Thursday, August 15, 2013

Centaurs: What a Horse of a Man!

Centaurs are mythological beings who are half horse and half man. They are liminal beings who are in between the world of man and beast. Centaurs like satyrs have been viewed as beings who are excessive or animalistic. Satyrs are creatures who are half man and half goat or donkey. They are creatures who are known for their excessive sexuality, lewd behavior, and sexual humor. However, centaurs are a difficult creature to categorize.

Centaurs have been often viewed as the negative primal force, but there is room for this argument. There are two types of Centaurs: The primal and the refined.

They are often featured in art and architecture portraying the mythological story of Centaurs versus Lapiths at the wedding of Pirithous.

Battle of Centaurs and Lapiths, by Piero di Cosimo
The Centaurs were invited to the wedding celebration of Pirithous. The Centaurs unused to drinking wine and their primal nature came forth. The Centauromachy broke out when Eurytion (Εὐρυτίων meaning "widely honored") attempted to carry off the bride. The battle continued until Thesues broke it up. The Lapiths cut off Eurytion's ears, nose, and threw him out. In the battle, the Centaurs were expelled from Thessaly to the northwest.

Pirithous, Hippodamia & the Centaur Eurytion,
Apulian red-figure krater C4th B.C., British Museum

It is interesting that a centaur of such a reputable name Eurytion would be mutilated in such a way by the human race: the Lapiths. It is suggestive that once a primal natural force (centaurs in this case) becomes violent mankind must correct it. Mankind must be above nature or be able to subdue it; especially when the primal force is symbolic of mankind's animalistic nature. Centaurs versus Lapiths is the age old allegory of barbarism versus civilization. However, there are exceptions to centaurs being the barbaric force of the human psyche, such as Chiron.

Amphora suggested to be Achilles riding Chiron.
British Museum ref 1956,1220.1

Chiron is an unique centaur whose lineage is not the same as other centaurs. He is the son of Cronus and the nymph Philyra. Cronus assumed the shape of a horse to impregnated the nymph. While other centaurs are from the union of Ixion and Nephele. Also, Chiron is unique in his appearance, as he can be seen as to having human legs on his front half and horse on the other half.
A lekythos depicting Chiron and Achilles

Chiron's fame comes from being the teacher, tutor, healer, and astrologer. He is renowned for having taught: Asclepius, Aristaeus, Ajax, Aeneas, Actaeon, Caeneus, Theseus, Achilles, Jason, Peleus, Telamon, Perseus- and in some renditions Herakles, Oileus, Phoenix.

Chiron in the Percy Jackson Series

There is a clear different between these two types of "centaurs" However, Chiron is rarely defined as a centaur due to his appearance and noble character. But, Chiron was honored at his death to be placed into the heavens as a constellation known as Centaurus.

Most people know this constellation as Sagittarius, which is ironic of course because Chiron died of an arrow wound. Thus, would it appear that centaurs live in media (books, films, tv series) and their representation is not lost to us. They are being unbound to nature, but not quite befitting of civilization. They are the wild man- the man who is in touch themselves and with the nature that surrounds them.

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