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Four horsemen of the Apocalypse

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are mentioned in the Bible in chapter six of the Book of Revelation. The four horsemen are traditionally named War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Woodcut by Albrecht Dürer

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. The red color of the second horse could mean bloody war, and the sword held by the rider symbolizes 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 4th horse means fear, sickness, decay, and death. The imagery of the four horses is adapted from a passage in Zechariah.

From the King James Version of the Bible, 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.

Cultural references to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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

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.

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.

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

The web comic End Times 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.

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