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Centaurs of Greek Mythology


Centaurs, according to Greek mythology, were said to be the offspring of Ixion, son of Ares, and a cloud. These strange creatures had the head arms and chest of a man but the legs and lower half of a horse. In later myths and stories they sometimes had horns, wings or both. Back to Greek mythology, these Man-Horse beasts lived in Thessaly, fed on meat and were given to riotous revelries. They came to symbolize the dark, unruly forces of nature. They were usually depicted as drunken followers of Dionysus, except for Cheiron who was the tutor to several heroes...



Cheiron (or Chiron) was a Centaur, half man and half horse, and the son of the Titan Cronos. Cronos disguised himself as a horse in order to seduce Philyra without his wife Rhea discovering the affair. Unlike other centaurs, who are descended from Ixion, Cheiron was among the gentlest, wisest, and most learned of creatures. As a result, he was asked to tutor several of the greatest of Greek heroes, including Achilles, Asclepius, Heracles, Jason, Aeneas, and Peleus. Being the son of a god he was immortal, but Heracles accidentally wounded him with a poisoned arrow when fighting the other Centaurs. According to one tradition, in order to be relieved of the unrelenting torment of the wound, he gave his immortality to the Titan Prometheus and allowed himself to die. According to another, he appealed to Zeus and was transformed into the constellation Sagittarius.


Pallas and the Centaur by Sandro Botticelli (1482. Now in Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) The Rape of Deianira by Guido Reni, 1621
Botticelli painted the Pallas and the Centaur for Lorenzo dei Medici (son of Pierfrancesco), perhaps intended as the third and concluding work of the trilogy begun by the Primavera and the Birth of Venus. The Jack E. Reese Galleria in the Hodges Libary includes one of the finest centaurian specimens yet discovered, and the library includes the most extensive collections of centaurian epic literature in the south-eastern United States. Nessus, a wild Greek Centaur, tries to abduct Deianira (Herules' new bride), while ferrying her across the River Evenus. Hercules heard her cries and shot an arrow into the heart of Nessus.


When Hercules was taking his wife to his home in Tiryns, they came to a swollen river. Nessus, a centaur, offered to help Hercules get Deianira across the river. Hercules swam across and heard Deianira yelling for him. Assuming that the centaur was kidnapping her to rape her, Hercules shot him with an arrow tipped with Hydra's poison. The centaur, seeking vengeance, gave his shirt covered in Hydra's poison to Deianira and told her that it was a talisman that would renew love.

Years later, when Hercules had completed his labors and was still far from home, Deianira heard that his heart had been captured by another woman. She sent him the shirt not realizing that it was poisoned. Hercules, unaware of its taint, wore the shirt.



In modern times, the centaur has reappeared in art and literature, especially in the genre of fantasy. C.S. Lewis' The Narnian Chronicles and Piers Anthony's Xanth series have prominent centaur characters. Science fiction has used the character as well; John Varley's Titan, Wizard, Demon series, Jack Chalker's Wellworld series, Walter Jon William's Knight Moves and Elf Sternberg's The Journal Entries series all feature prominent centaur characters.


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*Research Resource - "A Natural History of the Unnatural World


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