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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Taur Tuesday: Thinking Man's Taur--The Logic of Centaurhood, Part One

The advantage of this blog is that I get to state my centauric philosophy and, since, there are only 2 people paying any attention so far, I have carte blanch to express whatever I like.

I was musing today over the different imagined representations of centauric socio-cultural standards in fiction and art. Over the course of the last 13 years or so I've seen or read of just about every conception of centaur behavior imagined; from the totally bestial to the artistically-minded and cultured.

Humans love to imagine what a mythical people or race might be like. Are centaurs like the Na'vi tribe in Cameron's "Avatar"? Are they astronomically-inclined recluses like the ones who populate the Forbidden Forest in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books? Or are they like the forest dwelling warriors from the Lewis Narnia chronicles? Maybe they would be more like those centaurs living in Piers Anthony's Xanth series: educated, intelligent, cultured and semi-secluded on their own isle. 

I have read too many books that treat centaurs merely as wild creatures who behave like yahoos, marauders, drunken rapists and fools. My prejudice is that I believe that centaurs, having been seen by humans as a physical threat, would be relegated to possessing every bad characteristic that the fear inspired humans could dish out. Yet, the ancient Greeks loved equines and portrayed at least one centaur, Chiron, as a noble being who acted as a mentor for a number of their heroes. Despite an origin story that places them firmly in the despised monster camp, as can be seen by the recent influx of centaurs in fantasy film (now that the digital means have been created to portray them), I sense a lot of admiration in the broader fantasy community. More and more I see centaurs portrayed as beautiful beings and not just wild-eyed battle axe wielding berserkers. 

Still, the question intrigues me: if they exist (perhaps on different plane of existence or hidden from our view somehow) or ever did exist, what were they truly like? Were they more equine in physical character and nature, a balanced blending of human and equine, or more human being and thinking? Recognizing a realistic interpretation can be difficult. 

Physically, could such a being exist? After all, if your lower "half" is the trunk and legs of a quadruped wouldn't the demands of your physicality include those of other quadrupeds? (I am foregoing any romantic, magical being interpretations for the time being.) Wouldn't you need to consume large volumes of nutrient dense material and how, with smaller humanoid teeth, would that be achieved? Equines have broad dental surfaces designed to mash masses of rough grains to make them consumable. They chew their cud like cattle, etc. They are, unlike humans who are omnivores, herbivores. Just how would the human resembling half of a centaur support the greater bulk of the more equine half? (In this case, I am addressing the concept of a classical centaur and not those concerns of the quadrupedal anthropomorphs who are represented by creatures like equitaurs and felitaurs.) 

The physiognomy of a centaur is certainly a mystery. Logic would preclude any rational explanation for such a creature beyond the idea that ancient man was spooked by invading tribes who had mastered horsemanship and believed those men were not merely riding the horse but were actually semi-equine in posture. That aside, centaurs would need to spend far more time consuming and digesting food than would be left to make them adequate warriors. Remember, horses are prey animals that are hardwired to flee at the first sign of danger. Centaurs would have to be  constructed completely differently than other quadrupeds. Their inner workings would have to be a dramatic departure and outside the realm of other four-legged evolution. 

How could that occur? From any logical basis the answer would be that it couldn't. But logic doesn't provide us with suitable answers for narwhals or the Duckbill Platypus, for crickets inhabiting melting hot or deadly cold environments, or the discovery of microscopic animals that do not use oxygen whatsoever ad nauseam. Anthropologists have the skeletal remains of dinosaurs and other creatures that once occupied Earth to play with. Unfortunately, they still know relatively little about how those extinct creatures lived. Every new discovery seemingly confounds past established theory. Could it be that what we surmise to be so and have "proof" is true is no more then theoretical conjecture? Could it be that, at one time long ago, a creature that was a blending of the best aspects of human and equine actually populated sections of ancient Earth? Or is the concept of a centaur based solely upon the human proclivities for escaping loneliness, embracing our long-suppressed animal natures, and aspiring towards greater personal contentment and physical power? (As would be any manimals.) Do we long for centaurs and other manimals out of a desire to escape the world we know for what we imagine would be a preferable existence or is our fascination with centaurs somehow genetically encoded into us from some predawn memory? I'm basing this discussion on the belief that in some way unknown to me centaurs are/were a reality regardless of the logical conclusions that betray that belief.

Beyond matters of nutrition what would have caused these creatures to die out? Were they physically too poorly equipped to survive an ice age? (I am assuming that ancient centaurs, like man, developed the ability to kill fur bearing animals and use their hides for protection from the elements. To imagine these beings as constantly parading around naked in winter is fairly difficult. Exactly how thick would their skin have to be to brave the elements? Perhaps, they lived at a time and in a place where worries of freezing never came up. And that may be why we have no physical skeletal record of them. Humid or hot, arid climates are bad for bone preservation.) 

Were they mercilessly pursued by one of man's antecedents and wiped out? 

Were they alien to begin with and fled home to their origin planet far beyond the stars we see with our naked eyes? 

Were they creations of an alien race as the Sumerians allude to in their legends, a product of an advanced civilization that worked to create laborers from the genetic material it found on Earth? (Is man such a creature?) That novel idea would explain not just centaurs but legends of all the "halfers".

Maybe there were centaurs for a brief moment in ancient history and the alien creation proved unfit to survive. As with anything that has its current basis grounded firmly in fantasy, all things imaginable are appropriate. But rather than basing my centauric beliefs and philosophy in the realm of pure imagination I would prefer some solid underpinnings (no pun intended). 

Face it, I want to believe that centaurs are, not accept that they never were or are merely a highly impossible and, at best, doubtful construction. To my mind they are a superior being regardless of how the evidential record proves that man is. If centaurs had become the dominant species, what would this world be like currently and how advanced or primitive would the race have been or become? Has this scenario transpired in another time and place. Is this obsession I share based on a collective memory? So many questions . . .

If you took the time to read this, please take a moment or more to leave a comment. I'd be interested in hearing what your thoughts are. If they are merely ridicule, derision and debasement just keep those thoughts to yourself. I may read them, but I'll never post them. That's what's great about being king of my minor mountain. 

Part Two next Taur Tuesday. (I hope.)

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