Pholos (page 391, with art)

Chapter 13: Herakles

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Paris, Musee de Louvre MNC 677: Middle Corinthian kotyle with Herakles and Kentauroi; on far left of side 2 (above) stand Hermes with his kerykeion (caduceus) and Athena; then seven Kentauroi with branches flee; on side 1 (below), three more Kentauroi with branches flee while a fourth has collapsed; then a nude Herakles throws firebrands at the Kentauroi; behind him stands Pholos with cup in hand; in front of Pholos is an altar? with firebrands; behind Pholos is his curved cave wall with Herakles’ bow and quiver suspended from it; a wine pithos is beneath the cave wall

Paestum, Museo Nazionale Archeologico: six metopes from the Heraion alla Foce del Sele; one with Pholos with human forelegs; another with Herakles shooting at Kentauroi; then four attacking Kentauroi with equine forelegs and branches, first and third ones collapsing, first struck by Herakles’ arrow

Reconstruction drawing by Stephen Deck showing six metopes, from F. Van Keuren, The Frieze from the Hera I Temple at Foce del Sele (1989), pl. II

Metopes with Pholos and Herakles, from Wikimedia

Three attacking Kentauroi, from Wikimedia

Two attacking Kentauroi, from Wikimedia

Digital LIMC (scenes 24-25; no illustrations)

Chest of Kypselos from temple of Hera at Olympia (known through Pausanias’ description and modern reconstructions)

Paus 5.19.7 – Pausanias, Description of Greece

There is a Centaur with only two of his legs those of a horse; his forelegs are human.  Greek Text  

Paus 5.19.9 – Pausanias, Description of Greece

An account also is given of the Centaur, that he is Chiron, freed by this time from human affairs and held worthy to share the home of the gods, who has come to assuage the grief of Achilles… The man shooting at Centaurs, some of which he has killed, is plainly Heracles, and the exploit is one of his.  Greek Text


Herakles and Kentauroi; this and previous image from reconstruction of chest of Kypselos (lost monument once in temple of Hera, Olympia) by W. von Massow, “Die Kypseloslade,” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Athenische Abteilung vol. 41 (1916), pl. 1.

Throne of Apollo at Amyklai (known through Pausanias’ description and modern reconstructions of whole throne)

Paus 3.18.10 – Pausanias, Description of Greece

There are also reliefs of Atlas, the single combat of Heracles and Cycnus, and the battle of the Centaurs at the cave of Pholus.  Greek Text

Plan and reconstruction of whole throne from R. Martin, “Bathyclès de Magnésie et le « trône » d’Apollon à Amyklae,” in Architecture et urbanisme (1987) p. 385 fig. 7

Boston, Museum of Fine Arts 84.67: architrave frieze from the Temple of Athena at Assos; Pholos with wine cup, Herakles drawing bow, and three fleeing Centaurs, first and third with clubs?


Museum of Fine Arts

Reconstruction of facade, with Herakles and Kentauroi positioned on architrave between the second and third columns; from J. T Clarke, Report on the investigations at Assos, 1881 (1882) illustration p. 100a

Digital LIMC

London, British Museum B226: Attic black-figure neck-amphora by the Antimenes Painter with Pholos shaking hands with Herakles; Pholos carries branch with animals attached to it, and Herakles holds club from which lion’s skin suspended; beside Pholos is a hind, and behind Herakles is seated Hermes with kerykeion/caduceus 


British Museum

Beazley Archive Pottery Database

Digital LIMC

Bologna, Museo Civico PU 195: Attic black-figure neck-amphora with Herakles dipping cup into wine pithos, while Pholos stands at entrance to his cave and extends his right arm in a welcoming gesture; behind Herakles, his helpmates Hermes and Athena

E. Gerhard, Auserlesene Griechische Vasenbilder, hauptsächlich Etruskischen Fundorts (Band 2): Heroenbilder (1843), pls. 119-120

Beazley Archive Pottery Database

Digital LIMC

Rome, Musei Vaticani 388: Attic black-figure neck-amphora with Pholos raising arms in alarm, Herakles wielding club against two Kentauroi, one of whom has collapsed next to pithos and stone lid?


Beazley Archive Pottery Database

Digital LIMC (no image)

Baltimore, Walters Art Museum 48.229: Attic black-figure white ground lekythos with Pholos at pithos and Herakles reclining on pillow, with his quiver and club suspended over his head; pillow is leaning against cave wall? 

Walters Art Museum

Beazley Archive Pottery Database (no photo)

DS 4.12.3-8Diodoros Siculus, Library of History

About the time that Heracles was performing these Labours, there was a struggle between him and the Centaurs, as they are called, the reason being as follows. Pholus was a Centaur, from whom the neighbouring mountain came to be called Pholoê, and receiving Heracles with the courtesies due to a guest he opened for him a jar of wine which had been buried in the earth. This jar, the writers of myths relate, had of old been left with a certain Centaur by Dionysus, who had given him orders only to open it when Heracles should come to that place. And so, four generations after that time, when Heracles was being entertained as a guest, Pholus recalled the orders of Dionysus. Now when the jar had been opened and the sweet odour of the wine, because of its great age and strength, came to the Centaurs dwelling near there, it came to pass that they were driven mad; consequently they rushed in a body to the dwelling of Pholus and set about plundering him of the wine in a terrifying manner. At this Pholus hid himself in fear, but Heracles, to their surprise, grappled with those who were employing such violence. He had indeed to struggle with beings who were gods on their mother’s side, who possessed the swiftness of horses, who had the strength of two bodies, and enjoyed in addition the experience and wisdom of men. The Centaurs advanced upon him, some with pine trees which they had plucked up together with the roots, others with great rocks, some with burning firebrands, and still others with axes such as are used to slaughter oxen. But he withstood them without sign of fear and maintained a battle which was worthy of his former exploits. The Centaurs were aided in their struggle by their mother Nephelê, who sent down a heavy rain, by which she gave no trouble to those who had four legs, but for him who was supported upon two made the footing slippery. Despite all this Heracles maintained an astonishing struggle with those who enjoyed such advantages as these, slew the larger part of them, and forced the survivors to flee. Of the Centaurs which were killed the most renowned were Daphnis, Argeius, Amphion, also Hippotion, Oreius, Isoples, Melanchaetes, and Thereus, Doupon, and Phrixus. As for those who escaped the peril by flight, every one of them later received a fitting punishment: Homadus, for instance, was killed in Arcadia when he was attempting to violate Alcyonê, the sister of Eurystheus. And for this feat it came to pass that Heracles was marvelled at exceedingly; for though he had private grounds for hating his enemy, yet because he pitied her who was being outraged, he determined to be superior to others in humanity.

A peculiar thing also happened in the case of him who was called Pholus, the friend of Heracles. While he was burying the fallen Centaurs, since they were his kindred, and was extracting an arrow from one of them, he was wounded by the barb, and since the wound could not be healed he came to his death. Heracles gave him a magnificent funeral and buried him at the foot of the mountain, which serves better than a gravestone to preserve his glory; for Pholoê makes known the identity of the buried man by bearing his name and no inscription is needed. Likewise Heracles unwittingly by a shot from his bow killed the Centaur Cheiron, who was admired for his knowledge of healing. But as for the Centaurs let what we have said suffice. Greek Text

Py 2 – Pindar, Pythian Odes

the man in his ignorance chased a sweet fake and lay with a cloud, for its form was like the supreme celestial goddess, the daughter of Cronus. The hands of Zeus set it as a trap for him, a beautiful misery. Ixion brought upon himself the four-spoked fetter, his own ruin. He fell into inescapable bonds, and received the message that warns the whole world. She bore to him, without the blessing of the Graces, a monstrous offspring—there was never a mother or a son like this—honored neither by men nor by the laws of the gods. She raised him and named him Centaurus, and he mated with the Magnesian mares in the foothills of Pelion, and from them was born a marvelous horde, which resembled both its parents: like the mother below, the father above. Greek Text

ApB 2.5.4 – Apollodoros, Bibliotheke (Library)

So passing through Pholoe he was entertained by the centaur Pholus, a son of Silenus by a Melian nymph. He set roast meat before Hercules, while he himself ate his meat raw. When Hercules called for wine, he said he feared to open the jar which belonged to the centaurs in common. But Hercules, bidding him be of good courage, opened it, and not long afterwards, scenting the smell, the centaurs arrived at the cave of Pholus, armed with rocks and firs. The first who dared to enter, Anchius and Agrius, were repelled by Hercules with a shower of brands, and the rest of them he shot and pursued as far as Malea. Thence they took refuge with Chiron, who, driven by the Lapiths from Mount Pelion, took up his abode at Malea. As the centaurs cowered about Chiron, Hercules shot an arrow at them, which, passing through the arm of Elatus, stuck in the knee of Chiron. Distressed at this, Hercules ran up to him, drew out the shaft, and applied a medicine which Chiron gave him. But the hurt proving incurable, Chiron retired to the cave and there he wished to die, but he could not, for he was immortal. However, Prometheus offered himself to Zeus to be immortal in his stead, and so Chiron died. The rest of the centaurs fled in different directions, and some came to Mount Malea, and Eurytion to Pholoe, and Nessus to the river Evenus. The rest of them Poseidon received at Eleusis and hid them in a mountain. But Pholus, drawing the arrow from a corpse, wondered that so little a thing could kill such big fellows; howbeit, it slipped from his hand and lighting on his foot killed him on the spot. So when Hercules returned to Pholoe, he beheld Pholus dead; and he buried him and proceeded to the boar hunt. Greek Text

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#Herakles, #Kentauroi, #Hermes, #Athena, #Pholos, #pithos, #Cheiron

Artistic sources edited by R. Ross Holloway, Elisha Benjamin Andrews Professor Emeritus, Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, Brown Univ., and Frances Van Keuren, Prof. Emerita, Lamar Dodd School of Art, Univ. of Georgia, June 2023

Literary sources edited by Elena Bianchelli, Retired Senior Lecturer of Classical Languages and Culture, Univ. of Georgia, January 2021

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