Among the Centaurs there was one that was more than either man or beast, and his parentage was different from the others. He was Chiron, son of a god and a sea spirit. Men called him the Divine Beast, because he possessed unmatched skills in musicmaking, healing and the arts of war. He served as a tutor to gods and humans both. Among his mortal pupils were Jason, Achilles and Hercules, who would eventually earn great renown as warriors.
The human boys spent long hours astride the Centaur's broad back, riding the cool slopes of the mountains and the plain beyond, and listening gravely to Chiron's songs of earth magic and elemental powers. At night, during the years of their apprenticeships, they sheltered with the Divine Beast in a cave. They never forgot his wisdom or his patient kindness, and even after they had left him to prove themselves among their fellows, they returned to confer and bask once more in the sunny peace that surrounded the Centaur. One of these visits brought the beast his death. Here is how it happened:
Hercules, fresh from triumphs on the battlefield, returned to his old mentor on a summer day, full of tales of glory. Leaning easily on his spear and squinting a little in the dappled shade, Hercules talked and talked. Chiron listened placidly, only raising an eyebrow now and then at the braggadocio.
After awhile, however, the Centaur walked to the pack horse that carried the weapons of Hercules and, with characteristic curiosity, began to inspect the mortal's gear. From a leather quiver he drew an arrow, turning it over in his hands."Have a care, master," said Hercules. "Those arrows are envenomed by magic."
Chiron's heavy brows drew together, but he said merely, "An unnatural trick for a warrior." He dropped the arrow to the ground. It rebounded, and the sharp head grazed his foreleg at the pastern. Scarlet drops appeared on the limb. Hercules started forward, but even as he moved, the Centaur stumbled and collapsed on the ground, his long legs jerking convulsively and foam bubbling at his mouth. He lay thus for hours, while Hercules watched helplessly and wept, for the poison had no antidote, and Chiron, being immortal, would not die from it. He could only suffer eternal pain.
At length, the Centaur begged the gods for death, and
this was mercifully granted. Then, as Hercules watched, Chiron disappeared.
The Greeks said that Zeus translated his great frame into stars, to fly
forever as the constellation Sagittarius, the wise archer with the Centaurs
body. Thus, even an immortal could succumb to mortals.