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Centaur

By Edited Nov 7, 2015 0 0

The Centaur (or, Hippocentaur) was a race of bi-form creatures from Greek mythology which had the upper torso of a man attached to the body of a horse. Though their form has been interpreted in many different ways throughout history they are generally depicted as having the hind-quarters of a horse, with four legs, and the torso of a man from the waist up. It has been theorised that the idea of the centaur originated from cultures unfamiliar with horses and horse-riding to whom a rider mounted on a horse might have appeared as a single beast. In ancient Greece the centaurs were notorious for being wild, lusty and violent when intoxicated. They were the embodiment of the uncultured and barbaric. 

One of the earliest and most well known accounts of the Centaurs is the battle between their people and the Lapiths of the Peneus Valley in Thessaly commonly known as the Centauromachy. At the wedding of the Lapith king Perithous the Centaurs, unused to the effects of alcohol, became drunk and assaulted his bride, Queen Hippodamia. In an account of the wedding by Ovid, Theseus, who had defeated the Minotaur and was a close friend of Perithous, was present at the wedding and helped to defeat the centaurs killing Eurytus, the "fiercest of all the fierce centaurs". In this story, the centaurs are a symbol of barbaric man and this battle was a struggle between the savage with the civilised man.

There are many examples of beasts which are said to be half-man, half-horse from the historical and fictional texts of cultures other than ancient Greece. The Indian epic Mahabharata mentions a race of people known as Kinnaras who were half-man and half-horse. This race of people is known to have existed in the Himalaya mountains and were considered by many to be super human. However, modern historians believe the tribe to have been skilled horseman and fierce warriors rather than some kind of hybrid. Archeologists have also discovered Egyptian sculptures of horse headed figures and warriors wearing horse-face masks. In Philippine folklore there is said to exist a tall, bony humanoid with the head and feet of a horse called a Tikbalang

The etymological origins of the Greek word for Centaur, kentauros, is likely to have meant "piercing bull-stickers" or "bull slayers" which hints that riders, mounted on horseback may have used bow and arrows to round up and kill bulls either for ceremony or other reasons.

There are also female centaurs ,or, Kentaurides, which exist in mythology. One of the earliest examples in classical art is a 4th century BC mosaic from Macedonia. In Ovid's account of the Centauromachy a female centaur named Hylonome takes her own life when her husband Cyllarus is killed in the battle against the Lapiths.

The centaur has stayed alive in the fictional world for thousands of years until the modern day. Depictions of centaurs can be found in Shakespeare's "King Lear", Disney's "Fantasia", C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia", J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter. The modern depictions of the centaur often portray them as wise and noble which, interestingly, is opposite to the traits they were originally assigned in ancient Greece where they were supposed to represent the barbarism of early man.

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