The Satyrs and Fauns of Greek & Roman Mythology

The Satyrs and Fauns of Greek & Roman Mythology

Who are the Satyrs of Greek & Roman Mythology?

The Satyrs were the wild spirits of Greek and Roman woodlands. Their animalistic nature was shown in the horse-like or goat-like appearance with puck noses, bristling hair, budding horns, and goat’s ear. They are usually portrayed as wanton and crafty, they frolicked in the forest, chased after nymphs, and played impish tricks on men. They were mainly associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of vegetation, wine, and ecstasy, and played a crucial role in his festivals.

Who are the Fauns of Greek & Roman Mythology?

Fauns in a wooded Landscape
Fauns in a wooded landscape. The second version of a composition by Bril from 1620 now in the City Art Gallery in Bradford. The figures have been attributed to Pietro Paolo Bonzi (c. 1575–1636)

In Similarity to the Satyrs, the Fauns are Roman mythological spirits creatures of untamed woodlands. They belong to a god named Faunus and love to dance and play the flute. They are more cheerful and compassionate.

The Difference Between Satyrs and Fauns

The Satyrs, the Greek spirits of nature and fertility. I have previously discussed the god Pan but never the Satyrs themselves—so if you like creepy old goat men, I guess this article is for you.

The ancient Greeks referred to the Satyrs as either Satyros or Seilenos; which is quite similar to the Roman Satyri. But, no doubt, the Roman name that most of you’ll be familiar with is, of course, Faun.

Where most people seem to get confused is that they believe the word Faun is merely the Roman name for a Satyr, which isn’t true. Satyrs and Fauns do have some similarities, but for the most part, they are a different set of creatures in terms of both appearance and personality.

There is this misconception that both Fauns and Satyrs are half-man half-goat creatures, but some of the earliest accounts of Satyrs are closer to wild man than a mythical creature.

They were often depicted as short balding wild men, with a horse’s tail and a constant erection, hence, the association to fertility. Fauns, on the other hand, were always depicted as half-man half-goat, and despite being feared by those who travelled in the wild, they were said to help travellers who had become lost.

Satyrs mostly just tried to have sex with nymphs and drink as much wine as they could. Fauns for the most part were jovial and mild-tempered creatures, but they were also quite naive and foolish. Whereas Satyrs were far less helpful and far more ill-tempered.


The Fauns are pretty much Mr Tumnus before he became professor Ecks, and satyrs are that weird uncle that no one wants to be around, but you have to say hi anyway because it’s Christmas—a time for family and togetherness—after your parents threatened to take away all of your presence if you didn’t make conversation. But they’ll just take those presents away anyway because you were a poorly behaved child who climbed Christmas trees and threw ashtrays at people, but those are just lies and slander.

So, the obvious lesson of today’s article is,

“Never listen to your parents. They’re stupid and you always know what’s best. If you want to climb a Christmas tree because you think Santa is at the very top, then you climb your way to the North Pole. If you want to throw ashtrays at your younger cousins because they told your mum you were climbing the Christmas tree, then you throw as many as you can get your grubby little hands on. And if you want to write an article about the Satyr, you should probably stick to the script and not go off on a random tangent about Christmas stories that no one cares about in August.”

But hey! the only time I can write this article is at 2:00 a.m. on Saturdays, so leave me alone.


Different Satyrs Known to All

We mentioned earlier that the Roman Faun was not the same as the Satyr, but that’s not to say that the Faun wasn’t influenced by the Satyr and that’s because there are many different types of Satyrs throughout Greek mythology, not just the creepy uncle archetype.

The Panes

The biggest influence of the faun was probably the Panes—the Children of Pan—which as you may have gathered from their name were the children of the god Pan, who did have the torso of a man and the hooves of a goat; closer resembling the half-man half-goat aesthetic that we’ve become accustomed to.

Some even had the head of a goat and virtually no human qualities. These Panes were closely linked to Pan, whereas the Satyr we mentioned earlier were the followers of Dionysus.

In the epic poem Dionysiaca written by Nonnus, the Panes were among the Satyrs that followed Dionysus in his expedition and war with India.

The Seilenos

Another type of Satyr were the Seilenos—the children of Silenus and the mountain Nymphs responsible for protecting Dionysus as a child. And due to their father’s association with wine, they were also considered spirits of winemaking—no pun intended.

They also appeared similar to the original Satyr, old fat men with a boarding head and a horse’s tail. Sometimes, their bodies were even covered in white fluffy hair, making it almost impossible to take them seriously.

The whole association to wine and women means they were often celebrated in the line of Dionysus, and during these festivals, it wasn’t too uncommon for people to dress up as Satyrs and perform a play.

Silenus

Silenus and the Satyrs

So on to some of the more famous Satyrs, and what better place to start them with Silenus, an elder Satyr.

Born from the earth with a father never mentioned, we can look at a Gaia as one of these Satyrs main origins.

Silenus was considered the first god of wine, a mantle that he would later pass down to Dionysus and that’s because he was essentially his foster father who along with the nymphs of Mount Nyssa would raise him from just the baby. He then did what every good father does and taught Dionysus the value and importance of alcohol. So, I guess we know where his party going attitude came from.

Overall, Silenus is depicted as a jolly old man who likes nothing more than having a good time with his favourite drinking partner and stepson. He was also the catalyst behind the story of King Midas, as he and Dionysus were separated during what I guess we can assume was a drunken night out.

King Midas, Dionysus and Silenus Feasting
King Midas, Dionysus and Silenus Feasting

He then woke up lost in the kingdom of King Midas, who recognized him and offered the Satyr his hospitality. When the two were finally reunited, Dionysus granted the king his golden touch, and we all know how that story ends.

Pan

The most well-known Satyr is undoubtedly Pan, the god of shepherds, hunters, music and the wild, amongst many other things.

Not every poet seems to agree on his parentage but more often than not, you’ll see him considered as the son of Hermes and Penelope. But this can also range from Zeus to any number of nymphs found in Arcadia. Just like Silenus, Pan was also thought to be an elder Satyr, but despite this, he doesn’t have many children we would recognize by name. Instead, he’s just credited as the father of his kind.

The name Pan is thought of as one of the origins for the word ‘panic’ and that’s because Pan was said to have a scream that when heard, made his enemies panic and run out of fear. This is something he used when the Giants invaded Mount Olympus and even when he accompanied Dionysus in India.

It’s also a fair assumption that this may have been where the Roman idea of Fauns being feared came from.

Pan, as we’ve just mentioned, is no stranger to conflict. In one of the stories of Zeus and Typhon, when Typhon defeated Zeus, he took from him his tendons and sinews, leaving him wounded and incapable of fighting back. When all of the other gods and goddesses had fled in fear, it then felt a Pan and Hermes to retrieve these tendons, and so, they did.

Zeus would then go on to defeat Typhon and crush the Titan rebellion once and for all.

We can’t mention Pan and not discuss his association to music and the creation of the Pan flute. In this story, he fell in love with a nymph named Syrinx and he planned to tell her how he felt when she returned home. But when she did, and pan approached her, she didn’t know pan merely wanted to pay her compliment, and so she ran away as fast as she could.

Pan and the Naiad, Syrinx, in Greek Mythology
Pan and the Naiad, Syrinx, in Greek Mythology

She ran to her sisters who then transformed her into a reed found in the water, so pan wouldn’t recognize her, and this worked. As the wind blew into the reeds, Pan notices that they made a pleasant melody. Not knowing which one of the reeds was his beloved nymph, Pan took a handful and placed them together, and when he blew into them, he created the first pan flute, dedicated to the love that he had lost.

It was common for the Satyr to be shown chasing nymphs and Pan does this quite often.

Berchet, Pierre; Nymphs and Satyrs; York Museums Trust.

Funnily enough, it’s not even the first time a nymph transformed herself into a random object to get away. An Oreiad-nymph named Pitys transformed herself into a Pinetree when she was pursued.

The Satyrs Involvement in the Greek Mythology

Often throughout Greek mythology, certain individuals or creatures dislike each other. With the Satyr, it’s hard to say because they spend most of their time listening to music and drinking wine.

I guess you could argue that they weren’t particularly fond of the Giants but almost everyone hated or had some kind of issue with the Giants, so that isn’t saying a whole lot.

The giant with 100 eyes, Argus Panoptes, had a brief altercation where he killed several Satyr. But in this story, he was helping the people of Arcadia because the Satyr was stealing their cattle.

When Zeus went to war with the Giants, the Satyr were among the many who offered their assistance; riding into battle on their donkeys—no! I didn’t just make that up; they rode donkeys all the time.

Maybe they were that drunk that they thought they were horses or maybe they were just that short they couldn’t ride horses—regardless the image of a short drunk man riding a donkey makes me think of a dwarf, and in some aspects, the personality of the Satyr and Dwarves are quite similar, but where Dwarves prefer to live underground in their forges making awesome weaponry and treasures, the Satyr prefer to run around the forest in their weird drunken orgies.

In Conclusion

Overall, Satyr was seen as woodland spirits associated with fertility, but the term itself is broad because they can differ so drastically, not only in terms of appearance but also temperament.

For example, you have the dwarf-like winemaking Satyr; you have the half-man half-goat children of Pan; and you even have Satyr who is described as nothing more than pan flute players—essentially, the musical Satyr.

We have this bunch of somewhat rowdy creatures that most of the time just want to sing dance and drink, which pretty much just describes humanity.

Nowadays, they’ve become somewhat of a staple in modern fantasy, but when it comes to stories aimed at a younger audience, more often than not you’ll see them as Fauns because their personalities are more in line with something for a younger audience.

Of course, that isn’t always the case. The Fauns in Pan’s Labyrinth is far from a jovial looking creature, granted that movie isn’t exactly made for children.

We also can’t forget the 1997 Hercules movie by Disney, and they just completely ignore the Faun approach as we see a Satyr named Phil, and he does demonstrate very Satyr-like behaviour with a desire for both wine and women.

But there was this weird mix between a Satyr and the hero Philoctetes, hence the name Phil—but I don’t know where Disney was going with this one, but that doesn’t matter because Phil is voiced by Danny DeVito who is not only the greatest actor of his generation but of this entire universe.

So, if you’ve ever wondered what a Satyr or a Faun sounds like, the answer is the Trashman!

Image Sources: ArtUK.

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