Heracles and the Centaurs
In Ancient Greece the greatest thing you could ever be was a hero. That is why Heracles really, really wanted to be a hero.
“Heroes are remembered forever,” he said. “They can do whatever they want and everyone loves them.”
There was just one problem. Heracles was not yet a hero. First, he had to complete a set of tasks set for him by his enemy, King Eurystheus.
“He’s a snivelling, cowardly King who doesn’t deserve to sit on a throne and I have to do everything he says,” Heracles moaned. “It’s so unfair!”
But the Goddesses did not care for his whingeing. “You’re lucky we’re giving you this chance,” Hera, the Queen of the Goddesses said. She hated Heracles. “You’re violent and bad tempered and if it was up to me you would never be a hero.”
Luckily (for Heracles) Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, smiled on him. “Just do what the King asks, be the best you can be and you’ll be a hero in no time.”
“If I must,” Heracles huffed and set off for the King’s palace. Whatever terrible task the King had in store for him, Heracles was determined to complete it and prove himself a great hero.
King Eurystheus stood up when Heracles entered his palace and spoke to his courtiers. “Oh look, here comes the mighty Heracles, my slave.”
A few of his people sniggered. Heracles seethed. “What great task do you have for me today?” he asked the King, through gritted teeth.
King Eurystheus smiled nastily. “You’re to go and fetch me a little piggy from the mountains.”
A little pig? How would fetching a pig make him a hero. “Isn’t there something more dangerous? More terrifying for me to capture?”
King Eurystheus smiled, nastily. “I felt the task was about your level. As you’re not really cut out to be a hero, are you?”
A few of the courtiers laughed. That was it. Heracles had had enough. He charged across the throne room. “I’ll show you who’s heroic!” he shouted, grabbing the King by his scrawny neck.
King Eurystheus looked up at him with malice in his eyes. “You kill me and you’ll never be a hero, Heracles.”
The King was right. If Heracles killed him, he would be as bad as the Goddess Hera thought he was. Heracles dropped the King, “I’ll get you your pig,” he muttered, before stomping out of the throne room.
As Heracles made his way to the mountains where the pig lived, he couldn’t stop thinking about what King Eurystheus had said.
I am hero material, aren’t I? To be a hero was all Heracles had ever wanted. He found himself wondering through the woods towards the cottage of his old teacher and mentor; Chiron the centaur. A centaur is half human, half horse. From the waist up their bodies are human, but from the waist down they’re horses. Although they can be dangerous, generally they’re gentle, wise creatures and Chiron was the wisest of all. He was their king and had taught all of Greece’s greatest heroes.
Chiron will make me feel better, Heracles decided. He’s always believed in me. Heracles stopped at Chiron’s cottage, for a chat and a bite to eat.
“Have patience,” Chiron advised him. “Being a hero isn’t all about glory and triumph.”
“It’s not?” Heracles was surprised to hear this.
“Sometimes you must be humble and place yourself in the service of others.”
Heracles spied a bottle of nectar on the windowsill. “But what if you hate the person you’re serving? What if he’s horrible and pathetic and you would do a better job?” Heracles, having made his way over to the window, grabbed the nectar.
“Heracles! Don’t open that!” Chiron cried and charged across the room, corking the bottle before Heracles could drink from it.
“OK, OK, keep your hooves on! I was only going to have a sip.” Heracles had forgotten how dramatic centaurs could be.
“What’s that noise?” It started as a distant tremble, then became a worrisome rumble before turning into a thundering shake.
“Oh, Heracles.” Chiron’s eyes were wide with fear. “What have you done?!”
Heracles looked out of the window to see a hoard of centaurs charging towards them, their eyes were red with fire and they roared with rage.
“It’s a stampede!”
“Run!” Chiron shouted.
“Heroes don’t run,” Heracles grabbed his bow and darted out of the door towards the centaurs, firing arrows into the charge. Heracles was a great shot and his arrows were deadly, having been dipped in the poisonous blood of a monster. The Centaurs didn’t stand a chance. They fell like trees in a storm.
“Stop!” Chiron ran out in front of Heracles to protect his subjects. But the wannabe hero was so immersed in his deathly dance of arrows he didn’t see his teacher until it was too late.
An arrow caught Chiron’s shin. Heracles’ teacher, his mentor, the kind and wise Chiron, king of the centaurs, fell to the ground, writhing in agony. “You shot me!”
It was enough to stop Heracles’ bow. It was enough to still the centaur’s charge.
Silence descended on the forest, broken only by a low agonised cry from Chiron. He should have been dead. One drop of the hydra’s blood was enough to kill any mortal. But Chiron was immortal. He could not die. Instead he was doomed to an eternity of pain.
Heracles carried his teacher into the cottage and laid him gently down on the bed. “I’m so, so, so sorry, Chiron. How can I fix this?”
Wise and noble Chiron smiled but shook his head. “You can’t. Just promise me, you’ll bury your pride. You will learn to control your anger and think before you react.”
Heracles promised. “From this day on I will be better, I won’t let Eurystheus get to me. I will become a true hero.”
Leaving Chiron to be cared for by his centaurs, Heracles got back to his mission. The guilt he felt weighed heavy on his shoulders, but they were big shoulders and he knew the only way to make up for what he had done, was to be the best he could be.
Heracles was almost at the mountains where the pig lived when he heard a child shouting, “Help! Help!”
He ran to the call and found a small boy cornered by a huge boar. “That’s no little piggy.”
The boar had two huge tusks as sharp as knives and it towered over the boy. It licked it’s lips, ready to attack. Heracles hurled himself onto the boar and wrestled it to the ground. “Run,” he called, as the boar thrashed and slashed at Heracles. Its great tusks tore shreds out of the demi-God’s arms. But Heracles was not going to let the beast hurt anyone else. Eventually, after hours of struggle, the creature finally gave in. Heracles bound its legs and took it back to Eurystheus.
“Here is your little piggy,” Heracles said, untying the boar’s legs and letting it free. The boar looked around the throne room, then spied the King and licked its lips.
“Arghh!” cried King Eurystheus when the boar charged at him. King Eurystheus was so scared, he jumped into the closest thing – a man sized clay pot - and refused to come out until Heracles and the boar were gone.
As Heracles left, he vowed never to be bothered by King Eurystheus’ comments again.