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Chiron: The Wise Centaur of Greek Mythology and His Legacy

Chiron was an important character in Greek mythology, known as the justest and wisest of all the centaurs. He was highly intelligent and was a tutor to several important figures in Greek myth. Chiron possessed knowledge of medicine and was civilized in comparison to other centaurs, who were often regarded as wild and savage beasts.

Although Chiron was believed to be immortal, his life ended at the hands of Heracles, the demigod. Here’s the story of the most respected and loved centaur in all of Greek mythology and how he came to his tragic end.

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Chiron’s Origins

Chiron was the son of Cronus, the Titan, and Philyra, an Oceanid. According to the myth, Cronus had turned himself into a horse to escape his jealous wife, Rhea, and seduced Philyra. From this union, Chiron was born – a centaur, half-horse, half-human.

His parentage significantly influenced his personality and life. Unlike other centaurs who were often depicted as wild, lustful, and chaotic, Chiron was wise, civilized, and kind. This was largely due to his divine lineage. As the son of Cronus, Chiron inherited a certain level of dignity and wisdom that set him apart from his fellow centaurs.

Chiron, Peleus and infant Achilles
Chiron, Peleus and infant Achilles. No restrictions.

When Chiron was born, his mother Philyra was disgusted and ashamed of her child. She abandoned him but he was found by Apollo, the god of archery. Apollo raised Chiron and taught him everything he knew about music, the lyre, prophecy and medicine.

Apollo’s sister Artemis, the goddess of hunting, took it upon herself to teach him hunting and archery and under their care, Chiron grew into an intelligent, kind, peaceful and unique character. Because he was the son of Cronus, he was also said to be immortal.

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Chiron the Tutor

Some sources say that Chiron became well versed in numerous academic fields by learning and studying everything on his own. He became a respected oracle and tutor to many heroes in Greek mythology as well as the god of wine, Dionysus.

Among his pupils were several famous names including Achilles, Peleus, Jason, Asclepius, Telamon, Nestor, Diomedes, Oileus and Heracles. There are many sculptures and paintings depicting Chiron teaching one or the other of his students skills, such as playing the lyre. s

Chiron’s Children

Chiron lived in a cave on Mount Pelion. He married Chariclo, a nymph, who also lived on Mount Pelion and they had many children together. Among them were:

  • The Pelionides – this was the name given to several of Chiron’s daughters who were nymphs. The exact number is uknown.
  • Melanippe – also called Hippe, she was seduced by Aeolus, the keeper of the winds, and was later turned into a mare to hide the fact that she was pregnant from her father.
  • Ocyrrhoe –  she metamorphosed into a horse after revealing to her father his fate.
  • Carystus – a rustic god who is closely associated with the Greek island, Euboea.
Chiron centaur Greek mythology

Chiron Saves Peleus

Throughout the myth of Chiron, he is closely linked with Peleus, father of Achilles. Peleus had been wrongly accused of trying to rape Astydameia, the wife of King Acastus of Iolcus, and the king was plotting his revenge. He wanted to kill Peleus but he had to come up with a cunning plan so as to avoid bringing down the Erinyes on him.

One day when they were both out hunting on Mount Pelion, Acastus took Peleus’ sword while he slept, and hid it away. Then, he abandoned Peleus, with the idea that Peleus would be killed by the savage centaurs who lived on the mountain. Luckily for Peleus, the centaur who discovered him was Chiron. Chiron, who’d found Peleus’ missing sword, gave it back to him and welcomed the hero into his home.

According to ancient sources, it was Chiron who told Peleus how to make Thetis, the Nereid, his wife. Peleus followed Chiron’s advice and tied up the Nereid to prevent her from shapeshifting and escaping. In the end, Thetis agreed to marry Peleus.

When Peleus and Thetis got married, Chiron gave them a special spear as a wedding gift, polished by Athena with the metal point crafted by Hephaestus. This spear was later handed down to Peleus’ son, Achilles.

Chiron and Achilles

While Achilles was still a baby, Thetis tried to make him immortal, which involved several dangerous rituals that Peleus soon found out about. Thetis had to flee the palace and Peleus sent Achilles to Chiron and Chariclo, who raised him as their own. Chiron made sure to teach Achilles everything he needed to know about medicine and hunting which later turned him into the great hero that he became.  

Chiron and Achilles
Chiron and Achilles, By Wellcome Collection gallery, CC BY 4.0

Guidance to Jason and the Argonauts

Chiron’s wisdom was also sought by Jason and the Argonauts. Jason, another one of Chiron’s students, visited his mentor before setting off on the quest for the Golden Fleece. Chiron foretold that their journey would be successful, giving Jason and his crew hope and motivation.

Jason and His Teacher Chiron
Jason and His Teacher Chiron. Public Domain.

Chiron’s Death

According to the myth, Chiron was supposed to be immortal, but he was killed by the Greek hero, Heracles. Heracles and his friend Pholus were drinking wine when the smell of the wine attracted several savage centaurs to Pholu’s cave. To fight them all off, Heracles had to use several of his arrows, poisoned with the blood of the terrible Hydra. One of the arrows went straight into Chiron’s knee (how Chiron came into the scene isn’t exactly clear).

Because he was immortal he didn’t die, but began to feel unbearable pain. Heracles tried everything he could to help because he had never meant to hurt Chiron, but Chiron couldn’t be cured. The poison of the Hydra was too strong.

After nine days of terrible pain, with Heracles weeping near him, Chiron realized that there was only one way he could end his suffering and he asked Zeus to make him mortal. Zeus was full of pity for him but there was nothing else to be done so he did as Chiron asked. As soon as Zeus took his immortality away, Chiron died from the wound. Zeus then placed him amongst the stars as the constellation Centaurus.

According to an alternate version of the story, Chiron made a deal with Zeus to sacrifice his life in order to free Prometheus who was being punished for introducing fire to mankind.

Facts About Chiron

1- Who is Chiron?

Chiron was a centaur, known as the justest, fairest and wisest of all centaurs.

2- Who are Chiron’s parents?

Chiron is the son of Cronus and Philyra.

3- Who killed Chiron?

Heracles kills Chiron by accident, poisoning him with a Hydra-blood arrow.

4- Why is Chiron famous?

Chiron is known for being the tutor to several of the greatest heroes of Greek mythology, including Achilles, Diomedes, Jason, Heracles, Asclepius and many more.

5- Was Chiron immortal?

Chiron was born immortal but requests Zeus to make him mortal so that he can die.

Wrapping Up

Chiron played an important role in Greek mythology by teaching many of the greatest Greek heroes.  Although he trained most of them, Chiron wasn’t known for being a hero himself. He was mostly a side character who stayed in the background, providing the main characters with guidance and assistance.   

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Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.