A Conundrum of Centaurs

May 25, 2011


PHOLOS (or Pholus) was one of the Peloponnesian kentauroi (centaurs) who dwelt in a cave on Mount Pholoe. He once had cause to entertain the hero Herakles who was passing by in search of the Erymanthian boar. But when Pholos opened his wine-skin to serve the hero, the other kentauroi were thrown into a frenzy by the aroma and attacked. Herakles managed to kill most of them with his arrows, with the few survivors fleeing to far off parts. Pholos himself also died in the ruckuss, through a mishap–for when he was examining one of the poisonous arrows of Herakles, he accidentally dropped it on his foot. After his death the gods rewarded him for his kind hospitality by placing him amongst the stars as constellation Centaurus. His wine cup became the adjacent “Crater.”

Apulian red figure rhyton (drinking cup), in the shape of a bull's head. c. 400-300 B.C.

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 83 – 87 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :

“[Herakles] passing through [Mount] Pholoe [in Arkadia] was entertained by the kentauros Pholos, a son of Seilenos by a Melias [Melian or Malean] Nymphe. He set roast meat before Hercules, while he himself ate his meat raw. When Herakles called for wine, he said he feared to open the jar which belonged to the Kentauroi in common. But Herakles, bidding him be of good courage, opened it, and not long afterwards, scenting the smell, the centaurs arrived at the cave of Pholos, armed with rocks and firs.

The first who dared to enter, Ankhios (Driven Back) and Agrios (Hunter), were repelled by Herakles with a shower of brands, and the rest of them he shot and pursued as far as Malea. There they took refuge with Kheiron, who, after the Lapiths had driven him from Mount Pelion, settled on Malea. Thence they took refuge with Kheiron [NB probably Seilenos in the original myth], who, driven by the Lapithes from Mount Pelion, took up his abode at Malea [a detail invented to combine the myths].

Image credit and article: Of Epic Proportions

As the kentauroi cowered about Kheiron [Seilenos], Herakles shot an arrow at them, which, passing through the arm of Elatos (Beaten), stuck in the knee of Kheiron [Pholos in the Peloponnesian account]. Distressed at this, Herakles ran up to him, drew out the shaft, and applied a medicine which Khiron gave him. But the hurt proving incurable, Khiron retired to the cave and there he wished to die, but he could not, for he was immortal. However, Prometheus offered himself to Zeus to be immortal in his stead, and so Kheiron [Pholos] died.

One quality of Pholus experience is, “I would never have done that if I knew what I was getting into,” sometimes with the added idea, “but I’m glad I did.” A small gesture that leads to something large, a minor project that becomes one’s life work, an experiment that takes on a life of its own, leading to many developments, all are properties of Pholus.  ~ Sourced from Small World Stories

The remaining kentauroi fled this way and that, some to Mount Malea, Eurytion to Pholoe, Nessos to the Euenus river. The rest were taken in at Eleusis by Poseidon, who hid them away on a mountain. As for Pholos, as he was pulling an arrow out of a corpse, he marvelled that such a little object could destroy such enormous adversaries. Just then it slipped from his hand, fell on his foot and instantly killed him. When Herakles returned to Pholoe, he found Pholos dead, so he buried him and proceeded on to find the boar.”

From the Muse

Aaahhhh…..the Devil’s in the details.

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