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In Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

, a centaur (from – Kéntauroi) or hippocentaur is a member of a composite race of creatures, part human
Human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

 and part horse
Horse
The horse is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus, or the wild horse. It is a single-hooved mammal belonging to the taxonomic family Equidae. The horse has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today...

. In early Attic
Attica
Attica is a historical region of Greece, containing Athens, the current capital of Greece. The historical region is centered on the Attic peninsula, which projects into the Aegean Sea...

 and Boeotia
Boeotia
Boeotia, also spelled Beotia and Bœotia , is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Central Greece. It was also a region of ancient Greece. Its capital is Livadeia, the second largest city being Thebes.-Geography:...

n vase-paintings
Pottery of Ancient Greece
As the result of its relative durability, pottery is a large part of the archaeological record of Ancient Greece, and because there is so much of it it has exerted a disproportionately large influence on our understanding of Greek society...

 (see below), they are depicted with the hindquarters of a horse attached to them; in later renderings centaurs are given the torso of a human joined at the waist to the horse's withers
Withers
The withers is the ridge between the shoulder blades of a four-legged animal. In many species it is the tallest point of the body, and in horses and dogs it is the standard place to measure the animal's height .-Horses:The withers in horses are formed by the dorsal spinal processes of roughly the...

, where the horse's neck would be.

This half-human and half-animal composition has led many writers to treat them as liminal being
Liminal being
Liminality has been defined as 'a semi-autonomous zone of social reality'. Liminal beings are associated with that intermediate status: 'Turner argues that the liminal personae are "necessarily ambiguous, since this condition and these persons elude or slip through the network of classifications...

s, caught between the two natures, embodied in contrasted myths, both as the embodiment of untamed nature, as in their battle with the Lapith
Lapith
The Lapiths are a legendary people of Greek mythology, whose home was in Thessaly, in the valley of the Peneus and on the mountain Pelion.They were an Aeolian tribe. Like the Myrmidons and other Thessalian tribes, the Lapiths were pre-Hellenic in their origins...

s, or conversely as teachers, like Chiron
Chiron
In Greek mythology, Chiron was held to be the superlative centaur among his brethren.-History:Like the satyrs, centaurs were notorious for being wild and lusty, overly indulgent drinkers and carousers, given to violence when intoxicated, and generally uncultured delinquents...

.

The centaurs were usually said to have been born of Ixion
Ixion
In Greek mythology, Ixion was king of the Lapiths, the most ancient tribe of Thessaly, and a son of Ares, or Leonteus, or Antion and Perimele, or the notorious evildoer Phlegyas, whose name connotes "fiery". Peirithoös was his son...

 and Nephele
Nephele
In Greek mythology, Nephele was a cloud nymph who figured prominently in the story of Phrixus and Helle.Greek myth also has it that Nephele is the cloud whom Zeus created in the image of Hera to trick Ixion to test his integrity after displaying his lust for Hera during a feast as a guest of Zeus...

 (the cloud made in the image of Hera
Hera
Hera was the wife and one of three sisters of Zeus in the Olympian pantheon of Greek mythology and religion. Her chief function was as the goddess of women and marriage. Her counterpart in the religion of ancient Rome was Juno. The cow and the peacock were sacred to her...

). Another version, however, makes them children of a certain Centaurus
Centaurus (Greek mythology)
Centaurus is the father of the race of mythological beasts known as the centaurs or Ixionidae. The centaurs are half man, half horse; having the torso of a man extending where the neck of a horse should be. They were said in Greek mythology to be wild, savage, and lustful...

, who mated with the Magnesia
Magnesia Prefecture
Magnesia Prefecture was one of the prefectures of Greece. Its capital was Volos. It was established in 1899 from the Larissa Prefecture. The prefecture was disbanded on 1 January 2011 by the Kallikratis programme, and split into the peripheral units of Magnesia and the Sporades.The toponym is...

n mares. This Centaurus was either himself the son of Ixion and Nephele (inserting an additional generation) or of Apollo
Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

 and Stilbe
Stilbe
Stilbe in Greek mythology was a nymph, daughter of the river god Peneus and the Naiad Creusa. She bore Apollo twin sons, Centaurus, ancestor of the Centaurs, and Lapithus, ancestor of the Lapiths. In another version of the myth, Centaurus was instead the son of Ixion and Nephele. Aineus, father of...

, daughter of the river god Peneus
Peneus
In Greek mythology, Peneus was a Thessalian river god, one of the three thousand Rivers , a child of Oceanus and Tethys. The nymph Creusa bore him one son, Hypseus, who was King of the Lapiths, and three daughters, Menippe , Daphne, and Stilbe. He also had a son Atrax with Bura, and Andreus with...

. In the later version of the story his twin brother was Lapithus, ancestor of the Lapith
Lapith
The Lapiths are a legendary people of Greek mythology, whose home was in Thessaly, in the valley of the Peneus and on the mountain Pelion.They were an Aeolian tribe. Like the Myrmidons and other Thessalian tribes, the Lapiths were pre-Hellenic in their origins...

s, thus making the two warring peoples cousins.

Centaurs were said to have inhabited the region of Magnesia and Mount Pelion
Pelion
Pelion or Pelium is a mountain at the southeastern part of Thessaly in central Greece, forming a hook-like peninsula between the Pagasetic Gulf and the Aegean Sea...

 in Thessaly
Thessaly
Thessaly is a traditional geographical region and an administrative region of Greece, comprising most of the ancient region of the same name. Before the Greek Dark Ages, Thessaly was known as Aeolia, and appears thus in Homer's Odyssey....

, the Foloi oak forest
Foloi oak forest
The Foloi oak forest is an oak forest in southwestern Greece. It is located in the Ilia Prefecture, in the western Peloponnese region. The Foloi oak forest is situated at an altitude of 688m, on the plateau of the Foloi mountain...

 in Elis
Elis
Elis, or Eleia is an ancient district that corresponds with the modern Elis peripheral unit...

, and the Malean peninsula in southern Laconia
Laconia
Laconia , also known as Lacedaemonia, is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the southeastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. Its administrative capital is Sparti...

.

Centaurs continued to figure in literary forms of Roman mythology
Roman mythology
Roman mythology is the body of traditional stories pertaining to ancient Rome's legendary origins and religious system, as represented in the literature and visual arts of the Romans...

. A pair of them draw the chariot of Constantine the Great
Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...

 and his family in the Great Cameo of Constantine (c314-16), which embodies wholly pagan imagery.

Centauromachy



The Centaurs are best known for their fight with the Lapith
Lapith
The Lapiths are a legendary people of Greek mythology, whose home was in Thessaly, in the valley of the Peneus and on the mountain Pelion.They were an Aeolian tribe. Like the Myrmidons and other Thessalian tribes, the Lapiths were pre-Hellenic in their origins...

s, caused by their attempt to carry off Hippodamia
Hippodamia (wife of Pirithous)
Hippodamia and δαμάζειν damazein , "Tamer of horses"; also known as Deidamia ), daughter of Atrax or Butes, was the bride of King Pirithous of the Lapiths. At their wedding, Hippodamia, the other female guests, and the young boys were almost abducted by the Centaurs. Pirithous and his friend,...

 and the rest of the Lapith women, on the day of her marriage to Pirithous
Pirithous
In Greek mythology, Pirithous - Πειρίθοος was the King of the Lapiths in Thessaly and husband of Hippodamia, at whose wedding the famous Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs occurred....

, king of the Lapithae, himself the son of Ixion. The strife among these cousins is a metaphor for the conflict between the lower appetites and civilized behavior in humankind. Theseus
Theseus
For other uses, see Theseus Theseus was the mythical founder-king of Athens, son of Aethra, and fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, both of whom Aethra had slept with in one night. Theseus was a founder-hero, like Perseus, Cadmus, or Heracles, all of whom battled and overcame foes that were...

, a hero and founder of cities, who happened to be present, threw the balance in favour of the right order of things, and assisted Pirithous. The Centaurs were driven off or destroyed. Another Lapith hero, Caeneus
Caeneus
In Greek mythology, Caeneus was a Lapith hero of Thessaly and, in Ovid's Metamorphoses— where the classical model of a hero is deconstructed and transformed— originally a woman, Caenis, daughter of Atrax...

, who was invulnerable to weapons, was beaten into the earth by Centaurs wielding rocks and the branches of trees. Centaurs are thought of in many Greek myths as wild as untamed horses. Like the Titanomachy
Titanomachy
In Greek mythology, the Titanomachy or War of the Titans , was the ten-year series of battles fought in Thessaly between the two camps of deities long before the existence of mankind: the Titans, based on Mount Othrys, and the Olympians, who would come to reign on Mount Olympus...

, the defeat of the Titan
Titan (mythology)
In Greek mythology, the Titans were a race of powerful deities, descendants of Gaia and Uranus, that ruled during the legendary Golden Age....

s by the Olympian gods
Twelve Olympians
The Twelve Olympians, also known as the Dodekatheon , in Greek mythology, were the principal deities of the Greek pantheon, residing atop Mount Olympus. Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Hestia, and Hades were siblings. Ares, Hermes, Hephaestus, Athena, Apollo, and Artemis were children of Zeus...

, the contests with the Centaurs typify the struggle between civilization and barbarism.

The Centauromachy is most famously portrayed in the Parthenon
Parthenon
The Parthenon is a temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their virgin patron. Its construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the height of its power. It was completed in 438 BC, although...

 metopes
Metope (architecture)
In classical architecture, a metope is a rectangular architectural element that fills the space between two triglyphs in a Doric frieze, which is a decorative band of alternating triglyphs and metopes above the architrave of a building of the Doric order...

 by Phidias
Phidias
Phidias or the great Pheidias , was a Greek sculptor, painter and architect, who lived in the 5th century BC, and is commonly regarded as one of the greatest of all sculptors of Classical Greece: Phidias' Statue of Zeus at Olympia was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World...

 and a Renaissance-era sculpture by Michelangelo
Battle of the Centaurs (Michelangelo)
Battle of the Centaurs is a relief by Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo, created around 1492. It was the last work Michelangelo created while under the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici, who died shortly after its completion...

.

Earliest representations



The tentative identification of two fragmentary Mycenaean terracotta figures as centaurs, among the extensive Mycenaean pottery found at Ugarit
Ugarit
Ugarit was an ancient port city in the eastern Mediterranean at the Ras Shamra headland near Latakia, Syria. It is located near Minet el-Beida in northern Syria. It is some seven miles north of Laodicea ad Mare and approximately fifty miles east of Cyprus...

, suggests a Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

 origin for these creatures of myth. A painted terracotta centaur was found in the "Hero's tomb" at Lefkandi
Lefkandi
Lefkandi is a coastal village on the island of Euboea. Archaeological finds attest to a settlement on the promontory locally known as Xeropolis, while several associated cemeteries have been identified nearby. The settlement site is located on a promontory overlooking the Euripos, with small bays...

, and by the Geometric period, centaurs figure among the first representational figures painted on Greek pottery. An often-published Geometric period bronze of a warrior face-to-face with a centaur is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a renowned art museum in New York City. Its permanent collection contains more than two million works, divided into nineteen curatorial departments. The main building, located on the eastern edge of Central Park along Manhattan's Museum Mile, is one of the...

.

Theories of origin


The most common theory holds that the idea of centaurs came from the first reaction of a non-riding culture, as in the Minoan
Minoan civilization
The Minoan civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that arose on the island of Crete and flourished from approximately the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC. It was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of the British archaeologist Arthur Evans...

 Aegean world
Aegean Sea
The Aegean Sea[p] is an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea located between the southern Balkan and Anatolian peninsulas, i.e., between the mainlands of Greece and Turkey. In the north, it is connected to the Marmara Sea and Black Sea by the Dardanelles and Bosporus...

, to nomads who were mounted on horses. The theory suggests that such riders would appear as half-man, half-animal (Bernal Díaz del Castillo
Bernal Díaz del Castillo
Bernal Díaz del Castillo was a conquistador, who wrote an eyewitness account of the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards for Hernán Cortés, himself serving as a rodelero under Cortés.-Early life:...

 reported that the Aztec
Aztec
The Aztec people were certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, a period referred to as the late post-classic period in Mesoamerican chronology.Aztec is the...

s had this misapprehension about Spanish cavalrymen). Horse taming and horseback culture
Domestication of the horse
There are a number of hypotheses on many of the key issues regarding the domestication of the horse. Although horses appeared in Paleolithic cave art as early as 30,000 BCE, these were truly wild horses and were probably hunted for meat. How and when horses became domesticated is disputed...

 arose first in the southern steppe
Steppe
In physical geography, steppe is an ecoregion, in the montane grasslands and shrublands and temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biomes, characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes...

 grasslands of Central Asia
Central Asia
Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north...

, perhaps approximately in modern Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan , officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a transcontinental country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Ranked as the ninth largest country in the world, it is also the world's largest landlocked country; its territory of is greater than Western Europe...

.

The Lapith tribe of Thessaly, who were the kinsmen of the Centaurs in myth, were described as the inventors of horse-back riding by Greek writers. The Thessalian tribes also claimed their horse breeds were descended from the centaurs.


Of the various Classical Greek authors who mentioned centaurs, Pindar
Pindar
Pindar , was an Ancient Greek lyric poet. Of the canonical nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, his work is the best preserved. Quintilian described him as "by far the greatest of the nine lyric poets, in virtue of his inspired magnificence, the beauty of his thoughts and figures, the rich...

 was the first who describes undoubtedly a combined monster. Previous authors (Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

) only uses words such as pheres (cf. theres, "beasts") that could also mean ordinary savage men riding ordinary horses. However, contemporaneous representations of hybrid centaurs can be found in archaic
Archaic period in Greece
The Archaic period in Greece was a period of ancient Greek history that followed the Greek Dark Ages. This period saw the rise of the polis and the founding of colonies, as well as the first inklings of classical philosophy, theatre in the form of tragedies performed during Dionysia, and written...

 Greek art
Greek art
Greek art began in the Cycladic and Minoan prehistorical civilization, and gave birth to Western classical art in the ancient period...

.

Lucretius
Lucretius
Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is an epic philosophical poem laying out the beliefs of Epicureanism, De rerum natura, translated into English as On the Nature of Things or "On the Nature of the Universe".Virtually no details have come down concerning...

 in his first century BC philosophical poem On the Nature of Things
On the Nature of Things
De rerum natura is a 1st century BC didactic poem by the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius with the goal of explaining Epicurean philosophy to a Roman audience. The poem, written in some 7,400 dactylic hexameters, is divided into six untitled books, and explores Epicurean physics through richly...

denied the existence of centaurs based on their differing rate of growth. He states that at three years old horses are in the prime of their life while at three humans are still little more than babies, making hybrid animals impossible.

Robert Graves
Robert Graves
Robert von Ranke Graves 24 July 1895 – 7 December 1985 was an English poet, translator and novelist. During his long life he produced more than 140 works...

 (relying on the work of Georges Dumezil
Georges Dumézil
Georges Dumézil was a French comparative philologist best known for his analysis of sovereignty and power in Proto-Indo-European religion and society...

 argued for tracing the centaurs back to the Indian gandharva
Gandharva
Gandharva is a name used for distinct mythological beings in Hinduism and Buddhism; it is also a term for skilled singers in Indian classical music.-In Hinduism:...

), speculated that the centaurs were a dimly remembered, pre-Hellenic fraternal earth cult who had the horse as a totem
Totem
A totem is a stipulated ancestor of a group of people, such as a family, clan, group, lineage, or tribe.Totems support larger groups than the individual person. In kinship and descent, if the apical ancestor of a clan is nonhuman, it is called a totem...

. A similar theory was incorporated into Mary Renault
Mary Renault
Mary Renault born Eileen Mary Challans, was an English writer best known for her historical novels set in Ancient Greece...

's The Bull from the Sea
The Bull from the Sea
The Bull from the Sea is the sequel to Mary Renault's The King Must Die. It continues the story of the mythological hero Theseus after his return from Crete.-Plot introduction:...

.
Kinnaras
Kinnara Kingdom
In Indian epic literature, Kinnara Kingdom refers to the territory of a tribe called Kinnaras who were one among the exotic tribes, mentioned along with others like Devas , Asuras , Pisachas, Gandharvas, Kimpurushas, Vanaras, Suparnas, Rakshasas, Bhutas and Yakshas...

, another half-man half-horse mythical creature from the Indian mythology
Indian epic poetry
Indian epic poetry is the epic poetry written in the Indian subcontinent, traditionally called Kavya . The Ramayana and Mahabharata, originally composed in Sanskrit and translated thereafter into many other Indian languages, are some of the oldest surviving epic poems on earth and form part of...

, appeared in various ancient texts, arts as well as sculptures from all around India. It is shown as a horse with the torso of a man in place of where the horse's head has to be, that is similar to a Greek centaur.

The Greek word kentauros is generally regarded as of obscure origin. The etymology
Etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

 from ken – tauros, "piercing bull-stickers" was a Euhemerist
Euhemerus
Euhemerus was a Greek mythographer at the court of Cassander, the king of Macedon. Euhemerus' birthplace is disputed, with Messina in Sicily as the most probable location, while others champion Chios, or Tegea.-Life:...

 suggestion in Palaephatus
Palaephatus
Palaephatus was the original author of a rationalizing text on Greek mythology, the work of paradoxography On Incredible Tales , which survives in a Byzantine edition....

' rationalizing text on Greek mythology, On Incredible Tales (Περὶ ἀπίστων): mounted archers from a village called Nephele
Nephele
In Greek mythology, Nephele was a cloud nymph who figured prominently in the story of Phrixus and Helle.Greek myth also has it that Nephele is the cloud whom Zeus created in the image of Hera to trick Ixion to test his integrity after displaying his lust for Hera during a feast as a guest of Zeus...

eliminating a herd of bulls that were the scourge of Ixion's kingdom. Another possible related etymology can be "bull-slayer". Some say that the Greeks took the constellation of Centaurus
Centaurus
Centaurus is a bright constellation in the southern sky. One of the largest constellations, Centaurus was included among the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations.-Stars:...

, and also its name "piercing bull", from Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

, where it symbolized the god Baal
Baal
Baʿal is a Northwest Semitic title and honorific meaning "master" or "lord" that is used for various gods who were patrons of cities in the Levant and Asia Minor, cognate to Akkadian Bēlu...

 who represents rain and fertility, fighting with and piercing with his horns the demon Mot who represents the summer drought. In Greece, the constellation of Centaurus was noted by Eudoxus of Cnidus
Eudoxus of Cnidus
Eudoxus of Cnidus was a Greek astronomer, mathematician, scholar and student of Plato. Since all his own works are lost, our knowledge of him is obtained from secondary sources, such as Aratus's poem on astronomy...

 in the fourth century BC and by Aratus
Aratus
Aratus was a Greek didactic poet. He is best known today for being quoted in the New Testament. His major extant work is his hexameter poem Phaenomena , the first half of which is a verse setting of a lost work of the same name by Eudoxus of Cnidus. It describes the constellations and other...

 in the third century.

Female centaurs



Though female centaurs, called Kentaurides
Kentaurides
Kentaurides are the female members of the Kentauroi, a tribe of centaurs in Greek mythology. The most referenced of the Kentaurides is Hylonome, the wife of Centaur Cyllarus. Although rarely mentioned in Greek writing, Kentaurides were depicted most often in Greek art and later Roman mosaics...

, are not mentioned in early Greek literature and art, they do appear occasionally in later antiquity. A Macedon
Macedon
Macedonia or Macedon was an ancient kingdom, centered in the northeastern part of the Greek peninsula, bordered by Epirus to the west, Paeonia to the north, the region of Thrace to the east and Thessaly to the south....

ian mosaic of the 4th century BC is one of the earliest examples of the Centauress in art. Ovid
Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

 also mentions a centauress named Hylonome
Hylonome
Hylonome was a female centaur in Greek mythology. She was present at the battle against the Lapiths, where she lost her husband, the centaur Cyllarus, whom she loved very much. Heartbroken, she then took her own life to join him....

 who committed suicide when her husband Cyllarus
Cyllarus
Cyllarus was a centaur in Greek mythology. He was handsome and valiant, and dearly loved his centaur wife Hylonome. He participated in the battle against the Lapiths and was fatally wounded by a spear. He died in the arms of his beloved wife, who then took her own life shortly afterwards to join him....

 was killed in the war with the Lapiths.

In a description of a painting in Neapolis
Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

, the Greek rhetorician Philostratus the Elder describes them as sisters and wives of the male centaurs who live on Mount Pelion with their children.

"How beautiful the Centaurides are, even where they are horses; for some grow out of white mares, others are attached to chestnut mares, and the coats of others are dappled, but they glisten like those of horses that are well cared for. There is also a white female Centaur that grows out of a black mare, and the very opposition of the colours helps to produce the united beauty of the whole."


The idea, or possibility, of female centaurs was certainly known in early modern times, as evidenced by Shakespeare's King Lear
King Lear
King Lear is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. The title character descends into madness after foolishly disposing of his estate between two of his three daughters based on their flattery, bringing tragic consequences for all. The play is based on the legend of Leir of Britain, a mythological...

, Act IV, Scene vi, ln.124–125:
"Down from the waist they're centaurs, / Though women all above"

In the Disney animated film Fantasia
Fantasia (film)
Fantasia is a 1940 American animated film produced by Walt Disney and released by Walt Disney Productions. The third feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, the film consists of eight animated segments set to pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski, seven of which are...

, during the Pastoral Symphony
Symphony No. 6 (Beethoven)
Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68, also known as the Pastoral Symphony , is a symphony composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, and was completed in 1808...

, some of the main characters are female centaurs. However, the Disney studio called them "Centaurettes" instead of Kentaurides.

Persistence in the medieval world


Centaurs preserved a Dionysian
Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

 connection in the 12th century Romanesque
Romanesque architecture
Romanesque architecture is an architectural style of Medieval Europe characterised by semi-circular arches. There is no consensus for the beginning date of the Romanesque architecture, with proposals ranging from the 6th to the 10th century. It developed in the 12th century into the Gothic style,...

 carved capitals
Capital (architecture)
In architecture the capital forms the topmost member of a column . It mediates between the column and the load thrusting down upon it, broadening the area of the column's supporting surface...

 of Mozac Abbey
Mozac Abbey
Mozac Abbey is a former Cluniac monastery in the commune of Mozac near Riom in Auvergne, France.-History:A monastery was founded here in either 533 or 680 by Saint Calminius and his wife, Saint Namadia...

 in the Auvergne
Auvergne (région)
Auvergne is one of the 27 administrative regions of France. It comprises the 4 departments of Allier, Puy de Dome, Cantal and Haute Loire.The current administrative region of Auvergne is larger than the historical province of Auvergne, and includes provinces and areas that historically were not...

, where other capitals depict harvesters, boys riding goats (a further Dionysiac theme) and griffin
Griffin
The griffin, griffon, or gryphon is a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle...

s guarding the chalice
Chalice (cup)
A chalice is a goblet or footed cup intended to hold a drink. In general religious terms, it is intended for drinking during a ceremony.-Christian:...

 that held the wine.

Centaurs are shown on a number of Pictish carved stones from north-east Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, erected in the 8th–9th centuries AD (e.g., at Meigle
Meigle
Meigle is a village in Strathmore, Scotland. It lies in the council area of Perth and Kinross in the Coupar Angus and Meigle ward. The nearest town is Forfar in neighbouring Angus. Other smaller settlements nearby are Balkeerie, Kirkinch and Kinloch. Meigle is accessed from the north and south...

, Perthshire
Perthshire
Perthshire, officially the County of Perth , is a registration county in central Scotland. It extends from Strathmore in the east, to the Pass of Drumochter in the north, Rannoch Moor and Ben Lui in the west, and Aberfoyle in the south...

). Though outside the limits of the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, these depictions appear to be derived from Classical prototypes.

Jerome's version of the Life of St Anthony the Great
Anthony the Great
Anthony the Great or Antony the Great , , also known as Saint Anthony, Anthony the Abbot, Anthony of Egypt, Anthony of the Desert, Anthony the Anchorite, Abba Antonius , and Father of All Monks, was a Christian saint from Egypt, a prominent leader among the Desert Fathers...

, the hermit monk of Egypt, written by Athanasius of Alexandria
Athanasius of Alexandria
Athanasius of Alexandria [b. ca. – d. 2 May 373] is also given the titles St. Athanasius the Great, St. Athanasius I of Alexandria, St Athanasius the Confessor and St Athanasius the Apostolic. He was the 20th bishop of Alexandria. His long episcopate lasted 45 years Athanasius of Alexandria [b....

, was widely disseminated in the Middle Ages; it relates Anthony's encounter with a centaur, who challenged the saint but was forced to admit that the old gods had been overthrown. The episode was often depicted; notably, in the The Meeting of St Anthony Abbot and St Paul the Hermit by Stefano di Giovanni called "Sassetta"
Stefano di Giovanni
Stefano di Giovanni di Consolo, known as il Sassetta was an Italian painter.He was born in Siena, although there is also an hypothesis that he was born in Cortona. The first historical record of him was anyway in Siena in 1423. Sassetta was the apprentice of Paolo di Giovanni Fei or Benedetto di...

, of two episodic depictions in a single panel of the hermit Anthony
Anthony the Great
Anthony the Great or Antony the Great , , also known as Saint Anthony, Anthony the Abbot, Anthony of Egypt, Anthony of the Desert, Anthony the Anchorite, Abba Antonius , and Father of All Monks, was a Christian saint from Egypt, a prominent leader among the Desert Fathers...

's travel to greet the hermit Paul, one is his encounter along the pathway with the demonic figure of a centaur in a wood.

A centaur-like half-human half-equine creature called Polkan
Polkan
Polkan or Palkan is a half-human, half-horse creature from Russian folktales which possesses enormous power and speed...

appeared in Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n folk
Folk
The English word Folk is derived from a Germanic noun, *fulka meaning "people" or "army"...

 art
Art
Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging items in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect....

, and lubok
Lubok
A lubok is a Russian popular print, characterized by simple graphics and narratives derived from literature, religious stories and popular tales. Lubki prints were used as decoration in houses and inns...

 prints of the 17th–19th centuries. Polkan is originally based on Pulicane, a half-dog from Andrea da Barberino
Andrea da Barberino
Andrea Mangiabotti, called Andrea da Barberino was an Italian writer and cantastorie of the Quattrocento Renaissance. He was born in Barberino di Val d'Elsa and lived in Florence...

's poem I Reali di Francia, which was once popular in the Slavonic world in prosaic translations.

Modern day


The John C. Hodges library at The University of Tennessee
John C. Hodges library at The University of Tennessee
The John C. Hodges Library is the main library of the University of Tennessee.Opened in 1969, the library houses 3 million library volumes, periodicals, and computer resources. Its rare book collection numbers 51,000 items, the oldest dating from 1481 AD....

 hosts a permanent exhibit of a "Centaur from Volos
Volos
Volos is a coastal port city in Thessaly situated midway on the Greek mainland, about 326 km north of Athens and 215 km south of Thessaloniki...

", in its library. The exhibit, made by sculptor Bill Willers, by combining a study human skeleton with the skeleton of a Shetland pony
Shetland pony
The Shetland pony is a breed of pony originating in the Shetland Isles. Shetlands range in size from a minimum height of approximately 28 inches to an official maximum height of 42 inches at the withers. Shetland ponies have heavy coats, short legs and are considered quite intelligent...

 is entitled "Do you believe in Centaurs?" and was meant to mislead students in order to make them more critically aware, according to the exhibitors.

Another exhibit by Willers is now on long term dislplay at the International Wildlife Museum in Tucson, Arizona. The full-mount skeleton of a Centaur is on display, along with several other fabled creatures, including the Cyclops, Unicorn and Griffin.

A centaur is one of the symbols associated with both the Iota Phi Theta and the Delta Lambda Phi
Delta Lambda Phi
Delta Lambda Phi is a national social fraternity for gay, bisexual, and progressive men. It offers a social environment and structure similar to other Greek-model college fraternities. Delta Lambda Phi was founded on October 15, 1986 by Vernon L. Strickland III in Washington, D.C. and incorporated...

 fraternities
Fraternities and sororities
Fraternities and sororities are fraternal social organizations for undergraduate students. In Latin, the term refers mainly to such organizations at colleges and universities in the United States, although it is also applied to analogous European groups also known as corporations...

. Whereas centaurs in Greek mythology were generally symbolic of chaos and unbridled passions, Delta Lambda Phi's centaur is modeled after Chiron and represents honor
Honour
Honour or honor is an abstract concept entailing a perceived quality of worthiness and respectability that affects both the social standing and the self-evaluation of an individual or corporate body such as a family, school, regiment or nation...

, moderation
Moderation
Moderation is the process of eliminating or lessening extremes. It is used to ensure normality throughout the medium on which it is being conducted...

 and tempered masculinity
Masculinity
Masculinity is possessing qualities or characteristics considered typical of or appropriate to a man. The term can be used to describe any human, animal or object that has the quality of being masculine...

.

Similarly, C.S. Lewis' centaurs from his popular The Chronicles of Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven fantasy novels for children by C. S. Lewis. It is considered a classic of children's literature and is the author's best-known work, having sold over 100 million copies in 47 languages...

series are depicted as wisest and noblest of creatures. They are gifted at stargazing, prophecy, healing, and warfare, a fierce and valiant race always faithful to the High King Aslan
Aslan
Aslan, the "Great Lion," is the central character in The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven fantasy novels for children written by C. S. Lewis. He is the eponymous lion of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and his role in Narnia is developed throughout the remaining books...

 the Lion. Lewis generally used the species to inspire awe in his readers (see Narnian Centaurs
Narnian Centaurs
Centaurs are creatures that are half-horse, half-human. They have the head, torso, and arms of a human but have the lower body of a horse joining at the human's waist. Their horse bodies are generally chestnut coloured with human hair and beards of various colours. Centaurs are always seen...

). In J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter
Harry Potter
Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy novels written by the British author J. K. Rowling. The books chronicle the adventures of the adolescent wizard Harry Potter and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, all of whom are students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry...

series, centaurs live in the Forbidden Forest close to Hogwarts. Although different from those seen in Narnia, they live in societies called herds and are skilled at archery, healing and astrology. Although film depictions include very animalistic facial features, the reaction of the Hogwarts girls to Firenze suggests a more classical appearance.

Philip Jose Farmer
Philip José Farmer
Philip José Farmer was an American author, principally known for his award-winning science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories....

's World of Tiers
World of Tiers
The World of Tiers is a series of science fiction novels by American writer Philip José Farmer. They are set within a series of artificially-constructed universes, created and ruled by decadent beings who are genetically identical to humans, but who regard themselves as superior, the inheritors of...

series (1965) includes centaurs, called Half-Horses or Hoi Kentauroi. His creations address several of the metabolic problems of such creatures—how could the human mouth and nose intake sufficient air to sustain both itself and the horse body and, similarly, how could the human ingest sufficient food to sustain both parts.

Brandon Mull
Brandon Mull
Brandon Mull is an American writer who is best known as the author of the Fablehaven fantasy series, which is a New York Times' bestseller. Mull has also written The Candy Shop War...

's Fablehaven
Fablehaven
Fablehaven is The New York Times best-selling children's literature fantasy series written by Brandon Mull. The book series, which includes Fablehaven, Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star, Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague, Fablehaven: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary, and Fablehaven: Keys to...

series features Centaurs that live in an area called Grunhold. The Centaurs are portrayed as a proud, elitist group of beings that consider themselves superior to all other creatures. The fourth book also has a variation on the species called an Alcetaur, which is part man, part moose.

See also


Other hybrid creatures appear in Greek mythology, always with some liminal connection that links Hellenic culture with archaic or non-Hellenic cultures:
  • Chiron
    Chiron
    In Greek mythology, Chiron was held to be the superlative centaur among his brethren.-History:Like the satyrs, centaurs were notorious for being wild and lusty, overly indulgent drinkers and carousers, given to violence when intoxicated, and generally uncultured delinquents...

  • Furietti Centaurs
    Furietti Centaurs
    The Furietti Centaurs are a pair of Hellenistic or Roman grey-black marble sculptures of centaurs based on Hellenistic models. One is a mature, bearded centaur, with a pained expression, and the other is a young smiling centaur with his arm raised...

  • Hippocamp
    Hippocamp
    The hippocamp or hippocampus , often called a sea-horse in English, is a mythological creature shared by Phoenician and Greek mythology, though the name by which it is recognised is purely Greek; it became part of Etruscan mythology...

  • Hybrid (mythology)
    Hybrid (mythology)
    Hybrids are mythological creatures combining body parts of more than one real species.They can be classified as partly human hybrids , and non-human hybrids combining two or more animal species...

  • Legendary creature
    Legendary creature
    A legendary creature is a mythological or folkloric creature.-Origin:Some mythical creatures have their origin in traditional mythology and have been believed to be real creatures, for example the dragon, the unicorn, and griffin...

  • List of legendary creatures
  • Minotaur
    Minotaur
    In Greek mythology, the Minotaur , as the Greeks imagined him, was a creature with the head of a bull on the body of a man or, as described by Roman poet Ovid, "part man and part bull"...

  • Onocentaur
    Onocentaur
    Onocentaur is an animal from Medieval bestiaries, similar to the centaur, but part human, part donkey. As with many liminal beings, the onocentaur's nature is one of conflict between its human and animal components....

  • Sagittarius
    Sagittarius (astrology)
    Sagittarius is the ninth astrological sign in the Zodiac, which spans the zodiac between the 240th and 269th degree of celestial longitude...

  • Satyr
    Satyr
    In Greek mythology, satyrs are a troop of male companions of Pan and Dionysus — "satyresses" were a late invention of poets — that roamed the woods and mountains. In myths they are often associated with pipe-playing....


Also,
  • Egyptian deities, including Anubis
    Anubis
    Anubis is the Greek name for a jackal-headed god associated with mummification and the afterlife in ancient Egyptian religion. In the ancient Egyptian language, Anubis is known as Inpu . According to the Akkadian transcription in the Amarna letters, Anubis' name was vocalized as Anapa...

    , Horus
    Horus
    Horus is one of the oldest and most significant deities in the Ancient Egyptian religion, who was worshipped from at least the late Predynastic period through to Greco-Roman times. Different forms of Horus are recorded in history and these are treated as distinct gods by Egyptologists...

     and Thoth
    Thoth
    Thoth was considered one of the more important deities of the Egyptian pantheon. In art, he was often depicted as a man with the head of an ibis or a baboon, animals sacred to him. His feminine counterpart was Seshat...

  • Ethereal creature
  • Indian Gandharva
    Gandharva
    Gandharva is a name used for distinct mythological beings in Hinduism and Buddhism; it is also a term for skilled singers in Indian classical music.-In Hinduism:...

    s
  • Indian Kinnara
    Kinnara Kingdom
    In Indian epic literature, Kinnara Kingdom refers to the territory of a tribe called Kinnaras who were one among the exotic tribes, mentioned along with others like Devas , Asuras , Pisachas, Gandharvas, Kimpurushas, Vanaras, Suparnas, Rakshasas, Bhutas and Yakshas...

     which are half-horse and half-man creature.
  • Philippine Tikbalang
    Tikbalang
    Tikbalang is a creature of Philippine folklore said to lurk in the mountains and forests of the Philippines. It is generally described as a tall, bony humanoid creature with disproportionately long limbs, to the point that its knees reach above its head when it squats down...

  • Roman Faun
    Faun
    The faun is a rustic forest god or place-spirit of Roman mythology often associated with Greek satyrs and the Greek god Pan.-Origins:...

  • Scottish Each uisge
    Each uisge
    The each uisge is a mythological Scottish water spirit, called the Aughisky in Ireland. It is similar to the kelpie, but far more dangerous.The Each Uisge, a supernatural water horse found in the Highlands of Scotland, is supposedly the most dangerous water-dwelling creature in the British Isles...

  • Welsh Ceffyl Dŵr

Further reading

  • M. Grant and J. Hazel. Who's Who in Greek Mythology. David McKay & Co Inc, 1979.
  • Harry Potter
    Harry Potter
    Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy novels written by the British author J. K. Rowling. The books chronicle the adventures of the adolescent wizard Harry Potter and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, all of whom are students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry...

    , books 3,4,6, and 7.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia
    The Chronicles of Narnia
    The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven fantasy novels for children by C. S. Lewis. It is considered a classic of children's literature and is the author's best-known work, having sold over 100 million copies in 47 languages...

    , book 2.
  • The Lightning Thief
    The Lightning Thief
    The Lightning Thief is a 2005 fantasy-adventure novel based on Greek mythology, the first young adult novel written by Rick Riordan. It is the first novel in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, which charts the adventures of modern-day twelve-year-old Percy Jackson as he discovers he is a...

    , book 1.
  • Frédérick S. Parker. Finding the Kingdom of the Centaurs.

External links