Myth Monsters


May 27, 2021 Myth Monsters Season 1 Episode 11
Myth Monsters
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Show Notes Transcript

In today's episode, we're looking at the legendary Centaurs from Greek mythology! What do these half-horse, half-human have to do with the creation of clouds? How did Centaurs cause the death of the hero Heracles? Find out in this episode!

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Hello and welcome to Myth Monsters, my name is Erin and I’ll be your host for these little snack bite size podcasts on folklore and mythical monsters from around the world. 

These podcasts focus on the actual cryptids, folklore and mythic monsters from global mythology, rather than focusing on full stories of heroes and their big adventures.

I’ll also be dropping in some references that they have to recent culture and where you can see these represented in modern day content so you can learn more, and get as obsessed as I am about these absolute legends of the mythological world.

Well this is a fun one this week, that pretty much everyone has heard of at least once in their life - they’re so important that they’re still part of the zodiac! Of course, we’re talking about Centaurs!


A Centaur is a creature from Greek mythology with the upper body of a human and the lower body and legs of a horse. Centaurs are thought of in many Greek myths as being as wild as untamed horses, and lived in Magnesia and Mount Pelion in Thessaly, Elis, and Laconia in Greece. Apparently there were also another tribe Centaurs who lived in Cyprus, who were fathered by a frustrated Zeus after Aphrodite fobbed him off. Don’t ask me how, I don’t know and I don’t want to know - they certainly won’t be the only figures in Greek mythology to be made primarily out of god sperm. 

They were often represented drawing the chariot of Dionysus, god of wine and partying, or bound and ridden by Eros, the Greek version of Cupid, to allude to their drunken and shag anything-that-moved habits. In contrast, they’re also linked to future-telling, astrology and prophecy in the ancient Greek world, as there are a lot of links to them and Apollo, the god of prophecy, who ruled over the legendary Oracle at Delphi. Centaurs are just generally described as wild, lawless and not very nice creatures, who are the slaves of their animal passions. There are one or two exceptions to this rule, but we’ll talk about those specific Centaurs later on.

Due to this barbaric nature, they fought using rough branches of trees and stones as weapons, and they were predominantly men - however, female Centaurs did exist and they were called either Centauresses, which is a bit lame but their other name was Centauridai, which is a lot cooler.

The most common theory is that the idea of Centaurs came from the first reaction of a non-riding culture to come into contact with people who were mounted on horses - which is a cool reflection of the development of civilisation I think.

Now for my favourite bit, ETYMOLOGY. The Greek word for Centaur is ‘Kentauros’. Ken + Tauros means 'piercing bull', also note the Tauros there for all you zodiac nerds. However, it has been argued that it could also mean bull-slayer, as there was a tradition in Thessaly of hunting bulls on horseback - which is a cool little fact for a pub quiz.


Onto origins, so there are a lot of myths to do with Centaurs. 

But the OG, the original is that of Ixion. 

Ixion was the king of the Thessalian tribe of the Lapiths, and he assassinated his father-in-law whilst he was hosting him at his house. Now important side note, this is called Xenia, and was one of Zeus’ big rules and he was very, very passionate about making sure that this was followed - look up the myth of Sisyphus if you don’t believe me.

Ixion ended up being banished from his own kingdom, but Zeus kind of felt sorry for this king losing all his power (I guess it hit too close to home for him) and he actually invited him to live on Olympus with him and the other Gods. I’m just going to say now that this is possibly the highest honour within Greek mythology, and VERY FEW mortals were EVER allowed to set foot on Olympus, let alone live there. 

However, Ixion, being the douchebag that he was, decided that he really fancied Hera, Zeus’ wife and queen of Olympus - he didn’t even get a chance to go after Hera before Zeus twigged it either. So Zeus made a cloud, yup, a literal cloud (and I will say that this was also the creation of clouds as a thing) - which is called Nephele in Greek, in the shape of Hera. Ixion, the idiot, of course then had his way with said cloud, and Zeus knew that he would have done the same to his wife.

Zeus gave Ixion one of the eternal punishments that he was really good at creating, again, look at Sisyphus and Prometheus, and he was doomed to be tied on an eternally spinning fiery wheel. 

However, all was not lost - from copulation with the cloud, Centaurus was born! He was a horrific sight, a monster really, who went ahead and mated with the Magnesian mares and produced the Centaurs’ race of half-person, half horse.

The Centaurs are best known for their fight with the Lapiths who were actually cousins of the Centaurs. The battle was called the Centauromachy, was caused by the centaurs' attempt to carry off Hippodamia, and the rest of the Lapith women on Hippodamia's wedding day to Pirithous, who was the king of the Lapithae and a son of Ixion. 

Theseus, as in the Theseus who killed the Minotaur Theseus, and founder of Thebes, happened to be at the wedding and helped defeat the Centaurs. The Centaurs were beaten, and fled off into the woodland. However, Caeneus, who was another hero with invulnerable skin, was also there! And was actually beaten into the earth by the Centaurs, killing him - how fun.

Now, one of only two Centaurs not descending from Ixion’s shagging of a cloud, was Chiron, who was the son of Cronus. Yes, Titan Cronus, big daddy of all the Olympians Cronus, ate all his kids Cronus. Which strangely, makes Chiron a half brother of all the Olympian Gods - which is kind of wild.

Chiron is a very important figure in Greek mythology, although he could also be called the ultimate side character. He had a hand in raising almost every hero in Greek myth, alongside Gods themselves. His origin was maybe a little sadder than the others, he was born to Cronus who was disguised as a horse at the time, and the oceanid Philyra, and she completely rejected and abandoned Chiron due to his features as he had just horse back legs, but the front legs of a human. He was then adopted by Apollo, the god of light, music and healing and his twin sister, Artemis, goddess of the hunt, the moon and virginity. They taught him medicine, herbs, music, archery, hunting, gymnastics and prophecy, and made him get over his Centaurish nature.

Chiron was especially known for his skill with medicine, and to this day is considered the father of botany and pharmacy, the science of herbs and medicine - which I think is lovely. He was also the first official Centaur, and the only one of them to ever be revered as an incredible teacher and friend. 

In fact, he even tutored Dionysis, god of wine when he was a baby, as he was hidden in Greece away from Hera’s jealous rage. He taught him all of the joys of music, dances and chants. However, most impressively Chiron taught all of the heroes from Greek mythology that people can recite even today; a quick list includes, Asclepius, Ajax, Aeneas, Actaeon, Theseus, Castor and Pollux, Achilles, Nestor, Odysseus, Patroclus, Jason, Telamon, Perseus, even Heracles! 

Heracles also had another wise Centaur as a companion, and his name was Pholus. He too had the forelegs of a human, and was born of two nymphs rather than Ixion and the cloud and he was basically Heracles’ buddy through to the fourth labour.

Unfortunately though, this labour was responsible for Chiron and Pholus’ death. Chiron very bravely gave up his immortality to save the Titan Prometheus, who every day was eaten alive by vultures for giving humans fire and was therefore, completely vulnerable to attack and Pholus was already mortal. They accompanied Heracles on his fourth labour, the Erymanthian Boar, and during dinner - they opened a sacred bottle of Dionysis’ wine which attracted the Centaur Nessus and his gang. Heracles fired a bunch of arrows, poisoned by the Lernean Hydra’s blood, and one of them hit Chiron in the thigh - killing him instantly. In his curious nature, Pholus picked up one of the arrows to inspect it, and accidentally dropped it on his hoof, killing him too.

Sad, but dumb Heracles did get his commupance, as he was eventually killed by the same Centaur in pretty much the same way, but a lot more bloody - long story short, Heracles killed Nessus, for trying to rape his wife, and shot him with an equally Hydra-poisoned arrow - the Centaur gave the wife his bloody cloak telling her that it will revive waning love. Then Heracles’ looked like he was going to leave her, so she gave him the cloak and the poisoned blood of Nessus melted all his skin from his bones and killed him. Gross.


Onto cultural significance, most importantly we have to talk about the stars. It’s said that Zeus was so upset at Chiron’s death, that he placed him amongst the stars as the Constellation Sagittarius, which in turn became one of the 12 zodiac signs, specifically from November 23 and December 21. People born under his sign are said to be intelligent, curious, compassionate and honest.

There is debate too whether it’s actually the Centaurus constellation that’s for Chiron, and Sagittarius is actually Crotus, who was the satyr son of the nature God Pan, who invented archery. But I like to believe that it’s Chiron, who gave up immortality to save another. 

You can see Centaurs in loads of art, my personal favourite is the modern interpretation of A Centaur Family by Jan Collaert II painted in 1578, and is currently at the British Museum in London. Another gorgeous painting is that of Pallas and the Centaur painted by Botticelli in 1482, which is just stunning. 

There’s a gorgeous statue of a Centaur kidnapping a nymph in Paris, France, I know the subject matter is a bit gross, but the statue is very nice. It’s in the gardens next to the Louvre, and was made in 1892 by Laurent Marqueste. There’s another statue in the Louvre itself, called the Older Centaur, and it’s brother statue the Younger Centaur is in the Capitoline Museum in Rome, Italy, they’re called the Furietti Centaurs. Lastly for statues, there’s an awesome statue of Theseus defeating a Centaur in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria, sculpted between 1804 and 1819 by Antonio Canova - which is truly breathtaking.  

Lastly, and quite humorously I might add, The remains of the “Centaur of Volos” were made in 1980 by artist Bill Willers when he combined the bones of a human with those of a Shetland pony. He ever tea-stained them both for an authentic look and the first-ever centaur skeleton was born. Since 1994, the piece has been on display at the University of Tennessee, as part of an exhibit called The Centaur Excavations of Volos. However, it was first displayed at the Madison Art Center before touring other colleges in the mid-1980s before being handed back over to the uni in the 1990’s, where it was in storage for a few years before the exhibition.

Movie wise, there have been a load of films with Centaurs in, as they feature in pretty much every fantasy series going. Specifically though, Chiron himself had a big role in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief series with Pierce Brosnan and Anthony Head playing him in the first and second installments.

They are a really important race in the Harry Potter series too, with Firenze the Centaur saving Harry in the Philosopher’s Stone, or Sorcerer’s Stone if you’re in the US. He later became the Professor of Divination after Trelawney got the sack, and fought in the battle for Hogwarts. He nicely links back to the idea of Centaurs being keen with prophecies and stargazing, probably inspired by Chiron. They also took Dolores Umbridge off in the Order of the Phoenix, which represents their wilder side I suppose - but we don’t support JK Rowling on this podcast - so I’m not going to delve into her inspirations because she’s gross.

They’re also in Disney’s Fantasia and Hercules, and actually I believe the river guardian in Hercules was meant to be Nessus, which is quite cool. They’re also in that Netflix original movie Bright, with Will Smith. 

Last of the bigger movies, they were in Chronicles of Narnia when they all fought the White Witch - they have big ol’ horns and stuff. They’re also in Prince Caspian, the second Narnia film and book, with a Centaur actually being quite an important character in the story.

TV wise, they’ve been in Parks and Recreation, The Simpsons, Regular Show, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Futurama and even the Old Spice adverts - which is my favourite, obviously. 

Games - again, they’re in a bunch like Dungeons and Dragons, Age of Mythology, Bayonetta, Guild Wars, God of War, Fallout 3, Titan Quest, Mortal Combat, League of Legends, Skylanders and my favourite World of Warcraft, with one of the main god-like characters being a Centaur within their mythology.

Now for books, a lot of the movies mentioned have books attached, but obviously this is Greek mythology too. Stephen Fry’s Heroes features Chiron a lot, as he was very important to the story of Achilles, Heracles, Jason and Asclepius as we talked about earlier. However, I would also recommend Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer or The Centaur by John Updike or for more fact folks, I would say give Heroes a read - or any Greek monsters facts books, that's what I tend to do anyway.

I’ve really been enjoying a DK book at the moment, made for kids but I don’t care - it’s called Mythical Beasts and Magical Creatures, it’s a gorgeously illustrated book and it’s got just enough info to keep you interested, I’m a simple person, with simple needs ya know.


Now it’s time for, do I think they existed?

In short, no - but I think the idea of Centaurs is something that is quite brilliant. I love this idea of contrast between the educated and kind Chiron to the rest of this rowdy, insatiable bunch of horsemen, and I think what they represent is important to viewing our development as a culture. It seems to me that the various battles centaurs were engaged in epitomise the struggle between civilisation and barbarism prevalent in Greek mythology, which we see in the way that Zeus and the other gods treat women (bar you Hades, you’re alright), the way they treat humans and the way the ancient Greeks treated each other, and it’s pretty barbarically. 

But the idea that there were one or two Centaurs that were kind and wanted to help others, I really like that. But no, the eugenics of half-horse, half men existing is pretty preposterous, however, I love horses so I’m not against it.

Maybe that weird artist in Tennessee was onto something and there is some human centipede style inspiration ongoing, and we can transplant ourselves onto horses one day, I dunno. I certainly do not volunteer, that’s for certain. 


Ah, that was cool. You’ve probably guessed by now, especially if you follow the twitter, that Greek mythology is my absolute favourite. I just love it, if we end up meeting in person one day I honestly will talk for England if you mention anything to do with something ancient Greek, Centaurs are no exception.

Next week we’re heading back over to the Norse myths, and kind of general world mythology because it’s all about the legendary Kraken! Come get your tentacles in a twist with me and this leviathan of the deep next Thursday!

For now thank you so much for listening, it’s been an absolute pleasure. If you enjoyed this podcast, please give it a rating on the service you’re listening on - I’ve got the twitter for any questions, or suggestions on what monsters to cover next and I’d love to hear from you. The twitter is @mythmonsterspod or the instagram is @mythmonsterspodcast. Or you can email me, old fashioned-style on And share this with your pals, they might love me as much as you do.

But for now, stay spooky and I’ll see you later babes.

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