This poem recounts the famous mythical battle, “Centauromachy.” It unfolds in the ancient home of the Lapiths in the region of Thessaly, Greece, a generation or two before the Trojan War. King Pirithous, Zeus’ son, prepares to wed Hippodamia (“horse-tamer” in Greek). Pirithous’ friend, Theseus, son of Aegeus, a hero from Athens, is present at the celebration, as well as Caeneus, a Lapithian hero. A large group of Centaurs are also there, led by their king, Eurytus. “Aeolian! Apollo’s son! Why from the banquet quickly run? Your robes are torn, your sash is rent, Your gilded herald’s staff is bent! What happened in those pillared halls, Where demi-god Pirithous calls Lapithian sons and daughters fair And lords of Thessaly to share A generous nuptial feast?” “There flowing wine, the harvest’s best, Should fill the cup of every guest, And bountiful boards of fresh-baked bread, Savory cheese, and meats on bed Of leafy greens, made fit to eat Once Hippodamia they meet. Her face unveiled, they see her blush, Her gorgeous smile the crowd would hush Before the sumptuous feast.” “Yet how can nuptials cause such harm To you, who run as if from war? Did rough carousing bruise your arm Or stumbling, drunken, to the floor?” The herald turned to him and said, “You’re partly right, Pirithous led Us guests to wait and kindly share His richest wine, while bridal hair Was cut, and ceremonial baths Were taken. Bride and Groom, their paths Entwined forever, stood as one, While holy bowls reflected sun As clearest, cleansing water poured Upon young lovers, here adored By heaven and earth at once.” “Yet as these wedding rites conclude, The centaurs gorged themselves on food. Their appetites enflamed by wine They wolfed down ample boards, laid fine With first-picked fruits, the country’s pride, To laud the horse-wise, glowing bride. But massive, hooved Eurytus led His brutish centaurs forth and said, ‘Why hunger till the bride’s appeared? Traditions are not by us feared – Let’s have our fill at once!’” “And that’s not all: Pirithous’ joy To see his bride, all comely-coy, When finally she parts her veil, Transformed to rage, a man-made gale! For when Eurytus saw her face, Beaming bright with bridal grace, He made a sudden forward leap, To make this damsel his to keep, Trapping her with brawny arms. His sudden flight upraised alarms, Unleashing mayhem’s ties!” “Now every centaur charged to steal Himself a maid and flee this meal, Fulfilling their rudest craving yet If they could just break through the men they met. For up to fight did each man spring, Led by the strength of their hero-king, Pirithous, who sprang on Eurytus’ back And smote his head in this first attack, A fist-blow landing on the ear! Eurythus reeled while groomsmen near Each threw his centaur foe.” “Yet elsewhere centaurs pummeled down The lesser-powered men in town And might have won this fateful day Had not lord Theseus stood to say, ‘My good Thessalian men, give ear, Let’s band together, no need to fear These centaur brutes. Caeneus and I, With others few and courage high, Will hold their forceful charges back While you these chairs and tables stack To make a barricade.’” “Assenting, each at once set forth And Theseus, guest of highest worth, With lordly Caeneus took his stand, Fighting centaurs hand-to-hand. With dexterous moves they’d out-wit foes, Then lay them low with mighty blows From make-shift implements of war, As others attempt to obstruct the door – The centaurs’ surest way to flee. For only that way could they be Outside confining halls.” “Alas! When time enough was won, Their hasty ramparts nearly done, Then Theseus shouted, ‘men, fall back Behind our lines, their brusque attack Redoubles now, see how they burn!’ The noble vanguard found safe return For all but one: Caeneus. His fall Was sealed when centaurs one and all With beastly strength threw basins, stools, And stones to bury him as pools Of blood foretold his death.” “Now heart-sick each man took his post While some escaped to fetch a host Of bows and arrows, javelins, spears, And massive shields to quench the jeers Of those ungrateful centaurs. Still The battle raged within until The weapons came and all could take A sturdy bow or spear and make The naked-handed half-men shrink From war and in the corner think Of how to save their skins.” “As men surrounded their mortal foes With bristling spears and full-bent bows, Pirithous spoke to end this strife, Preventing further loss of life. For huddling behind the centaurs’ knees, Causing weapons in hands to freeze, Lapithian maidens lay ensnared. To shoot towards them? No one dared! The king thus spoke to strike a deal And swiftly end this grisly meal, His woeful wedding day.” “‘Centaurs, we could kill you all. By whizzing arrows and spears you’d fall With one sign from my right hand. Keep still And listen now to my good will: Release the maidens, unmolested By parting blows, or you’ll be bested By raining shafts, just mark my words, Set them free as cageless birds. Do this now and you’ll be spared Even after all you’ve dared Within my pillared halls.’” “These beasts, though shameless, trusted him, Releasing maidens at his whim. Not waiting for their king’s command, They took the chance which lay at hand To flee through parted ranks of men, O’er barricades, and fallen kin To reach the freshly opened door. Once out, each centaur quickly tore Away from Peneus, its hill-ringed vales, Through wooded glades and mountain trails To coastal Pelion’s heights.” “The last of all Eurytus filed, Not planning to flee those halls as mild As other centaurs, for he spied A way to wreck Pirithous’ pride: He quickly grabbed a limply-held sword Then leaped to strike the Lapithian lord Upon the head, turned unaware, And send him down to Hades’ lair, A gruesome way to end this feast. Alas for him, the faithless beast, Undone by Theseus’ speed.” “For up the son of Aegeus sprang As Hippodamia shrilly sang, Her husband’s doom so close at hand, To bring dark grief o’er all that land. The brilliant hero took his spear And sent the bronze-point punching clear Through flesh and bone, which disemboweled The beast, who dropped the sword and howled, Falling violently down to breath His last as blood, life’s ember, seethed And soaked the stony ground.” “So now you know my disarray Has just excuse, I go to tell Those unaware about this day Which started glad but ended fell.” The townsman replied with thoughtful words, “A wedding is no place for herds Of brutish centaurs making eyes At well-bred maidens, our greatest prize. How did Pirithous such friends make? Are ties from youth so hard to shake? I’m sure with them he’d had his fun, Before his gorgeous bride was won Or princely path set straight.” “When Pelion’s coastal heights they reach These centaurs will mend their wounds and teach Their brethren that vengeance must be sought. I fear Pirithous has merely bought His kingdom time to arm for war And make defense its greatest chore. For surely Centaurs will return To fight and kindle a vengeful burn From this centauromachy.” Nathaniel McKee’s interest in classical poetry first grew while studying for a master’s in business administration at the University of Oxford, UK. Somehow this whimsical place deepened an already strong appreciation for the humanities, even as he studied business. Nathaniel’s literary interests include Greek and Roman classics, 18th-19th century English literature, 18th-19th century French literature, the Bible, and history in general. He currently purchases agricultural commodities and energy for a mid-sized food manufacturing company in the foothills of southeastern Tennessee, USA, where he lives with his wife, Bethany.