Marsyas (battler?) In Greek mythology, a Phrygian flute player, son of Olympus; sometimes called Silenus; follower of the Great Mother goddess Cybele. Marsyas, who took up the flute after it had been discarded by its creator, Athena, challenged Apollo to a contest between his flute and Apollo’s lyre. Marsyas lost, and Apollo bound him to a tree and flayed him until he died. All of the spirits and deities of the woods lamented Marsyas’s death, and their tears became the river Meander. King Midas, who had taken Marsyas’s side in the contest, had his ears turned into those of an ass as punishment. The figure of Marsyas bound to a tree influenced many portrayals of the Crucifixion. In Plato’s Symposium the great philosopher Socrates is called a Marsyas and a Silenus. Plato’s Republic mentions the flute as an instrument that evokes the darker Dionysian, unruly passions, as opposed to Apollo’s lyre, which represents harmony. Dante’s invocation to Apollo in The Divine Comedy (Paradise, canto 1) uses the same imagery. Ovid’s Metamorphoses (book 6) and Matthew Arnold’s Empedocles on Etna deal with the myth. Raphael, Perugino, Tintoretto, Titian, and Rubens are among the artists who have treated the subject.


Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow– Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante