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Posts from — September 2007

Centaurs

Its been a while since my mythology obsessed days but theres still some of the lore lurking in dark corners of my mind. :) So recently when it just so happened that the topic of centaurs came up, I dug around my mind and also did some reading. Here’s some stuff I found about these fantastic liminal creatures.

Centaurs

In Greek mythology, the Centaurs (Greek: Κένταυροι) are a race of creatures composed of part human and part horse. In early Attic vase-paintings, they are depicted with the torso of a human joined at the (human’s) waist to the horse’s withers, where the horse’s neck would be.

This half-human and half-animal composition has led many writers to treat them as liminal beings, caught between the two natures, embodied in contrasted myths, and as the embodiment of untamed nature, as in their battle with the Lapiths, or conversely as teachers, like Chiron.

The most common theory holds that the idea of centaurs came from the first reaction of a non-riding culture, as in the Minoan Aegean world, to nomads who were mounted on horses. The theory goes that such riders would appear as half-man, half-animal. (Bernal Díaz del Castillo reported that the Aztecs had this misapprehension about Spanish cavalrymen.)

Centaurs have been made quite famous today in books, movies and games like Harry Potter, Narnia, Artemis Fowl, The Golden Voyage of Sindbad, Xena: Warrior Princess, Guild Wars and Age of Mythology. How much of what is depicted of them is true; is a question. The characters here are based on the age old centaurs but moulded to fit into the expectation of the author. Some of the qualities attributed to them are not very true.

A centaur is one of the symbols associated with the Delta Lambda Phi National Social Fraternity. Whereas centaurs in Greek mythology were generally symbolic of chaos and unbridled passions, DLP’s centaur is modelled after Chiron and represents honour, moderation and tempered masculinity.

Chiron

Chiron or Cheiron, in Greek mythology was held as the superlative centaur among his brethren. Centaurs were notorious for being overly indulgent drinkers and carousers, given to violence when intoxicated, and generally uncultured. Chiron, by contrast, was intelligent, civilized and kind. He was known for his knowledge and skill with medicine. A great healer, astrologer, and respected oracle, the last remaining centaur, most revered as a teacher and tutor. Chiron tutored a lot of famous heroes including Achilles and Jason – Captain of the Argonauts.

His nobility is further reflected in the story of his death as Chiron sacrificed his life, allowing humanity to obtain the use of fire. He was honoured with a place in the sky, for the Greeks as the constellation Sagittarius, and in modern times represented by the constellation of the southern hemisphere, Centaurus.

Constellation Centaurus

The Milky Way as seen from the Earth is at its densest as it passes through Sagittarius, as this is where the galactic center lies. Consequently, Sagittarius contains many star clusters and nebulae.

In mythology Sagittarius is often associated with the mythological figure of Chiron. Sagittarius is also associated with the Greco-Roman god Zeus/Jupiter and sometimes the goddess Tyche/Fortuna and the Norse god Thor.

Centaur is also –

A minor planet whose orbit around the Sun lies typically between the orbits of Jupiter and Neptune (5 to 30 AU), though it may extend inward almost as far as Mars (as in the case of Damocles, of the Damocloid family) or outward beyond Neptune (as in the case of 1995SN55, which ranges out to about 40 AU). Because centaurs cross the orbits of one or more of the giant outer planets, they are also known as outer planet crossers.

The orbits of the centaurs are dynamically unstable due to interactions with the giant planets, so they must be objects in transition from a large, outer reservoir of small bodies, believed to be the Kuiper belt, to potentially active, comet-like inner solar system objects. Known sizes range from a few tens to a few hundreds of kilometers across, though there are doubtless many smaller ones awaiting discovery. Their composition is probably intermediate between that of comets and ordinary asteroids; indeed, the first object to be called a centaur, Chiron, is now also classified as a comet following the discovery of a coma around it.

Reference – My Mind and Wikipedia

September 6, 2007   3 Comments