[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]A Centaur is a mythological beast/creature that has the body and legs and tail of a horse and the torso and head of a man. The torso is extremely thick and well muscled and the head is large and roughly featured, with an abundance of hair. Most of the faces are elongated—in keeping with the visage of a horse. The name means “bull-goader.” The Centaur originated and dwelled for centuries in Thessaly, an area in northeastern Greece/Macedonia. Historians and cultural anthropologists theorize that the ancient Greeks first saw from afar the excellent horsemen of the Thessaly region and to the Greeks it appeared that a rider and the mount were one creature. Because the residents of the region were also fierce warriors and rather “barbaric” or coarse in their dress and culture (according to the Greeks, of course), the rumors attached to the sightings grew that the Centaurs were also fierce fighters and “rough” in both appearance and behavior.
These rumors culminated in the myth of the Wedding Feast of Hippodamia. The Lapithae were a people of Thessaly—a major group/clan and also fierce fighters—and one of their foremost women was getting married. The centaurs of Thessaly were invited to the wedding and they came as friends, warmly welcomed. However, the wine flowed and the Centaurs, having little self-control over their baser instincts, deeply imbibed and began to try to violate the Thessalian/Lapithae women. This enraged the men who set upon the Centaurs in a pitched battle and drove them not only from the wedding feast, but from Thessaly as well. The remnants of the “herd” scattered to farther reaches of the Greek and Balkan regions. The battle is so famous in Greek folklore that it is depicted on the Parthenon and on the Theseum at Athens, at the Temple of Apollo, and on countless vases, urns, etc.
Other tales of the “uncontrolled” life of Centaurs abound. Indeed, because of them, the central symbolic motif of a Centaur is unbridled passion, knee-jerk reactions (instinct), lustful behavior and gluttony—especially of wine and other alcoholic spirits, hubris (excessive pride), outdoor survival skills (including a vast knowledge of folk medicine), and expert fighting skills. In other words, a “Greek’s martial Greek”! Still, they were subjected to derisive comments from cultured Greeks: Homer called them “hairy beast-men.” (Later, Dante had centaurs guarding the Lake of Boiling Blood on the seventh level of Hell in The Inferno.) Those tales include two centaurs who tried to molest the Princess Atalanta (she shot them dead with arrows) and the centaur hero Ixion who chased a Hera-shaped cloud around—a blasphemy which earned him the fate of being strapped to a burning wheel in dishonor in Tartarus (Hell)—Hera’s consort Zeus was not a forgiving type. They were portrayed as “sore losers” as well. One long tale involves a centaur named Nessus, who tried to violate Hercules’ (the Greeks spelled it Heracles) new wife (after he killed his first wife in a blind rage) Deianira. Hercules hunted him down with an arrow dipped in the poisonous Hydra’s blood. Nessus, as he died, gave Deianira his coat which, since it was covered in blood, was now poisonous. Deianira kept it, but neither she nor Hercules used it (obviously Nessus’ intent). Later, when Hercules ran off with Princess Iole, jealous (and rightfully angry) Deianira sent the coat to him as a wedding gift. Hercules (never the brightest of Greek heroes) donned it and immediately began suffering burning agony. Finally, Zeus, seeing that his son Hercules would die a thousand deaths before the real one, rescued him and made him one of the immortals—albeit a minor god. Poor centaur Nessus—the revenge motif backfires again.
No wonder then that the surviving Centaurs decided that dealing with the gods and human beings was of little benefit to them and, by and large, they grew to be an elusive breed—denizens of dark forests and inhospitable terrain. Still, there were a few centaurs that maintained friendly and even helpful relationships with humanity. The Centaur Pholus, for example, was a steadfast friend of Hercules (but he often inspired trouble). Perhaps the most famous and most important Centaur as far as the human race is concerned is Chiron. He was a wise and ancient Centaur known for his wisdom and goodness. At some point the human Aesculapius came to the cave of Chiron on Mount Pelion (in Thessaly) and asked to be taught all of the centaur’s knowledge of the healing arts. As incredibly massive as this amount of knowledge was, Aesculapius absorbed it and even added to it. He became the first human healer who had good effectiveness in all situations, and is the folklore Father of Medicine—revered as no other ancient mortal. His and the current symbol of medicine, the Caduceus, is entwined with serpents because some people thought that snakes were important contributors to his methods of healing. Aesculapius met his end when he became so advanced that he was able to bring back to life the son of Theseus, Hippolytus, who had been killed unjustly by his own father.
The great Centaur Chiron also met an untimely end, although he was already ancient, and it reflected his love of humanity and his inherent goodness. Zeus, the Greek’s king of the gods, was furious with the Titan Prometheus because he had revealed the secret of Fire, as well as bringing some down from Mount Olympus, to the human race. Zeus knew that the capability of producing Fire would eventually allow that race to become very powerful and Zeus was not pleased. He was about to kill Prometheus for his transgression when the Centaur Chiron stepped in and offered his own immortality to spare Prometheus. Zeus took him up on the offer and killed Chiron instead, but he chained Prometheus to a windswept crag atop Mount Caucasus, where his liver was eaten every day by an enormous eagle. Eventually, he was freed by Hercules. It is said that because of his noble sacrifice, Chiron was enshrined in the heavens as the constellation Sagittarius—the shape of a Centaur. This, however, is curious because the Centaurs were not archers, preferring spears or war clubs, and that is the translated name of that star formation—The Archer. Still, the legend of Prometheus established both Chiron and Prometheus as “lovers” of the human race and they are revered ever more as the ”Father of Medicine” and the “Bringer of Fire.”