In late poetical Greek mythology, ichthyocentaurs (Greek: Ιχθυοκένταυρος, plural: Ιχθυοκένταυροι), were a race of centaurine sea gods with the upper body of a human, the lower front of a horse, the tail of a fish, and lobster-claw horns on their heads. The best-known members of this race were Aphros and Bythos, two half-brothers of the wise centaur Chiron and the sons of the Titan Cronus and Nymph Philyra. Though little remembered, they were set in the sky as the astronomical constellation Pisces.
The twin ichthyocentaurs appear together in several works of art. A first- or second-century mosaic from Zeugma, Commagene, (Z10.1), depicting the birth of Aphrodite, is inscribed with the names of Bythos ("Sea-Depths" or "Depth of Profundity") and Aphros ("Sea-Foam"), who are lifting the goddess' cockle-shell out of the sea. Aphros was perhaps regarded as her foster-father, given their similarity in names.
Origin of the name
Ichthyocentaur comes from two different words, ichthyo- and centaur. Ichthyo- comes from the Greek word ikhthis (ιχθύς), which means fish; centaur, or centaurus in Latin, from classical mythology, is a creature having the head, trunk, and arms of a man, and the body and legs of a horse. Ichthyocentaurs have both the attributes coming from the two meanings, which make them a "fish-horse-man". They are related to centaurs, sea nymphs and merfolk; how this came to be is a mystery. It was believed that the creation of these sea-centaurs was depicted as a collection of stars within the constellation Pisces.
Ichthyocentaurs have an upper human body and a fish lower body, with two horse legs protruding from this intersection, not unlike the appearance of a triton or a merman but with the addition of horse legs in the middle section. Some ichthyocentaurs wore crowns while others were depicted with horns often resembling crustacean claws.
The two best-known Greek ichthyocentaurs were Bythos (Sea-Depths) and Aphros (Sea-Foam). Their parents were the Titan Cronus and Nymph Philyra. These two were half-brothers of Chiron the centaur, and were regarded as wise teachers, much like Chiron himself.
Bythos and Aphros appear together in many works of art. One of the more notable ones depict the two sea-gods lifting the goddess Aphrodite's cockle-shell out of the sea after her birth. The two sea-gods also appear in a pair of matching sculptures (belonging to the Louvre and Vatican Museums) depicting them carrying Silen companions of the god Dionysus, after his company was driven into the sea by King Lycurgus of Thrace.
Little is known of these two gods, except what can be gathered from their illustrations in art, and a short reference in the Byzantine lexicon of the Suda. Aphros was thought of as the first king of the sea-going Aphroi (Carthaginians), where a mosaic uncovered in Tunisia confirms this belief. It depicts a pair of African sea-gods swimming alongside Poseidon's chariot—one is the ichthyocentaur Aphros, and the other a twin-tailed Triton, god of the Libyan lake Tritonis. Another mosaic art piece depicts Bythos alone carrying the Nereid Thetis along with two other Nereids, Doris and Galateia.
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