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Centaurs and Centaur Mythology

Updated on January 24, 2015

Centaurs Are Part Man, Part Horse

Centaurs first appeared In Greek mythology as barbaric, dangerous creatures. They were part man, part horse. In this way, the centaur brings together human beings, able to talk, think, and reason, with the strength and speed of a strong, swift animal.

Although the original centaurs were generally wild and uncivilized, there was one good centaur, noble and cultured. He was the teacher of many Greek heroes. Modern portrayals of centaurs focus on their positive human attributes. These centaurs are often portrayed on the side of goodness, helping heroes on their quests.

Centaur
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Centaurs in Greek mythology

Centaurs in Greek mythology were a race of legendary mythical creatures, chimeras with the head and torso of a man joined at the waist to a horses. They were characterized as barbaric, uncivilized, and dangerous. Since such creatures have not been seen alive, or as skeletons or fossils, it has been suggested that they originated when nomadic warriors were first seen by members of non-riding cultures, such as the Minoans of Crete. Never having seen anyone riding a horse, they might well have thought they were a single creature, part man and part horse.

The Battle of the Lapithes and the Centaurs

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In Greek mythology the centaurs were the enemies of the Lapiths. A famous story involves a wedding attended by the centaurs. They became drunk and wild, attempting to abduct the bride and other young women. There was a big battle, which the centaurs lost. Like most mythological tales, this account is understood to be symbolic - in this case, the struggle between barbarism and civilization.

The Centaur's Smile - A great book on the origin of the centaur

Composites of humans and animals are common in Ancient Greek culture, found in mythology, literature, theater, and visual arts. This book investigates this phenomenon of combining human and animal elements into a chimera or hybrid like the centaur, discussing the origins and nature of this horse-man creature.

The Centaur's Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art
The Centaur's Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art

The Centaur's Smile was the catalogue for an exhibition of Ancient Greek cultural artifacts held at the Princeton University Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. This exhibition included over one hundred exquisite objects - stone reliefs and statuettes, gold and sliver jewelry, and ceramic vases - which are beautifully reproduced here in color together with detailed descriptions.

 

Chiron - the good centaur

Not all centaurs were bloodthirsty and dangerous. One, known as Chiron, was different.

Unlike the majority of centaurs in Greek mythology, Chiron was intelligent and civilized. He was known for his knowledge and skill with medicine. He was also a great teacher. Chiron was the tutor of many great Greek heroes, including Achilles.

"The Education of Achilles" by James Barry
"The Education of Achilles" by James Barry | Source

Chiron was the last centaur in Greek mythology. Although a great healer, he was unable to heal himself when struck by a poisoned arrow.

A noble creature, after his death Zeus gave Chiron eternal existence among the stars as the constellation Saggitarius, also known as Centaurus.

Centaur by Pisanello
Centaur by Pisanello | Source

Centaurs are Physically Strong and Handsome Creatures

Horses are wonderful, powerful animals. Bringing together the best of man and horse, centaurs present a powerful, physical image that joined with the civilized intelligence of good human beings produces a combination that could be unbeatable. When the human element is depraved and barbaric, however, the combination is troublesome and dangerous.

Centaurs today

Centaur

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Originally, centaurs were a pretty bad lot. In more recent times, however, centaurs have been given more ambiguous role.

The centaur in twentieth and twenty-first century literature, like C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia or J.K. Rowlings' Harry Potter series, often comes to the aid of those on the side of good. They are not longer the barbaric creatures of Greek mythology, although they can still be dangerous.

Female Centaurs

Today artists have begun to portray female centaurs!

Here we have a cute girl centaur - she doesn't look very barbaric does she?

Centaur

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Centaurs are Chimeras

The centaur is a chimera, so it brings together the nature of the human being, able to talk, think, and reason, with animal strength and physical abilities. Perhaps because human beings are ambiguous, even contradictory, in their nature - sometimes good, sometimes evil - centaurs also have this ambiguity of character.

© 2009 Jennifer P Tanabe

What Do You Make of Centaurs?

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      If you want to read a fictional story where centaurs are the main species, check out philipvago.angelfire.com !

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @AlishaV: maybe u should look up the history

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I think that centaurs are awesome especially the female one they look so elagant and pewerful.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      well combined information

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      this is good for my project that im doing

    • profile image

      GrowWear 7 years ago

      I think their fascinating!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

      This is a great lens! Love all the pictures/posters you used.

    • AlishaV profile image

      Alisha Vargas 7 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      I've always loved centaurs, they just seem like such an interesting idea. Didn't know their history though, thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Beautifully done, Jennifer! Love the images.

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