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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Centauromachy

A Dying Centaur
Normally I'm not so big into mythological monsters, but in delving into both Hippodamia and Pirithous's mythologies, I've had to make an exception for the centaurs. The Centauromachy, the war with the centaurs, doesn't seem to me to be something that can be overlooked for either of them.I can't get around the idea that the abduction of Hippodamia by the centaurs (her kin!) on her wedding day, of all days, and the subsequent bloodshed at the wedding feast, would be emotionally traumatizing not just for Hippodamia and Pirithous, but for the rest of the community as well, centaur and human alike.

Hippodamia was not the only victim on that day. Other Lapith women were abducted, too. Guests died fighting off the centaurs, and centaurs died fighting off the guests. And what about the centaurs who weren't involved? The females, colts, and fillies? There's little mention of their fates in the wedding feast brouhaha (Ovid's Metamorphoses give by far the most detailed account) , and while it's possible that only males had been invited to the celebration, but I sincerely doubt that those not guilty escaped the prejudices and anger of those who bore witness to that day. And I doubt, too, that some of the newly widowed centauresses didn't attempt to take their own revenge for the loss of their mates.

Most of the centaurs who attended Hippodamia's wedding feast didn't make it back home, after. In
contrast, many of the women were rescued, and far fewer of the men and heroes died. Ovid (from Nestor's perspective) illustrates a terrible bloodbath, including this moment:
In that din [the centaur] Aphidas lay with every vein relaxed in endless sleep, unwoken, undisturbed, sprawled on a shaggy bearskin from Mount Ossa, his wine-filled cup in his unconscious hand, out of the fight--in vain! Observing him lying apart there, Phorbas fingered firm his lance's thong : ‘You'd better mix,’ he cried ‘your wine with Styx's water!’ There and then he hurled his lance and through Aphidas' neck, as he lay sprawled face-up, the iron-tipped ash drove deep. Death came unfelt. Over the couch--into the cup--blood gushed from his full throat. (Metamorphoses, 12.316)

The fact of the matter is, the result of that day was a war, and the centaurs were expelled from their lands, hunted into extinction, in the end (and perhaps the Centauromachy itself is an explanation for why there are no more centaurs, wandering the plains or hunting in the forests). And war is rarely easy on the parties involved. Neither for those doing the fighting, nor for those waiting behind thick walls to learn whether or not their loved ones will be coming home.The Centaurmachy is an event which was never forgotten -- one of the few accounts of Pirithous' life, in fact! -- and I can only imagine, if it was so long remembered, the wounds it left behind.

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