“…and so, children, the first time the Greeks saw people riding horses, they thought that they were some strange half-man, half-animal.”
Really? And the Greeks came up with satyrs when they saw men riding goats? And what about sphinxes—men riding lions?
While someone at a distance might not see the legs of mounted men, it would be hard to miss that big head, yet centaurs are pictured as having a man’s torso instead of, not in addition to, a horse’s long neck and head. And the Greeks used horses to pull chariots long before they rode them, so it’s not as though horses were unfamiliar to them the first time they saw a mounted rider. No, it’s much more likely that the Greeks told tales about centaurs to symbolize the side of human beings that likes to drink, carouse, break the laws of society, not because the sight of men on horses confused them.
The sidekick for the protagonist, Telemachos, in my young-adult novel King of Ithaka, came to me as a centaur. Perhaps I was remembering a favorite bronze miniature in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I had always thought showed a man resting an affectionate hand on a centaur’s shoulder (the man is actually killing the centaur). Perhaps it was the presence in my house of numerous adolescent boys, whose behavior often bordered on the beastly. But for whatever reason, the centaur Brax quickly became a major player in the story, and one of my favorites.
About the author: Tracy Barrett is the author of numerous books for young readers, most recently King of Ithaka (Macmillan, 2010). She lives in Nashville, TN, where she teaches at Vanderbilt University.
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