Can we think of Centaurs as a species?
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CitationNagy, Gregory. 2019.05.03. "Can we think of Centaurs as a species?." Classical Inquiries. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.eresource:Classical_Inquiries.
AbstractΙn three previous essays posted in Classical Inquiries, 2019.04.26, 2019.04.19 and 2019.03.22, I analyzed myths about Centaurs. Since they were pictured as half-man and half-horse, we could nowadays think of them as monsters. And, in terms of what we see in pre-classical and classical representations of Centaurs, such monsters were exclusively male, exhibiting the shaggy hormonal characteristics of exaggerated human maleness. Accordingly, Centaurs could hardly be viewed as a species of animals—or, let us say, of half-animals. In post-classical representations, however, as noted by Jan Bremmer (2012:26, 29) in the course of his detailed survey of relevant testimonia about such monsters, we start seeing female Centaurs as well. So, maybe Centaurs were eventually perceived as a species after all? Such a perception persists into modernity, culminating almost absurdly in the image of the “Centaurettes” featured in Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940). A closer look at the theriomorphism or beastly form of the Centaurs, however, reveals that even in pre-classical times there existed representations of female monsters who were half-woman and half-horse. My favorite example is a Boeotian incised decoration, dated to the seventh century BCE, picturing Medusa the monstrous Gorgon as half-woman and half-horse. But is this female monster really a Centaur? In formulating an answer to this question, I will need to reassess my understanding of the relationship between myth and ritual in Greek traditions.
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