Chiron (also spelt Cheiron) is a wise centaur (half-man, half-horse) in Greek mythology, who was a friend and tutor to many legendary Greek heroes, including Achilles and Jason. Chiron's parentage differed from the rest of the centaurs, as he was the child of the Titan Cronus and the Oceanid Philyra, which made him immortal.
Chiron resided on Mount Pelion in Thessaly and was regarded as the leader of the centaurs. In ancient Greek art, he was often portrayed as having the front legs of a human, setting him apart from the centaurs, who were always shown as having the lower body of a horse. While the centaurs were represented as wild, unruly creatures, Chiron was wise and kind, characteristics attributed to Apollo and Artemis, who had raised and tutored him.
Parentage & Family
According to multiple ancient writers, including Ovid (43 BCE to 17 CE), Apollodorus of Rhodes (c. 295 BCE), and Pseudo-Apollodorus (c. 1st-2nd century CE), Chiron was the son of the oldest Titan, Cronus and the Oceanid Philyra.
Cronus had laid with Philyra on the island of Philyra and was discovered by his wife, Rhea. Fearing her wrath, Cronus, disguised as a stallion, galloped off. Philyra bore Chiron on her own and was repulsed by the creature she had created. She prayed to be transformed into something else and became a linden tree.
Chiron married the nymph Chariclo, and together they had several children, including Melanippe (Hippe), who some sources state was initially called Thetis. Melanippe was a prophetess who foresaw Asclepius becoming immortal. However, she was transformed into a mare after she could no longer handle her visions of the future.
Teaching the Art of Medicine
Apollo fell in love with Coronis (in some sources, her name is Arsinoe), the daughter of King Phlegyas of the Lapiths. He lay with her and left a snow-white crow to guard her while he was in Delphi. However, Coronis was in love with Ischys and married him instead, even though she was pregnant with Apollo's child. Apollo cursed the crow that guarded her, turning it black, and confided in his sister Artemis who killed Coronis to avenge her brother. As Coronis lay dying, Apollo felt remorse and got Hermes to cut the child from her womb.
Apollo named the boy Asclepius and carried him off to Chiron's cave, where he was taught the arts of medicine and the hunt. Not only did Asclepius heal the sick, but he even raised the dead by using the blood of the Gorgon Medusa. His skill for surgery and the use of drugs meant that he was worshipped as the founder of medicine.
Advisor to Jason
King Aeson of Iolcus married Alcimede (listed as Polymele or Polymede in some sources), and together, they had a son called Diomedes. Pelias, Aeson's enemy, would have killed Diomedes if Alcimede had not devised a plan quickly. After she had given birth to Diomedes, she gathered her kinswomen around her and told them to cry as if they were mourning Diomedes' death.
They then snuck Diomedes out of the city and took him to Mount Pelion, where Chiron raised him. Chiron gave him the name Jason and taught him the arts of civilised life. When Pelias crossed paths with Jason, he asked him what his name was and who his father was. Jason replied that his foster father, Chiron, called him Jason but that his birth name was Diomedes and that he was a son of Aeson.
Chiron advised Jason to take Orpheus, the famed musician and prophet, on his quest for the golden fleece. This turned out to be a smart decision as Orpheus helped Jason and the Argonauts pass the sirens safely by playing his lyre loudly to drown out their enchanting voices. Chiron was entrusted with the care and upbringing of Jason and Medea's son, Medus.
Chiron & the Wedding of Peleus & Thetis
King Peleus of Phthia was challenged to a hunting contest on Mount Pelion by Acastus, son of King Pelias of Iolcus. The gods had rewarded Peleus with a magic sword that made its owner victorious. As Peleus slept after winning the hunting contest, Acastus stole his sword. Peleus woke up to find himself surrounded by wild centaurs who were ready to attack him. Chiron intervened, saved his life, and restored Peleus' sword to him.
When Peleus and Thetis got married, their wedding was hosted by Chiron and celebrated outside his cave on Mount Pelion with a host of distinguished guests, including the Olympian gods, the Fates and the centaurs. Chiron gave Peleus and Thetis a spear that had been forged by Hephaestus and polished by Athena. In some sources, Thetis is described as being Chiron's daughter.
Mentor to Achilles
After Thetis had abandoned her infant son, Peleus took the baby to Chiron, who raised him on Mount Pelion. Chiron renamed him Achilles (his name was originally Ligyron) and fed him on lions, wild boars, and the marrow of bears to give him courage, and on honeycomb and fawn's marrow to make him run swiftly. Chiron also instructed him in the arts of hunting, riding, pipe-playing and healing.
Cut this shaft from my thigh. And the dark blood-
wash it out of the wound with clear warm water.
And spread the soothing, healing salves across it,
the powerful drugs they say you learned from Achilles
and Chiron the most humane of Centaurs taught your friend.
Achilles killed his first boar at six years of age and, from then on, was constantly dragging his conquests back to Chiron's cave. Patroclus joined Achilles on Mount Pelion and hunted with him.
Chiron Heals Phoenix
Phoenix, the son of King Amyntor of Eleon and a companion of Achilles, had been blinded by his father and had the curse of childlessness put on him after his father's mistress had falsely accused him of seducing her. King Peleus had taken Phoenix to Chiron's cave. Chiron cured him and made him king of the Dolopians (a kingdom in Thessaly). Phoenix then went off to fight in the Trojan War alongside Achilles.
Cyrene, the daughter of Hypseus, a king of the Lapiths, loved to hunt wild beasts on Mount Pelion. After watching her wrestle with a lion, Apollo called for Chiron to come and watch. Apollo asked if Chiron knew her name and if she would make a suitable bride. Chiron prophesied that Apollo would make Cyrene the queen of a great city and that she would bear him a son called Aristaeus. So Apollo carried Cyrene off, and sure enough, she soon bore him a son named Aristaeus. When Aristaeus was older, Apollo took him to Chiron's cave for tutoring in certain arts and mysteries.
The Death of Chiron
Chiron's death came about in a particularly tragic way. The legendary Hercules had attacked the centaurs, and they took refuge with Chiron at Malea. Chiron had moved there after he had been run out of Mount Pelion by the Lapiths. The centaurs clung to Chiron for safety, and Hercules shot an arrow at them, which passed through one of the centaurs and lodged itself in Chiron's knee.
Alarmed at what he had done, Hercules ran to Chiron, pulled out the arrow and applied a potion that Chiron had given to him. After the wound appeared to be incurable due to Hydra's poison, Chiron retreated to his cave. The pain was so bad that he wanted to die, but as he was immortal, he was unable to do so.
Hercules reminded Zeus of Prometheus, who had been suffering under the brutal act of his punishment and could only be freed if someone gave up their immortality for him. So Zeus took Chiron's immortality, which freed Prometheus and allowed Chiron to die, ending his pain. Zeus placed Chiron in the heavens as the Centaurus constellation. Some sources state that Chiron's left foot was wounded while he, Achilles and the wise centaur Pholus were hosting Hercules at Mount Pelion.
According to Pausanius (c. 115 to c. 180 CE) in his Description of Greece, the river Anigros in Eleia (Olympia) was said to have smelt so foul because Chiron bathed his wound in its waters after being shot with the arrow, and Hydra's poison had then contaminated the waters.
Art & Legacy
Pausanias talks about a great big chest made from cedar wood with ivory and gold figures and carvings that could be found in Olympia. On this chest was a centaur with two front human legs and the back legs of a horse. This was believed to be Chiron, who, after dying, went to comfort Achilles after the death of Patroclus. Chiron can be seen in the same scene on the famed François Vase.
The Centaurus constellation was said to have been named in honour of Chiron, although some list it as being named after Pholus or the centaurs in general. It was discovered in the 2nd century CE by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy (c. 100-170 CE), although it had been sighted earlier. The Centaurus constellation is located in the Southern Hemisphere and contains two of the brightest stars in the sky: Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri. It is the ninth-largest constellation in the sky.