Greek and Roman Mythology
In ancient Greek mythology satyrs roamed the woods and mountainous regions playing their pipes, oblivious to all but their own pleasures. They were a troop of male companions to Pan and Dionysus. Satyrs were sometimes depicted as looking similar to Pan, with the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat.
In the Gandhara relief of the 2nd-4th century CE (shown here), a Satyr is shown with a more human-like appearance, as is Silenus below. In this piece of art work the satyr is shown enjoying its favorite form of entertainment, women and wine.
Satyrs are rascally, playfully mischievous, deceitful, unprincipled yet very faint-hearted creatures. They will not hesitate to overthrow authority, but because they are also shy they do so secretly. They can be dangerous and cowardly.
Satyrs are often seen in art works frolicking and dancing with nymphs in the woods. They love the taste of wine and delight in being around women. They are always ready for pleasure of one kind or another. Their obsession with nymphs often keeps them in heavy pursuit of the lovely creatures.
Satyrs acquired their goat-like aspect through later Roman, melding with Faunus, a carefree Italic nature spirit of similar characteristics and identified with the Greek god Pan. Hence satyrs are most commonly described in Latin literature as having the upper half of a man and the lower half of a goat, with a goat's tail in place of the Greek tradition of horse-tailed satyrs. Thus satyrs became nearly identical with fauns. Mature satyrs are often depicted in Roman art with goat's horns, while juveniles are often shown with bony nubs on their foreheads.
In earlier Greek art, satyrs appear as old and ugly, but in later art this savage characteristic is softened into a more youthful and graceful aspect. This transformation or humanization of the Satyr appears throughout late Greek art.
Chief of the satyrs troop was Silenus, a minor deity who was companion and tutor to the wine god, Dionysus. Originally, Silenus was depicted as a folklore type of man with the ears, tail and legs of a horse. He lived in the forest. In later stories and portrayals he was seen as having human legs. He was usually bald and heavyset.
Silenus was notorious for consuming much wine and was often so drunk he was carried by his satyrs or on a donkey. He was known as the oldest, wisest and most drunken of the followers of Dionysus. When fully intoxicated, Silenus possessed special knowledge and prophetic powers. Because of these powers Silenus possessed, King Midas had him captured as he was sleeping in a drunken stupor.
When with King Midas, Silenus gave the king a pessimistic philosophy, which was that The best thing for a man is not to be born, and if already born, to die as soon as possible.
Another version of the story is that Silenus became lost and was found in Phrygia, a kingdom in the west central part of Anatolia, in what is now modern-day Turkey. Peasants found him and took him to King Midas. Midas was kind to Silenus and gave him shelter and care. In turn, Silenus told Midas some useful tales. Because of his kindness to Silenus, Dionysus gave Midas the gift of the golden touch.
In Cyclops, a play by Euripides, Silenus and the satyrs are stranded in Sicily. They were enslaved by the Cyclops. Silenus refers to the satyrs as his children during the play. Another play that featured Silenus is Emperor Julian the Apostate's satire, The Caesars. In this play, Silenus sits next to the gods and offers up his comments on the various rulers under examination. He essentially serves as Julian's voice of critique for Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Marcus Aurelius, and Constantine I.
Other than plays, Silenus is often featured in arts (usually on wine cups) and literature. C.S. Lewis featured Silenus in the Prince Caspian fantasy novel, one of the books in The Chronicles of Narnia series.
Satyr on a mountain goat, drinking with women, in a Gandhara relief of 2nd-4th century CE
Ancient Orient Museum, Tokyo.
GNU Free Documentation License
Drunken Silenus, Roman artwork of the 2nd century AD
Mus'ee du Louvre, Paris