These fantastic creatures appear very early in Ancient Greek folklore, with pottery images dating back over 3,000 years. A centaur (or kéntauros in Greek) was believed to be a horse with the upper-half of a human sprouting from its shoulders, though earlier traditions described it as a human with the rear of a horse attached. They were said to be fearsome and barbaric beings which represented the fiery and wild side of society, lusty and violent when drunk, and usually at war with their “civilized” cousins, the Lapiths. However, exceptions did exist, such as the wise and noble Chiron who taught many heroes including Achilles, Theseus and Perseus. The mythical conflict between the Lapiths and centaurs reflected that of the Olympians and Titans (good vs chaotic nature), and thus the centaurs were ultimately destroyed or driven into hiding.
Throughout the many eras of Greek mythology, the existence of the Erinyes has always been a constant. Also known as the Furies, they were female deities from the Underworld whose role was to avenge crimes committed in the mortal realm, specifically tormenting to death oathbreakers and those who ignored sacred rules. Some legends speak of three Erinyes, while others give an indeterminate number, and their physical descriptions vary greatly from being black as pitch and bat-winged, all the way to dog-headed or snake-haired. The myths claimed that these fearsome crones were older than the Olympian gods themselves, and many Ancient Greeks were so afraid of them that they didn’t dare refer to them directly, instead using euphemisms such as “Eumenides” (“The Gracious Ones”).
Throughout Ancient Greek mythology, there appears a monstrous female (or females) called the Gorgon, the tales of whom are at least as old as those of Zeus. The earliest written accounts of the Gorgon date back to Homer’s Iliad in the 8th century BC, described as a creature whose gaze could turn a man to stone, likely drawing from much older Babylonian legends. Her attributes varied over time, ranging from wings and claws to boar tusks and reptilian skin, but she was consistently regarded as a powerful chimeric being. She dwelled in the Underworld, terrorising the dead, and was eventually slain by the Goddess Athena, who thereafter wore her skin as a mantle.
In later traditions, three Gorgons were introduced – Stheno (The Mighty), Euryale (Of the Wide Sea) and Medusa (The Queen) – said to be the daughters of sea deities. Many modern depictions of the sisters show all three as women with writhing, venomous snakes for hair and other serpent-like properties, though this originally only applied to Medusa, who had been cursed by Athena. In addition, while Stheno and Euryale were immortal, Medusa was not. She met her doom when the hero Perseus cut off her head, avoiding her gaze by using the reflection in a shield. Even after her death, those who looked into the Gorgon’s eyes were turned to stone, but her blood was able to bring people back to life.