Among the few tales of centaurs that have managed to be passed down since ancient times the story of Hercules’ encounter with the “ferryman”, Nessus, is probably only second to the that of the “Tale of the Lapiths vs Centaurs at the Wedding Feast”. Of course, the legends share some disturbing pro-humanity/anti-minority details. In both, the centaur(s) are depicted as ravenous beasts who have no self-control and only mean to do harm (this is also true of the legend of Chiron’s demise at the hand of Hercules.)
These dramatic details are why the legends still are able to fascinate new audiences. Hercules is again exalted to his high place in the pantheon of the world’s heroes. Much as new executions of the legends surrounding Jesus, Robin Hood or any other icon of human esteem continue to impress people with their heroism or inherently good natures.
The centaur Nessus is a particularly vile villain among those Hercules thwarted. He not only attempts to rape Hercules’ wife, Deianira, but after he is mortally wounded by the hero, Nessus proceeds to pass on the essence of his inhumanity by convincing the hapless woman that his blood has magical properties. Later, this magical blood proves to be the hero’s undoing. So the demigod arrives at a rather ignominious and incredibly painful demise through the medium of the “other’s” true nature. Nessus, to put it plainly, is black blooded. His evil permeates every part of him.
The moral of the story being: Even in death you can’t trust centaurs.
Centaurs are the randiest drunkards in all of Greek mythology with the possible exceptions of the satyrs and cyclopes. It seems that every time they come anywhere near wine their intentions immediately move toward attacking human females. Part of this is explained in legend by the idea that there were no female centaurs to achieve sexual congress and procreate with. I question that idea because it would be very easy for them to satisfy sexual desire amongst themselves (though not increase their ranks), but if there is one thing considered morally worse in legends than rape it’s homosexuality. And besides, if the centaurs were a contented lot, how better to demonize them then by passing on sordid tales of their grossly libidinous natures and how humans heroically wiped these terrible threats to peace and happiness out?
If new readers of this blog are unfamiliar with my past blog entries let it be stated again that, if centaurs are imagined to be in the same historical (mythical) positions as any other outlier group (Amerinds, Jews, Gypsies, etc.), it is relatively easy to grasp the concept that these legends are anti-other propaganda intended to raise the heroic value of humans at the expense of the other. There is no effort to convey any attempts at conciliation of any sort. No, when it comes to centaurs, it’s all-out war against the beasts and nothing less.
The most overt implication of these legends is that others are generally more powerfully viral and potent than ordinary (read “more tasteful”) humans. This is also easily noticed in the tales told against blacks and others who are simultaneously envied and demeaned for their potency. In Greek artistic depictions of male figures bodies were to be admired, but large phalli were considered in the worst of taste so they were largely ignored. Male beauty, hallelujah! Male penises, hide that disgusting object away! The actual and more realistic fixation with prodigious male members among Greco-Roman artists/writers is most aptly represented in the semi-equine figures of centaurs. The Greeks admired the beauty of equines and depictions of Chiron, the one centaur with any worth in these legends, frequently show both his wisdom and physical prowess. But the beastly centaurs, creations of flagrant immorality, were overly endowed and humans found all the more reason to hate and eliminate their kind. This sends a message that states potency is to be reviled, but more so in half-cast beasts than in the more cultured and evolved humans. You really can’t win for losing in this material.
So, without further pondering, here is a collection of classical and not art devoted to the story of poor Nessus and his murderer, Hercules. Obviously, Deianira is merely along for the ride: