Centaurs

A tribe of creatures who had the heads and torsos of men and the bodies of horses. There were many different tribes of Centaurs across the Greek world.

Cyprian Centaurs

They were a tribe of bull-horned centaurs native to the island of Cyprus. They were born of Gaia when she was accidentally impregnated by Zeus during a failed attempt to couple with the goddess Aphrodite.

Parents: Zeus and Gaia

Female Centaurs

They are seldom mentioned in ancient literature, although they do occasionally appear in ancient Greek paintings and Roman-era mosaics and reliefs. 

Parents: Ixion and Nephele

Female centaurs flanking Venus. Mosaic from Roman Tunisia, 2nd c. AD.

Lamian Centaurs

They were twelve rustic demigods (daemons) native to the River Lamus in Cilicia. They were set by Zeus to guard the infant Dionysus against the machinations of his step-mother Hera. When the enraged goddess learned of their assistance, she transformed them into ox-horned Centaurs. They later joined Dionysus in his war against the Indians.

Parents: The Lamids

Centaur-chariot of Dionysus | Greco-Roman mosaic from the Baths of Trajan | Bardo National Museum, Tunis
Centaur-chariot of Dionysus, Graeco-Roman mosaic from the Baths of Trajan, Bardo National Museum.

Pelopponesian Centaurs

They were a tribe of half-man, half-horse Arcadian wild men who fought Heracles for the wine of their hospitable brother Pholus. Most of them were slain in the battle which ensued; felled by poisoned arrows. The few survivors fled south to the Malean peninsular or Eleusis where they were given refuge by Poseidon.

Parents: Ixion and Nephele
Killed by: Heracles

Arcadian Centaur | Athenian-red figure kylix C6th B.C. | British Museum, London
Arcadian Centaur. Athenian red-figure kylix, c. 6th BC, British Museum.

Thessalian Centaurs

They were a tribe of half-man, half-horse savages who inhabited the mountains and forests of Thessalian Magnesia. They were a primitive race who made their homes in caves, hunted wild animals for food and armed themselves with rocks and tree branches. The Centaurs were spawned by the cloud-nymph, Nephele, after she was attacked by the impious Lapith king, Ixion. She deposited her double-formed brood on Mount Pelion where they were nursed by the daughters of the immortal centaur, Chiron.

They were invited to attend the wedding of their half-brother, Pirithous, but became drunk at the festivities and attempted to carry off the bride and other female guests. In the battle which ensued most of the Centaurs were killed.

Parents: Ixion and Nephele
Killed by: The Lapiths

“Battle of Centaurs and Wild Beasts” was made for the dining room of Hadrian’s Villa, c. 120-130 AD. The mosaic now resides in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

Chiron

He was eldest and wisest of the Centaurs, a Thessalian tribe of half-horse men. Unlike his brethren, Chiron was an immortal son of the Titan Cronus and a half-brother of Zeus. When Cronos’ tryst with the nymph Philyra was interrupted by Rhea, he transformed himself into a horse to escape notice and the result was this two-formed son.

Residence: Mount Pelion
Parents: Cronus and Philyra
Siblings: Hera, Hestia, Hades, Demeter, Poseidon and Zeus
Consort: Chariclo
Children: Pelionids
Killed by: Heracles

The Education of Achilles by Chiron, fresco from Herculaneum, 1st c. AD, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.

He was a renowned teacher who mentored many of the greatest heroes of myth including the Argonauts Jason and Peleus, the physician Asclepius, the demi-god Aristaeus and Achilles.

He was accidentally wounded by Heracles when the hero was battling other members of the tribe. The wound, poisoned with Hydra-venom, was incurable, and suffering unbearable pain Chiron voluntarily relinquished his immortality. Zeus then placed him amongst the stars as the constellation Sagittarius.

Eurytion (Thessalian)

He was the leader of the half-horse, half-man Thessalian Centaurs. He was invited to the wedding of his half-brother, Pirithous, king of the Lapiths, but during the celebrations became drunk and attempted to abduct the bride. In the fight which ensued Eurytion and his Centaur kin were slain.

Parents: Ixion and Nephele
Killed by: The Lapiths

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Centaur Eurytion and Laodameia. Apulian red-figure krater, c. 4th BC, British Museum.

Eurytion (Pelopponesian)

He was a Peloponnesian Centaur, who forced King Dexamenus of Olenus to agree to let him marry his daughter, Mnesimakhe. However, when the centaur came to collect his bride, Heracles slew him.

Parents: Ixion and Nephele
Killed by: Heracles

Heracles and the centaur Eurytion | Athenian black-figure amphora C6th B.C. | The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu
Heracles and the centaur Eurytion. Athenian black-figure amphora, c. 6th BC, Getty Museum.

Nessus

He was one of Thessalian Centaurs. He fled his homeland after the Lapith war and made his way to the Aetolian river Evenus, where he set himself up as a ferryman. When Herakles arrived with his new bride Deianeira, Nessus carried her across the river on his back. The sight of the beautiful woman, however, inflamed him with passion and he attempted to violate her. Heracles heard her cries and slew Nessus with a poisoned arrow. As he was dying, the centaur persuaded Deianeira to take some of his poisoned blood as a love charm should Heracles ever prove unfaithful. This dupe worked and eventually resulted in the hero’s death.

Parents: Ixion and Nephele
Killed by: Heracles

Heracles, Nessus and Deianeira | Athenian red-figure kylix C5th B.C. | Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Heracles, Nessus and Deianeira. Athenian red-figure kylix, c. 5th BC, Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Pholus

He was an Arcadian Centaur, who made his home in a cave on Mount Pholoe. He once entertained Heracles who was passing through the region in search of the Erymanthian Boar. But when Pholus opened his wine-skin to serve the hero the other Centaurs, driven into a mad frenzy by the aroma, attacked. Heracles slew most of them with his arrows and the rest fled south. Pholus himself also suffered a mishap; for as he was examining the hero’s poisoned-arrows he dropped one on his foot and died.

Parents: Silenus and Melia
Killed by: Dropping Heracles’ poisoned arrow on his foot

Heracles and Pholus. Black-figured hydria, c. 520–510 BC, Louvre.