Centaur-Musicians in Classical Iconography

in Greek and Roman Musical Studies
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Abstract

Centaurs, hybrid mythical beings, were associated with barbarism in antiquity, due to the fact that the widely disseminated iconography of the Centauromachy portrayed them as violent creatures against the Lapiths, creating an opposition between man/beast, order/chaos. However, the role of the divine centaur Chiron as Achilles’ teacher offered another vision of these beings, especially in connection with music. This paper proposes a new interpretation of the iconographic evolution of the centaurs in association with music: as part of the heroes’ education, the Dionysian and Marine thiasos and their presence in funerary art. A progressively humanised representation of these creatures might be explained by the role of music as a civilising influence, enabling their elevation to a higher spiritual level and as a way to obtain immortality.

Centaur-Musicians in Classical Iconography

in Greek and Roman Musical Studies

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References

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Figures

  • View in gallery
    Coin issued by the King Prusias ii of Bythina. 2nd century bc.
  • View in gallery
    The centaur Chiron teaching Achilles to play the lyre. Roman fresco from Herculaneum. Napoli, Museo Archeologico Nazionale. 1st century ad.
  • View in gallery
    Oil lamp with Chiron the centaur and Achilles. Copenhagen, Thorvaldsen Museum.
  • View in gallery
    Old centaur by Aristeas and Papias of Aphrodisias. Gray-black marble, Roman copy (117-138 ad) after Hellenistic original. Roma, Musei Capitolini.
  • View in gallery
    Young centaur by Aristeas and Papias of Aphrodisias. Lucullan marble, Roman copy after Hellenistic original. Roma, Musei Capitolini.
  • View in gallery
    Patera from Santiesteban del Puerto. Madrid, Museo Arqueológico Nacional. 250-76 bc (estimated chronology).
  • View in gallery
    Patera from Santiesteban del Puerto. Madrid, Museo Arqueológico Nacional. 250-76 bc (estimated chronology).
  • View in gallery
    Detail of a silver cup, part of the Berthouville treasure. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Cabinet of Médailles, c. 50 ad.
  • View in gallery
    Detail of a silver cup, part of the Berthouville treasure. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Cabinet of Médailles, c. 50 ad.
  • View in gallery
    Marine centaurs playing instruments, Sarcophagus. Roma, Museo Nazionale Romano, 2nd century ad.
  • View in gallery
    Roman sarcophagus, Achilles and Chiron. White marble. Roma, Museo Nazionale delle Terme. 2nd to 3rd century ad.

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