In Greek mythology, centaurs were beings that were half human and half horse. The earliest images of centaurs have human bodies with the horses’ bodies and rear legs growing from their backs. But the classic picture of a centaur is of a being with a human torso and a horse’s body.

Centaurs were said to live on Mount Pelion in Thessaly, in northern Greece. According to one myth, they were the children of Ixion, king of Thessaly, and a cloud. Ixion had wanted Hera as his mate, but Zeus tricked him by transforming a cloud into Hera’s shape.
Centaur society is portrayed in Greek mythology as more primitive than that of the Greeks. Centaurs had no refined weapons and used branches or rocks instead. They also had no resistance to alcohol. In the story of the wedding of Pirithous, king of the Lapiths, the centaur guests got drunk, attacked the female guests, and tried to carry off the bride, sparking a bloody battle. Another story tells of the brutal centaur Nessos, who tried to rape Deianira, wife of Hercules. Nessos gave Deianira the poison that would eventually kill Hercules.

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Greek mythology also portrays a famous civilized and learned centaur, Chiron, who raised the young heroes Jason and Achilles. Chiron was said to be immortal. But, when wounded by a poison arrow and in terrible pain, Chiron was granted mortality by a merciful Zeus so that he could die. Another version of the myth claims that Chiron traded his life for that of Prometheus and was slain by an arrow from Hercules. Chiron may not have been considered to be a true centaur by the ancient Greeks, since it was said that he was the offspring of the god Cronos and the nymph Philyra.

Overall, centaurs in modern fiction appear in a more favorable light, for example, in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1956) or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (1997–2007).