Mythology & Beliefs: Marsyas
In Greek and Roman Mythology, Marsyas was a shepherd; challenged Apollo to music
contest and lost; flayed alive by Apollo.
Marsyas in Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
（*Marsu/as), a mythological personage, connected with the
earliest period of Greek music. He is variously called the
son of Hyagnis, or of Oeagrus, or of Olympus. Some make him
a satyr, others a peasant. All agree in placing him in
Phrygia. The following is the outline of his story,
according to the mythographers. Athena having, while playing
the flute, seen the reflection of herself in water, and
observed the distortion of her features, threw away the
instrument in disgust. It was picked up by Marsyas, who no
sooner began to blow through it than the flute, having once
been inspired by the breath of a goddess, emitted of its own
accord the most beautiful strains. Elated by his success,
Marsyas was rash enough to challenge Apollo to a musical
contest, the conditions of which were that the victor should
do what he pleased with the vanquished. The Muses, or,
according to others, the Nysaeans, were the umpires. Apollo
played upon the cithara, and Marsyas upon the flute; and it
was not till the former added his voice to the music of his
lyre that the contest was decided in his favour. As a just
punishment for the presumption of Marsyas, Apollo bound him
to a tree, and flayed him alive. His blood was the source of
the river Marsyas, and Apollo hung up his skin in the cave
out of which that river flows. His flutes (for, according to
some, the instrument on which he played was the double
flute) were carried by the river Marsyas into the Maeander,
and again emerging in the Asopus, were thrown on land by it
in the Sicyonian territory, and were dedicated to Apollo in
his temple at Sicyon. (Apollod. 1.4.2; Palaeph. de Incredib.
48; Liban. Narrat. 14, p. 1104; Nonn. Narrat. ad Greg.
Invect. 2.10, p. 164; Diod. 3.58, 59; Paus. 2.7.9; Hdt.
7.26; Xen. Anab. 1.2.8; Plut. de Fluv. 10; Hyg. Fab. 165;
Ovid, Metam. 6.382, 400.) The fable evidently refers to the
struggle between the citharoedic and auloedic styles of
music, of which the former was connected with the worship of
Apollo among the Dorians, and the latter with the orgiastic
rites of Cybele in Phrygia. It is easy to apply this
explanation to the different parts of the legend; and it may
be further illustrated by other traditions respecting
Marsyas. He is made by some the inventor of the flute, by
others of the double flute. ( Plut. de Mus. p. 1132a.; Suid.
s.v. Athen. 4.184a., xiv. p. 616, 617; Plin. Nat. 7.56.) By
a confusion between the mythical and the historical, the
flute-player Olympus is made his son, or by some his father.
He is spoken of as a follower of Cybele (Diod. l.c.), and he
occupies, in fact, the same place in the orgiastic worship
of Cybele that Seilenus does in the worship of Dionysus:
Pausanias (l.c.) actually calls him Seilenus, and other
writers connect him with Dionysus.
The story of Marsyas was often referred to by the lyric and
epigrammatic poets (Bode, Gesch. d. Lyr. Dichtk. vol. ii.
pp. 296, 297; Brunck, Anal. vol. i. p. 488, vol. ii. p. 97),
and formed a favourite subject for works of art. (Müller,
Archäol. d. Kunst, § 362. n. 4.) In the fora of ancient
cities there was frequently placed a statue of Marsyas, with
one hand erect, in token, according to Servius, of the
freedom of the state, since Marsyas was a minister of
Bacchus, the god of liberty. (Serv. in Aen. 4.528.) It seems
more likely that the statue, standing in the place where
justice was administered, was intended to hold forth an
example of the severe punishment of arrogant presumption.
(Böttiger, Kleine Schriften, vol. i. p. 28.) The statue of
Marsyas in the forum of Rome is well known by the allusions
of Horace (Sat. 1.6. 120), Juvenal (Sat. 9.1,2), and Martial
(2.64. 7). This statue was the place of assembly for the
courtezans of Rome, who used to crown it with chaplets of
flowers. (Plin. Nat. 21.3; Senec. de Benef. 6.32; Lipsius,
Antiq. Lect. 3.) - A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography
and mythology, William Smith, Ed.
Marsyas in Wikipedia
In Greek mythology, the satyr Marsyas (gr. Μαρσύας) is a
central figure in two stories involving music: in one, he
picked up the double flute (aulos) that had been abandoned by
Athena and played it; in the other, he challenged Apollo to
a contest of music and lost his hide and life. In Antiquity,
literary sources often emphasise the hubris of Marsyas and the
justice of his punishment.
In one strand of modern comparative mythography, the
domination of Marsyas by Apollo is regarded as an example of
myth that recapitulates a supposed supplanting by the Olympian
pantheon of an earlier "Pelasgian" religion of chthonic heroic
ancestors and nature spirits. Marsyas was a devoté of the
ancient Mother Goddess Rhea/Cybele, and his episodes are sited
by the mythographers in Celaenae (or Kelainai) in Phrygia
(today, the town of Dinar in Turkey), at the main source of
the Meander (the river Menderes)....
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