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Chiron

[kahy-ron]

In Greek mythology, Chiron or Cheiron ("hand) was held as the superlative centaur among his brethren. Like the satyrs, centaurs were notorious for being overly indulgent drinkers and carousers, given to violence when intoxicated, and generally uncultured delinquents. Chiron, by contrast, was intelligent, civilized and kind. He was known for his knowledge and skill with medicine. According to an archaic myth he was sired by Cronus when he had taken the form of a horse and impregnated the nymph Philyra, Chiron's lineage was different from other centaurs, who were born of sun and raincloud, rendered by Greeks of the Classic period as from the union of the king Ixion, consigned to a fiery wheel, and Nephele ("cloud"), which in the Olympian telling Zeus invented to look like Hera.

Chiron's haunts were on Mount Pelion; there he married the nymph Chariclo who bore him three daughters, Hippe (Melanippe or Euippe), Endeis, and Ocyrhoe, and one son Carystus.

A great healer, astrologer, and respected oracle, Chiron was said to be the last centaur and highly revered as a teacher and tutor. Among his pupils were many culture heroes: Asclepius, Aristaeus, Ajax, Aeneas, Actaeon, Caeneus, Theseus, Achilles, Jason, Peleus, Telamon, Heracles, Oileus, Phoenix, and in some stories, Dionysus.

His nobility is further reflected in the story of his death as Chiron sacrificed his life, allowing mankind to obtain the use of fire. Being the son of Kronos, a titan, he was immortal and so could not die. So it was left to Heracles to arrange a bargain with Zeus to exchange Chiron's immortality for the life of Prometheus who had been chained to a rock and left to die for his transgressions. Chiron had been poisoned with an arrow belonging to Heracles that had been treated with the blood of the Hydra, or, in other versions, poison that Chiron had given to the hero when he had been under the honorable centaur’s tutelage. This had taken place during the visit of Heracles to the cave of Pholus on Mount Pelion in Thessaly when he visited his friend during his fourth labour in defeating the Erymanthian Boar. While they were at supper, Heracles asked for some wine to accompany his meal. Pholus, who ate his food raw, was taken aback. He had been given a vessel of sacred wine by Dionysus sometime earlier, to be kept in trust for the rest of the centaurs until the right time for its opening. At Heracles' prompting, Pholus was forced to produce the vessel of sacred wine. The hero, gasping for wine, grabbed it from him and forced it open. Thereupon the vapours of the sacred wine wafted out of the cave and intoxicated the wild centaurs, led by Nessus, who had gathered outside. They attacked the cave with stones and fir trees. Heracles was forced to shoot many arrows (poisoned, of course, with the blood of the Hydra) to drive them back. During this assault, Chiron was hit in the thigh by one of the poisoned arrows. After the centaurs had fled, Pholus emerged from the cave to observe the destruction. Being of a philosophical frame of mind, he pulled one of the arrows from the body of a dead centaur and wondered how such a little thing as an arrow could have caused so much death and destruction. In that instant, he let slip the arrow from his hand and it dropped and hit him in the hoof, killing him instantly.

Ironically, Chiron, the master of the healing arts, could not heal himself, so he willingly gave up his immortality. He was honoured with a place in the sky, for the Greeks as the constellation Sagittarius, and in modern times represented by the constellation of the southern hemisphere, Centaurus.

Chiron saved the life of Peleus when Acastus tried to kill him by taking his sword and leaving him out in the woods to be slaughtered by the centaurs. Chiron retrieved the sword for Peleus. Some sources speculate that Chiron was originally a Thessalian god, later subsumed into the Greek pantheon as a centaur.

Chiron's disciples

  • Achilles - When Achilles' mother Thetis left home and returned to the Nereids, Peleus brought his son Achilles to Chiron, who received him as a disciple, and fed him on the innards of lions and wild swine, and the marrow of she-wolves.
  • Actaeon - Actaeon, who was bred by Chiron to be a hunter, is famous for his terrible death; for he, in the shape of a deer, was devoured by his own dogs. The dogs, ignorant of what they had done, came to the cave of Chiron seeking for their master, and the Centaur fashioned an image of Actaeon in order to sooth their grief.
  • Aristaeus - The Muses were, according to some, those who taught Aristaeus the arts of healing and of prophecy. Aristaeus discovered honey and the olive. After the death of his son Actaeon he migrated to Sardinia.
  • Asclepius - The great medicine of Asclepius is based on Chiron's teaching. Apollo killed Asclepius' mother Coronis while still pregnant but snatched the child from the pyre, bringing him to Chiron who reared him and taught him the arts of healing and hunting.
  • Jason - Aeson gave his son Jason to the Centaur Chiron to rear at the time when he was deposed by King Pelias. Jason is the Captain of the Argonauts.
  • Medus - Medus, who some call Polyxenus and others Medeus, is the man after whom the country Media was called. He was the son of Medea by either Aegeus or by Jason. Medus died in a military campaign against the Indians.
  • Patroclus - Patroclus' father left him in Chiron's cave, to study, side by side with Achilles, the chords of the harp, and learn to hurl spears and mount and ride upon the back of genial Chiron.
  • Peleus - Peleus, father of Achilles, was once rescued by Chiron: Acastus, son of Pelias, purified Peleus for having killed (undesignedly) his father-in-law Eurytion. However, Acastus' wife, Astydameia, fell in love with Peleus, and as he refused her she intrigued against him, telling Acastus that Peleus had attempted to rape her. Acastus would not kill the man he had purified, but took him to hunt on Mount Pelion. When Peleus had fallen asleep, Acastus deserted him, hiding his sword. On arising and looking for his sword, Peleus was caught by the centaurs and would have perished, if he had not been saved by Chiron, who also restored him his sword after having sought and found it. Chiron arranged the marriage of Peleus with Thetis, bringing Achilles up for her. He also told Peleus how to conquer the Nereid Thetis who, changing her form, could prevent him from catching her. In other legends, it was Proteus who helped Peleus. When Peleus married Thetis, he received from Chiron an ashen spear, which Achilles took to the war at Troy. This spear is the same with which Achilles healed Telephus by scraping off the rust.

Modern references

Chiron's name, and the underlying mythology, serve to inform many of the root words connected with the ancient healing arts, e.g. cheiromancy, or the art of divining the will of the gods through the interpretation of the patterns of the hands.

Chiron has been adapted for more recent fictional works:

  • Dante's The Divine Comedy, in which he is the chief guardian of the seventh circle of Hell.
  • Goethe's Faust (Part II, Act II, scene 5, the section titled "Lower Peneios"), wherein Faust seeks Chiron's aid in his search for Helen of Troy and receives important lessons in his search for complete understanding.
  • John Updike's novel The Centaur is an expansion and interpretation of the story of Chiron, set in the context of 20th century small-town America.
  • He has also been seen in the book The Lightning Thief as the activities director of Camp Half-Blood, a camp for children who are born of one divine and one mortal parent.
  • Chiron is present in the twenty-first century novel series Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Perseus "Percy" Jackson, Son of Poseidon, is not a true hero from Greek mythology, but was trained by Chiron (along with every other half-blood and satyr) at Camp Half-Blood in Percy Jackson & The Olympians series. There is an existing hero in Greek mythology called Perseus.
  • He is also one of the main heroes in the game Age of Mythology.
  • There is a Yu-Gi-Oh! card called Chiron the Mage after the Greek character.
  • The Chiron Corporation was named after Chiron in memory of his healing abilities.
  • He forms the basis for the character Philoctetes in the Disney film Hercules.
  • His name was used as the title for a song in the album Overcome written by All That Remains.

Symbolism

Chiron appears on the cap badge of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps and also appeared on a similar badge worn by the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps. Chiron is the official mascot of the Delta Lambda Phi national social fraternity.

References

External links

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