And witch the world with noble horsemanship."
The Greeks loved to people their woods and hills with strange wild people, half man, half beast. Such were the Satyrs men with goats' legs. But nobler and better were the Centaurs, men to the waist, while the rest was the form of a horse. The ancients were too fond of a horse to consider the union of his nature with man's as forming any very degraded compound, and accordingly the Centaur is the only one of the fancied monsters of antiquity to which any good traits are assigned. The Centaurs were admitted to the companionship of man, and at the marriage of Pirithous with Hippodamia, they were among the guests. At the feast, Eurytion, one of the Centaurs, becoming intoxicated with the wine, attempted to offer violence to the bride; the other Centaurs followed his example, and a dreadful conflict arose in which several of them were slain. This is the celebrated battle of the Lapithae and Centaurs, a favorite subject with the sculptors and poets of antiquity.
But all the Centaurs were not like the rude guests of Pirithous. Chiron was instructed by Apollo and Diana, and was renowned for his skill in hunting, medicine, music, and the art of prophecy. The most distinguished heroes of Grecian story were his pupils. Among the rest the infant Aesculapius was intrusted to his charge, by Apollo, his father. When the sage returned to his home bearing the infant, his daughter Ocyroe came forth to meet him, and at sight of the child burst forth into a prophetic strain (for she was a prophetess), foretelling the glory that he was to achieve. Aesculapius, when grown up, became a renowned physician, and even in one instance succeeded in restoring the dead to life. Pluto resented this, and Jupiter, at his request, struck the bold physician with lightning and killed him, but after his death received him into the number of the gods.
Chiron was the wisest and justest of all the Centaurs, and at his death Jupiter placed him among the stars as the constellation Sagittarius.
The Pygmies were a nation of dwarfs, so called from a Greek word which means the cubit (a cubit was a measure of about thirteen inches), which was said to be the height of these people. They lived near the sources of the Nile, or according to others, in India. Homer tells us that the cranes used to migrate every winter to the Pygmies' country, and their appearance was the signal of bloody warfare to the puny inhabitants, who had to take up arms to defend their cornfields against the rapacious strangers. The Pygmies and their enemies the cranes form the subject of several works of art.
Later writers tell of an army of Pygmies which finding Hercules asleep made preparations to attack him, as if they were about to attack a city. But the hero awaking laughed at the little warriors, wrapped some of them up in his lion's-skin, and carried them to Eurystheus.