Readings for reflection: the Satyrs

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 3.18
Seilenos was the son of a Nymph, less illustrious than a God, but superior to a man, since he was immortal.

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 3.40
Note that Dionysos’ companions in the dance were Satyrs, called by some Tityroi. They received this name from the trills (teretismata) which the Satyrs enjoy, and the Satyrs got their name from the word ‘to grimace’ (sesêrenô), the Silenoi from the word ‘to mock’ (sillainô) – they say that silos is criticism with disagreeable humour. The Silenoi wore cloaks with wool on both sides. Their dress recalls Dionysos’ vegetation, the thick foliage of the vines and the vine twigs.

Aischylos, Fragment 275 of Diktyoulkoi or The Net-Draggers from Papyri Oxyrhynchus
[Silenos and the Satyrs have dragged the chest containing Danae and her baby Perseus ashore. Silenos offers her refuge in competition with Diktys, but his Satyr-sons threaten to violate her]

Silenos: I call upon . . (lacuna) and the gods to witness what I now proclaim to the whole company. But whatever you do, don’t rush recklessly away from us; understand at last and accept me as a most kindly protector and supporter. Why, look, the boy is greeting me with friendly words, as he would his respected grandmother. Won’t he always be the same towards me, as time goes on?

Danae: Rivers of Argos and gods of my fathers, and you, Zeus, who bring my ordeal to such an end! Will you give me to these beasts so that they may outrage me with their savage onslaughts, or so that I endure in captivity the worst of tortures? Anyhow, I shall escape. Shall I then knot myself a noose, applying a desperate remedy against this torture, so that no one may put me to sea again, neither a lascivious beast nor a father? No, I am afraid to! Zeus, send me some help in this plight, I beg you! for you were guilty of the greater fault, but it is I who have paid the full penalty. I call upon you to set things right! You have heard all I have to say.

Chorus of Satyrs: Look, the little one is smiling sweetly as he looks on his shining raddled bald pate …

Silenos: (lacuna) … if I don’t rejoice in the sight of you. Damnation take Diktys, who is trying to cheat me of this prize behind my back! [To Perseus.] Come here, my dearie! [He makes chuckling noises.] Don’t be frightened! Why are you whimpering? Over here to my sons, so that you can come to my protecting arms, dear boy — I’m so kind — and you can find pleasure in the martens and fawns and the young porcupines, and can make a third in bed with your mother and with me your father. And daddy shall give, the little one his fun. And you shall lead a healthy life, so that one day, when you’ve grown strong, you yourself — for your father’s losing his grip on his fawn-killing footwork — you yourself shall catch beasts without a spear, and shall give them to your mother for dinner, after the fashion of her husband’s family, amongst whom you’ll be earning your keep.

Chorus of Satyrs: Come now, dear fellows, let us go and hurry on the marriage, for the time is ripe for it and without words speaks for it. Why, I see that already the bride is eager to enjoy our love to the full. No wonder: she spent a long time wasting away all lonely in the ship beneath the foam. Well, now that she has before her eyes our youthful vigour, she rejoices and exults; such is the bridegroom that by the bright gleam of Aphrodite’s torches.

The Anacreontea, Fragment 47
I am an old man, but I drink more than the youngsters; and if I have to dance, I shall imitate Seilenos and dance in the middle of the ring, with my wine-flask as my support since my fennel-stick is useless.

Apollodoros, Bibliotheka 2.13
When Danaus arrived in the land of Argos the land was without water, thanks to Poseidon, who, in anger at Inachos for testifying that the region belonged to Hera, had dried up even the springs. So Danaus sent his daughters to find water. One of them, Amymone, while searching threw a spear at a deer and hit a sleeping Satyr, who woke, jumped up, and was ready to have sex with her. Then Poseidon appeared and the Satyr ran off; so Poseidon himself made love to her.

Callistratus, Descriptions 1
There was a certain cave near Thebes in Egypt which, as it followed its winding course in the depths of the earth, formed a natural spiral; for it did not take a straight course at the opening and then branch off into straight-running corridors, but winding about under the mountain it made a huge spiral, ending in a most difficult maze. In it was set up an image of a Satyr wrought in marble. He stood on a base in the attitude of one making ready to dance, and lifting the sole of his right foot backward he not only held a flute in his hand but also was being the first to leap up at its sound. The body had no trace of delicacy, but the hardness of the members had stolen away their beauty, making the form rugged with the symmetry of manly limbs. For though soft skin and dainty limbs befit a beautiful girl, the appearance of a Satyr is unkempt, as of a mountain spirit that leaps in honour of Dionysos. The statue was wreathed with ivy.

Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 4.4.3; 4.5.3
Dionysos was accompanied by a personal attendant and caretaker, Seilenos, who was his adviser and instructor in the most excellent pursuits and contributed greatly to the high achievements and fame of Dionysos. […] Satyrs also, it is reported, traveled in the company of Dionysos and afforded the god great delight and pleasure in connection with their dancings and their goat-songs. And, in general, the Mousai who bestowed benefits and delights through the advantages which their education gave them, and the Satyrs by the use of devices which contribute to mirth, made the life of Dionysos happy and agreeable.

Euripides, Cyclops
Silenos: But you, tell me, how much gold will you give in exchange [for food and provisions]?
Odysseus: It is not gold I carry but rather Dionysos’ drink.
Silenos: What happy words you speak! The very thing we have lacked so long!
Odysseus: What is more, Maron, the god’s own son, gave me the drink.
Silenos: The lad I once raised in these very arms?
Odysseus: Dionysos’ son, to make my meaning clear.
Silenos: Is it on board ship, or do you carry it with you?
Odysseus: This is the wine-skin that holds it, as you can see, old sir.
Silenos: This would not even be a mouthful for me.
Odysseus: You would not be able to drink this wine-skin dry.
Silenos: What? Does the skin produce new wine of itself?
Odysseus: Yes, twice as much drink as flows from the wine-skin.
Silenos: What a lovely spring you speak of and one that gives me pleasure

Hesiod, Fragments of Unknown Position 6
But of them were born the divine mountain Nymphs and the tribe of Satyrs, creatures worthless and unfit for work.

Hyginus, Astronomica 2.23
According to Eratosthenes, another story is told about the Asses. After Jupiter had declared war on the Giants, he summoned all the gods to combat them, and Father Liber, Vulcanus, the Satyrs, and the Sileni came riding on asses. Since they were not far from the enemy, the asses were terrified, and individually let out a braying such as the Giants had never heard. At the noise the enemy took hastily to flight, and thus were defeated.

Bonnie MacLachlan, Kore as Nymph, not Daughter: Persephone in a Locrian Cave
As in the Grotta Caruso, we have in Syracuse the collocation of death, nymphs and theater. We also have water: today, the water still flows from a spring through the alcove of the central cave. Before the construction of the Syracusan theater the niches in the rocks (some artificial and some natural) afforded places for votive deposits to the nymphs who provided fresh water. Even earlier, the pre-Greek population used these niches for burials. When Paolo Orsi excavated the nymphaeum in 1900 he found female busts, nymph-plaques with three small heads, a relief of Pan and a silen mask: the nymphs here were poised to play. The collocation of theaters with springs, fountains and nymphaea is remarkably common in the Greek Mediterranean world: examples are found in Sicily at Agrigento, Akrai, Morgantina, Segesta, Tindari and Taormina. And the collocation in various sites of votive artifacts representing Demeter/Persephone with comic figures and masks is no less striking. Perhaps the most impressive collection to date was unearthed on the island of Lipari, off the north shore of Sicily. (These are described by Bernabò Brea in Menandro e il teatro Greco nelle terracotta liparese, 1981.) Here, in the necropolis known as Contrada Diana, was a Koreion. Busts of Persephone were found in the Koreion together with silens. From tombs in the necropolis came a stunning and precious collection of terracotta masks, of characters from Attic tragedy and satyr plays, from Middle Comedy, phlyax plays, and New Comedy. Lipari was clearly devoted to the theater in the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C.E., and the theatrical life appears to have been continued after death. In many tombs were found eggs, a universal symbol of death and renewal. Eggs also appear to have been tied to the phlyax theater. On a Lucanian crater from the 4th century a phlyax player holds up a platter with five eggs (P. Claudio Sestieri, Dioniso 7 [1940] 191-95). In another Campanian crater a phlyax player converses with Dionysos; the god holds his thyrsos, the actor a torch in his right hand and an egg in his left (Gennaro Pesce, Dioniso 7 [1939] 162-65). This is a clear collocation of the chthonic and the playful.

Nonnos, Dionysiaka 28.7 ff
The host of Dionysos came armed in all its many forms, hastening in troops to the Indian War. One Satyr with his fleshcutting ivy stormed into battle, guiding a fine car with a team of panthers; one yoked lions of the Erythraian hills to his chariot, and drove the grim pair bristling under the yokestrap. Another sat tight on an unbridled bull, and amused himself by lashing its flanks, as he cast his javelins furiously among the black Indian ranks. Another leapt on the back of the bear of Kybele, and attacking the enemy, shaking his vinewrapt thyrsos and scaring the drivers of long-legged elephants. Another shot at the foe with fleshcutting ivy; no sword he had, no round buckler, no deadly spear of battle, but shaking clustered leaves of plants he killed the mailed man with a tiny twig. Thunder crashed like sounding pipes: the Seilenoi shouted, the Bakchai women came to battle with fawnskins thrown across their chests instead of a corselet. And a Satyr of the mountains sat astride on the back of a lioness, as if he were riding a colt.

Ovid, Fasti 1.391 ff
You were holding, Greece, the feast of grape-crowned Bacchus, celebrated by custom each third winter. The gods who serve Lyaeus also attended and whoever is not hostile to play, namely Pans and young Satyrs and Goddesses who haunt streams and lonely wilds. They discovered a grove suitable for party pleasures and sprawled on grass-lined couches. Liber supplied wine, they had brought their own garlands, a brook gave water for frugal mixing.

Ovid, Fasti 3.736 ff
Honey was found by Bacchus, they say. He was leaving sandy Hebrus attended by Satyrs, and had reached Rhodope and blooming Pangea; the hand-held cymbals of his companions clashed. Look, the ringing gathers strange aerial things, bees, who trail the sounds of the tinkling brass. Liber collects the swarm, shuts it in a hollow tree and is rewarded by finding honey. When the Satyri and the bald old man tasted it, they ransacked every grove for yellow combs. The old man hears the swarm buzzing in a rotted elm; he spots the wax and pretends otherwise. Sitting lazily on his donkey’s sunken back, he guides it to the elm’s hollow bark. He stood on the donkey, assisted by branches, and probed hotly for honey stored in the trunk. Thousands of hornets swarm. They jab his bald head with stingers and freckly his pug-nosed face. He falls headlong and is kicked by the donkey’s heel. He shouts to his friends and implores their help. The Satyrs come running and laugh at their father’s bloated face; he limps from an injured knee. The god also laughs and shows him how to smear mud; he obeys and spreads dirt over his face.

Ovid, Fasti 6.319
Coroneted Cybele, with her crown of turrets, invites the eternal gods to her feast. She invites, too, Satyrs and Nymphs, the Spirits of the Wild; Silenus is present, uninvited. It’s not allowed and too long to narrate the Gods’ banquet: night was consumed with much wine. Some blindly stroll shadowy Ida’s dells, or lie down and rest their bodies in the soft grass. Others play or are clasped by sleep; or link their arms and thump the green earth in triple quick step.

Ovid, Heroides 4.47 ff
I am borne on, like daughters of the Bacchic cry driven by the frenzy of their God, and those who shake the timbrel at the foot of Ida’s ridge, or those whom Dryads half-divine and Fauni two-horned have touched with their own spirit and driven distraught

Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.86 ff
Liber made for the slopes and vineyards of his own beloved Tmolus and Pactolus’ banks, though at that time the river did not flow golden nor envied for its precious sands. Around him thronged his usual company, Satyrs and Bacchae, but Silenus was missing. For the peasants of Phrygia had caught the old man, tottering along muddled with wine and years, and crowned his head with country flowers and brought him to their king, Midas, whom Orpheus Thracius and Eumolpus Cecropius once had taught the Bacchic rites. He recognised his old companion of the Mysteries, and for his guest made merry in a feast for ten great days on end and nights to match; then on the eleventh morning Lucifer marshalled the starry host to leave the sky, and Midas came to Lydia, light at heart, bringing Silenus back to his young ward. Liber, rejoicing in the safe return of old Silenus (once his guardian), granted the king to choose his heart’s desire, a choice that seemed a boon, but proved a bane. So Midas chose, a sorry choice: ‘Ordain that everything I touch shall turn to gold.’ The god indulged his wish, gave the reward, dire as it was, and mourned a choice so bad.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 6.24.8
That the Silenoi are a mortal race you may infer especially from their graves, for there is a tomb of a Silen in the land of the Hebrews, and of another at Peramos.

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1.22
Charming is the vehemence of Satyrs when they dance, and charming their ribaldry when they laugh; they are given to live luxuriously, noble creatures that they are, and they subdue the Lydian women to their will by their artful flatteries. And this too is true of them: they are represented in paintings as hardy, hot-blooded beings, with prominent ears, lean about the loins, altogether mischievous, and having the tails of horses.

Sophokles, Oeneus frag. 1130
You shall learn all! We come as suitors, we satyrs, we sons of nymphs and ministers of Bakchos, living near to the gods. We have mastered every proper trade — fighting with the spear, contests of wrestling, riding, running, boxing, biting, twisting people’s balls; we have songs and music, we have oracles quite unknown and not forged, we know how to heal with poison; we know the full measure of the skies, we can dance, we can juggle, and we can speak out of our backsides. Is our study fruitless? I will teach you all of these things, and countless more — if you’ll just give me your daughter.

Strabo, selections from the tenth book of the Geography
The accounts which are more remotely related, however, to the present subject, but are wrongly, on account of the identity of the names, brought into the same connection by the historians — I mean those accounts which, although they are called “Curetan History” and “History of the Curetes,” just as if they were the history of those Curetes who lived in Aetolia and Acarnania, not only are different from that history, but are more like the accounts of the Satyri, Sileni, Bacchae, and Tityri; for the Curetes, like these, are called genii or ministers of gods by those who have handed down to us the Cretan and Phrygian traditions, which are interwoven with certain sacred rites, some mystical, the others connected in part with the rearing of the child Zeus in Crete and in part with the orgies in honour of the mother of the gods which are celebrated in Phrygia and in the region of the Trojan Ida. But the variation in these accounts is so small that, whereas some represent the Corybantes, the Cabeiri, the Idaean Dactyli, and the Telchines as identical with the Curetes, others represent them as all kinsmen of one another and differentiate only certain small matters in which they differ in respect to one another; but, roughly speaking and in general, they represent them, one and all, as a kind of inspired people and as subject to Bacchic frenzy, and, in the guise of ministers, as inspiring terror at the celebration of the sacred rites by means of war dances, accompanied by uproar and noise and cymbals and drums and arms, and also by flute and outcry; and consequently these rites are in a way regarded as having a common relationship, I mean these and those of the Samothracians and those in Lemnos and in several other places, because the divine ministers are called the same. However, every investigation of this kind pertains to theology, and is not foreign to the speculation of the philosopher.

But I must now investigate how it comes about that so many names have been used of one and the same thing, and the theological element contained in their history. Now this is common both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, to perform their sacred rites in connection with the relaxation of a festival, these rites being performed sometimes with religious frenzy, sometimes without it; sometimes with music, sometimes not; and sometimes in secret, sometimes openly. And it is in accordance with the dictates of nature that this should be so, for, in the first place, the relaxation draws the mind away from human occupations and turns the real mind towards that which is divine; and, secondly, the religious frenzy seems to afford a kind of divine inspiration and to be very like that of the soothsayer; and, thirdly, the secrecy with which the sacred rites are concealed induces reverence for the divine, which is to avoid being perceived by our human senses; and, fourthly, music, which includes dancing as well as rhythm and melody, at the same time, by the delight it affords and by its artistic beauty, brings us in touch with the divine, and this for the following reason; for although it has been well said that human beings then act most like the gods when they are doing good to others, yet one might better say, when they are happy; and such happiness consists of rejoicing, celebrating festivals, pursuing philosophy, and engaging in music; for, if music is perverted when musicians turn their arts to sensual delights at symposiums and in orchestric and scenic performances and the like, we should not lay the blame upon music itself, but should rather examine the nature of our system of education, since this is based on music.

And on this account Plato, and even before his time the Pythagoreans, called philosophy music; and they say that the universe is constituted in accordance with harmony, assuming that every form of music is the work of the gods. And in this sense, also, the Muses are goddesses, and Apollo is leader of the Muses, and poetry as a whole is laudatory of the gods. And by the same course of reasoning they also attribute to music the upbuilding of morals, believing that everything which tends to correct the mind is close to the gods. Now most of the Greeks assigned to Dionysos, Apollo, Hecatê, the Muses, and above all to Demeter, everything of an orgiastic or Bacchic or choral nature; and they give the name “Iacchus” not only to Dionysos but also to the leader-in chief of the mysteries, who is the genius of Demeter. And branch-bearing, choral dancing, and initiations are common elements in the worship of these gods. As for the Muses and Apollo, the Muses preside over the choruses, whereas Apollo presides both over these and the rites of divination. But all educated men, and especially the musicians, are ministers of the Muses; and both these and those who have to do with divination are ministers of Apollo; and the initiated and torch-bearers and hierophants, of Demeter; and the Sileni and Satyri and Bacchae, and also the Lenae and Thyiae and Mimallones and Naïdes and Nymphae and the beings called Tityri, of Dionysos.

The poets bear witness to such views as I have suggested. For instance, when Pindar, in the dithyramb which begins with these words, “In earlier times there marched the lay of the dithyrambs long drawn out,” mentions the hymns sung in honour of Dionysos, both the ancient and the later ones, and then, passing on from these, says, “To perform the prelude in thy honour, great Mother, the whirling of cymbals is at hand, and among them, also, the clanging of castanets, and the torch that blazeth beneath the tawny pine-trees,” he bears witness to the common relationship between the rites exhibited in the worship of Dionysos among the Greeks and those in the worship of the Mother of the gods among the Phrygians, for he makes these rites closely akin to one another. And Euripides does likewise, in his Bacchae, citing the Lydian usages at the same time with those of Phrygia, because of their similarity: “But ye who left Mt. Tmolus, fortress of Lydia, revel-band of mine, women whom I brought from the land of barbarians as my assistants and travelling companions, uplift the tambourines native to Phrygian cities, inventions of mine and mother Rhea.” And again, “happy he who, blest man, initiated in the mystic rites, is pure in his life, . . . who, preserving the righteous orgies of the great mother Cybelê, and brandishing the thyrsus on high, and wreathed with ivy, doth worship Dionysos. Come, ye Bacchae, come, ye Bacchae, bringing down Bromius, god the child of god; Dionysos, out of the Phrygian mountains into the broad highways of Greece.” And again, in the following verses he connects the Cretan usages also with the Phrygian: “O thou hiding-bower of the Curetes, and sacred haunts of Crete that gave birth to Zeus, where for me the triple-crested Corybantes in their caverns invented this hide-stretched circlet, and blent its Bacchic revelry with the high-pitched, sweet-sounding breath of Phrygian flutes, and in Rhea’s hands placed its resounding noise, to accompany the shouts of the Bacchae, and from Mother Rhea frenzied Satyrs obtained it and joined it to the choral dances of the Trieterides, in whom Dionysos takes delight.” And in the Palamedes the Chorus says, “Thysa, daughter of Dionysos, who on Ida rejoices with his dear mother in the Iacchic revels of tambourines.”

Also resembling these rites are the Cotytian and the Bendidaean rites practised among the Thracians, among whom the Orphic rites had their beginning. Now the Cotys who is worshipped among the Edonians, and also the instruments used in her rites, are mentioned by Aeschylus; for he says, “O adorable Cotys among the Edonians, and ye who hold mountain-ranging instruments”; and he mentions immediately afterwards the attendants of Dionysos: “one, holding in his hands the bombyces, toilsome work of the turner’s chisel, fills full the fingered melody, the call that brings on frenzy, while another causes to resound the bronze-bound cotylae”; and again, “stringed instruments raise their shill cry, and frightful mimickers from some place unseen bellow like bulls, and the semblance of drums, as of subterranean thunder, rolls along, a terrifying sound”; for these rites resemble the Phrygian rites, and it is at least not unlikely that, just as the Phrygians themselves were colonists from Thrace, so also their sacred rites were borrowed from there. Also when they identify Dionysos and the Edonian Lycurgus, they hint at the homogeneity of their sacred rites.

Just as in all other respects the Athenians continue to be hospitable to things foreign, so also in their worship of the gods; for they welcomed so many of the foreign rites that they were ridiculed therefor by the comic writers; and among these were the Thracian and Phrygian rites. For instance, the Bendideian rites are mentioned by Plato, and the Phrygian by Demosthenes, when he casts the reproach upon Aeschines’ mother and Aeschines himself that he was with her when she conducted initiations, that he joined her in leading the Dionysiac march, and that many a time he cried out êvoe saboe, and hyês attês, attês hyês; for these words are in the ritual of Sabazius and the Mother.