The Centaurs of Mount Pelion were the hybrid children of Centaurus, the son of Ixion. Wishing to marry princess Dia, Ixion invited her father to bring her to his palace, and then tricked him into walking over a pitfall trap into which he fell to be roasted alive. Curiously, Zeus forgave Ixion and invited him to a feast on Mount Olympus.
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There Ixion plotted to seduce Hera. But Zeus found out and, to expose him, fashioned a false Hera from a cloud, with which willing substitute Ixion made love. Caught in flagrante, Ixion was arrested by Hermes, flogged and strapped to a burning wheel, on which he was rotated for eternity. Meanwhile Zeus took the opportunity to father a son by Dia: Peirithous, who later ruled the Lapiths.
The cloudy simulacrum, whose name was Nephele, also bore a son, Centaurus. Centaurus was unconventional. Conceiving a passion for a herd of mares which grazed near Iolcus, he mated with each one. Their offspring were the Centaurs, creatures with the torso of a human joined to the body of a horse, who, when provoked or drunk, could become barbarically wild.
One Centaur, Cheiron, did not share this lineage. Both immortal and much older, he was born when Cronus in the guise of a black stallion ravished the nymph Philyra. Cheiron’s appearance was different, too – he possessed the full body of a man joined to a horse’s torso and rear legs. Skilled in medicine, this wisest of all Centaurs tutored many of the greatest heroes (including Theseus, Perseus, Achilles and Jason) in the idyllic glades of Pelion.
Holding a branch, from which hangs a hare, the centaur Cheiron addresses a young protege. (Attic red figure vase, c. 520 BC).