The most prominent Greek myth involving the centaurs that served as inspiration for my series, Sons of Apollo, is the story of the the battle between the Kentauroi (tribe of centaurs) and the Lapithe (tribe of men) who were their cousins. The centaurs and the Lapithe were descended from Apollo and the nymph Stilbe, who bore him twin sons, Kentauros, a centaur, and Lapithus, a man. Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, tells of the infamous battle from the perspective of Nestor, king of Pylos. It is a bloody story of the ultimate defeat of the centaurs by the Lapith men at the wedding feast of Pirithoos and Hippodameia.
Pirithoos is a descendant of Lapithus. As cousins of the bridegroom, the centaurs were invited to attend the festivities. Trouble started when the centaurs, namely one Eurytos, become drunk and attempt to rape the bride and her handmaids. Theseus and the other Greek heroes come to their rescue, slaying Eurytos and his companions and a brutal battle ensues.
I have used many of the names of the centaurs from this story however they are not intended to portray these specific characters as chronologically my story takes place after this battle and the centaurs’ subsequent expulsion from Thessaly.
The Centauromachy was a popular theme in ancient Greece and was abundantly depicted in sculpture, architecture, on pottery and in art. Two of the most well-known depictions of the Centauromachy are: the West Pediment Statuary on the Temple of Zeus in Olympia, and the southern metopes from the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens.
Interesting to note, is the fact that Ovid is a Roman writer, which is significant for a few reasons. The Roman empire came after the fall of the Greek empire, so Ovid’s story is a later account of a story which must have had earlier origins. The evidence of these earlier origins are the prominence of this story as subject matter in Greek art and architecture and on pottery. Since there are multiple versions of the similar stories from different authors of other myths, it is a safe assumption that Ovid’s account isn’t the first and that there were likely other versions told previously in the form of oral tradition, or even written copies which have been lost to time.
It was also common for local story tellers to change the details of their stories to appeal to their local audiences. Generally the story is the same but some of the details vary, such as the location and the characters. Because I encountered these differences frequently in my own study of the mythology, it supported my idea that the facts would vary if the centaurs were to have told their side of the story and the facts could be considered just as true from their perspective. This awarded me much fictional license with which to justify tweaking the facts to suit the centaurs’ point of view without changing the relative truth of the account.
In my story, the female centaurs arise chiefly as a result of that first battle rather than existing prior to it. That makes a bit of a chronological discrepancy in Ovid’s account, but since the mythology is already inherently full of these little discrepancies, I took that as liberty and justification. In the realm of mythological realism in ancient Greece, my accounts would be no more or less true than any of the others. And since that was my goal, to write something that could have existed parallel to the original mythology, but from the perspective of the centaurs, it works in my favor.
The story of the Centauromachy contains the only female centaur mentioned in myth. Whether she was a later addition of Ovid or simply the last remaining female centaur of oral tradition can only be left to speculation. Female centaurs were popularly depicted in later antiquity and described by historian, Pliny the Elder.
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