Riding the Centaur Metaphor from Past to Present: Myth, Constellation and Non-gendered Hybrid

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Tracking the ancient centaur as myth and metaphor through cultural history to the twenty-first century reveals how humans have begun to reconceive animal-human relations. Its origins are open to question, but at least date from pre-classical and early Greek history, when nomadic tribes with superior horsemanship skills appeared. Associated with the astronomical constellation Centaurus, the centaur metaphor was initially gendered. The hybrid embodied human and equine qualities, both negative and positive (for example, the bestial classical centaur and the supra-human Spanish conquistador). After examining the history of the centaur metaphor as well as relationships between horses and humans in the pre-twentieth century Western literary tradition, this research focuses on five texts: Monty Roberts’ The Man Who Listens to Horses (2009); Tom McGuane toSome Horses (2013); John Steinbeck HoThe Red Pony (1945); Jane SmileyeckHorse Heaven (2000); and Gillian MearsrsFoal’s Bread (2011). It argues that contemporary nonfiction and fiction demonstrate a change in the way in which the metaphor has been used, reflecting a will to reshape relationships between species, grounded in empathy as well as respect for alternative communication strategies. The centaur metaphor as non-gendered hybrid appears when riders feel one with their horses through harmonious partnerships inherent in teamwork. They feel as if they have become the centaur, literalizing the metaphor within themselves.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-48
Number of pages18
JournalIAFOR Journal of Literature and Librarianship
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Dec 2019


  • Centaur
  • Horse-human relations
  • Interspecies communication
  • Metaphor


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