Kheiron, Trainer Of Greek Gods, Heroes… And Centaurs.

Sons of Apollo Series

One of the most understated characters in all of Greek Mythology is Kheiron Khronides. Kheiron was a centaur who lived on Mount Pelion in Thessaly. Though never the star of his own story, his character wielded great influence in the lives of the gods and heroes of mythology as their revered mentor.

Kheiron (pronounced kay-ron, spelled Chiron in Latin), is derived from the Greek word for “hand” and the name means “skilled with hands” or “surgeon.” Khronides (pronounced crow-nee-days) means “son of Khronos” (or Cronus in Latin). Khronos was king of the Titans and ruled the gods before Zeus. Thus, making Zeus and Kheiron half-brothers. Kheiron’s mother was the nymph, Philyra, whom Khronos seduced in the form of a stallion. From this union Kheiron inherited his double form as a centaur- half horse, half man.

As a master in the arts of warfare, music and healing, Kheiron became the tutor and trainer of many of the heroes of Greek myth, including Hercules, Jason and Achilles, and some gods, such as Asklepios, God of Medicine. As such, Kheiron is an influential, though rarely a central, figure in much of mythology. Without Kheiron’s tutelage, these heroes would not have achieved their greatness. What is a hero without his mentor?

Kheiron is depicted much different from his equine kin in both Greek story and art. Often pictured as half-horse and half man from front to back, and wearing a robe, rather than the traditional top to bottom. He is described as wise and cultured, rather than wild and savage like other centaurs. I would speculate this unique representation symbolizes his reputation and legacy as distinct from his equine kin. Perhaps to indicate his more civilized nature.

This discrepancy between one centaur and the entirety of his race intrigued me, as did his role in mythology. Because of his integral part in the lives of those he tutored, his character grew in my mind, as well as his influence on the centaurian culture I was developing in my novel. My inspiration for the role of Kheiron in my stories came from the question, why wouldn’t such a benevolent and sophisticated character wish to help his own kin they way he mentored those prominent Greek heroes? I decided he would. I began with the other prominent centaurs from mythology and inferred that they would have received training from Kheiron as well, namely Nessos, Pholos, Eurytos and Kentauros, all of whom had run-ins with Heracles. My story takes place after the Centauromachy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and features the descendants of these principle students of Kheiron.

Another myth involving Kheiron is one with multiple accounts in which the details vary, though the general story is tragically similar. During a visit from the hero, Kheiron was accidentally wounded by Heracles’ hydra-poisoned arrows and traded his immortality to free Prometheus from torment. In some accounts the wounded centaur is Pholos and not Kheiron.

In mythology, when an immortal died, it was often referred to as being “placed among the stars.” Kheiron is consequently sometimes equated with Sagittarius, a sign of the Zodiac.

If you wish to learn more about Kheiron, I would recommend two of my favorite Greek mythology websites:

theoi.com

mythindex.com

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Battling The Centaurs And The Rest Of The Story.

Sons of Apollo Series

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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