Chiron in Greek Mythology: Myth, Abilities, Depictions and Symbols
Quick Facts about Chiron
Mother: Oceanid Philyra
Siblings: Dolops and Aphrus,
Wife: the nymph Chariclo, Nais (in some cases)
Children: Hippe, Endeis, Ocyrhoe, Carystus, Aristaeus
Abode: Mount Pelion
Association: The Argonauts, Thetis, Dionysus
“The Wisest and Justest of all Centaurs”- the ancient Greek mythical teacher Chiron (also known as Kherion) was a refined centaur renowned in several disciplines such as medicine, herbs, music and healing.
While he is not the only centaur from ancient history, Chiron is most like the most famous centaur to this day. He is believed to have influenced a great number of Greek heroes and mythical characters, including the great Trojan hero Achilles. In some cases, he was even worshipped by the Magnesians.
In the article below, worldhistoryedu will go dig deep into the mythical stories surrounding Chiron’s abilities and exploits in Greek mythology.
Who is Chiron?
The most famous and wisest of centaurs in Greek mythology – Chiron – was known as both “Chiron” and “Kheiron” in ancient Greece. The name “Chiron” possibly translates to the word “hand”.
What are his attributes?
As one of the most influential characters and teachers in Greek mythology, Chiron had a plethora of attributes:
- He was famed for his exceptional ability to serve as a role model for many great heroes in Greek mythology.
- Kind courtesy to Apollo (the Greek god of the sun, medicine and arts) Chiron was able to become extremely knowledgeable and skilled in the science of medicine, music and a host of other disciplines.
- The ancient Greeks believed that he was the one who discovered botany and pharmacy.
According to the myths, Chiron was born to the mad and child-eating Titan Cronus and the Philyra (an Oceanid). In this account of the story, his siblings are Dolops and Aphrus.
Chiron turned out to be almost like a centaur because the Titan Cronus shape shifted into a horse and impregnated Philyra, the nymph. After his birth, Chiron was discarded by his mother because he looked and spoke differently. His father, Cronus, wanted nothing to do with him as well; in effect, Chiron was left all by himself until the god Apollo showed up and took care of him.
His foster father Apollo (god of the sun, medicine and art) taught him a great deal of things, including music, medicine, prophecy and herbs. Chiron was also tutored by the goddess of the hunt Artemis (Apollo’s twin sister) in the art of hunting and archery.
The story goes on to say that both Artemis’ and Apollo’s tutelage made Chiron more cultured, transforming him from a near beast into a wise and kind hearted person. Following in the footsteps of his foster parents – Apollo and Artemis – Chiron went on to become one of the greatest teachers and healers in Greek mythology.
Depictions of Chiron: Symbols and Appearance
Due to his unique heritage and high birth (i.e. being an offspring of a Titan), Chiron appears more of a human than a centaur. For example, he is mostly shown with human legs for front legs instead of an equine.
Another common depiction of Chiron sees him carrying a tree branch with dead hares attached to the ends. Unlike other centaurs that are depicted in a wild manner without clothes, Chiron often gets portrayed fully clothed.
Over the centuries, the most famous depiction of Chiron has got to be the Education of Achilles painting on the basilica in Herculaneum ( a 1st century AD painting presently found at Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples). The painting shows him tutoring Achilles the art of lyre playing. The painting however departs from the refined manner in which the ancient Greeks depicted Chiron. In the painting Chiron is seen with an equine instead of his usual human legs. Also, his human ears are replaced with that of a satyr’s. In spite of the bestial depiction of Chiron, the Education of Achilles painting continues to remain one of the most famous depictions of Chiron.
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Compared to his fellow centaurs, Chiron stood way above them in terms of civility and wisdom. Many Greeks considered centaurs as good for nothing violent creatures driven by uncontrolled urges for wild things, drinking and lust. Centaurs also had the bad reputation of being unintelligent.
However, this was not the case with Chiron, who received years and years of training from Apollo. The centaur became extremely helpful and civilized in ways that even rivaled some Greek gods.
Chiron was famous because it is believed he served as the teacher and model for famous Greek heroes such as Theseus, Oileus, Heracles, Perseus, Jason, Ajax, Peleus, Asclepius, and Achilles. Kind courtesy to the tutelage of Chiron, all of those characters attained great heights in so many disciplines. For example, Asclepius – son of Apollo – came to be revered as the god of medicine, healing and rejuvenation. Asclepius’ name was even invoked in the original Hippocratic Oath.
Reverence of Chiron
In some cases, the Magnesians offered sacrifices and sometimes prayers to Chiron. Likewise, Chiron’s later descendants, the Cheironidae, revered him very much. In some accounts, he was seen as Thessalian god.
Because Chiron was born to a Titan and an Oceanid, his physical appearance is a bit different from his fellow centaurs. In Greek mythology, a typical centaur is born from the union of Ixion and Nephele (a cloud nymph shaped like the goddess Hera).
The 5 Most Famous Chiron Myths
- Upon attaining the age of maturity, he took for himself the nymph Chariclo as a wife. He went on to bore several children, including Aristaeus, Carystus, Hippe (Melanippe, the black mare), Ocyrhoe, and Endeis.
- Not only did Chiron tutor demigods and Greek heroes, he also tutored the Greek god Dionysus. It was stated by Ptolemaeus Chennus of Alexandria that the Greek god of wine and pleasure learned a great deal of things from Chiron.
- Chiron helped Peleus (the king of Phthia) in wooing the famous nymph/goddess Thetis. From the union between Thetis and Peleus came forth Achilles.
- Additionally, the centaur was tasked by Thetis and Peleus to take in the baby Achilles and train him in several disciplines such as archery, philosophy, healing, etc. Owing to Chiron’s mentorship, Achilles went on to become one of the greatest heroes in Greek mythology.
- Another encounter between Chiron and Peleus saw the former save the latter from Acastus. Chiron seized Acastus sword and left him deep in the forest to be devoured by wild animals.
How did Chiron die?
Being the son of the Greek Titan Cronus, Chiron was considered a god in some regard. This meant that he was immortal. However, this all changed after Heracles traded Chiron’s immortality for Prometheus’ freedom. After Prometheus angered Zeus, Prometheus was chained to a rock to spend eternity in torment. Taking pity on the Titan who by the way gave mankind fire, Heracles sacrificed Chiron’s life for the freedom of Prometheus.
Chiron died after he was pierced in the thigh by a poisoned arrow. It is unclear whether Heracles killed Chiron on purpose. What is clear is that the poison that killed Chiron came from the blood of Hydra (the water monster who lives in the lake of Lerna). In spite of his efforts to save himself, the learned centaur ultimately gives up his immortality and dies.
After his death, Zeus honored him by placing him among the brightest constellations of stars in the sky – the Constellation Centaurus.