semlmythlcalbeastof Southern Europe and the Middle East.
Etymology: Greek kéntauros, derived from "those who round up bulls."
PP'hysical description: Head, arms, and trunk of a human. Legs and body of a horse.
Behavior: One group was fierce, sensuous, rude, and barbarous; they were destroyed by Herakles and the Lapithae in a symbolic fight centaur 91
When great Attempts are undergone loyne Strength and Wiftdomc, both in one.
ILLVSTR, XLI. Book.t
F (Reader) thoudefirous be to know What by the cmture, feemeth here Intended $ What, alio, by the Snake, and, by the ?0»ef Which in his hand, he beareth alway bended : Learne, that this hdft-A man, and fatfe-a btrji,
The CENTAUR as a symbol of strength and wisdom. From George Wither, A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne (London: Augustine Matthews, 1635). (Fortean Picture Library)
between humans and beasts. Another group was wise and friendly and included Chiron and Photius, the companions of heroes.
Distribution: Coastal mountains of Thessaly, Greece, between Mount Ossa and Mount Pil-ion; possibly Arabia and elsewhere.
Significant sightings: Pliny claims to have seen a dead Centaur, preserved in honey, taken to Rome from Arabia via Egypt during the reign of Emperor Claudius (a.D. 41-54). Phlegon of Tralles saw it about sixty years later and wrote that it had a fierce face and hairy arms and fingers. Its human torso merged smoothly with its horse's body, and its hooves were firm. The entire body had turned dark brown.
John Farrell and Margaret Johnson were driving along a country road near Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland, in the spring of 1966 when their way was blocked for two minutes by a horse with a man's face. Possible explanations:
(1) Early depictions show Centaurs as hairy giants. They are considered to be the personification of a wild mountain tribe of horsemen who herded cattle. The Thessalians were noted for their riding ability.
(2) Hobby-horse dancers in ancient Greek rituals, suggested by Robert Graves.
(3) Pliny's Centaur may have been a manufactured composite assembled from mummified human and pony parts. Sources: Lucretius, The Nature of the
Universe, trans. R. E. Latham (Baltimore, Md.: Penguin, 1951), pp. 198-199 (bk. 5); Pliny the Elder, Natural History (New York: Penguin, 1991), p. 80 (vii. 33); John Cuthbert Lawson, Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion (Cambridge: University Press, 1910); Georges Dumézil, Le problème des centaures (Paris: P. Geuthner, 1929); New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (New York: Putnam, 1968), pp. 161-162; Graham J. McEwan, Mystery Animals of Britain and Ireland (London: Robert Hale, 1986), pp. 165-166; Adrienne Mayor, The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 228-243.
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