Category Archives: Centaur
Ancient Greek Spelling: Νεφελη
Alternate Spellings: Nefeli
Etymology – From the Greek word: nephos, meaning “cloud” or “cloudy.” The latinized spelling is nubes.
Nephele is an interesting character found in Greek Mythology. We first hear of her in the story of Ixion. Yes, that Ixion who is the first murderer in Greek Myths; who also puts some unwanted moves on Zeus’ wife Hera. When Hera complained, Zeus fashioned a cloud in Hera’s likeness in order to catch Ixion in the act.
As previously mentioned in the story of Ixion, Nephele is the name of the cloud that Zeus fashions in Hera’s likeness in order to catch Ixion in the act of some unwanted moves.
Mother Of The Centaurs
Nephele is the mother of the Centaurs when she is raped by Ixion who thought she was the goddess Hera. She either gives birth to Centaurus, who is an ugly deformed child that goes on to be the progenitor of the centaurs or Nephele gives birth directly to the centaurs as a race. Either way, Ixion and Nephele do ultimately sire the centaur race.
In the version of the story where Ixion is bound to a flaming wheel in Tartarus, the resulting centaurs that are born were left on Mount Pelion where the Centaur-God Chiron and his daughters took them in to raise. In this lineage, the Centaurs are sometimes referred to as the Ixionidae or as Nubigenae, meaning cloud-born and connecting them to Nephele as their mother.
Hercules Versus The Centaurs
In one of many of Hercules adventures, he does battle against the Centaurs. Nephele is commented by a Diodorus Siculus in his Library of History, to have sent a heavy rain to make the ground more treacherous for those who relied on two legs to walk instead of four like her centaur children.
Goddess In Her Own Right
Nephele, when she is acknowledged as having a name in the Greek Myths, is mentioned as being a Cloud Nymph and like all Nymphs, they are minor goddesses. While being forces and personifications of nature, Nymphs were not as powerful as the other major Greek Deities. Given the story with how Nephele helped her centaur children and later two more children of hers, Phrixus and Helle, she has to have had some power and significance.
Because of her origins in the story of Ixion, Nephele is often seen as being a clone and copy of the goddess Hera.
It’s just possible, that like Chiron, as Greek culture and influence spread of the twelve major Olympian gods, that Nephele’s status and power as a goddess in her own right diminished to her being a Nymph and Clone of Hera.
The First Wife Of Athamas
After the incident involving her with Ixion, there becomes a problem over a matter of a lot of confusion not only with Nephele herself, but the other Olympian gods. In the stories where Nephele is a clone of Hera, there is a huge case of mistaken identity as she was constantly mistaken for Zeus’ wife. Adding to this, Nephele would hide in corners where she would constantly break out into tears. This didn’t work as any of the Gods passing by would keep asking her what the matter was, thinking she was Hera.
Fed up with this, Zeus eventually married Nephele off to the Boeotian King, Athamas in order to be rid of her. All went well until the birth of her two children, Phrixus and Helle when she falls into another state of depression and would turn into a raining cloud.
In turn, Athamas was fed up and started having an affair with Ino, the sister of Semele whom Zeus was also having a current affair with. Eventually Athamas divorced Nephele for Ino and the Cloud Nymph returned to Olympus.
Phrixus And Helle
With Athamas, Nephele is the mother of the twins, Phrixus and Helle. There is a third child, Makistos, though it is the twins who have more of a place in myth and legends.
Because Athamas had divorced and remarried, Phrixus and Helle found themselves with a stepmother who hated them and devised a plan in order to get rid of the two.
This plan of Ino’s involved roasting all of the town’s crop seeds so they wouldn’t grow. The resulting famine caused all of the farmers to go running scared, seeking out the help of a nearby oracle. Unknown to the Farmers and others, Ino had already bribed the men at the Oracle to tell the farmers that they needed to sacrifice Phrixus.
Before the farmers could follow through on the sacrifice, Phrixus and Helle were rescued by a flying golden ram sent by their mother Nephele.
The twins were told not to look down towards the Earth on their flight from Boeotia. Unfortunately, Helle did look down and fell off the ram into the Hellespont, a narrow strait near Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara. Helespont incidentally is named after Helle for this is where she is to have drowned.
Phrixus survived the flight and made it to Colchis where King Aeetes took him in and treated him fondly, even so far as to give his daughter Chalciope in marriage to him. By way of thanks, Phrixus gave Aeetes the Golden Fleece off the ram. Aeetess hung the Golden Fleece from a tree in his kingdom. This is the same Golden Fleece that Jason, leader of the Argonauts would later come and take.
In Greek mythology, it is Ixion, not Cain who is the first murderer. I suspect, owing to a lot of early stories and histories being passed on orally before getting written down, that there may have been more regarding Ixion’s story that’s been lost. Ixion is still an important figure in Greek mythology. The most complete stories we have of him come from Pindar in his Pythian Odes.
Ixion’s parentage can get a bit muddled depending on the historian and who; in more modern times is drawing from which ancient writer.
Most of the stories seem to agree that Ixion is either the son of Phlegyas, a descendent of Ares or Ares’ son directly. Other stories will place him as the son of Leonteus or of Antion and Perimela. The stories all agree on him having been a king of the Lapiths in Thessaly.
Claim to Infamy
As stated before, Ixion’s importance in Greek mythology is that he is known as the first human to shed kindred blood. That is murder.
This came about when Ixion’s father-in-law, Deioneus was invited to come and collect on the price Ixion promised to give for his bride, Dia. Deioneus is also said to have stolen and then kept some of Ixion’s mares as compensation when Ixion didn’t pay what he owed Deioneus. But instead of paying what he owed, Ixion goes and digs a pit, fills it with burning coal, covers it and then waits for Deioneus to fall into it or pushes him in.
A slight spelling variation to Deioneus’ name is Eioneus.
Crime and Punishment
As this is a new crime to the human race and there were no laws that could be used to punish Ixion for this deed, by the same means, there were no rituals that could absolve Ixion of this deed or of any guilt. Ixion ending up in exile in the stories as an outlaw is probably due to no one wanting anything to do with him and his own kingdom ousting him from what ever throne he sat upon.
The Greeks likely wouldn’t be alone seeing murder, particularly of a relative as a rather heinous act. The god Zeus eventually took pity on Ixion and decided that since he’s a god, he could purify Ixion and then after that, invites him up to Olympus to be a guest. That there’s rumor Zeus was probably only interested in Dia, Ixion’s wife, might have been a motivation for even trying to purify Ixion of murder.
If this is true, for a minor note, when Dia gave birth to her son Peirithous, Zeus could have been the father and not Ixion. Incidentally, there is also a daughter, Phisadie who was given in servitude to Helen by the Dioscuri.
More Claims to Infamy
When you are given a chance, you should learn to take it, don’t abuse it.
Once Ixion was in Olympus and probably feeling he’s living the high life, he set his eyes on Hera and became infatuated or enamored with her. We’ll call it lust and Ixion probably began putting the moves on Hera, ones she probably didn’t appreciate. Who can blame her when some of the sources found for this story say that Ixion tried to rape her.
We’ll pretend that this is at an earlier time when Zeus and Hera still enjoyed a good relationship and we don’t have all of these other stories of Zeus having numerous affairs with all these other women and numerous resulting children.
Shocked, Zeus couldn’t believe what he’s hearing from Hera about Ixion. This man whom Zeus has purified is a guest; surely he knows the rules of hospitality when you’re a guest and what’s to be expected. One of them being is that you don’t go putting the moves and unwanted advances on your host’s wife.
Birth of the Centaurs
In an effort to put truth to Hera’s words, Zeus proceeds with making an image of Hera out of a cloud. This cloud is known as Nephele and when Ixion forced himself on the cloud, he impregnated it. Later, Nephele gives birth to either Centaurus, an ugly deformed child who goes on to be the progenitor of the centaurs, or she gives birth directly to the centaurs as a race. Either way, Ixion and Nephele do ultimately sire the centaur race.
Enraged at Ixion’s bragging about having slept with Hera and violating the Guest-Host laws, Zeus had Ixion bound to a winged, flaming wheel that revolved up in the air in all directions. In addition to this, by order of the gods, what the Irish would call a geas, Ixion was to continuously call out: “You should show gratitude to your benefactor.” Or “Repay your benefactor frequently with gentle favors in return.”
As a result, Ixion becomes one of the more famous sinners found in Tartarus and many writers mention him when they describe this place.
Does the Punishment fit the Crime?
Let’s get this straight….
Ixion murders his father-in-law after refusing to pay the promised price for his bride.
No one wants to purify Ixion of this deed or perhaps they can’t.
Zeus says he’ll try and brings Ixion up to Olympus.
If we believe the rumors, Zeus is eying Ixion’s wife Dia.
Hera complains to Zeus about Ixion’s actions and Zeus creates the cloud Nephele in Hera’s image to find out the truth.
Once Ixion is caught in the act or caught bragging that he’s had sex with Hera, an enraged Zeus chains Ixion to a spinning flaming wheel for all eternity.
That seems harsh. It’s okay if Zeus has an affair with Dia, but it’s no okay if Ixion had an affair or attempts to rape Hera. Two guys falling love or lust with the other’s wife.
Let’s not forget the Greek concept of Hubris. Though with the more modern interpretation of hubris, in that Ixion was extremely arrogant in thinking he could do whatever he wanted, taking what he wanted, murder and be equal to the gods…
One could say that Ixion’s punishment does ultimately fit the crime or crimes.
Murder, Hubris and the violation of the Guest-Host Laws known as Xenia.
Xenia – Hospitality Laws
Xenia is the Greek word for the concept of hospitality and forms the ancient customs of Hospitality. Of all the attributes that Zeus is known for, he was originally the deity who presided over this custom of Xenia. For this, he was known as Zeus Xenios and was at one time, the god of travelers.
Xenia consists of three basic rules:
1) The respect from host to guest. The host must be hospitable to the guest and provide them with food and drink and a bath, if required. It was not polite to ask questions until the guest had stated his or her needs.
2) The respect from guest to host. The guest must be courteous to their host and not be a burden.
3) The parting gift (xenion) from host to guest. The parting gift was to show the host’s honor at receiving the guest.
The custom of Xenia was really important in ancient times as people believed that the gods mingled among them. If a person played a poor host to a stranger, there was the risk of inciting the wrath of a god disguised as the stranger.
This custom of Xenia extended to include the protection of traveling musicians, known as Rhapsode who could expect to receive hospitality in the form of a place to sleep, food and possible other gifts in return for a night of entertainment and news from other parts of the world. The protection and safety of these Rhapsode was believed to be enforced by the god Zeus and any harm to them or violation of Xenia was sure to place the offender at the mercy of Zeus or any god he deemed necessary to enforce this rule.
This is why the story of Ixion in ancient Greece was important and why the laws of Xenia, Hospitality were and had to be kept.
Ixion – A possible Dwarf Planet and Astrology
On May 22, 2001, the plutino or possible Dwarf Planet of Ixion was discovered by the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory.
Properly, Ixion’s name is 28978 Ixion and like Pluto, is one of the planetoids that are part of the Kuiper belt. Astronomers are still learning about these Kuiper objects and how best to measure them. Ixion is thought to have a diameter of about 800km, making it the third largest plutino and to be a reddish color in nature.
It’s mentioned here as modern Astrologers are looking at how to interpret Ixion and many, taking the background of his story see a cautionary warning for issues of consciousness, trust and betrayal, abusing second chances, lust and desire in conflict for wealth and power.
Also called: Kéntauros, Kentauroi or Hippocentaur, Ixionidae, Nubigenae, Centauride or Kentauride for females
Etymology – “piercing bull-stickers” or “bull-slayer”
Centaurs are a familiar mythological hybrid creature from Greek mythology. They are frequently depicted as having the upper body of a human from the waist up and a horse’s body from the waist down. They are ultimately the descendants of Ixion, the son of Ares, the God of War. Sometimes, in later myths, the Centaurs are described as having horns, wings or even both.
The Centaurs were believed to have lived in the regions of Arcadia, Magnesia and Mount Pelion found in Thessaly, the Foloi Oak Forest in Elis and the Malean peninsula of southern Laconia. They are often described as eating meat and were known for their reckless and riotous behaviors. This is usually meant to represent a metaphor of being slaves to their more animalistic instincts and drives with their dual natures.
Other tribes or breeds of Centaurs were said to live in western Peloponnese. It is these Centaurs who came to a bad end during a drunk brawl with the hero Hercules. Another Greek writer mentions a tribe of bull-horned Centaurs on the island of Kypros.
Many scholars see Centaurs as the creation of folklore wherein the wild inhabitants of the mountains and spirits of nature are combined into a half-human, half-animal form. In early art, dating back to Assyria around 2,000 B.C.E., Centaurs were shown as humans in front and with the hind legs of a horse attached to them from behind. This image of Chiron often persists in many of these early depictions. Later, the Centaurs are shown as men from the waist up and horse from the waist down. The Centaurs were said to fight, using the branches of trees as weapons, they weren’t known to use bows or archery.
Sometimes they were shown as drunken followers of Dionysus, the god of Wine. Other times, they were often represented drawing the chariot of Dionysus or bound and ridden by Eros, the god of love, in allusion to their drunken and amorous habits. Centaurs are among the first representations used in pottery art among the Greeks.
During Medieval times, Centaurs came to be symbolized as an aspect of the devil and represent violent lusts, adultery, brutality, vengefulness, and heretics. They became the antithesis of knights and horsemen who master their instincts instead of being controlled by them as Centaurs are said to be. Centaurs can be seen in pictures of St. Anthony Abbot who met both a centaur and a satyr when searching for St. Paul the Hermit in the desert. According to some legends, this centaur was the Devil himself. Depictions of Centaurs said to be shown on a number of Pictish carved stones in North-East Scotland. These were outside the limits of the Roman Empire and appear to follow Classical representations and prototypes.
Father of the Centaurs
There are a couple of, though slightly different versions though related stories of how the centaurs came into being.
Ixion, the son of Ares, who lusting for Zeus’ wife Hera, was tricked into thinking a cloud, known as Nephele and in Hera’s form was really her. As punishment, Zeus sent Ixion to Tartarus where he was bound to a flaming wheel and from there, the centaurs were born. In this version of the story, the resulting Centaurs were left at Mount Pelion where the Centaur-God Chiron and his daughters took them in to raise as their own. Following this lineage of the Centaurs, they are sometimes called Ixionidae. They could also be described as the nubigenae or cloud-born.
Also spelled as Centauros. In the previous story, instead of multiple centaurs resulting from Ixion’s union with Nephele, it was only one, a deformed human named Centaurus. Centaurus then procreated the species by mating with the Magnesian mares. Some accounts say that Centaurus was the son of Apollo and Stilbe, the daughter of the river god Peneus. In the later versions of this story, Centaurus’ twin brother is Lapithes, the ancestor to the Lapiths and thus making the Centaurs and Lapiths warring cousins.
Sometimes, even Zeus himself is mentioned as the father or progenitor of the Centaurs, specifically the breed known as the Hippocentaurs. Zeus had metamorphosed into a horse and through Dia, the wife of Ixion, sired them.
In brief, some of the more famous Centaurs are:
Chiron was known for being gentle and wise. He has a linage and parentage different from the other centaurs and as a deity, was immortal until he gave it up to save Prometheus or was killed by an arrow covered with Hydra Poison.
This seems to be the name of two different centaurs and could explain why the Battle with the Lapiths can get intertwined with the incident where the hero Hercules battled and killed a number of the Centaurs.
The first Eurytion led the Centaurs in the battle with the Lapith’s at King Peirithous’ wedding where Eurytion was the one who tried carrying off Peirithous’s wife to rape. He was killed during this battle.
The second Eurytion, from Arcadia has a similar story where he demanded to marry the daughter of King Dexamenus of Olenus. This daughter was either Mnesimache or Deianira. In some accounts of this story, Eurytion threatened violence on Dexamenus’ daughter Hippolyte on the day of her wedding with Azan. When Dexamenus was forced to agree to a marriage, Hercules intervened and ends up killing Eurytion.
Hylaeus was one of two centaurs foolish enough to try and rape the hero Atalanta. In some accounts, he had attacked and severly hurt Atalanta’s lover Meilanion. In this account, Hylaeus is killed by an arrow shot from Atalanta. In other accounts Hylaeus is said to have been killed during the battle with the Lapiths or that he’s one of the centaurs killed by Hercules.
Hylonome’s claim to fame is being one of the few, if not the only female centaur mentioned in the Greek Myths. Specifically in Ovid’s The Metamorphoses where she is mentioned as the mate to the centaur Cyllarus. When Cyllarus was killed during the battle with the Lapiths, Hylonome took the spear that killed her husband and impaled herself on it as she couldn’t bear living without him.
Considered a civilized Centaur like Chiron, Pholus met his end when he invited the hero Hercules to dine with him. All was well until Hercules requested some wine to drink, which Pholus eventually produced. This wine was sacred and a rather potent brew, given to Pholus by the god Dionysus. When the wine was opened, the strong, heady aromas and alcohol lured in the other Centaurs who soon began a drunken brawl. Pholus was killed during this fight either by an accidental arrow shot or dropping a poisoned arrow on his hoof when he went to pull it from a dead comrade. Some scholars will say that either the constellations of Sagittarius or Centaurus represent Pholus.
Nessus is a centaur who ran a foul of Hercules and was driven from his home in Arcadia. He set himself up as a ferryman on the river Evenus, claiming that he had been appointed that position by the gods. Later, Nessus found himself with the task of ferrying Heracules’ bride, Deianeira while Hercules crossed the river by himself. Nessus took advantage of the situation in an attempt to rape Deianeira. Hercules stopped this by shooting Nessus with a poisoned arrow. As he was dying, Nessus convinced Deianeira that a love charm made from his blood would insure Hercules’ faithfulness. What Deianeira didn’t know, was this blood was really poison and it is this poison that is responsible for Hercules’ death.
Rhoecus is the other of two centaurs foolish enough to try and rape Atalanta. He too was killed by an arrow shot by Atalanta.
Probably the most well known incident involving the centaurs was when they were invited to a wedding. King Peirithous of the Lapiths, had inherited part of Thessaly from his father Ixion. The Centaurs also being descendants of Ixion, claimed they were entitled to part of the land as well. After the first series of battles were fought, Peirithous sought to try and arrange a peace by inviting the Centaurs to the aforementioned wedding.
At this wedding, the Centaurs proceeded to get very drunk, this being their first encounter with wine and alcohol. With their inhibitions lowered, the Centaurs got very violent and riotous. With the centaur Eurytion leading them, they tried to carry off Hippodamia, Pirithous’s bride and the rest of the Lapith women to rape them. This resulted in another battle and the Centaurs were driven off and away from the area.
The hero Theseus, a founder of cities helped Pirithous fight off the Centaurs. Another hero who was present was Caeneus. He was said to be invulnerable to weapons, but that didn’t stop the Centaurs from beating Caeneus into the earth using rocks and branches.
This story is often used to illustrate the struggles and conflicts between barbarism and the more civilized behaviors of society and humankind. Sometimes this battle is connected to the story of Hercules and the Centaurs with their battle that killed so many. Depending on the source of the tale, this event is placed as happening in either Thessaly or in Arcadia. The end result being that the Centaurs are exiled from their home country and end up living on Mount Pindus near Epeirus.
There is a distinction made by Classical Writers that the Centaurs that Hercules fought were the Peloponnesian Centaurs. These Centaurs had fled to the Malean Peninsula in southern Lakonia are Eleusis where the god Poseidon offered them refuge. The Centaurs involved with the incident at King Peirithous’ wedding were the Thessalian Centaurs of Magnesia in northern Greece.
Destruction By The Sirens
In the battle and confrontation with Hercules, those Centaur not killed by this hero met their end when they fled to the Tyrrhenian Strait in what we call now days, Italy. Here they encountered the Sirens who lured them to their deaths with their songs.
Peleus’ Encounters With Centaurs
Peleus was the grandson of Chiron. At one point, he had a friendship with Acastus, one of the Argonauts. Acastus was manipulated into trying to kill Peleus after being told by his wife Astydamia that Peleus had tried to rape her. Acastus hid Peleus’ dagger or sword so he would be defenseless when the Centaurs came to try and kill him. Luckilly for Peleus, Chiron arrived to save him. Chiron is also said to have helped Peleus in succeeding marrying the goddess Thetis.
Achilles And The Centaurs
Achilles was the son of Peleus, making him the great-grandson of Chiron. He was at one point one of Chiron’s many students. This doesn’t seem to have worked out so well as according to Statius’ Achilleid, the Centaurs would complain to Chiron how Achilles would plunder their homes, steal their herds and eventually drove them from their homes.
Possible Reality Behind The Myths
Among historians and anthropologists, the idea is passed around that the legends of Centaurs may have been the first reaction of a culture unfamiliar with horse-back riding seeing peopled mounted on an animal, horses in this case. It could have been easy for people seeing these riders for the first time to see the half-man, half-animal figure. A Bernal Diaz del Castillo reports how the Aztecs thought the same thing when they first saw Spaniards on horseback for the first time. Horse taming and riding first arises out of those cultures living in the grassland steppes of Central Asia or the Middle East.
The Lapiths, kinsmen of the Centaurs from Thessaly were described as the inventors of horse-back riding by Greek writers. In Diodorus Siculus’ Library of History, he describes the Centaurs or Kentauroi as the first to engage in horse riding. Many Thessalian tribes claim their horse breeds come from the Centaurs.
This seems to further make sense of the Centaurs as a case of mistaken identity and really just riders on horseback when looking at the etymology of the word Centaur, meaning “piercing bull-stickers.”
In Palaephatus’ “On Incredible Tales,” mounted archers from a village called Nephele, killed off a herd of bulls that were menacing Ixion’s kingdom.
Babylonian Mythology And Connection
Some scholars, linking the names of the constellations to ancient Babylon, say that the name of Centaur and Centaurus; with its name of “piercing bull,” come from Mesopotamia where it symbolized the god Baal. He represented rain and fertility, fighting with and piercing with horns, the demon Mot who represented the summer droughts. Other sources say that the constellation of Centaurus in Babylonian and Mesopotamian cultures was a Bison-Man and associated with the Sun god Utu or Shamash.
Kentaurides, Female Centaurs!
Well yes, that makes sense when one thinks about it. If there are male centaurs and they were a tribe, wouldn’t there be females as well? A show like “Xena: Warrior Princess” says that all the Centaurs were male but could have intercourse with a human woman and the resulting baby or foal would be a male centaur. Thus they propagated the species that way.
Nor was Disney’s Fantasia the first to show female centaurs.
While the female centaurs or Kentaurides don’t have mention of in early Greek literature and writings, they have appeared in later writings. One female Kentaurides, Hylonome is mentioned by name in a 4th century B.C.E. Macedonian mosaic. It is one of the earliest examples of a female centaur in art.
The Greek Rhetorician, Philostratus the Elder describes the Kentaurides as the sisters and wives of the male Centaurs who live on Mount Pelion with their children. Even the idea of female centaurs is mentioned in Shakespeare’s play King Lear in Act IV, Scene vi, lines 124-125: “Down from the waist they’re centaurs,/Though women all above.”
And Finally! Centaurs In Astronomy!
The name Centaur is given to a classification of celestial objects or Minor Planets that share characteristics of both asteroids and comets. Unlike classic or True Planets, Centaurs don’t have a stable orbit and cross through the paths or orbits between Jupiter and Neptune. The first such Centaur was 944 Hidalgo in 1920, but it wasn’t until the discovery of 2060 Chiron in 1977 that these Minor Planets and Celestial objects were given a name in an attempt to classify them. There’s thought to be some 44,000 of these Centaurs in the Solar System with some of them reaching diameters of 1km. As this field of Astronomy is still new and there’s still lots being learned, different Institutions have different criteria for what makes these celestial objects a Centaur and the classifications are likely to change as more information is gotten.
Modern Astrologers have cheerfully glommed onto some of these Centaurs such as Chiron to adapt and come up with astrological correspondences and information for them.
Etymology – The Archer; “sagitta” means “arrow” in Latin. Toxotes in Greek
For those who study either Astronomy or Astrology, the constellation of Sagittarius is easily recognizable by the image of a centaur drawing a bow. It is found between the constellations of Ophiuchus to the west and Capricornus to the east.
Astronomy & Astrology
Much of the foundations of Western knowledge regarding the fields of Astronomy and Astrology owe its roots to Ancient Mesopotamian cultures. Many ancient cultures studied the stars, seeing in them patterns that are called constellations. These ancient astronomers were able to make predictable, annual turnings of the heavens that they could divide and mark for the passing of the Seasons and time. For the ancients, Astrology served as a precursor to Astronomy and they believed that by studying the heavens, they could foretell future events and even a person’s life path.
These ancient cultures would also meet and exchange ideas frequently and in this fashion, when the Greeks encountered the Persians, there was an exchange of knowledge regarding Astronomy that becomes the constellations and zodiacs so many know today. Eventually, there is no clear distinction between what ancient Mesopotamian Astronomers and Greeks Philosophers knew. Even in current, modern times, the influence of these ancients is still known.
In Greek mythology, I’ve come across a couple of different stories related to the constellation of Sagittarius.
Most people will identify Sagittarius as a centaur, half human, half horse, wielding a bow. Generally this centaur is supposed to be Chiron and in others, it’s the centaur Phollus. Upon their death, they were placed up in the heavens to form the familiar constellation of Sagittarius. More scholarly sources will point out that the story of Chiron is actually more correctly identified with the constellation of Centaurus.
Interestingly, it wasn’t until I went looking up information on Sagittarius that I’ve come across the name of this satyr, Crotus. None of the books I have mention, name or come close to referencing him. Everything I’ve come up with on him is through on-line and these sources reference Theony Condos’ book Star Myths and two ancient sources of Eratosthenes (1st/2nd century C.E.) and Hyginus (1st century B.C.E.).
Just who is he? Crotus in the myths I found, place him as the son of Pan and Eupheme, apparently a nursemaid to the Muses and one of the Charities. Eupheme is another name that once I went looking up Crotus, I couldn’t find anything on her in my books except for on-line sources. But I can see why there’s a mix up with Chiron who was peaceful by nature and Crotus who was also peaceful by nature where other Centaurs and Satyrs were known for wild and rowdy behaviors.
But this story makes far more sense for Crotus to be the figure shown in the constellation of Sagittarius. Satyrs, depending on the source and book read, are sometimes described as having a horse’s tail along with the hooves and goat-like horns. And in the myths that I’ve found regarding Crotus, he’s described as being a very skilled hunter and the inventor of the bow. So well loved was he by the muses that they asked Zeus to place Crotus up among the stars to be commemorated as a constellation.
Perhaps in a vague effort to connect Sagittarius with its earlier Babylonian astronomy, the constellation of Sagittarius is said to aiming an arrow at the constellation of Scorpio, specifically the star called Antares, the heart of the Scorpion.
The constellation of Sagittarius was well known to earlier civilizations in the Middle East and Mesopotamian cultures. When the twelve constellations were listed sometime around the third millennium B.C.E., Sagittarius, the Archer was on it. It’s generally agreed by many that the Babylonian’s constellation of Sagittarius later becomes the root of the Greek Sagittarius mythology.
In some myths, the character of Enkidu, a feral man raised by beasts, was seen represented in the constellation of Sagittarius. Enkidu was a close friend and companion to Gilgamish of the city Uruk. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Nergal, the god of war is found on two cuneal inscriptions. In Sumerian, Nergal’s name means “Lord of the Great Dwelling,” that is the Underworld. Nergal was one of seven deities to who sacrifices and offerings of sheep and cattle were made. Nergal was originally associated with fire and the heat of the sun. One of his epitaphs is sarrapu, “the Burner.” He later came to be seen as a god of War, Pestilence and Devastation.
The Babylonians saw Nergal in the constellation of Sagittarius. Nergal was said to be a strange centaur-like creature firing a bow. One source states that this image is usually depicted with wings, two heads, one being a panther, the other a human head and a scorpion’s stinger raised above it instead of a horse’s tail.
The Sumerian’s also saw their god Pabilsag. This deity’s name is comprised of two words, the first being Pabil, meaning “elder paternal kinsman” and Sag, meaning “chief head.” The thought or idea is that the name can then translate to “Forefather” or “Chief Ancestor.” Pabilsag’s look contains several complex characteristics not interpreted in the Greek icon of a centaur. Pabilsag had a scorpion’s tail, a dog’s head and wings. In other variants the characteristics are altered, the dog’s head or wings could be overlooked all together, while in other icons bird like feet supplant the scorpion’s tail.
Some scholars like to try making a connection of the Greek Sagittarius to the ancient Babylonian constellation through the etymology of words. With how Sagittarius is from the Latin meaning the Archer. This is translated from the word Sagitta meaning an arrow. This is then translated from the Greek word Taxotes, meaning the Archer, and when translated to the Akkadian language, is Nedu the Soldier. Once more this gets translated to the Sumerian word “Us,” meaning the Soldier). And ultimately, it is finally translated to the Sumerian words Pa.bil.sag, meaning the Archer.
The Arabs named a number of the brighter stars in the constellation after parts of the human body and for parts of a bow and arrow, indicating that they too associated this constellation with an archer. One star, called Nunki, is a fairly recently used name by navigators and comes from a list of Babylonian star names. The name Nun-Ki was the name of a group of stars representing the Babylonian’s sacred city of Eridu on the Euphrates River. This name is now used exclusively for the star Sigma Sagittarii, and is considered to be the oldest star name in use.
For the Chinese, they view the constellation of Sagittarius as two separate constellations of the seventh and eighth lunar mansions called Ji and Dou Ji, representing a winnowing basket used for separating rice grains from their chaffs. The chaff was represented by a single star called Kang. A related constellation called Chu, the pestle is to the south of Ji, used for pounding the rice to remove the husks.
Dou, “dipper” or Nandou “southern dipper” was formed by the stars Mu, Lambda, Phi, Sigma, Tau and Zeta Sagittarii. This constellation is also called the Milk Dipper. In Chinese proverbs, the southern dipper marks life while the northern dipper, Beidou, the familiar Big Dipper found as part of Ursa Major, marks death. A solitary star nearby was called Nongzhangren, an old farmer, measures out the grains in the dipper and winnowing basket.
North of Dou, an arc of stars, Upsilon, Rho, 43, Pi, Omicron and Xi Sagittarii is called Jian and represents a banner, possibly at a city gate. Next to it is Tianji, the “celestial cock” who is in charge of time as they’re the first to crow the dawn while all the other birds follow it.
To the south of Tianji are two canine related constellations. Gouguo which consists of stars Omega, 59, 60 and 62 Sagittarrii. The name Gouguo translates to “territory of dogs” or “dog kingdom” and could represent a nation of Chinese myth and history, possibly the Mongols. Next to Gouguo, is Gou, formed by the stars 52 and Chi-1 Sagittarii, and is said to represent a guard dog.
In the southern part of Sagittarius, a group of ten stars formed the constellation Tianyuan and represented a body of water such as a lake or ocean. Tianyuan was said to control or govern the irrigation of fields. A group of fainter stars in Sagittarius on the border with the constellation Ophiuchus form part of another constellation, Tianyue. This constellation lay on an ecliptic threshold and represented a lock or keyhole through which the Sun had to pass every year. It lays directly opposite in the heavens from Tianguan, a gate on the edge of Taurus.
The eight brightest stars of Sagittarius form an easily recognizable, smaller constellation or asterism known as the “the Teapot.” Four stars form the body of the pot, while other stars form the lid, spout and even the handle. Another smaller group of these stars form a ladle shape called the Milk Dipper. Ancient Chinese astronomers also saw a dipper among these same stars as mentioned above.
The Galactic Center!
According to Astronomers, the constellation of Sagittarius sits at the center of the Milky Way galaxy as it is at its densest there. Many star clusters and nebulae are also found within the constellation of Sagittarius. Some of these nebulae are the Lagoon Nebula, the Omega Nebula, which is also called the Loon, or Swan or even the Horseshoe Nebula, and the Trifid Nebula. The brightest star cluster is called Messier 55. In addition to all this, it is believed that the exact center of the Galaxy is marked by a radio signal that astronomers call Sagittarius A.
The constellation of Sagittarius is the ninth sign of twelve signs that form the Zodiac. For those who study and are into the classical Greek Zodiacs, this time is typically said to be from November 21 to December 21. Due to the changes of the earth’s orbit and tilt, the best time to see this constellation is during early summer. The planet Jupiter is said to rule this Zodiacal sign and constellation. Its element is Fire, an extroverted sign and is one of four mutable signs.
Sagittarius people are said to like being straight forward, getting to the heart of the matter with honesty. Sometimes their sense of honesty and truthfulness can hurt as they may not necessarily sugar coat anything. A younger Sagittarius will be rather abrasive about this, sometimes coming off as a smart alec whereas an older Sagittarius has learned to better temper their words will still being very frank and forthright. A Sagittarius person may also aspire to a lot of athleticism, philosophy, scholarly pursuits, travel, adventure or high and noble ideals. They’re known for being loyal and being those who can give as well as effectively follow directions.
Alternate Spellings: Cheiron, Kheirôn
Etymology: Greek – Χείρων (kheir) “Hand,” Skilled with Hands
Chiron is the son of Philyra, a nymph and daughter of Oceanus and the Titan, Cronos who were horsing around and then really horsing around in the forms of horses so Cronos could hide his affair from his wife, Rhea. So naturally of course, later, when Chiron is born, he has the upper half and body of a man and from the waist down, he has the body of a horse. Philyra on seeing her half horse, half human son, abandoned him and he was raised by the other gods of Olympus. Chiron is also the god Zeus’s half-brother.
Having a parentage different than all the other centaurs, who were born from Ixion and a cloud, Chiron is known for his great wisdom and gentle temperament. Unlike the other Centaur who are known for their wild and reckless behavior. When the other Centaurs were created, Chiron and his daughters took them in and raised them as their own sons.
Chiron was learned in many arts such as medicine, music, gymnastics, literature, prophecy, strategy, hunting and warfare. This is usually attributed to his being taught by the gods Apollo and Artemis.
Along with his wife and children, Chiron lived in a cave on Mount Pelion in Thessaly where they had been banished to with the other centaurs by the Lapithae. Sacrifices were offered up to Chiron there by the Magnesian people. And the family known as Cheironidae was well known for their knowledge of medicine, that they were thought to be descended from Chiron.
Depiction In Art
In Athenian vase paintings, Chiron is depicted with the full body of a man, from head to foot, wearing chiton clothing and boots, with a horse-body attached to his human rear. This image probably reflected Chiron’s appearance in Greek drama, where costume limitations would have affected his depiction for the stage. This limitation however doesn’t seem to have affected the appearance of other Centaurs in their familiar half human, half horse forms.
With his divine parentage, yes, Chiron started out as a God of Healing. Later when this mythology is subsumed by the Greeks, he becomes one of the centaurs. He was known as a great healer, astrologer and a well respected oracle. Chiron was the first to use herbs for healing and the medical practice of surgery.
What’s In A Name?
Chiron’s name is derived from the Greek word for hand (kheir), which also means “skilled with the hands.” The name is also closely associated in myth with the term kheirourgos or surgeon. And that makes sense when seeing how Chiron is the first surgeon.
Children of Chiron
Chiron married the nymph Chariclo and with her, they had many fine colts and fillies. Among their children are Hippe (also known as Melanippe, the “Black Mare” or Euippe, “truly a mare”), Endeis, Ocyrhoe and Carystus, their only son.
Through his daughter, Endeis, Chiron is the grandfather of Peleus.
The family known as Cheironidae was well known for their knowledge of medicine, that they were thought to be descended from Chiron.
Students of Chiron
Chiron’s reputation as a teacher is so great, that he is said to have taught many students throughout his career. Though a lot of this may be poetic license and a desire on the part of any historians, story tellers, theologians and chroniclers wanting to attribute a Hero’s greatness to lessons and skills learned from Chiron.
Some of Chiron’s students are:
Achilles, Actaeon, Aeneas, Ajax, Aristaeus, Asclepius, Caeneus, Jason, Medus, Patroclus, Peleus, Perseus, Telamon, and Theseus. Sometimes Heracles, Oileus, Phoenix, and even Dionysus were said to have been students.
Peleus, Grandson of Chiron
Chiron’s friendship with Peleus, who is also his grandson, is of note. Chiron saved him from the hands of the other centaurs, which were on the verge of killing Peleus. Acastus had left Peleus out in the woods, hoping the centaurs would kill him. Chiron also returned Peleus’ sword to him that Acastus had taken and hid. Chiron further aided Peleus in marrying the goddess Thetis, telling him to hold tight to her as she changed forms numerous times.
Meeting the Argonauts
Chiron is also connected with the story of the Argonauts, whom he received kindly when they came to his residence on their voyage, for many of the heroes were his friends and students.
Death of Chiron
Chiron’s death comes when he was accidentally hit by a poisonous arrow coated in Hydra-venom shot by Heracles. This came about as Hercules, during his fourth labor in defeating the Erymanthian Boar, came to visit another centaur friend Pholus on Mount Pelion. While at dinner, Hercules asked for some wine to drink. The only wine that Pholus had was some sacred wine given to him by the god Dionysus. At Hercules’ insistence, Pholus was forced to bring it out and when Hercules grabbed it to drink, the aroma of the wine lured the other centaurs to the cave who became intoxicated by just the scent of it.
Led by Nessus, the other centaurs soon began to riot and attacked the cave, throwing rocks and trees at it. In self-defense, Hercules began to start shooting arrows, all poisoned by Hydra blood, to force them back. Eventually the centaurs ran to Chiron’s cave over in Malea.
It is there, that Hercules shot the fatal arrow that strikes Chiron. The potency of the poison is such, that even Chiron the master healer is not able to heal himself and the pain is more than he can bear, that Chiron dies despite being immortal.
Here, there are a few different variations of this story. Chiron dies, giving up his immortality in a bargain with Hercules and Zeus so that Prometheus can go free and humankind can have the gift of fire that was originally stolen.
Other versions of this story state that Pholus also died as when he came out of his cave, he pulled one of the arrows that Hercules had shot from a dead centaur and in the process accidentally drops the arrow on his hoof, killing himself that way. Sometimes the story goes that it is Chiron who accidentally drops the poisoned arrow on his hoof.
All versions do agree that Chiron dies of the poisoned arrow, regardless of it being accidentally dropped or shot. After his death, Zeus placed Chiron up among the stars where he becomes the constellation of Sagittarius or Centaurus depending on who is telling the story.
Chiron In Astrology?
Yes, Chiron has a celestial body named after him. These celestial objects are known as centaurs, as they have characteristics of both asteroids and comets along with having unstable or transient orbits. Something of a composite nature just like their namesakes. Chiron was found in 1977 by Charles Kowal. At first astronomers weren’t sure how to classify these centaurs or what to call them due to their unstable orbits and conflicting natures. Chiron isn’t to be confused with a hypothetical moon of Saturn that has long since been disproved.
Some Western Astrologers have readily jumped on to the discoveries of new celestial objects within our solar system, adding them to the classical Astrology and coming up with meanings for them.
One such interpretation is that Chiron is “the wounded healer” and has associations with life traumas, bullying and wounds or inadequacies that are seen as incurable but can still be overcome or worked with. Basically this is turning a weakness into a strength. A few astrologers believe that Chiron should be assigned as the ruler of Virgo.