Four horsemen of the Apocalypse

From Academic Kids

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are mentioned in the Bible in chapter six of the Book of Revelation, which predicts that they will ride during the Apocalypse. The four horsemen are traditionally named War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death. However, the Bible actually only names one: Death.

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From the King James Version of the Bible, Revelation chapter 6, verses 1 to 8:

  1. And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.
  2. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
  3. And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see.
  4. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
  5. And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.
  6. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
  7. And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.
  8. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

Opinions differ on whether the first horseman, riding the white horse, represents Christ or the False Prophet. The second horseman, riding the red horse, is generally held to represent War. The third horseman, riding the black horse, is Famine, and the fourth horseman (on the pale, or sickly horse, which may be the source of the notion of "pestilence" as a separate horseman) is explicitly named Death.

The white color of the first horse could mean victory, because generals of that time often rode white horses after they had won a battle or war. The crown that its rider wore was a kind of prize awarded for service in a war. The bow that he carried could be a symbol of an enemy at that time, the Parthians, who were famous for their archery. Some commentators have thought it significant, however, that no arrows are mentioned. The red color of the second horse could mean bloody war, and the sword held by the rider could symbolize war and violence. The black color of the third horse could be a symbol of death and famine. Its rider was holding a scale, which means scarcity of food, higher prices, and famine. The pale greenish color of the fourth horse means fear, sickness, decay, and death. The imagery of the horses and riders is similar to a passage in Zechariah.

An alternate interpretation, likely based on differing translations, holds the first Horseman to represent War and/or the Antichrist, the second to represent Pestilence (sometimes called Plague), while the third and fourth riders remain Famine and Death, respectively.


Cultural references to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse


The novel Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, includes an appearance by the four horsemen - Death, War, Famine, and Pollution (Pestilence having retired) - who have, in deference to changing times, traded in their horses and formed a motorcycle gang.

Pratchett's Discworld series also features the Four Horsemen, most notably in Sourcery and Thief of Time. The latter introduces the fifth horseman (Kaos (or Chaos)), who left before they became famous (akin to a Fifth Beatle). Like Death, the other horsemen have a personality beyond the job; War, for instance, is married with three kids: Panic, Terror and Clancy.

A reference to the Four Horsemen is made in The Talismans of Shannara, a 1993 fantasy novel and part of a series. The Four Horsemen are personified by creatures called Shadowen, and instead of horses they ride serpent-like creatures.

The first book of the Incarnations of Immortality series by Piers Anthony with the title On a Pale Horse deals with the story of a man who accidently kills death and has to take over his job and life. The series deal with the different incarnations of various powers including War, Nature and Satan.

Film and Television

The Clint Eastwood film Pale Rider makes multiple references to the verse above.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is the title of a 1961 film by Vincente Minnelli and of a lesser-known 1921 film by Rex Ingram. The Vincente Minnelli version has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Both are based on a novel by Vicente Blasco Ibez about World War I.

There is an early episode of the television show, Charmed, where the horsemen fail to end the world.

In an episode of the television show, Hercules: the Legendary Journeys, the Archangel, Michael unleashes the Four Horsemen, and the end of the world is averted by Hercules.

On the televison series, Highlander, the Four Horsemen were actually a band of four Immortals who raped and pillaged throughout the Bronze Age and, under their leader, Kronos, attempted to reunite and bring chaos to the world in the modern era.

In an episode of the The Simpsons, ending in the apocalypse, the four horsemen are seen riding the sky.

In the 1993 film Tombstone, the character Johnny Ringo ominously translates this line to his gang, which, seconds before, was screamed by a Mexican priest before he was shot in the head by Ringo. Johnny is a paradoxical character; he is both a stone cold criminal and a very well-educated man who intelligently speaks three languages.

In the space opera Babylon 5 by JMS the Centauri Prime Minister Londo Mollari compares his wives to Earth mythology by calling them Pestilence, Famine, and Death. Some think this also compares himself to war, though Londo isn't making the comparison consciously (or at least not obviously so), and that it is foreshadowing for events to come later on in the series.

The famous four horsemen turned up in an episode of The Young Ones (television series), and lamented that they were tired of playing Travel Scrabble.

There is a representation of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse (as cowboys) in Episode 3, Series 6 of the British television comedy, Red Dwarf. The four horsemen are used as the visual representation of a computer virus within a virtual reality game. The fight between the horseman and the main characters of Red Dwarf represents the attempt to destroy the virus. Anti-virus software is represented as a pair of doves. It totes itself as the only example of a Roast Beef Western.


The Johnny Cash song "The Man Comes Around" quotes relevant lines from the Book of Revelation (lyrics (

Metallica's 1983 CD Kill 'Em All features a song called "The Four Horsemen". The horsemen referenced in the lyrics are Time, Famine, Pestilence, and Death.

Aphrodite's Child's "The Four Horsemen" from their album 666.

The Clash also recorded a song entitled Four Horsemen on their album London Calling.

Comics and Miscellaneous

The "Four Horsemen of Notre Dame" were the legendary backfield of Notre Dame's 1924 football team, namely quarterback Harry Stuhldreher, fullback Elmer Layden and halfbacks Jim Crowley and Don Miller. They were so dubbed by sports writer Grantland Rice in his account of the Notre Dame-Army game October 18, 1924, at the Polo Grounds in New York City: "Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore, they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden."

In the universe of Marvel Comics, Apocalypse is a supervillain, an enemy to the X-Men, and whenever he resurfaces he typically converts four mutants into his Horsemen, including Death, War, Famine, and Pestilence. The most notable of these was Warren Worthington III, the X-Man once known as Angel. After Worthington's wings were cut off in the Mutant Massacre, Apocalypse surgically grafted mechanical wings to his body and dyed his skin blue, transforming him into the horseman Death. Worthington soon threw off Apocalypse's influence and rejoined the X-Men as Archangel. He has since returned to the name Angel.

The webcomic End Times by Bailey Piling and Philip Rigby portrays four young girls who died on the same day as becoming the four horsewomen. Each of the girls died in a way that pertains to the name she accquires, for instance, the girl who becomes Famine died of anorexia, and the girl who becomes Pestilence died of an exotic disease.

The computer game Nethack features Famine, Pestilence and Death as the final enemies of the player character, himself assimilated to War.

Also, the computer game HeXen II features one of the four horsemen at the end of each of the four continents through which the player travels.

During the 2004 U.S. presidential election, the Bush/Cheney campaign argued that American leadership should not "change horses in midstream." Opponents played upon the idiom by referring to the four horsemen ("don't change horsemen in the middle of an Apocalypse.")

The Four Horsemen were a professional wrestling stable from National Wrestling Alliance and World Championship Wrestling.

The Electronic Collage band Noble Gas did a graphic based upon the Four Horseman, called "The Legend of Johnny Spray"

External links

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