Greek Myths: The Origins | Centaurs | The 12 Olympians | Achilles
Gods of Greek Mythology | Heroes of Greek Mythology | The Trojan War
Heracles | Sirens | Prometheus | Perseus | Pygmalion and Galatea
Jason and the Argonauts | The Children of Nyx | Death and the Underworld
Centaurs have the torso of a man on top of the body of a horse and were known for their raucous behaviour. They ate only raw flesh and were renowned for their drunkenness, which was why they were associated with Dionysus. Famous for their savagery, they lived far away from people in their own colony.
In Greek mythology, centaurs were fathered by Ixion, son of Ares. Ixion was shunned by all for killing his wife on their wedding night, until Zeus took pity and forgave him. But, to test him, Zeus made a replica of his own wife, Hera, out of a cloud and sent it down to Ixion. Ixion was tricked and seduced the fake Hera, resulting in the birth of his monstrous children, the centaurs.
They were notorious for their frequent violations of women, and many centaurs gave in to temptation and turned to rape. An example recorded in legend is the story of the centaur Nessus, who attempted to rape Deianeira, wife of Heracles. However, she was more than capable of defending herself, and managed to kill the centaur. In his dying moments, Nessus appeared remorseful and gave Deianeira a potent love drug, which she soaked her husband's tunic in. However, the potion was really poison and caused Heracles so much agony that he preferred to burn himself to death.
The Good Centaurs
Although the majority of centaurs were violent and disagreeable, two were different. The first, Cheiron, was a scholar who sought harmony in nature and subsequently learned many things about music, medicine, war and other disciplines not normally associated with centaurs. His fame spread, and he became tutor to Apollo, who later became one of the Olympians. He also suggested to Peleus that the Goddess Thetis would make a good wife. She resisted the marriage but eventually succumbed, their union producing many children, of whom only Achilles survived.
The other good centaur was Pholos, who welcomed Heracles when he visited, giving him a feast. When the hero asked for wine, Pholos opened a jar of wine owned by all the centaurs and gave it to Heracles. However, the other centaurs smelled the wine and attacked the cave. During the fight many were wounded - including Cheiron. The good centaur was wounded so badly that he cursed his immortality and longed to die. His cries were heard by Prometheus, who offered to swap his own death for the centaur's immortality. The centaur accepted and died, leaving Prometheus to live eternally.