Creatures part human and part horse. The centaurs were descendants of Centaurus, a son of the music god Apollo. Most centaurs were governed by the bestial half of their double nature. Their behavior was uncouth, and a very small amount of wine drove them wild.

When Heracles was entertained by Pholus, one of the few civilized centaurs, he made the mistake of demanding the guest’s prerogative of a beaker of wine. Pholus could not refuse, though he hesitated before unearthing a jug of the liquid which he kept buried underground for fear of just the sort of consequence which now ensued.

As soon as Pholus uncapped the jar of wine, his brothers caught scent of it on the wind from more than a mile away. Driven instantly to madness, they attacked Heracles, and the hero barely succeeded in driving them off with flaming arrows.

Wine also caused the centaurs to fight with other guests at the wedding feast of Theseus’s friend Peirithous. It was on this occasion that they destroyed the supposedly invulnerable Caeneus.

On another occasion, a centaur named Nessus offered to ferry Heracles’ wife across a torrent on his back. Midway, his animal nature got the better of him and he tried to force his attentions on his passenger. She shrieked and Heracles came running. He killed Nessus with a single arrow through the heart.

Chiron was not an ordinary centaur, having ended up with his horsely half by virtue of his father, the god Cronus, taking the form of a horse when Chiron was conceived. Chiron became renowned for his civility and wisdom. He served as tutor to many famous heroes, including Heracles and Jason. He taught music and medicine as well as the skills of the hunt.

THE KENTAUROI (or Centaurs)

were a tribe of half man, half horse savages which inhabited the mountains and forests of Magnesia. They were a primitive race who made their homes in mountain caves, hunted wild animals for food and armed themselves with rocks and tree branches.

The Centauri, that is, the bullkillers, are according to the earliest accounts a race of men who inhabited the mountains and forests of Thessaly. They are described as leading a rude and savage life, occasionally carrying off the women of their neighbors, as covered with hair and ranging over their mountains like animals. But they were not altogether unacquainted with the useful arts, as in the case of Chiron. Now, in these earliest accounts, the centaurs appear merely as a sort of gigantic, savage, or animal-like beings; whereas, in later writers, they are described as monsters (hippocentaurs), whose bodies were partly human and partly those of horses. This strange mixture of the human form with that of a horse is accounted for, in the later traditions, by the history of their origin.

Ixion and Nephele

“Ixion fell in love with Hera and tried to rape her, and when Hera told Zeus about it, Zeus wanted to determine if her report was really true. So he fashioned a cloud (nephele) to look like Hera, and laid it by Ixion’s side. When Ixion bragged that he had slept with Hera, Zeus punished him by tying him to a wheel, on which he was turned by winds up in the air. The cloud bore Kentauros (Centaurus) from Ixion’s seed.”

Liminal Beings

This half-human and half-horse 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.

In the Centauromachy on the day of Hippodamia’s wedding the Lapiths fought the Centaurs who had attempted to carry off the Lapith women.

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

Another Lapith hero,Caeneus, who was invulnerable to weapons, was beaten into the earth by Centaurs wielding rocks and the branches of trees