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MCotD: Centaur

wrapping up HHH week, and in honor of the tattoo i'm about to get today, today's creature is the centaur.

In Greek mythology, the Centaurs (from Ancient Greek: Κένταυροι - Kéntauroi) are a race of creatures composed of part human and part horse. In early Attic vase-paintings, they are depicted as 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 centaurs were usually said to have been born of Ixion and Nephele (the cloud made in the image of Hera). Another version, however, makes them children of a certain Centaurus, who mated with the Magnesian mares. This Centaurus was either the son of Ixion and Nephele (instead of the Centaurs) or of Apollo and Stilbe, daughter of the river god Peneus. In the latter version of the story his twin brother was Lapithus, ancestor of the Lapiths, thus making the two warring peoples cousins.

The Centaurs were creatures that were sometimes very hostile towards humans. They were always involved in brawls and battles. Often Zeus would send the Centaurs to punish gods and humans who had offended him. The hostility between man and Centaurs is said to have originated when the Centaurs were invited to their stepbrother's (Pirithous), wedding celebration. At the feast Eurytion, one of the Centaurs, becoming intoxicated with the wine, attempted to offer violence to the bride; the other Centaurs followed his example, and a dreadful conflict arose in which several of them were slain. This is the celebrated battle of the Lapithae and Centaurs, a favorite subject with the sculptors and poets of antiquity.

Though female centaurs, called Kentaurides are not mentioned in early Greek literature and art, they do appear occasionally in later antiquity. A Macedonian mosaic of the C4th BCE is one of the earliest examples of the Centauress in art. Ovid also mentions a centauress named Hylonome who committed suicide when her lover Cyllarus was killed in the war with the Lapiths.

In a description of a painting in Neapolis, the Greek rhetorician Philostratus the Elder describes them as sisters and wives of the male centaurs who live on Mount Pelion with their children.

"How beautiful the Centaurides are, even where they are horses; for some grow out of white mares, others are attached to chestnut mares, and the coats of others are dappled, but they glisten like those of horses that are well cared for. There is also a white female Centaur that grows out of a black mare, and the very opposition of the colours helps to produce the united beauty of the whole."

Centauroid creatures, also known as centaur-like or tauric creatures, appear frequently in mythology and works of fiction. Like the centaur of Greek myth, such creatures typically possess the body of a four-legged animal with a human or human-like torso where the head should be, giving them six limbs and a double set of ribcages.

In Mesopotamian mythology the urmahlullu, or lion-man, was a centauroid creature who served as a guardian spirit, especially of bathrooms.

Lion-centaurs appear again in English heraldry. A centaur-like archer was at times used as a charge known as a sagittary, named for the Zodiacal Sagittarius. While this charge was typically depicted as a more traditional centaur, the heraldry attributed to King Stephen of England employed leonine-bodied centauroids.

Some medieval bestiaries referred to a half-human, half-donkey creature called an onocentaur. Additionally, there are also mentions of half deer and half dog centaurs.

Centaurs have appeared many times and in many places in modern times, in for example Artemis Fowl, Avatar's Perdition: Black Sword Chronicle, Fantasia, the Narnia books (as well as in the movie adaptation of its second novel, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, 'The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Xena: Warrior Princess, Harry Potter, Class of the Titans and the trilogy Titan, Wizard, Mortal Kombat, Demon (novel) and they also featured prominently in the Xanth series.

The University of Tennessee Hodges hosts a permanent exhibit of a "Centaur from Volos", in its library. The exhibit, made by combining a study human skeleton with the skeleton of a Shetland pony is entitled "Do you believe in Centaurs?" and was meant to mislead students in order to make them more critically aware, according to the exhibitors.

Modern writers of science fiction and fantasy literature frequently include centauroid creatures in their work. The liminal nature of the centaur is sometimes downplayed in these modern creations, lending animal features to the otherwise human upper body. This may include fur, horns, or an upper body which is wholly an anthropomorphized version of the lower-body animal.

Authors often coin names derived from specific animals. The metanalyzed suffix "-taur" is often appended to the name of an animal species ("liontaur") or to its Greek or Latin equivalent ("dracotaur"). Likewise, some fantasy writers, especially within the furry fandom, use "taur" as a generic term for any centauroid creature.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 7th, 2008 07:46 pm (UTC)
Still not sure why you wanted this picture as your tattoo...

but hey, takes all kinds.
Mar. 7th, 2008 07:51 pm (UTC)
in case you couldn't figure it out, you're the bear in this scenario

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )