Olympia BE 11a: bronze plaque with Kaineus and Centaurs
Illustration pp. 100-101 from G.E. Hatzi, The Archaeological Museum of Olympia (2008)
Florence, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 4209: Attic black-figure volute krater from Chiusi (François Krater) with Kaineus and Centaurs
A. Furtwaengler and K. Reichhold, Griechische Vasenmalerei: Auswahl hervorragender Vasenbilder (Serie I, Tafel 1-60, 1904), detail of pl. 11
Homer Iliad 1.263-64:
…such as Peirithous and Dryas, shepherd of the people, and Kaineus and Eksadios and godlike Polyphemos…(translated by Aaron J. Ivey).
Hesiod, fr. 87 MW (Fragmenta Hesiodea, eds. Merkelbach and M. L. West , p. 52-53):
(Hesiod observes this about Teiresios as do Dikaiarkhos, Klearkhos, Kallimakhos, and some others…) They themselves observe that in the land of the Lapiths, King Elatos had a daughter called Kainis. Poseidon, having slept with her, announced that he would do for her whatever she wanted, and she thought it worthy to change herself into a man and make herself invulnerable. After Poseidon acted according to what seemed right, she was called Kaineus (translated by Aaron J. Ivey).
Ovid Metamorphoses 12.201-03:
Caenis says, “These injuries bring about a great request: that I may never suffer such a thing again! Grant that I not be a woman. May you preside over everything!” (translated by Aaron J. Ivey)
*Pindar, fr. 128f (Pindari Carmina Cum Fragmentis, ed. Bruno Snell , p. 109):
…since he was smitten by the green forests, Kaineus lives [there], having split the land with a straight foot… (translated by Aaron J. Ivey)
Athens, Hephaisteion, west frieze with wedding of Peirithoos, including Kaineus and Centaurs
Photo from flickr of west facade of Hephaisteion, showing interior west frieze over opisthodomos (back porch); figures of Kaineus and Centaurs are visible between third and fourth columns of exterior Doric peristyle (colonnade)
Perseus Art & Archaeology Artifact Browser (on design of Hephaisteion)
Photo by S.A. Watson showing frieze slab with Kaineus and Centaurs
Detail of slab 2 with Kaineus and Centaurs, from C.H. Morgan, “The Sculptures of the Hephaisteion II. The Friezes,” Hesperia vol. 31.3, 1962, pl. 80b
London, British Museum: interior frieze with wedding of Peirithoos, including Kaineus and Centaurs, from temple of Apollo, Bassai (for more information on this temple and frieze, see p. 280 above)
Laureion, Archaeological Museum 1219B: frieze block from pronaos of temple of Poseidon, Sounion with Kaineus and Centaurs
Fig. 11.4 from I. Leventi, “Interpretations of the Ionic Frieze of the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion,” in Structure, Image, Ornament: Architectural Sculpture in the Greek World (2009), p. 123
Ovid Metamorphoses 12.189-535:
189-209: The daughter of Elatus, Caenis, was
remarkable for charm—most beautiful
of all Thessalian maidens—many sighed
for her in vain through all the neighboring towns
and yours, Achilles, for that was her home.
But Peleus did not try to win her love,
for he was either married at that time
to your dear mother, or was pledged to her.
“Caenis never became the willing bride
of any suitor; but report declares,
while she was walking on a lonely shore,
the god of ocean saw and ravished her.
And in the joy of that love Neptune said,
‘Request of me whatever you desire,
and nothing shall deny your dearest wish!’—
the story tells us that he made this pledge.
And Caenis said to Neptune, ‘The great wrong,
which I have suffered from you justifies
the wonderful request that I must make;
I ask that I may never suffer such
an injury again. Grant I may be
no longer woman, and I’ll ask no more.’
while she was speaking to him, the last words
of her strange prayer were uttered in so deep,
in such a manly tone, it seemed indeed
they must be from a man.—That was a fact:
Neptune not only had allowed her prayer
but made the new man proof against all wounds
of spear or sword. Rejoicing in the gift
he went his way as Caeneus Atracides,
spent years in every manful exercise,
and roamed the plains of northern Thessaly.
210-315: “The son of bold Ixion, Pirithous
wedding Hippodame, had asked as guests
the cloud-born centaurs to recline around
the ordered tables, in a cool cave, set
under some shading trees. Thessalian chiefs
were there and I myself was with them there.
The festal place resounded with the rout
in noisy clamor, singing nuptial verse;
and in the great room, filled with smoking fire,
the maiden came escorted by a crowd
of matrons and young married women; she
most beautiful of all that lovely throng.
“And so Pirithous, the fortunate son,
of bold Ixion, was so praised by all,
for his pure joy and lovely wife,
it seemed his very blessings must have led
to fatal harm: for savage Eurytus,
wildest of the wild centaurs, now inflamed
with sudden envy, drunkenness, and lust,
upset the tables and made havoc there
so dreadful, that the banquet suddenly
was changed from love to uproar. Seized by the hair,
the bride was violently dragged away.
When Eurytus caught up Hippodame
each one of all the centaurs took at will
the maid or matron that he longed for most.
The palace, seeming like a captured town,
resounded with affrighted shrieks of women.
At once we all sprang up. And Theseus cried,
“What madness, Eurytus, has driven you
to this vile wickedness! While I have life,
you dare attack Pirithous. You know
not what you do, for one wrong injures both!’
The valiant hero did not merely talk:
he pushed them off as they were pressing on,
and rescued her whom Eurytus had seized.
Since Eurytus could not defend such deeds
with words, he turned and beat with violent hands
the face of him who saved the bride and struck
his generous breast. By chance, an ancient bowl
was near at hand. This rough with figures carved,
the son of Aegeus caught and hurled it full
in that vile centaur’s face. He, spouting out
thick gouts of blood, and bleeding from his wounds—
his brains and wine mixed,—kicked the blood-soaked sand.
His double membered centaur brothers, wild
with passion at his death, all shouted out,
‘To arms! to arms!’ Their courage raised by wine!
In their first onset, hurled cups flew about,
and shattered wine casks, hollow basins—things
before adapted to a banquet, now
for death and carnage in the furious fight.
Amycus first (Opinion’s son) began to spoil
the inner sanctuary of its gifts.
He snatched up from that shrine a chandelier,
adorned with glittering lamps, and lifted high,
with all the force of one who strives to break
the bull s white neck with sacrificial axe,
he dashed it at the head of Celadon,
one of the Lapithae, and crushed his skull
into the features of his face. His eyes
leaped from his sockets, and the shattered bones
of his smashed face gave way so that his nose
was driven back and fastened in his throat.
But Belates of Pella tore away
a table-leg of maple wood and felled
Amycus to the ground; his sunken chin
cast down upon his breast; and, as he spat
his teeth out mixed with blood, a second blow
despatched him to the shades of Tartarus.
“Gryneus, seeing a smoking altar, cried,
‘Good use for this,’ with which words he raised up
that heavy, blazing altar. Hurling it
into the middle of the Lapithae,
he struck down Broteas and Orius:
Mycale, mother of that Orius,
was famous for her incantations,
which she had often used to conjure down
the shining twin-horns of the unwilling moon.
Exadius threatened, ‘You shall not escape!
Let me but have a weapon!’ And with that,
he whirled the antlers of a votive stag,
which he found there, hung on a tall pine-tree;
and with that double-branching horn he pierced
the eyes of Gryneus, and he gouged them out.
One eye stuck to the horn; the other rolled
down on his beard, to which it strictly clung
in dreadful clotted gore.
Then Rhoetus snatched
a blazing brand of plum-wood from an altar
and whirling it upon the right, smashed through
the temples of Charaxus, wonderful
with golden hair. Seized by the violent flames,
his yellow locks burned fiercely, as a field
of autumn grain; and even the scorching blood
gave from the sore wound a terrific noise
as a red-hot iron in pincers which the smith
lifts out and plunges in the tepid pool,
hissing and sizzling. Charaxus shook
the fire from his burnt locks; and heaved up on
his shoulders a large threshold stone torn from
the ground—a weight sufficient for a team
of oxen. The vast weight impeded him,
so that it could not even touch his foe—
and yet, the massive stone did hit his friend,
Cometes, who was standing near to him,
and crushed him down. Then Rhoetus, crazed with joy,
exulting yelled, ‘I pray that all of you
may be so strong!’ Wielding his half-burnt stake
with heavy blows again and again, he broke
the sutures of his enemy’s skull, until
the bones were mingled with his oozing brains.
“Victorious, then rushed he upon Evagrus,
and Corythus and Dryas. First of these
was youthful Corythus, whose cheeks were then
just covered with soft down. When he fell dead,
Evagrus cried, ‘What glory do you get,
killing a boy?’ But Rhoetus did not give
him time for uttering one word more. He pushed
the red hot stake into the foeman’s mouth,
while he still spoke, and down into his lungs.
He then pursued the savage Dryas, while
whirling the red fire fast about his head;
but not with like success, for, while he still
rejoiced in killings, Dryas turned and pierced
him with a stake where neck and shoulder meet.
“Rhoetus groaned and with a great effort pulled
the stake out from the bone, then fled away,
drenched in his blood. And Orneus followed him.
Lycabas fled, and Medon with a wound
in his right shoulder. Thaumas and Pisenor
and Mermerus fled with them. Mermerus,
who used to excell all others in a race,
ran slowly, crippled by a recent wound.
Pholus and Melaneus ran for their lives
and with them Abas, hunter of wild boars
and Asbolus, the augur, who in vain
had urged his friends to shun that hapless fight.
As Nessus joined the rout, he said to him,
‘You need not flee, for you shall be reserved
a victim for the bow of Hercules!’
but neither Lycidas, Eurynomus
nor Areos, nor Imbreus had escaped
from death: for all of these the strong right hand
of Dryas pierced, as they confronted him.
Crenaeus there received a wound in front.
Although he turned in flight, as he looked back,
a heavy javelin between his eyes
pierced through him, where his nose and forehead joined.
316-428: “In all this uproar, Aphidas lay flat,
in endless slumber from the wine he drank,
incessant, and his nerveless hand still held
the cup of mixed wine, as he lay full stretched,
upon a shaggy bear-skin from Mount Ossa.
When Phorbas saw him, harmless in that sleep,
he laid his fingers in his javelin’s thong,
and shouted loudly, ‘Mix your wine, down there,
with waters of the Styx!’ And stopping talk,
let fly his javelin at the sleeping youth—
the ashen shaft, iron-tipped, was driven through
his neck, exposed, as he by chance lay there—
his head thrown back. He did not even feel
a touch of death—and from his deep-pierced throat
his crimson blood flowed out upon the couch,
and in the wine-bowl still grasped in his hand.
“I saw Petraeus when he strove to tear
up from the earth, an acorn-bearing oak.
And, while he struggled with it, back and forth,
and was just ready to wrench up the trunk,
Pirithous hurled a well aimed spear at him,
transfixed his ribs, and pinned his body tight,
writhing, to that hard oak: and Lycus fell
and Chromis fell, before Pirithous.
“They gave less glory to the conqueror
than Helops or than Dictys. Helops was
killed by a javelin, which pierced his temples
from the right side, clear through to his left ear.
And Dictys, running in a desperate haste,
hoping in vain, to escape Ixion’s son,
slipped on the steep edge of a precipice;
and, as he fell down headlong crashed into
the top of a huge ash-tree, which impaled
his dying body on its broken spikes.
“Aphareus, eager to avenge him tried
to lift a rock from that steep mountain side;
but as he heaved, the son of Aegeus struck
him squarely with an oaken club; and smashed,
and broke the huge bones of that centaur’s arm.
He has no time, and does not want to give
that useless foe to death. He leaps upon
the back of tall Bienor, never trained
to carry riders, and he fixed his knees
firm in the centaur’s ribs, and holding tight
to the long hair, seized by his left hand, struck
and shattered the hard features and fierce face
and bony temples with his club of gnarled
strong oak. And with it, he struck to the ground
Nedymnus and Lycopes, dart expert,
and Hippasus, whose beard hid all his breast.
And Rhipheus taller than the highest trees
and Thereus, who would carry home alive
the raging bears, caught in Thessalian hills.
Demoleon could no longer stand and look
on Theseus and his unrestrained success.
He struggled with vast effort to tear up
an old pine, trunk and all, with its long roots,
and, failing shortly in that first attempt,
he broke it off and hurled it at his foe.
But Theseus saw the pine tree in its flight
and, warned by Pallas, got beyond its range—
his boast was, Pallas had directed him!
And yet, the missle was not launched in vain.
It sheared the left shoulder and the breast
from tall Crantor. He, Achilles, was
your father’s armor bearer and was given
by King Amyntor, when he sued for peace.
“When Peleus at a distance saw him torn
and mangled, he exclaimed, ‘At least receive
this sacrifice, O Crantor! most beloved!
Dearest of young men!’ And with sturdy arm
and all his strength of soul as well, he hurled
his ashen lance against Demoleon,
which piercing through his shivered ribs, hung there
and quivered in the bones. The centaur wrenched
the wooden shaft out, with his frenzied hands,
but could not move the pointed head, which stuck
within his lungs. His very anguish gave
him such a desperation, that he rose
against his foe and trampled and beat down
the hero with his hoofs, Peleus allowed
the blows to fall on helm and ringing shield.
Protected so, he watched his time and thrust
up through the centaur’s shoulder. By one stroke
he pierced two breasts, where horse and man-form met.
Before this, Peleus with the spear had killed
both Myles and Phlegraeus and with the sword
Iphinous and Clanis. Now he killed
Dorylas, who was clad in a wolfskin cap
and fought with curving bull’s horns dripping blood.
“To him I said, for courage gave me strength,
‘Your horns! how much inferior to my steel!’—
and threw my spear. Since he could not avoid
the gleaming point, he held up his right hand
to shield his forehead from the threatened wound.
His hand was pierced and pinned against his forehead.
He shouted madly. Peleus, near him while
he stood there pinned and helpless with his wound,
struck him with sharp sword in the belly deep.
He leaped forth fiercely, as he trailed his bowels
upon the ground, with his entangled legs
treading upon them, bursting them, he fell
with empty belly, lifeless to the earth.
“Cyllarus, beauty did not save your life—
if beauty is in any of your tribe—
your golden beard was in its early growth,
your golden hair came flowing to your shoulders.
in your bright face there was a pleasing glance.
The neck and shoulders and the hands and breast,:
and every aspect of his human form
resembled those admired statues which
our gifted artists carve. Even the shape
of the fine horse beneath the human form
was perfect too. Give him the head and neck
of a full-blooded horse, and he would seem
a steed for Castor, for his back was shaped
so comfortable to be sat upon
and muscle swelled upon his arching chest.
His lustrous body was as black as pitch,
and yet his legs and flowing tail
were white as snow.
Many a female of his kind
loved him, but only Hylonome gained
his love. There was no other centaur maid
so beautiful as she within the woods.
By coaxing ways she had won Cyllarus,
by loving and confessing love. By daintiness,
so far as that was possible in one
of such a form, she held his love; for now
she smoothed her long locks with a comb; and now
she decked herself with rosemary and now
with violets or with roses in her hair;
and sometimes she wore lilies, white as snow;
and twice each day she bathed her lovely face,
in the sweet stream that falls down from the height
of wooded Pagasa; and daily, twice
she dipped her body in the stream. She wore
upon her shoulders and left side a skin,
greatly becoming, of selected worth.
“Their love was equal, and together they
would wander over mountain-sides, and rest
together in cool caves; and so it was,
they went together to that palace-cave,
known to the Lapithae. Together they
fought fiercely in this battle, side by side.
Thrown by an unknown hand, a javelin pierced
Cyllarus, just below the fatal spot
where the chest rises to the neck—his heart,
though only slightly wounded, grew quite cold,
and his whole body felt cold, afterwards,
as quickly as the weapon was drawn out.
Then Hylonome held in her embrace
the dying body; fondled the dread wound
and, fixing her lips closely to his lips
endeavored to hold back his dying breath.
But soon she saw that he indeed was dead.
With mourning words, which clamor of the fight
prevented me from hearing, she threw herself
on the spear that pierced her Cyllarus and fell
upon his breast, embracing him in death.
429-535: “Another sight still comes before my eyes,
the centaur Phaeocomes with his log.
He wore six lion skins well wrapped around
his body, and with fixed connecting knots
they covered him, both horse and man. He hurled
a trunk two yokes of oxen scarce could move
and struck the hapless son of Olenus
a crushing blow upon the head. The broad
round dome was shattered, and his dying brains
oozed out through hollow nostrils, mouth, and ears,
as curdled milk seeps down through oaken twigs;
or other liquors, crushed out under weights,
flow through a well-pierced sieve and, thick,
squeeze out through numerous holes.
As he began
to spoil his victim—and your father can
affirm the truth of this—I thrust my sword
deep in the wretch’s groin. Chthonius, too,
and Teleboas fell there by my sword.
The former had a two-pronged stick as his
sole weapon, and the other had a spear,
with which the wounded me. You see the scar.
The old scar still is surely visible!
“Those were my days of youth and strength, and then
I ought to have warred against the citadel
of Pergama. I could have checked, or even
vanquished, the arms of Hector: but, alas,
Hector had not been born, or was perhaps
a boy. Old age has dulled my youthful strength.
What use is it, to speak of Periphas,
who overcame Pyretus, double-formed?
Why tell of Ampyx, who with pointless shaft,
victorious thrust Echeclus through the face?
Macareus, hurling a heavy crowbar pierced
Erigdupus and laid him low.
A hunting spear that Nessus strongly hurled,
was buried in the groin of Cymelus.
Do not believe that Mopsus, son of Ampycus,
was merely a prophet of events to come,
he slew a daring two-formed monster there.
Hodites tried in vain to speak, before
his death, but could not, for his tongue was nailed
against his chin, his chin against his throat.
“Five of the centaurs Caeneus put to death:
Styphelus, Bromus, and Antimachus,
Elymus, and Pyracmos with his axe.
I have forgot their wounds but noted well
their names and number. Latreus, huge of limb,
had killed and stripped Emathian Halesus.
Now in his armor he came rushing out,
in years he was between old age and youth;
but he retained the vigor of his youth;
his temples showed his hair was mixed with grey.
Conspicuous for his Macedonian lance
and sword and shield, facing both sides—each way,
he insolently clashed his arms; and while
he rode poured out these words in empty air.
“ ‘Shall I put up with one like you, O Caeneus?
For you are still a woman in my sight.
Have you forgot your birth or that disgrace
by which you won reward—at what a price
you got the false resemblance to a man?!
Consider both your birth, and what you have
submitted to! Take up a distaff, and
wool basket! Twist your threads with practiced thumb!
Leave warfare to your men!’
“While puffed-up pride
was vaunting out such nonsense, Caeneus hurled
a spear and pierced the stretched out running side,
just where the man was joined upon the horse.
“The Centaur, Latreus, raved with pain and struck
with his great pike, the face of Caeneus.
His pike rebounded as the hail that slants
up from the roof; or as a pebble might
rebound from hollow drum. Then coming near,
he tried to drive a sword into the hard side
of Caeneus, but it could not make a wound.
‘Aha!’ he cried, ‘this will not get you off.
The good edge of my sword will take your life,
although the point is blunt!’ He turned the edge
against the flank of Caeneus and swung round
the hero’s loins with his long, curving arm.
The flesh resounded like a marble block,
the keen blade shattered on the unyielding skin.
“And, after Caeneus had exposed his limbs
unhurt to Latreus, who stood there amazed,
‘Come now,’ he said, ‘and let us try my steel
against your body!’ And, clear to the hilt,
down through the monster’s shoulder-blade he plunged
his deadly sword and, turning it again,
deep in the Centaur’s entrails, made new wounds
within his wound.
“Then, quite beside themselves,
the double-natured monsters rushed against
that single-handed youth with huge uproar,
and thrust and hurled their weapons all at him.
Their blunted weapons fell and he remained
unharmed and without even a mark.”
“That strange sight left them speechless. ‘Oh what shame!’
at length cried Monychus, ‘Our mighty host,—
a nation of us, are defeated and defied
by one who hardly is a man. Although
indeed, he is a man, and we have proved,
by our weak actions, we are certainly
what he was! Shame on us! Oh, what if we
have twofold strength, of what avail our huge
and mighty limbs, doubly united in
the strongest, hugest bodies in this world?
And how can I believe that we were born
of any goddess? It is surely vain
to claim descent of great Ixion, who
high-souled, sought Juno for his mighty mate;
imagine it, while we are conquered by
an enemy, who is but half a man!
Wake up! and let us heap tree-trunks and stones
and mountains on him! Crush his stubborn life!
Let forests smother him to death! Their weight
will be as deadly as a hundred wounds!’
“While he was raving, by some chance he found
a tree thrown down there by the boisterous wind:
example to the rest, he threw that tree
against the powerful foe; and in short time
Othrys was bare of trees, and Pelion had no shade.
Buried under that mountainous forest heap,
Caeneus heaved up against the weight of oaks
upon his brawny shoulders piled. But, as
the load increased above his face and head,
he could not draw a breath. Gasping for life,
he strove to lift his head into the air,
and sometimes he convulsed the towering mass,
as if great Ida, now before our eyes,
should tremble with some heaving of the earth.
“What happened to him could not well be known.
Some thought his body was borne down by weight
into the vast expanse of Tartarus.
The son of Ampycus did not agree,
for from the middle of the pile we saw
a bird with golden wings mount high in air.
Before or since, I never saw the like.
“When Mopsus was aware of that bird’s flight—
it circled round the camp on rustling wings—
with eyes and mind he followed it and shouted aloud:
‘Hail, glory of the Lapithaean race,
their greatest hero, now a bird unique!’
and we believed the verdict of the seer.
“Our grief increased resentment, and we bore
it with disgust that one was overwhelmed
by such a multitude. Then in revenge
we plied our swords, till half our foes were dead,
and only flight and darkness saved the rest.” (original Latin)
6. Plutarch Theseus 30.1:
The friendship of Peirithous and Theseus is said to have come about in the following manner. Theseus had a very great reputation for strength and bravery, and Peirithous was desirous of making test and proof of it. Accordingly, he drove Theseus’s cattle away from Marathon, and when he learned that their owner was pursuing him in arms, he did not fly, but turned back and met him (original Greek).
Edited by Aaron J. Ivey, Graduate Teaching Assistant, Department of Classics, University of Georgia, June 2016; and by Frances Van Keuren, Prof. Emerita, Lamar Dodd School of Art, Univ. of Georgia, July 2016.