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Centaur
(Kentaur, Kentauros, Centaurus)
Centaure Malmaison crop.jpg
A bronze statue of a centaur,
after the Furietti Centaurs.
Creature
Grouping Legendary creature
Sub grouping Hybrid
Similar creatures Minotaur, satyr, harpy
Data
Mythology Greek
Region Greece
Habitat Land

In Greek mythology, the centaurs (from Ancient GreekΚένταυροι - Kéntauroi) are a race of creatures composed of part human and part horse. In early Attic and Boeotian vase-paintings, as on the kantharos illustrated below left, 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, where the horse's neck would be.

Centaurs on a kantharos, Boeotia, Late Geometric Period (Louvre Museum)

This half-human and half-animal composition has led many writers to treat them as liminal beings, caught between the two natures, embodied in contrasted myths, both as the embodiment of untamed nature, as in their battle with the Lapiths, or conversely as teachers, like Chiron.

The centaurs were usually said to have been born of Ixion and Nephele (the cloud made in the image of Hera). Another version, however, makes them children of a certain Centaurus, who mated with the Magnesian mares. This Centaurus was either himself the son of Ixion and Nephele (inserting an additional generation) or of Apollo and Stilbe, daughter of the river god Peneus. In the later version of the story his twin brother was Lapithus, ancestor of the Lapiths, thus making the two warring peoples cousins.

Centaurs were said to have inhabited the region of Magnesia and Mount Pelion in Thessaly, Mount Pholoe in Arcadia and the Malean peninsula in southern Laconia.

Centaurs continued to figure in literary forms of Roman mythology.

Contents

Centauromachy

The Centaurs are best known for their fight with the Lapithae, caused by their attempt to carry off Hippodamia and the rest of the Lapith women, on the day of her marriage to Pirithous, 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, 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.[1][2][3] Another Lapith hero, Caeneus, 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, the defeat of the Titans by the Olympian gods, the contests with the Centaurs typify the struggle between civilization and barbarism.

The Centauromachy is most famously portrayed in the Parthenon metopes by Phidias and a Renaissance-era sculpture by Michelangelo.

Earliest representations

The tentative identification of two fragmentary Mycenaean terracotta figures as centaurs, among the extensive Mycenaean pottery found at Ugarit. suggests a Bronze Age origin for these creatures of myth.[4] A painted terracotta centaur was found in the "Hero's tomb" at Lefkandi, 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.[5]

Theories of origin

Centaur carrying off a nymph by Laurent Marqueste, marble, 1892, Tuileries Garden, Paris.

The most common theory holds that the idea of centaurs came from the first reaction of a non-riding culture, as in the Minoan Aegean world, to nomads who were mounted on horses. The theory suggests that such riders would appear as half-man, half-animal (Bernal Díaz del Castillo reported that the Aztecs had this misapprehension about Spanish cavalrymen).[6] Horse taming and horseback culture arose first in the southern steppe grasslands of Central Asia, perhaps approximately in modern Kazakhstan.

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 was the first who describes undoubtedly a combined monster.[7] Previous authors (Homer) only uses words such as pheres (cf. theres, "beasts")[8] that could also mean ordinary savage men riding ordinary horses. However, contemporaneous representations of hybrid centaurs can be found in archaic Greek art.

Lucretius in his first century BC philosophical poem On the Nature of Things 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.[9]

Robert Graves (relying on the work of Georges Dumezil[10] argued for tracing the centaurs back to the Indian gandharva), speculated that the centaurs were a dimly-remembered, pre-Hellenic fraternal earth cult who had the horse as a totem.[11] A similar theory was incorporated into Mary Renault's The Bull from the Sea.


The Greek word kentauros is generally regarded as of obscure origin.[12] The etymology from ken - tauros, "piercing bull-stickers" was a Euhemerist suggestion in Palaephatus' rationalizing text on Greek mythology, On Incredible Tales (Περὶ ἀπίστων): mounted archers from a village called Nephele eliminating a herd of bulls that were the scourge of Ixion's kingdom.[13] Another possible related etymology can be "bull-slayer".[14] Some say that the Greeks took the constellation of Centaurus, and also its name "piercing bull", from Mesopotamia, where it symbolized the god Baal 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 in the fourth century BC and by Aratus in the third century.

Centaurs harvest grapes on a 12th-century capital from the Mozac Abbey in the Auvergne

Warfare

Centaurs are skilled in archery. They prefer a bow and arrow but can use swords and axes. Their armies are composed of all males with pack leaders as commanders. Centaurs are not powerful by sheer numbers and force but strategy. Male fawns are trained from a young age.

Female centaurs

Though female centaurs, called Kentaurides, are not mentioned in early Greek literature and art, they do appear occasionally in later antiquity. A Macedonian mosaic of the C4th BC[15] is one of the earliest examples of the Centauress in art. Ovid[16] also mentions a centauress named Hylonome who committed suicide when her husband Cyllarus was killed in the war with the Lapiths.

In a description of a painting in Neapolis, 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."[17]

The idea, or possibility, of female centaurs was certainly known in early modern times, as evidenced by Shakespeare's King Lear, Act IV, Scene vi, ln.124-125: "Down from the waist they're centaurs, / Though women all above"

In the Disney animated film Fantasia, during the Pastoral Symphony, some of the main characters are female centaurs. However, the Disney studio called them "Centaurettes" instead of Kentaurides.

Persistence in the medieval world

Prince Bova fights Polkan in an 1860 Russian lubok

Centaurs preserved a Dionysian connection in the 12th century Romanesque carved capitals of Mozac Abbey in the Auvergne, where other capitals depict harvesters, boys riding goats (a further Dionysiac theme) and griffins guarding the chalice that held the wine.

Centaurs are shown on a number of Pictish carved stones from north-east Scotland, erected in the 8th-9th centuries AD (e.g., at Meigle, Perthshire). Though outside the limits of the Roman Empire, these depictions appear to be derived from Classical prototypes

A centaur-like half-human half-equine creature called Polkan (Russian: Полкан) appeared in Russian folk art, and lubok prints of the 17th-19th centuries. Polkan is originally based on Pulicane, a half-dog from Andrea da Barberino's poem «I Reali di Francia», which was once popular in Slavonic world in prosaic translations.

Modern day

Modern pen & ink drawing by Aileen Oracion, of the warrior centaur Chiron, often mentioned in Greek Mythology

The John C. Hodges library at The University of Tennessee hosts a permanent exhibit of a "Centaur from Volos", in its library. The exhibit, made by combining a study human skeleton with the skeleton of a Shetland pony 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.[18]

A centaur is one of the symbols associated with both the Iota Phi Theta and the Delta Lambda Phi fraternities. 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, moderation and tempered masculinity.

Similarly, C.S. Lewis' centaurs from his popular Chronicles of Narnia 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. Lewis generally used the species to inspire awe in his readers. (For full article, see Narnian Centaurs.)

In J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, centaurs live in the Forbidden Forest close to Hogwarts. 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. Rowling's depiction is not surprising, as she has largely credited C.S. Lewis with her inspiration.

Painting by Sebastiano Ricci, of centaurs at the marriage of Pirithous, king of the Lapithae

See also

Other hybrid (therianthropic) creatures appear in Greek mythology, always with some liminal connection that links Hellenic culture with archaic or non-Hellenic cultures:

Also,

References

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Notes

  1. ^ Plutarch, Theseus, 30
  2. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses xii. 210
  3. ^ Diodorus Siculusiv. 69, 70
  4. ^ Ione Mylonas Shear, "Mycenaean Centaurs at Ugarit" The Journal of Hellenic Studies 122 (2002:147-153); but see the interpretation relating them to "abbreviated group" figures at the Bronze-Age sanctuary of Aphaia and elsewhere, presented by Korinna Pilafidis-Williams, "No Mycenaean Centaurs Yet", The Journal of Hellenic Studies 124 (2004), p. 165, which concludes "we had perhaps do best not to raise hopes of a continuity of images across the divide between the Bronze Age and the historical period."
  5. ^ It is illustrated, for example, in John Boardman, Jasper Griffin and Oswyn Murray, Greece and the Hellenistic World (Oxford History of the Classical World) 1988, vol. I p. 87.
  6. ^ Stuart Chase, Mexico: A Study of Two Americas, Chapter IV (University of Virginia Hypertext), accessed 24 April 2006.
  7. ^ "...that strange race was born, like to both parents, their mother’s form below, above their sire’s." (Second Pythian Ode).
  8. ^ For example, Homer Iliad i. 268, ii. 743. Compare the Hesiodic The Shield of Heracles, 104.
  9. ^ Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, book V, translated by William Ellery Leonard, 1916 (The Perseus Project) accessed 27 July 2008.
  10. ^ Dumezil, Le Probleme des Centaures (Paris 1929) and Mitra-Varuna: An essay on two Indo-European representations of sovereignty (1948. tr. 1988).
  11. ^ Graves, The Greek Myths, 1960 § 81.4; § 102 "Centaurs"; § 126.3;.
  12. ^ Alex Scobie, "The Origins of 'Centaurs'" Folklore 89.2 (1978:142-147); Scobie quotes Martin P. Nilsson, Geschichte der griechischen Religion, 1955, "Die Etymologie und die Deutung der Ursprungs sind unsicher und mögen auf sich beruhen".
  13. ^ Noted by Scobie 1978:142.
  14. ^ Alexander Hislop, in his polemic The Two Babylons: Papal Worship Revealed to be the Worship of Nimrod and His Wife. (1853, revised 1858) theorized that the word is derived from the Semitic Kohen and "tor" (to go round) via phonetic shift the less prominent consonants being lost over time, with it developing into Khen Tor or Ken-Tor, and being transliterated phonetically into Ionian as Kentaur, but this is not accepted by any modern philologist.
  15. ^ Pella Archaeological Museum
  16. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 12. 210 ff., the name Hylonome is Greek so Ovid may have drawn her story from an earlier Greek writer
  17. ^ Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 3.
  18. ^ Anderson, Maggie (August 26 2004). Library hails centaur’s 10th anniversary. 97. http://notes.utk.edu/bio/unistudy.nsf/0/22d591ecc61a2cca85256efd00631d45?OpenDocument. Retrieved 2006-09-21. 

Sources

  • M. Grant and J. Hazel. Who's Who in Greek Mythology. David McKay & Co Inc, 1979.
  • Rose, Carol (2001). Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth. New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.. pp. 72. ISBN 0393322114. 
  • Harry Potter, books 3,4,6, and 7.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia, book 2.
  • The Lightning Thief, book 1

External links


Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010
(Redirected to The Centaur article)

From Wikisource

The Centaur
by Algernon Blackwood
First published in 1911.
PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1951, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.


Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Wikipedia

See also centaur

Contents

English

Centaur Chiron with Achilles (1)

Etymology

{ME}; Latin Centaurus; Greek (Kentauros); (Eng. usg. ca. 14c)

Noun

Singular
Centaur

Plural
Centaurs

Centaur (plural Centaurs)

  1. (Greek mythology) One of a race of monsters having a head, trunk, and arms of a man, and the body and legs of a horse.
  2. A skillful horseman or horsewoman.
  3. (Rocketry) A U.S. upper stage, with a restartable liquid-propellant engine, used with an Atlas or Titan booster to launch satellites and probes.

Translations

The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.

Anagrams


Simple English


A Centaur is a creature in Greek mythology. It has the upper body of a human, but below the waist it has the body of a horse. Centaurs are very strong and are good at astronomy and divination (predicting the future).

Famous centaurs are Cheiron and Nessos.

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