maandag 27 juni 2011


The sky has turned pink by the setting sun. A cool breeze ruffles the tall grass in the meadow. The nymphs giggle as they are chased by the horned and antlered satyr, their hooves leaving deep imprints in the soft soil. They've been running and chasing for many hours, but they do not tire. They know they have a long and steamy night ahead. If they can just catch those nymphs that is......

Nymphs and Satyr,
by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905),
French Academic painter

That is the image that pops into my head at the word 'satyr'. It's also the way I had been taught in high-school and through fantasy books and movies. However, one little google search left me doubting all of this...

When I got the idea of doing articles on mythological and 'faerie' creatures, I know I had to do one on satyrs, creatures that I'd been fascinated with ever since I was little. One google search burst my little fantasy bubble. The horned and hoofed creatures I had loved were actually faun, not satyr. Satyr look like regular men, well, regular except for those donkey ears and tail.

Greek Vase
In the beginning we see vases depicted with these horse/donkey eared men. They are still seen chasing the nymphs around, just in a slightly different form. Much later the writers of old stated that the faun (who were part man, part goat) and the satyr were the same, and that image stuck with us ever since.

The satyr are attributed to be both companions of Pan and of Dionysus. They were a prominent part of the Dionysus cult. The satyr were the male followers, while the maenads were the female. Satyr were often depicted carrying a thyrsus, a staff topped with a cone, which is sacred to Dionysus. Other attributes they carry are flutes, bags or cups of wine and a shepherds staff. They are clad in animal skins and have wreaths of ivy in their hair. In the early greek days they satyr were depicted as being old, with big bellies and receding hairlines. Later on they became younger and more elegant, more like the images we are familiar with today.

The satyr were not always kind spirited. The ancient Greeks actually feared the satyr, as well as other forest spirits. Not much of their myths survived, but they are seen as "subversive and dangerous, yet shy and cowardly" (wikipedia).

In the Roman period, poets depicted the satyr as goat horned and hoofed, with furry legs and tails and the horns of a goat growing out of their heads. Exactly the same as the faun, forest creatures from Roman myths. And this is where it gets complicated. Looking at a lot of different sites and several books, I just don't know anymore. It appears to be that the terms 'satyr' and 'faun' are now interchangable. Just google 'satyr' on google images and almost all you see are half men, half goats. So what is a satyr, really? I guess we have forgotten...

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