They were an "Aeolian tribe. Like the "Myrmidons and other Thessalian tribes, the Lapiths were natives of Thessaly. The genealogies make them a kindred people with the "Centaurs: in one version, "Lapithes (Λαπίθης) and "Centaurus (Κένταυρος) were said to be twin sons of the god "Apollo and the nymph "Stilbe, daughter of the river god "Peneus. Lapithes was a valiant warrior, but Centaurus was a deformed being who later mated with mares from whom the race of half-man, half-horse "Centaurs then came. Lapithes was the "eponymous ancestor of the Lapith people, and his descendants include Lapith warriors and kings, such as "Ixion, "Pirithous, "Caeneus, and "Coronus, and the seers "Idmon and "Mopsus.
In the "Iliad the Lapiths send forty manned ships to join the Greek fleet in the "Trojan War, commanded by "Polypoetes (son of Pirithous) and "Leonteus (son of Coronus, son of Caeneus). The mother of Pirithous, the Lapith king in the generation before the "Trojan War, was "Dia, daughter of Eioneus or "Deioneus; "Ixion was the father of Pirithous, but like many heroic figures, Pirithous had an immortal as well as a mortal father. Zeus was his immortal father, but the god had to assume a stallion's form to cover Dia for, like their half-horse cousins, the Lapiths were horsemen in the grasslands of Thessaly, famous for its horses. The Lapiths were credited with inventing the "bridle's bit. In fiction, the Lapith king Pirithous was marrying the horsewoman "Hippodameia, "tamer of horses", at the wedding feast that made a battle, the Centauromachy, famous.
In the Centauromachy, the Lapiths battle with the Centaurs at the wedding feast of Pirithous. The Centaurs had been invited, but, unused to wine, their wild nature came to the fore. When the bride was presented to greet the guests, the centaur "Eurytion leapt up and attempted to rape her. All the other centaurs were up in a moment, straddling women and boys. In the battle that ensued, "Theseus came to the Lapiths' aid. They cut off Eurytion's ears and nose and threw him out. In the battle the Lapith Caeneus was killed, and the defeated Centaurs were expelled from Thessaly to the northwest.
The Lapith "Caeneus was originally a girl named Caenis and the favorite of "Poseidon, who changed her into a man at her request and made her an invulnerable warrior. Such "warrior women, indistinguishable from men, were familiar among the "Scythian horsemen too. In the Centaur battle, Caeneus proved invulnerable, until the Centaurs simply crushed him with rocks and trunks of trees. He disappeared into "the depths of the earth unharmed and was released as a sandy-headed bird.
In later contests, the Centaurs were not so easily beaten. Mythic references explained the presence into historic times of primitive Lapiths in "Malea and in the brigand stronghold of Pholoe in "Elis as remnants of groups driven there by the Centaurs. Some historic Greek cities bore names connected with Lapiths, and the Kypselides of Corinth claimed descent from Cæneus, while the Phylaides of Attica claimed for progenitor "Koronus the Lapith.
As Greek myth became more mediated through philosophy, the battle between Lapiths and Centaurs took on aspects of the interior struggle between civilized and wild behavior, made concrete in the Lapiths' understanding of the right usage of god-given "wine, which must be tempered with water and drunk not to excess. The Greek sculptors of the school of "Pheidias conceived of the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs as a struggle between mankind and mischievous monsters, and symbolical of the great conflict between the civilized Greeks and "Persian ""barbarians". Battles between Lapiths and Centaurs were depicted in the sculptured friezes on the "Parthenon, recalling Athenian "Theseus' treaty of mutual admiration with Pirithous the Lapith, leader of the "Magnetes, and on Zeus' temple at "Olympia ("Pausanias, v.10.8). The Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs was a familiar "symposium theme for the "vase-painters.
A sonnet vividly evoking the battle by the French poet "José María de Heredia (1842-1905) was included in his volume Les Trophées. In the "Renaissance, the battle became a favorite theme for artists: an excuse to display close-packed bodies in violent confrontation. The young "Michelangelo executed a marble bas-relief of the subject in Florence about 1492. "Piero di Cosimo's panel Battle of Centaurs and Lapiths, now at the "National Gallery, London, was painted during the following decade. If it was originally part of a marriage chest, or "cassone, it was perhaps an uneasy subject for a festive wedding commemoration. A frieze with a Centauromachy was also painted by "Luca Signorelli in his "Virgin Enthroned with Saints (1491), inspired by a Roman sarcophagus found at "Cortona, in "Tuscany, during the early 15th century.
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