Centaur

n. One of a race of persons who lived before the division of labor had been carried to such a pitch of differentiation, and who followed the primitive economic maxim, "Every man his own horse." The best of the lot was Chiron, who to the wisdom and virtues of the horse added the fleetness of man. The scripture story of the head of John the Baptist on a charger shows that pagan myths have somewhat sophisticated sacred history.

The Centaurs, who probably symbolise mountain torrents or other forces of nature, appear (mostly on early vases) in combat with Herakles, either in troops or in single combat, as in the stories of Nessos, Dexamenos, and Eurytion; or, again, in the scenes so often celebrated in the sculptured friezes and metopes of Greek temples, where they contend with Theseus and Peirithoös, or with the Thessalian Lapiths. Among the latter a common episode is the death of Kaineus, whom the Centaurs buried in the earth, showering rocks upon him. In a more peaceful aspect appear the aged Centaurs, Pholos and Cheiron, especially in the stories of Herakles and Achilles, both of whom are brought to the latter for their youthful education. As the friend of Peleus Cheiron often assists at his capture of Thetis. Centaurs, especially Pholos, are sometimes represented returning from the chase, or as single decorative figures; in one case they fight with cocks. Nike in one or two instances is drawn in her chariot by male or female Centaurs; and, finally, representations of youthful Centaurs are found, though usually they are middle-aged.