Length: 161.250 cm
GR 1815.10-20.4 (Sculpture 530)
Room 16: Bassai sculptures
Marble block from the frieze of the Temple of Apollo Epikourios
Greek, about 420-400 BC
Bassae, south-west Arcadia, Greece
Centaurs hammering Kaineus into the ground
The Temple of Apollo Epikourios ('Apollo the Helper') was built high on a rocky ridge of Mt. Kotylion at Bassae in south-west Arcadia, a region of the Greek Peloponnese. The temple's interior frieze depicts two mythological battles: Greeks fighting Amazons and, shown here, Greeks fighting Centaurs. Part man, part horse, Centaurs had an ambiguous nature. They could be civilized, in keeping with their human part, or given to 'animal' passions. Their wild side came out when drunk, as happened at the wedding feast of Peirithoos, king of the Lapiths. There, under the influence of wine, the Centaurs attempted to rape the Lapith women, while the men fought back.
Among the Lapiths was Kaineus, who had started life as a girl. She begged the god Poseidon to make her a man and to grant her the gift of invulnerability. He granted her these. At the battle of Peirithoos' wedding, the Centaurs could not defeat Kaineus by conventional methods. So they beat him into the earth with stones and tree trunks. Here, he is seen sinking into a mound holding his shield up as defence against the blows raining down upon him.
I. Jenkins and D. Williams, 'The arrangement of the sculptured frieze from the Temple of Apollo at Bassae' in Sculpture from Arcadia and Lac (Oxford, Oxbow, 1993)
O. Palagia and W. Coulson (eds.), Sculpture from Arcadia and L-1 (Oxford, Oxbow, 1993)