Marsyas

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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;[1] 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.[2] Marsyas was a devoté of the ancient Mother Goddess Rhea/Cybele, and his episodes are situated 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).[3]

When a genealogy was applied to him, Marsyas was the son of Olympus (son of Heracles and Euboea, daughter of Thespius), or of Oeagrus, or of Hyagnis.[4] Olympus was, alternatively, said to be Marsyas' son or pupil.

Contents

The finding of the aulos

Marsyas was an expert player on the double-piped reed instrument known as the aulos. In the anecdotal account, he found the instrument on the ground where it had been tossed aside with a curse by its inventor, Athena, after the other gods made sport of how her cheeks bulged when she played. The fifth-century poet Telestes doubted that virginal Athena could have been motivated by such vanity,[5] but in the second century AD, on the Acropolis of Athens itself, the voyager Pausanias saw "a statue of Athena striking Marsyas the Silenos for taking up the flutes that the goddess wished to be cast away for good."[6]

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