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Silenus. 2904: Wood-engraving by Pierre Gusman. Philip Gilbert Hamerton, Man In Art (Macmillan and Co., London & New York 1892).

"Are you not a piper? Why, yes, and a far more marvellous one than the satyr. His lips indeed had power to entrance mankind by means of instruments; a thing still possible today for anyone who can pipe his tunes: for the music of Olympus' flute belonged, I may tell you, to Marsyas his teacher. So that if anyone, whether a fine flute-player or paltry flute-girl, can but flute his tunes, they have no equal for exciting a ravishment, and will indicate by the divinity that is in them who are apt recipients of the deities and their sanctifications. You differ from him in one point only—that you produce the same effect with simple prose unaided by instruments." (Alcibiades to Socrates. Plato, Symposium 215c).

"The man who does not enjoy drinking is mad." (Silenus. Euripides, Cyclops 169).

A Satyr: Did you capture Troy and take Helen prisoner?
Odysseus: Yes, and we sacked the whole house of the sons of
A Satyr: Once you had caught the girl, didn't you all then take turns banging her, since she takes pleasure in having more than one mate? (Euripides, Cyclops 180).

Silenus, although an old and cheerful drunkard, is the adviser and instructor of Dionysus 2, and is said to have greatly contributed to the god's achievements and Fame.


Silenus is one of the SATYRS, the oldest of which are sometimes also called SILENS. Therefore, some say "a Silenus" as they would say "a Satyr," and they may say "Marsyas the Silenus" as well as "Marsyas the Satyr". The SATYRS are the horned attendants of Dionysus 2 who afford delight with their dancing and singing. Sometimes no horns are visible or else appear as very small, a circumstance that probably depend on the imagination of the artists depicting them, or on that of those seeing them. Because the SATYRS were sometimes represented in drama, those plays in which the chorus was composed by them were called "Satyric Dramas," and the actors experienced the pleasure of dancing in a wild manner, and behaving in an unrestrained way.

Savage islanders

Others have asserted that SATYRS were the inhabitants of the islands called Satyrides, being notorious for outraging foreign women. Since these SATYRS were utterly wild men living in certain Mediterranean islands in the vicinity of Italy, the sailors used to do whatever was necessary in order to avoid them. But sometimes, not having any other choice, they were obliged to put in at what they named the Satyrides islands. According to these sailors (but sailors love to invent tales), the SATYRS had tails upon their flanks almost as long as those of horses. That was not so bad; much worse was that, when they caught sight of visitors, they ran down to the ship uttering loud sounds, and having come on board, they immediately assaulted the female passengers. This behavior caused such a panic in the crew that on one occasion the sailors decided to get rid of these savages by casting a foreign woman to the island for them to outrage in the most shocking manner, while they sailed away.

Drunkenness is the best friend

But the SATYRS or SILENS who were the companions of Dionysus 2 are known for other deeds. Silenus' best friend was no doubt Drunkenness; for in his view nothing was better than wine in great quantities. Silenus' love of wine knew no limits, and that is why King Midas could easily capture him, for he mixed wine to the water of a spring, and the entranced Silenus would not leave the place. Yet Silenus and the others like him could not go on drinking indefinitely, as they had wished; for they were a mortal race, as it may be deduced from their graves, found both in the land of the Hebrews and at Pergamus. And for such a race, both delights and sorrows come one day to an end.

Silenus' dreams of glory

Silenus tells (but perhaps he dreamt) that he protected the childhood of Dionysus 2 from the wrath of Hera, and later assisted him during the battle of the OLYMPIANS against the GIANTS, killing the giant Enceladus 2, who otherwise is said to have been annihilated by Athena, when she threw the island of Sicily on him.

Prisoner of the Cyclops

Later, chasing the pirates that had attacked Dionysus 2, Silenus came to the island where Polyphemus 2 lived. There he became the prisoner and servant of the Cyclops, and was still there when Odysseus, blown off-course by sea-storms, came to the island and took the eye of Polyphemus 2.

Midas' festival in his honour

After Orpheus' death, Dionysus 2 came to Phrygia (some say in his way to India), being as usual followed by SATYRS and MAENADS. It was then that Silenus, burdened with Old Age and wine, went lost, being captured by peasants, who bound him with wreaths, and led him to King Midas. Midas, who also had a vast experience in the matter of wine, rejoiced when Silenus—whom he already knew from past revels—was brought to him, since the occasion provided an occasion for merry celebration. It is told that Silenus and the king feasted for ten continuous days and nights, after which the old man was returned to his foster-child Dionysus 2.

02089: Silenus taken by the Phrygians. "But Silenus was not there. Him, stumbling with the weight of years and wine, the Phrygian rustics took captive." (Ov. Met. 11.90). Guillaume T. de Villenave, Les Métamorphoses d'Ovide (Paris, Didot 1806–07). Engravings after originals by Jean-Jacques François Le Barbier (1739–1826), Nicolas André Monsiau (1754–1837), and Jean-Michel Moreau (1741–1814).

Conversation between Midas and Silenus

Midas and Silenus did not spent their time together just feasting, but also had a long conversation. In it Silenus was the tongue and Midas the ear, which is appropriate since Silenus, though less illustrious than a god, is nevertheless an immortal and therefore superior to any man however rich or powerful. At the same time Midas was a good listener, although one may think that he not always had the judgement to sort out properly what he had been listening to.

Silenus first described the world, saying that Europe, Asia and Libya (Africa) are islands surrounded by the ocean and that the only continent is the very large one surrounding the outside of this world. This continent, he explained, supports large animals and men whose lives are twice as long and who themselves are twice the size of those living in this world.

He added that among the many large cities there are two very different from each other: one called Warlike and the other Pious.

The citizens of Pious, he said, enjoy both peace and wealth, obtaining the fruits of the earth without needing to cultivate and without employing the plough and oxen. They are free of disease and they are happy, and they are so just that even the gods frequently visit them.

On the other hand, the citizens of Warlike are always fighting and opressing their neighbors. They control many nations and they are not less than twenty million. It may happen that they die of disease, but for the most part they meet their death in battle wounded by wooden clubs or stones since they cannot be harmed by iron.

They possess so much gold and silver that for them these metals have less value than iron has to us. On once occasion, Silenus, said, they invaded our islands (Europe, Asia and Libya) with an army of ten million, reaching the realm of the Hyperboreans. But when they learned that these were the richest of all peoples, they felt contempt for them because of their inferior wealth, and decided not to proceed any further with their invasion.

Silenus also talked of the Meropes, owners of many cities, saying that on the edge of their land there is a place named Point of No Return, this being a chasm which is neither dark nor light but is covered by a red haze. In this place, Silenus continued, there are two rivers, one named Pleasure and the other Grief with trees along the banks of both that bear fruit of different qualities. Those that grow along the river of Grief cause anyone who eats them to shed so many tears that he melts into laments for the rest of his life until he dies. But he who tastes from the trees growing by the river Pleasure loses all his desires, forgetting even his previous love, if he had one. Then he is slowly rejuvenated, going through the stages of life in reverse order and dying after becoming an infant.

It is not known whether King Midas found these tales entertaining nor whether he gave them credit or not, but posterity was not impressed.







Nymph 1 Meliad (called Melia)

Pholus 1

This Melia should be different from Melie, who was mother by Poseidon of Amycus 1 (the king of the Bebrycians who was killed by Polydeuces during the expedition of the ARGONAUTS) and Mygdon, but both are from Bithynia, the most northwesterly part of Asia Minor.
Pholus 1 is one of the CENTAURS.
Dolion lived in Ascania, northern Asia Minor.


Astraeus 2
Maron 2

Astraeus 2 is one of the SILENS or SATYRS who came to join Dionysus 2 in the Indian War.
Maron 2 was charioteer of Dionysus 2 during the Indian campaign.

Related sections

Dionysus 2, MAENADS, Marsyas, Midas, Wine


Ael.VH.3.18; Apd.2.5.4; Dio.4.4.3; Eur.Cyc. passim.; Hyg.Fab.191; Nonn.10.159, 14.99; Pau.1.4.5, 1.23.5-6, 6.24.8; Strab.12.4.8;