Creatures part human and part horse. The centaurs were descendants of Centaurus, a son of the music god Apollo. Most centaurs were governed by the bestial half of their double nature. Their behavior was uncouth, and a very small amount of wine drove them wild.|
When Heracles was entertained by Pholus, one of the few civilized centaurs, he made the mistake of demanding the guest's prerogative of a beaker of wine. Pholus could not refuse, though he hesitated before unearthing a jug of the liquid which he kept buried underground for fear of just the sort of consequence which now ensued.
As soon as Pholus uncapped the jar of wine, his brothers caught scent of it on the wind from more than a mile away. Driven instantly to madness, they attacked Heracles, and the hero barely succeeded in driving them off with flaming arrows.
Wine also caused the centaurs to fight with other guests at the wedding feast of Theseus's friend Peirithous. It was on this occasion that they destroyed the supposedly invulnerable Caeneus.
On another occasion, a centaur named Nessus offered to ferry Heracles' wife across a torrent on his back. Midway, his animal nature got the better of him and he tried to force his attentions on his passenger. She shrieked and Heracles came running. He killed Nessus with a single arrow through the heart.
Chiron was not an ordinary centaur, having ended up with his horsely half by virtue of his father, the god Cronus, taking the form of a horse when Chiron was conceived. Chiron became renowned for his civility and wisdom. He served as tutor to many famous heroes, including Heracles and Jason. He taught music and medicine as well as the skills of the hunt.
A centaur. (zoom)