Centaur, a combination of the human and the equine
The centaur is a very important creature in Greek mythology. The authors agree that their form and behavior is the metaphor for the struggle between reason and instincts. In the same way the centaur is the representation of the struggle between civilization and barbarism. That is why today we will talk about the centaur, its definition, meaning and the different representations that ancient and modern art have made of this wonderful creature. Without further ado, let’s continue.
The centaur is a being that combines the body and psyche of an animal with that of a man. Specifically, this hybrid between human being and horse drags characteristics of both beings, in their physiognomy as in their psychology. Let’s move on to give a physiological description of centaurs.
Physical description of the Centaur, mythological creature
The centaur is an obvious mixture between a horse and a human being. On the one hand it has the upper half of a human being from the waist (head, arms and torso). Moreover, the lower half is composed of the body and legs of a horse. The human body is attached at the waist to the body of the horse at the point where the neck of the latter would be, thus forming a centaur.
The female genus of centaurs is called centauurids. Although not very common in mythology, the few depictions and descriptions of centauurids portray them as exceptionally beautiful beings.
In the words of the Greek philosopher Philostratus the Elder the description of the Centaurides would be as follows:
“How beautiful are the centaurids, even though they have the body of a mare. They grow from white, brown or spotted mares and are distinct. But they all have something in common, they shine like well-kept mares. They are the white centauids that grow from black mares, the most beautiful, because by contrast of colors it produces a unique being of great beauty”.
Psychological description of the Centaur
Centaurs are described as barbarian beings with little or no self-control. Although they sometimes have proper behaviors, alcohol intake easily unleashes their animal instincts.
That is why it is said that centaurs represent the chaos and barbarism of humanity when they attend to their most primitive instincts. We can see this in his literary and plastic artistic representations.
They were not only violent but lustful as we will see later in some of the myths of the Centaurs.
Somehow the Centaur is the representation of the man who forgets his humanity and indulges in lust, violence, and barbarism, either by instincts or by the consumption of alcohol. This being is the warning of what the human being can become when he leaves civilization.
Myths of the Centaurs.
According to mythology, centaurs are beings that inhabited the mountains of Thessaly. The father of this race of mythological beings gave them a name, because the father of all centaurs is called Centaurus, as we mentioned earlier.
According to the author, Centaurus, the first of them, is the son of Ixion and Nephele, and some magnesian mares. In other origins of the myth of the centaurs, Centaurus is the son of Apollo and Hebe.
The Centaur’s Fight
The centaurs are well known for the struggle they had with the people of Thessaly. Provoked by his attempt to kidnap Hippodamia (beautiful woman) on the day of his wedding to Pyritoo, king of the Lapitas and also son of Ixion. The dispute between these cousins is a metaphor for the conflict between low instincts and civilized behavior in humanity.
In this order of ideas, Theseus is a hero and founder of cities who was present, tipped the scales on the side of the correct order of things, helping Pyritus. The centaurs fled. It should be noted that many scenes of the battle between the tombstones and the centaurs were sculpted in bas-reliefs in the frieze of the Parthenon, which was dedicated to the wise Athena.
To keep in mind
The general character of centaurs is that of wild beings. Without laws or hospitality, slaves to animal passions. However, there are two exceptions to this rule: Pholus and Chiron, who expressed good nature, being wise and kind centaurs.
Centaurs in art
In ancient Attic painted vessels centaurs were depicted as human beings head-on. With the body and hind legs of a horse attached to the back. Later, they were men only up to the waist. The battle with the pencils and the adventure of Heracles with Pholus are favorite themes of Greek art.
Origin of the Centaur
Regarding this point, the anthropologist and writer Robert Graves speculated that the centaurs of Greek mythology were an evocation of a pre-Hellenic sect that considered the horse a totem (iconic symbol of a tribe). Let’s not forget that a similar theory appears in Mary Renault’s The Sea Bull.
Another of the origins that are taken as a hypothesis is related to the idea that centaurs come from the first reaction of a culture that did not know horsemanship. Like the Minoan Aegean world, towards the nomads who did ride horses.
As we mentioned earlier, the Greek orator Philostratus the Elder states that they are beautiful creatures, despite being horses, sisters and wives of the male centaurs who inhabited Mount Pelion with their children. Others describe them as beautiful white mares, while others say they are chestnuts.
Finally, several legends about centaurs claim that they are very fickle creatures. They regularly look to the sky to determine their destinies. In turn, they are great astrologers and very inclined towards divination.
Gustavo Mirabal Castro fell in love with Greek and Roman mythology by studying its culture during his law studies. The Romans and Greeks were the forerunners of the legal system as we know it today. If you want to know more about his fascination with mythology, horses and laws you can follow him on his social networks.