There used to be a great tower alone on the sea, although this tower was originally the prison of Daedalus and Icarus. After their escape and Icarus’ fall, it became the cell of a centaur named Cheiron. It is from this tower that this myth bursts forth. How Cheiron, the centaur, became imprisoned there, well, I’ll explain as the story unfurls. In all the Greek Isles, there was perhaps no more singularly pitiful creature than Delphi Papadakis. Delphi should have been extremely unique, in that he was a species many thought to be fictional and mythological, and although he was in truth proud of being a species that was so rare on God’s green Earth that people were astonished at its sight, Delphi had a couple of severe problems. 1) He was an orphan, which puts one at a disadvantage to begin with, but when you factor in 2) that he had been born with a slight disfigurement, well, things look even more abysmal. Delphi was a centaur, but he was not your typical centaur. Instead of having a head, arms and chest of a man but the legs and lower half of a horse, he was born the opposite. He had a horse’s head, arms and chest but a man’s lower half and legs. It was not a pretty sight; he could barely stand up, and when he walked he had to hobble. When Delphi went for a hobble, other centaurs would turn away and avert their eyes. A mother centaur would often cover the eyes of her child centaur so that he or she would not stare at Delphi’s disfigurement. Delphi felt a freak of nature, and what was worse, none of the female centaurs would date him or mate with him due to his disfigurement. It also didn’t help that he was proportioned like a man instead of a horse from the waist down and, well, horses have far bigger genitals than men.
It seemed Delphi was destined to live a life of solitude and loneliness, for no female centaur would speak with him, let alone want to procreate. When he went out for hobbles, he was ridiculed and picked on. He got called chicken legs, ladies thighs, and man penis as insults. Pholus, a giant centaur who was built like a Clydesdale, was the worst of his antagonists, for sometimes he even got physical. So Delphi, for the most part, kept to himself. I might as well be one of those lowly dog-centaurs, he thought.
Delphi sat alone in his cave. It was the time of the Harvest Moon when all the centaurs gathered on the hillside to celebrate. Games were played, fermented grapes were drunk and divine stories were told. The hills were alive with the galloping and prancing of many a magic spell and centaur game. Polo and lacrosse were two favorite games of the strong, virile centaur men. The centaur women went topless and many a behind was sniffed. During the festival the Alpha males were accustomed to running all night, and copious amounts of mating ensued. However, Delphi could barely walk and was hardly an Alpha male. Delphi personified Beta; in fact, forget Beta, he was more like Omega, back of the pack, worst in his class.
During class or what might be considered class for centaurs, Delphi almost always got an incomplete or what humans might consider an F. The training exercises were too difficult for Delphi; his human legs couldn’t willfully support that enormous horsehead of his. Delphi actually never received his Centaurus Diploma, an honor most centaurs coveted. Delphi eventually had to drop out. It wasn’t that the teachers were horribly unfair or were picking on him. No, Delphi was really atrocious at trotting, galloping and jumping fences. He was beyond pathetic at archery and hunting (it is hard to hold a bow with hooves for hands); he was bad at almost all things that centaurs excelled at. He was really not much of a centaur; in fact, his college professor, Ixion, an arrogant old goat of a centaur, said as much verbatim. Delphi thought Ixion was a brute, even though he was considered a master in art and hunting, but not every centaur was cruel and cold to Delphi.
Another teacher, Chiron, had always been tolerant of Delphi’s deformity. He counseled Delphi, trying to help him with his physical and emotional problems. He explained to Delphi that all creatures are different, and although those differences may seem like a flaw or handicap, sometimes those differences give us a distinct advantage over other creatures. Chiron insisted Delphi was meant for bigger and better things. “You are destined for greatness,” Chiron reasoned, but Delphi was incapable of seeing this. Sometimes Delphi thought his teacher was just pulling his hoof. Still, Chiron may have been the only reason Delphi didn’t wither and die. It was because of Chiron that Delphi was lured out of his cave on this particular Harvest Moon night; Chiron was giving a guest lecture and story time about Legends of the Labyrinth. Chiron was even gracious enough to send Delphi an invitation with the words
“You don’t want to miss my lecture, trust me, I have something that is going to change your perspective on things” at the bottom. Honestly, Delphi wasn’t expecting anything great; disappointment had become his expectation for all promises in life.
The lecture started at midnight and a whole host of centaurs had gathered in the grove to listen to him speak. Chiron was a well-respected teacher, orator and inventor; he was not pompous like many of the male centaurs, or so Delphi thought. He spoke eloquently, was kind and well-mannered. On this particular evening he spoke specifically of the Labyrinth on the island of Crete, the famed invention of Daedalus. “There are many gods and humans alike who would have you believe centaurs are of relation to the Minotaur. The very idea is offensive, for we are not slothful, rancorous and bovine.
He made moo/low-ing cows’ sounds and all the centaurs laughed.
Chiron continued, “We are much the opposite; we are graceful and elegant, regal almost, if you will.” Okay, perhaps he was slightly arrogant.
Chiron professed, “Yet still, we have a connection to this lowly beast. After Daedalus finished the maze, they had to trap the Minotaur in there. It was a hellish fight. The beast had already grown big and wild, and had already developed quite a taste for the delicacy that is human flesh. It is said that because of the strength of the Minotaur, centaurs had to be hired to haul the beast into the maze. It took as many as ten to twenty of the strongest, biggest centaurs (known as the Centaurus) to draw, corner and bind the beast, dragging him inside the labyrinth. The Minotaur was unrelenting and would not allow itself to be unbound without biting and scratching at all the mighty Centauri. It seemed they could not release it without feeling the beast’s wrath.” The story had reached its climax; all the centaurs were figuratively eating it up.
Chiron cleared his throat. “Legend has it that the Centauri had to leave one of their own behind. He was a brave Centaurus named Cheiron. They gave him a whistle with magical properties. It is said to have belonged to Nike, the Greek Goddess of victory. They told my great grandfather that the whistle could only be blown when he had claimed victory over the Minotaur, otherwise blowing it might make a shrill sound that would instantly turn him deaf.” The speaker stopped; whether this was for effect or he was taken aback is beyond the gods themselves. There was silence in the grove; the wind whistled lightly through the trees. Chiron was lost in thought, his eyes fixated on boughs swaying above as he stared into space.
“And as some of you have presupposed, well, Cheiron was my great grandfather.”
There were whispers throughout the orchard as many centaurs began to gossip at once. Centaurs are very fond of gossip.
“The story from there is rather hazy since he was never seen or heard from again,” sighed Chiron. “But perhaps today we can change that.”
Many centaurs began to talk at once, “What does he mean?”
“How is that possible?” shouted Pholus.
“Preposterous,” said one of Pholus’ crew.
“WHOA,” shouted Chiron, and the rabble-rabble stopped.
“The legend goes on to say that the great beast tracked my great grandfather Cheiron through the labyrinth for years. He was unrelenting and, as you know, the Minotaur already had a taste for human flesh and, well, a centaur is half-human. He was wild, fierce and mean. My great grandfather knew he had only one chance; he had to outsmart the Minotaur. He descended into the lower depths of the labyrinth, veering left and twisting right. Eventually he ran out of maze and space. Cheiron knew blowing the whistle would instantly give him a disadvantage and probably lead to his death, so he set a trap for the Minotaur. As the beast rounded a corner, a trip-wire attached to a loose brick, which had been set by Cheiron, caused a landslide burying the Minotaur. Cheiron galloped to safety and blew Nike’s whistle. The only problem was that although the Minotaur was buried, he was a fierce beast. Little by little, slowly he clawed his way out of the rubble. Cheiron had not actually achieved victory over the beast, he had blown the whistle prematurely. Nike who was a bit of a trickster herself, came down, but upon viewing that the Minotaur had not been defeated, decided to transport Cheiron into Daedalus and Icarus’s tower. And because horses and centaurs can walk up stairs but not down them, it is there that he stands to this day.”
Chiron stamped his hoof and two large centaurs appeared carrying a large trunk. They placed the trunk at Chiron’s hooves and he announced, “For I solved the problem. Tomorrow we will finally rescue my great grandfather, if, of course, Delphi the Reverse Centaur will agree to help.” Delphi felt himself flush and although he could not point to himself, as he had no human hands, his horse mouth mouthed, “ME?”
Chiron signaled, several trumpets sounded and the trunk was opened. As the lid was lifted, inside was some kind of saddle. The saddle was odd looking and sort of looked like a backpack rigged with levers and pulleys. Delphi didn’t understand. If centaurs could not walk down stairs how would this help?
As if reading his mind, Chiron answered, “I have built a reverse saddle. The strategy is simple: tomorrow we will sail to Crete where Delphi will climb the stairs wearing my reverse saddle; once at the top, my great grandfather Cheiron will climb into the saddle and you’ll carry him down to safety.”
Pholus and his cronies laughed. “He is weak,” replied one.
“He will fall,” guffawed another.
“SILENCE,” bellowed Chiron and shut down the young wild centaurs immediately. “You have had too much wine,” he scolded them. One slumped away with his tail between his legs.
“Will you help rescue my great grandfather?” Chiron requested. “You, and you alone, are the only centaur that could walk down those stairs,” Chiron continued.
“You know I would do anything for you, but I fear I am not strong enough,” muttered Delphi.
“YOU ARE STRONG ENOUGH,” replied Chiron. “The levers and pulleys will make it seem as if you are carrying nothing at all.”
Delphi was nervous but finally agreed, so the next morning with hundreds of centaurs on a large barge, they sailed to Crete (it was not that far away) and Delphi put on the reverse saddle and slowly climbed the numerous steps of the great tower. He was not sure what he would find up there. He was hoping it wasn’t a centaur skeleton. Delphi’s weak human knees wobbled but he made it successfully all the way to the top and it was an awfully long climb.
The door creaked; as he slowly opened it, he didn’t know what he would find behind the door. What he saw was an enormous Centaurus with a black coat that shone like armor. Delphi knelt before the noble creature. “Cheiron, I know you do not know me. I am Delphi the Reverse Centaur. I was sent to rescue you, but I fear I will never be able to carry you down the stairs without falling.”
The great Centaurus nodded seeming to agree with Delphi. The reverse centaur felt defeated and asked if possibly Cheiron still had Nike’s whistle. He informed Delphi he did not and Delphi began to slowly lose hope. All seemed to be slipping away, but Delphi remembered his teacher’s words, “Sometimes our differences give us a distinct advantage over other creatures.”
“I can walk down stairs,” Delphi informed the great Centaurus.
“While that maybe be true , you’ll never be able to carry the likes of my horse frame,” Cheiron replied nobly.
Delphi remembered his teacher’s other words, “The levers and pulleys will make it seem as if you are carrying nothing at all.”
“At least get in the saddle. If I can’t walk with you, I won’t attempt to carry you down the stairs,” Delphi explained. After a short argument, the great Centaurus agreed to at least climb into the saddle and see if Delphi could walk with him on his back. The weight of the centaur’s first hoof almost toppled Delphi entirely, but he managed to balance the weight. When the belly of the horse climbed across his back, Delphi feared it would break him, but he told himself to have faith in his teacher. He would not send me here to kill his great grandfather, he found himself reasoning. As the Centaurus drew his other leg over, it was as if somecentaur had flipped a magical switch and instantly gravity did not apply. Delphi felt his knees shake, then strengthen, and he stood up straight. He was amazed at how light the Centaurus was. He had to even look over his shoulder to make sure he had not vanished and was still there. Delphi hobbled across the room with the enormous Centaurus on his back.
“The saddle makes it so you weigh nothing at all,” Delphi informed the Centaurus.
“But you can barely walk,” Cheiron stated.
“I can barely walk normally,” Delphi explained.
“Oh,” Cheiron said in shock. “Well, how are you going to carry me down the stairs?”
“I imagine with great difficulty, but I can do it. I’ve been waiting for this my whole life,” the reverse centaur replied with a hint of humor.
“What if you fall?” the Centaurus asked.
“Then we shall both perish,” Delphi replied.
He approached the long, winding stairwell with a fire and energy he had never exuded, but it’s fair to say by the hundredth step, Delphi was already in doubt. He felt an extreme pain in his shins and he hoped they wouldn’t give out. Every step he took, his human calves strained, his human knees wobbled, he shook and shimmied, staggered and stumbled, but he refused to give up. He took it one step at a time and never thought of how many more there were to go. He thought of all the hate and fear he had received for being different. Both of these thoughts seemed to push him on whenever he felt he could walk no longer. The journey took the better part of a day, and Delphi had to stop dozens of times, but at midnight, Delphi staggered through the door of the great tower and received a hero’s welcome. He had done it. Then how the centaurs loved him; the female centaurs crowded around him. Within days word had spread; all creatures, hydras, chimeras, griffins, those chthonic beings from the underworld, had heard the story of Delphi the Reverse Centaur. Even Zeus had sent Delphi a card congratulating him and a special magical charm that he wore around his neck. Delphi didn’t have an easy life; now that he had fame and money, he divorced more than a few jealous fillies, but I guess the thing to take away from this legend is that because of his experience it changed his perspective on life. Never once did he feel left out or different again. On occasion when a centaur would try to make fun of him, he would reply, “I saved the legendary Cheiron from Daedalus’ labyrinth. I am Delphi the Reverse Centaur, the only one of my kind. What have you done that makes you my equal?” Maybe Delphi became a little bit too arrogant, too. Perhaps, the thing to take away from this story is: Remember your struggles, and no matter how successful you get, don’t think you’re better than everycentaur or everyone else.