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A letter from an alum about centaurs

September 18, 2003

Might I presume that the organizers of the current exhibit at the Art Museum “The Centaur’s Smile (Notebook, September 10) have already consulted an old senior thesis addressed precisely on their chosen subject? It should be gathering dust somewhere into the bowels of Marquand, since 1958.

Supervised then by Prof. Erik Sjoqvist (later of Morgantina fame), it delved on the importance of "anthropomorphic" creatures (human faces on animal forms) in tracing the refinement and emergence of a triumphant humanism among the early Greeks — so important to them, and so much at the core of our Western Civilization as they shaped it.

Although rooted in older lore about “teratomorphic” composites (mostly human bodies endowed with animal heads), centaurs, satyrs, sphinxes, and other such creatures were a radical departure from earlier Middle Eastern and Egyptian invention: They were endowed with human passions, both as predators and victims in the human drama, on a part with wholesome heroes, gods, and demigods. They very idea and universal dogma among all Christians, of Jesus as the “Theanthropos” (a fusion of Man and God). would have been unthinkable without the precedence of such enigmatic creatures with their beguiling smiles, in our imagination, within our Western tradition.

John C. Philippides ’45
Woodside, N.Y.

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