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~Napoleon Bonaparte

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Centaurs, Chiron, Achilles, Nessus and Deianeira

                                                                                 Edited may 9, 2012
CENTAUR , 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 Cheiron. (Hom. Il. i. 268, ii. 743, in which passages they are called phêres, that is, thêres, Od. xxi. 295, &c.; Hesiod. Scut. Herc. 104, &c.) 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.
Like the Satyrs, centaurs were notorious for being wild and lusty, overly indulgent drinkers and carousers, given to violence when intoxicated, and generally uncultured delinquents.
A Centaur casts a rock at the tiger who has slain his mate and infant child. The Centauris (female centaur) lies dead, bloodied by the raking claws of the beast. The child Centauris has fallen nearby with its arms stretched out towards the tail of the beast.

Arnold Bocklin Battle of the Centaurs

Homer's Epigrams 14 (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"[A curse :] Let Chiron also come and bring many Centaurs [i.e. to cause harm].

The Battle of Centaurs and Lapiths at Hippodamias Wedding , Karel Dujardin
Mythical mountain people of Thessaly in Greece, the Lapiths fought the centaurs over the inheritance of the realm of the Lapith king, who was related to the centaurs. After peace was made, the Lapiths invited the centaurs to the wedding of their king, Perithous (Pirithous), to Hippodamia. But a battle broke out when the centaurs tried to abduct Hippodamia and other Lapith women. With the help of Theseus, the Lapiths won the day. This battle, known as the centauromachy, was depicted on Parthenon metopes.
Painting by Sebastiano Ricci, of centaurs at the marriage of Pirithous, king of the Lapithae

In Greek mythology, Chiron  was held to be the superlative centaur among his brethren.
Chiron, by contrast, was intelligent, civilized and kind, but he was not related directly to the other centaurs.  He was known for his knowledge and skill with medicine. According to an archaic myth he was sired by Cronus when he had taken the form of a horse and impregnated the nymph Philyra, Chiron's lineage was different from other centaurs, who were born of sun and raincloud, rendered by Greeks of the Classic period as from the union of the king Ixion, consigned to a fiery wheel, and Nephele ("cloud"), which in the Olympian telling Zeus invented to look like Hera . Myths in the Olympian tradition attributed Chiron's uniquely peaceful character and intelligence to teaching by Apollo and Artemis in his younger days. 
Chiron's haunts were on Mount Pelion; there he married the nymph Chariclo who bore him three daughters, Hippe (with a daughter Melanippe, the "Black Mare" or Euippe, "truly a mare"), Endeis, and Ocyrhoe, and one son Carystus.

A great healer, astrologer, and respected oracle, Chiron was said to be the first among centaurs and highly revered as a teacher and tutor. Among his pupils were many culture heroesAsclepiusAristaeusAjaxAeneasActaeonCaeneusTheseusAchillesJason,PeleusTelamonPerseus, sometimes HeraclesOileusPhoenix, and in one Byzantine tradition, even Dionysus: according to Ptolemaeus Chennus of Alexandria, "Dionysius was loved by Chiron, from whom he learned chants and dances, the bacchic rites and initiations."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 274  (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Inventors and their inventions . . . Chiron, son of Saturn [Kronos, Cronus], first used herbs in the medical art of surgery."

 Plato, Republic391c :
"Akhilleus (Achilles), the son of a goddess and of Peleus the most chaste of men, grandson of Zeus, and himself bred under the care of the most sage Chiron (Chiron)."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 38  (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Chiron, son of Saturn [Cronus] and Philyra, who surpassed not only the other Centaur, but also men in justice, and is thought to have reared Aesculapius and Achilles."

Chiron instructs the boy Achilles in the playing of the lyre. The Centaurus (centaur) rests on his equine haunch. He wears an animal skin cloak and a wreath of laurel. ca 65 -79 AD

 Giuseppe Maria Crespi Centaur Chiron Teaches  Young Achilles

 Chiron and Achilles  by John Singer Sargent

 Eugene Delacroix

  Pompeo Batoni

 The Education of Achilles by Chiron" , Donato Creti

Deianira  was the daughter of Althaea and Oeneus ('wine-man' and thus civilized), the king of Calydon, and the sister of Meleager. However, according to R. Graves, her father was in fact Dionysus. Her father betrothed her to the fearsome river god Achelous, horned and bull-like. Now Deianira was no passive blushing princess. "This Deianira drove a chariot and practised the art of war", noted Apollodorus (Library and Epitome, book i, 8:1) But she wanted nothing to do with her suitor, who was able to take the form of a serpent or a bull. Heracles, the greatest hero of the dawning Olympian world of gods and men, had to defeat the river god to win her as his bride.

Later, a wild centaur named Nessus attempted to kidnap Deianira as he was ferrying her across the river Evenus, but she was rescued by Heracles, who shot the centaur with a poisoned arrow.

Guido Reni, Abduction of Deianira                 

Louis Lagrenee, The Abduction of Deianeira by the Centaur Nessus

Arnold Bocklin

 Howard Pyle c. 1888 of "Deianeira and the dying centaur Nessus"


      Franz von Stuck

 Franz von Stuck, Heracles kills the centaur Nessus to save Deianira.
Laurent Marqueste Centaur carrying of a nymph

Franz von StuckWalking Ride

  Sandro Botticelli, Pallas and the Centaur

Antonio Canova, Theseus defeats the Centaur
Giant porphyry plate in the Vatican Museum

Gustave Moreau,Translated title: The Dead Poet Borne by a Centaur.