Friday, 20 July 2012


While in Italy recently, in the town of Ascoli Piceno I saw this lovely "sea-horse" fountain in a public square. The Roman father-god of horses is, surprisingly perhaps, Neptune, who was at first a land-god but later (after his conquest of Amphitrite of the golden spindle, mistress of the ocean) the god of the sea. He is associated with horses because of their fluid movements and great strength. In general horses can be taken to represent the energies of the human organism, but also – with wings in the case of Pegasus, or fishes' tails in the case of the hippocampi – they are the forces that bear us between worlds or states of being, or the three worlds of sea, land, and sky, which we may perhaps take as roughly the waking state surrounded by the powers of the unconscious (the sea) and the superconscious (the sky).

As for the middle region, the centaur (for example, in the figure of Sagittarius) with the torso of a horse and the shoulders and head of a man represents the human being as a unity of body and soul. The fact that Sagittarius is an archer emphasizes the creature's mobility in the middle region, over land in other words, and also contains the idea of aiming at a target, which for the human person (body-soul unity, in Christian terms) can be none other than Beatitude – the "mark" for which we were fashioned, and from which we fall short by sin. In a Christian reading of the symbol, the arrow, which is itself made of wood, flies to the wood of the Cross.

When the horse is ridden by a man and winged, as in the case of Pegasus (sired by Poseidon/Neptune), it represents the active power of the spirit that enables the soul to have direct contact with the gods on Olympus. In C.S. Lewis's tale The Magician's Nephew it is a winged horse called Fledge, created and called by Aslan, who carries the boy Digory to the earthly paradise in order to bring back an apple of life for his dying mother. This is a detail from the "Narnia Window" in Holy Trinity Church, Headington, where Lewis used to sit in the congregation, close to the site of his grave.

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