That Updike wants his readers to make the comparisons between his characters and their mythological analogues is apparent by the presence of the mythological index which, at his wife’s suggestion, he appended to the novel. Matching up various figures of the fiction with their ancient prototypes is not merely a parlor game, however, but yields a broadening significance to the fictional characters of the novel. To see George Caldwell as Chiron, Peter as Prometheus, Al Hummel as Hephaestus, and his wife, Vera, as Venus, elevates the work and ties it to the classical literary tradition of Western civilization. Such a fictional device, perhaps better called a trope, also figures in Updike’s other novels, especially The Poorhouse Fair (1959), Couples (1968), and the Rabbit Angstrom books.
Updike’s pantheon is fairly widespread in The Centaur. George Caldwell is Chiron, the centaur, who is sacrificed in order to protect the fire-bringer and legendary creator/artist, Prometheus, here associated with George’s son, Peter, the painter. George’s wife, Cassie, the keeper of the home fire and the one character linked to the land and fertility not only through her son, Peter, but also through her savage attachment to the farm that she coerced her husband to buy, is Ceres. Vera and Al Hummel make a good Venus and Hephaestus. The goddess of love and of the erotic, Venus seeks her fulfillment through flirtations at the basketball game...
(The entire section is 549 words.)