Yesterday I gave a presentation on satyrs, focusing mainly on their representation on Greek vases. People now tend to think of satyrs as goat from the waist down and man from the waist up, but that’s a Roman idea.

Greeks usually depicted satyrs very much like human men but with a horse tail and pointy ears. Music is very important to satyrs.

satyr with tortoise shell lyre

A satyr with a tortoise-shell lyre

Satyrs hang out and drink wine with Dionysus. 

satyr with dionysus

A satyr reclining with Dionysus and playing an aulos (double pipe)

Satyrs often have a pug nose, and may or may not be balding. They are sexually aggressive and are often depicted making unwanted advances on women (particularly maenads- the female worshippers of Dionysus), as well as men and animals.

satyr fighting maenads

A satyr about to be whacked in the head by two maenads

The maenads do sometimes participate willingly. 

satyr maenad embrace

A satyr and a maenad embrace. The maenad holds a small cheetah by the tail and a thyrsus (the staff carried by Dionysus and his followers).

Although they are usually part-horse and not part-goat, satyrs are associated with goats. I love goats.  

satyr with goat
A satyr and a goat

They can be playful or menacing, nearly-human or nearly-beast. As a bridge between the human and the bestial, satyrs represent, in part, the capacity (and indeed, necessity) for people to break out of their everyday lives through wine, music, and dance.  

One response to “satyrs

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