‘Her [the Chimera] Pegasos and noble Bellerophon slew’.

                                                                                                Hesiod, Theogony, 325.

Image of Pegasus on printer’s device of Thomas Fritsche on the title page of Bartholomeo Castelli, Lexicon medicum Graeco-Latinum (Leipzig, 1713).

Pegasus is perhaps one of the most engaging of the Greek mythical creatures in the Edward Worth Library. Known in modern times as the ‘Horse of the Muses’ because it was he who was responsible for creating the spring of the Muses, Pegasus has been consistently linked to water in different forms. As the fourth-century rhetorician Callistratus tells us: ‘On Helikon (Helicon) – the spot is a shaded precinct sacred to the Mousai (Muses) – near the torrent of the river Olmeios and the violet-dark spring of Pegasos, there stood the [statues of the] Mousai’. According to legend, as a result of his exploits on behalf of the gods, Pegasus was rewarded by Zeus by having a constellation named for him. Today we still call a constellation ‘Pegasus’ and the name of one of its stars reminds us of his legend: Alpha Andromedae.

Image of Pegasus from Robert Plot, De origine fontium, tentamen philosophicum (Oxford, 1685), frontispiece.

Pegasus, a child of Poseidon and the Gorgon Medusa, was said to have sprung from the decapitated head of his mother – his name derives from this part of the myth. However, its name was also associated with springs of water and here, in the frontispiece to Robert Plot’s book on the origin of springs, we see a depiction of this latter interpretation. The topos of springs permeates the legend of Pegasus: Strabo tells us that it was at a spring that Bellerophon, with the help of a golden bridle given him by Athena, captured Pegasus. Together the duo would kill the famous Chimera.

Image of Pegasus on a coin from Pierre Bizot, Supplement a L’histoire métallique de la république de Hollande (Amsterdam, 1690), p. 242.

But Bellerophon was not the only hero who flew on Pegasus: Pegasus’ starring role came with his involvement with Perseus in their dare-devil rescue of the Princess Andromeda. As this image shows, Andromeda was in a tight spot, chained naked to a rock and awaiting the sea monster Cetus. Her mother, Cassiopeia, Queen of Ethiopia, had fallen foul of the gods by claiming that her daughter was more beautiful than the Nerieds and, as a result, Poseidon had decreed that Andromeda should be sacrificed to Cetus. Perseus was clearly happy with the rescued princess, deciding to marry her, but one wonders how Pegasus felt, helping the human who had been responsible for the death of his mother the Gorgon Medusa!

Image on the left of Pegasus on the printer’s device of Chrestien Wechel on the verso of the final leaf of Antoine Mizauld, Cometographia (Paris, 1659); and on the right there is an image of Pegasus on the printer’s device of the heirs of André Wechel on the title page of Jean Fernel, Universa Medicina (Frankfurt, 1592).

Pegasus also proved to be a favourite among printers and, as a result, the Worth Library, holds a number of depictions of this winged horse. The most famous printing house to use the image of Pegasus in their device was the firm of Wechel. Set up at Paris by Christian Wechel (d. 1554), an associate of Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), the firm was known for its exquisite publications. Wechel, born in Germany, had moved to Paris at an early age and it was here, in the metropolis of printing, that he set up his printing shop at the ‘Sign of Pegasus’. As Winger notes, the initial appearance of the device had been in the second Wechel edition of Andrea Alciati’s famous Emblemata of 1535. In the emblematic iconography of its time, it represented courage and fortune.

As such it was a good choice for Christian’s son Andreas needed both courage and fortune to prosper in a deeply divided Europe. Andreas worked with his father in their Parisian printing firm until 1572, when he left Paris for the safety of Frankfurt just before the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of protestants – a shrewd move on his part. He continued the printing press at Frankfurt until his death in 1581, and was succeeded by his sons-in-law, Claude de Marne (d. 1610), and Johann Aubry (who continued the Pegasus theme in their devices). The firm, now called the ‘Officina Wecheliana’ continued to prosper and in 1602 opened a shop at Hanau. As we can see here, Andreas elaborated on the theme in his rather more ornate printer’s device, which now included his initials.

Image of Pegasus on printer’s device of Joseph Dietrich Hampel and Jakob Gottfried Seiler on the title page of Simon Schard, Schardius redivivus sive Rerum Germanicarum scriptores varii (Giessen, 1673).

This image, from the printing firms of Hampel and Seiler, demonstrates the continuing popularity of the device (and the strategy of later printers trying to ally their printing press with the prestigious Wechel firm). Joseph Dietrich Hampel was active as a printer between 1641 and 1673 in both Marburg and Giessen. Seiler, on the other hand, wasn’t usually based at Giessen – spending far more time at Frankfurt am Main (1667-1683) and Kassel (1671-1683).

Image of Pegasus on printer’s device of Leonardus Strick on the title page of Leonardo Agostini, Gemmae et sculpturae antiquae depictae (Franeker, 1699).

By the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth century the reuse of the Wechel device was waning but Dutch printers like Leonardus Strick in Franeker, and German printers such as Thomas Fritsche in Leipzig, were finding other ways of incorporating Pegasus into their more fluid, less static printer’s devices. Strick had initially set up his shop at Amsterdam in 1673 before moving to Leeuwarden and Rotterdam in 1689 – before his final move to Franeker in 1682, where he was active between 1682 and 1702. Fritsche’s use of Pegasus on his 1713 edition of Bartholomeo Castelli, Lexicon medicum Graeco-Latinum (Leipzig, 1713) is the last known image of Pegasus in the Worth Library.


Van Huisstede, P. and Brandhorst, J.P.J., Dutch Printers’ Devices 15th-17th century: A Catalogue (Nieuwkoop, 1999).

Winger, Howard W., ‘The Cover Design’, The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 48, no. 1 (1978), 69-70.

Text: Dr. Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Edward Worth Library, Dublin.