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    Troll in the Playground
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    Default Are Cervitaurs A Modern Invention?

    Once or twice I’ve come across stray references to cervitaurs, or “deer centaurs,” suggesting they’re drawn from some older tradition—but I can’t chase down anything solid.

    Are these creatures exclusively derived from modern fantasy, such as the hybsils from Forgotten Realms, or were they originally drawn from older tales?

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    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Are Cervitaurs A Modern Invention?

    Earliest reference I can find is indeed in D&D materials from 1982.

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    Troll in the Playground
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    Default Re: Are Cervitaurs A Modern Invention?

    Aha, thank you.

    What is that reference you found? It sounds like first edition, several years before the Forgotten Realms became official.

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    Firbolg in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Are Cervitaurs A Modern Invention?

    I think the name is actually the giveaway here.

    Greek legend gives us the Minotaur and the centaurs, both human-animal hybrids. But that's a coincidence. The Minotaur is so named because it's half-man, half-bull, and is consequently named after its two "fathers" - Minos, king of Crete, and the Bull of Crete (Tauros). The centaurs are of unclear origin in terms of nomenclature, but may be named after a Thessalonican tribe called the Kentauroi. While there may be some reason why they have the stem word "bull" in their tribal name, there's no connection between the Minotaur and the centaurs.

    But it seems some fantasy writer, drawing on the tradition of centaur-like creatures with other bodies in various mythologies (scorpion-men, icthyocentaurs etc.) arrived on a deer body for their new creature. With the tin ear for etymology strangely common to many fantasy writers (particularly D&D ones) they picked up on the similarity between "minotaur" and "centaur" and used that for a Classical name to make their new creature sound official. Of course, being (probably) a D&D writer, they also apparently failed to realise that the centaurs were originally Greek, and so not only missed that cen- as a stem doesn't mean "horse"* but also gave the deer-centaurs a Latin-derived name (cervitaur) rather than a Greek one (which would be something like an elaphotaur or, following actual Greek practice, elaphocentaur).

    Ultimately it has "modern coinage" written all over it.

    Which doesn't necessarily mean that deer-bodied centaurs don't have an older pedigree in mythology, and I wouldn't be surprised if they did even though I'm nt aware of any. Mythology is weird and inconsistent and wonderful and doesn't always match up neatly with the systematic classification approach taken by D&D. But if so they probably weren't called "cervitaurs".

    *If so they'd be "hippotaurs". Fish-centaurs in Greek are icthyocentaurs - or, literally, "fish centaurs".
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    Default Re: Are Cervitaurs A Modern Invention?

    Cervitaur would have to be something relatively new or of different origin anyway, since the word is Latin. Elaphos is Greek for deer.

    Personally, I am unconvinced by all etymologies for both Minotaur and centaur. The pieces are there, but they can have been reetymologized to adapt them to the stories.

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    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Are Cervitaurs A Modern Invention?

    Quote Originally Posted by Palanan View Post
    Aha, thank you.

    What is that reference you found? It sounds like first edition, several years before the Forgotten Realms became official.
    Yep, it's an AD&D source: the Hybsil was apparently first published in the monster cards in 1982, according to its Wikipedia entry https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fey_...s_%26_Dragons)

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    Troll in the Playground
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    Default Re: Are Cervitaurs A Modern Invention?

    Originally Posted by Aedilred
    I think the name is actually the giveaway here….

    Ultimately it has "modern coinage" written all over it.
    A nice analysis, thanks. “Cervitaur” does seem somewhat clunky in context.

    Originally Posted by Aedilred
    With the tin ear for etymology strangely common to many fantasy writers (particularly D&D ones)….
    Mainly and especially D&D writers. Most of the fantasy novels I read tend to be quite literate and consistent with their names—Tolkien of course, but I’m also thinking of C.J. Cherryh, who often creates a lovely Celtic mood in her fantasy work.

    Originally Posted by paddyfool
    Yep, it's an AD&D source: the Hybsil was apparently first published in the monster cards in 1982…
    Aha, thanks very much. This was about the time I started playing, but I don’t remember the monster cards.

    And it seems that the hybsils’ appearance in Monsters of Faerûn was actually their last iteration, at least so far. They’re pretty firmly Forgotten Realms, which would explain why they haven’t shown up in Pathfinder.

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    Troll in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Are Cervitaurs A Modern Invention?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vinyadan View Post
    Personally, I am unconvinced by all etymologies for both Minotaur and centaur. The pieces are there, but they can have been reetymologized to adapt them to the stories.
    According to my preferred storyteller[1], "Minotaur" was essentially an honorary title given to the crown prince of Crete. Supposed to signify how strong and macho he was, by insinuating that he was part bull. After a few retellings, his essentially human nature was forgotten, and his supposed-to-be flattering title started to be taken literally.

    "Centaurs"[2] were quite possibly just the Greeks' reaction to their first encounter with cavalry. The Greeks themselves, for a very long time, didn't master the science of riding horses, so were impressed and a tad confused when they first met barbarians doing it.

    [1] Mary Renault. If you like a naturalistic take on classical mythology, start with 'The King Must Die'.

    [2] Not Renault. Just a friend I discussed this with once.
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    Default Re: Are Cervitaurs A Modern Invention?

    So, I looked for the Latin word in the Mighty Google. There is a mention of a cervitaurus in a 1903 German commentary to an Arab text (if I understand correctly, it has something to do with constellations). In this case, cervitaurus is listed as an alternate spelling to taurocervus; the taurocervus is said in dictionaries from 1700s to be an animal part deer and part bull that lives in Ethiopia.
    The cervi-taurus is also named in a 1682 text, which refers to this one https://archive.org/details/ita-bnc-mag-00001955-002 where a cervitaurus is described as the child of a deer and a cow (p.56). This is supposed to have been born at the end of February 1680.
    If we instead search for cervotaurus, we get a few references to constellations. http://www.academia.edu/2162037/Musi...ogical_imagery In particular, we get an explanation about the animal represented by a constellation in an Arabic text, called cervotaurus in English, which is a deer with a bull's head, also called Jamur.

    Quote Originally Posted by veti View Post
    According to my preferred storyteller[1], "Minotaur" was essentially an honorary title given to the crown prince of Crete. Supposed to signify how strong and macho he was, by insinuating that he was part bull. After a few retellings, his essentially human nature was forgotten, and his supposed-to-be flattering title started to be taken literally.

    "Centaurs"[2] were quite possibly just the Greeks' reaction to their first encounter with cavalry. The Greeks themselves, for a very long time, didn't master the science of riding horses, so were impressed and a tad confused when they first met barbarians doing it.

    [1] Mary Renault. If you like a naturalistic take on classical mythology, start with 'The King Must Die'.

    [2] Not Renault. Just a friend I discussed this with once.
    The Minotaur as noble title would work, I guess: there are cases like the Dolphin (Dauphin) of France, and honorary titles like "lion of this and that". However, I can't shake the feeling that his name might come from a non-Greek language: for the little we know about it, the Minoan language wasn't related to Greek. So it might have originally had a different meaning, and then be adapted to Greek for the sake of the myth (also, the Minoans definitely had a theme about bulls going on, so it was very appropriate).
    Centaurs might just mean "strikers", or "swift hitters", but I'd have to look into how vowels shift in a few Greek dialects to make sure that's the case, and then how they build certain types of names, and how they make composite words... it's a lot of work!
    The Greeks did have some problems with riders. The Amazons also probably were a reaction to this sort of peoples.

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    Troll in the Playground
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    Default Re: Are Cervitaurs A Modern Invention?

    Originally Posted by veti
    "Centaurs"[2] were quite possibly just the Greeks' reaction to their first encounter with cavalry.
    I’ve seen this theory a few times, and while I doubt if the Greeks were actually confused, it certainly may have inspired notions of a human/horse hybrid.

    Originally Posted by Vinyadan
    In this case, cervitaurus is listed as an alternate spelling to taurocervus; the taurocervus is said in dictionaries from 1700s to be an animal part deer and part bull that lives in Ethiopia.
    Ahh, echoes of the old bestiaries. For some reason this reminds me of the pushmi-pullyu.

    I have a feeling that these sorts of uses aren’t a case of direct descent, and that today’s use of “cervitaur” is just a re-coining using the same root words. Although it would be interesting to look through the Book of Beasts to see if it appears there, since so many other classic D&D monsters are lifted straight from its pages.

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    WolfInSheepsClothing

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    Default Re: Are Cervitaurs A Modern Invention?

    For what it's worth the "taur" suffix has come to be used to indicate a creature with a quadrupedal body and humanoid torso.
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