Thessaly is often referred to as “the bread basket of Greece” as its great plains allow for extensive agriculture. The region has been known since ancient times for sheep and goats, with nomadic tribes shepherding their animals to grazing grounds according to the season, although many nomads have abandoned their traditional migrations in favour of a more settled lifestyle.
The horses used in the Trojan War were said to have come from Thessaly, where wild horses may still be found. It’s probable that nomads clinging to the necks of horses gave rise to the notion of a half man, half horse who came to be called a Centaur. Imagine a remote and stormy landscape, fog swirling around rugged peaks, winds sighing and shrieking their unearthly noises through the valleys, and suddenly a horseback rider appears!
Goats are important to the local farmers, many of whom keep large flocks of these animals. It is not uncommon to see them being herded to fresh grazing lands, and as goats eat just about anything, the prudent villager has to be on the alert when the unruly animals pass along the road lest some choose to munch on garden plants.
This is a rural area; the farmers work long, hard hours, often out in the open at the mercy of the weather, and subject to all the problems associated with raising animals.
I always enjoy being caught up in these mini-migrations, and I find it very amusing when the occasional irritable townie vents his frustration and raises his blood pressure because he’s held up for a few minutes.
The herders, some on horseback, call out to each other as they battle to drive the churning mass onward, but goats do roam and are easily distracted. Herdsmen on foot leap about as nimbly as the goats, using their sticks and crooks to urge the animals back into line.
The noise! Shouting, chanting, whistling, the constant honking of car horns still don’t overpower the clanging and the clinking and the tinkling of the bells each goat wears.
And then, suddenly, it’s over. The road is clear. The last animal has been hurried off to open land.
And all the while Mt Pelion, summer home of the gods and stamping ground of the Centaurs, gazes silently over the Peninsula where, driving home late at night, after a jolly evening with friends and a glass or two, you might just find yourself chasing centaurs through the olive groves.