Chiron was a son of the Titan Cronos, and the first of the centaurs, though he was not directly related to them. Unlike most centaurs, which combine the torso of a man with the body of a horse, Chiron is traditionally depicted as a fully formed man, including the front legs, with the rear of a horse’s body and its hind legs and tail attached. Chiron was also more cultured, intelligent, and kind than others of his race, performing a teaching function for many Greek heroes in their youth, including Achilles, Jason and Heracles.
The son of the Titan Cronos, Chiron’s unique physicality was a result of his father’s passion for the nymph Philyra, with whom he was having an affair. Cronos’ wife Rhea was suspicious, and shadowed her husband’s movements. Coming upon him in flagrante, sporting with Philyra on Mount Pelion, in the midst of the act Cronos transformed himself into a stallion to avoid Rhea’s detection, and so the child born of this union was half-human and half-horse in appearance. Philyra was so disgusted by her child’s monstrous form that she abandoned him on the slopes of the mountain, and begged the gods to change her into any non-anthropomorphic thing; she was transformed into a linden tree.
Apollo took pity on the orphan, and raised him up, teaching him the arts of healing, which he later passed to Asclepius. Chiron was noted for his wisdom and compassion, becoming the tutor and friend to many Greek heroes. He is instrumental in the story of Achilles, whose father Peleus he taught how to ensnare the nymph Thetis, whom he later married; when their son was born he was given to Chiron to mentor. Chiron was also teacher to Ajax, a hero of the Trojan War; Aeneas, progenitor of the Roman race; Theseus, slayer of the Minotaur; and even the god Dionysos, whom he taught chants and dancing.
Sadly, Chiron was accidentally wounded by his friend Heracles, in his battle with the centaurs at Pholus’ cave (see the entry on Pholus for further details), pierced by a poisoned arrow. As he was immortal, Chiron could not die, but neither would his wound heal, leaving Chiron in constant pain. Burdened by his guilt, Heracles appealed to Zeus for a solution to the problem, and Chiron was allowed to trade his immortality to replace Prometheus, who had been chained to a rock, tormented by an eagle which ate away his liver daily, as punishment for giving fire to mankind. Chiron agreed to take his place, but after nine days of suffering the eagle’s attacks, Zeus took pity on him and set him in the heavens as the constellation Centaurus.
The astronomical body Chiron was the first of its kind to be discovered, in 1977, prompting an entirely new astronomical classification, the centaur body. These orbit between Saturn and Uranus, bridging their energies in many ways. Subsequent observation showed Chiron to be a comet, though it is still designated as a minor planetary body.
Astrologically, Chiron represents not only healing, but also the wounded healer, one who carries a defect or flaw but who aids others in their suffering and pain; non-traditionalists who perform against type; unique and nonconformist behaviors; mavericks; and teaching, tutoring or mentoring roles.