Satyr

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Mythical Wildman of Southern Europe. In its earliest form, it was a Greek elemental spirit of the forests and mountains. Later, it came to represent the undeveloped, bestial state of humanity or, alternatively, an idyllic past. Satyrs were the companions of the wine god Dionysus.

Etymology: From the Greek satyros, of uncertain origin, though possibly derived from the Hebrew se'ir ("hairy demon").

Variant names: Fatui ficarii, Faun, Pan, Silenus.

Physical description: Covered with hair. Low forehead. Small horns. Monkeylike face.

Pointed ears. Snub nose. Full lips. Long beard. Legs, hooves, and tail of a goat or horse.

Behavior: Found in small groups. Lascivious. Loves to dance. Plays music on reed pipes (syrinx) or cymbals. Terrorizes shepherds and travelers.

Habitat: Woodlands.

Distribution: Northern Greece; Egypt; Turkey; India; other remote islands and lands.

Significant sightings: In the fifth century B.C., the hide of a Satyr named Marsyas was a famous tourist attraction near the source of the Menderes River in south-central Turkey.

In 86 B.C., a Satyr was found sleeping in a meadow called the Nymphaeum, near Durres, Albania, and taken to the Roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who was passing through the area after sacking Athens in the First Mithridatic War. The Satyr's speech could not be understood and sounded like a neighing or bleating.

Euphemus the Carian was blown off course to an unknown island in the Mediterranean that was populated by Satyrs. The creatures had red hair and horse's tails, and as soon as Euphemus landed, they tried to rape the women on board his ship.

St. Jerome reported that in the early fourth century, Emperor Constantine traveled to An-takya, Turkey, to view the remains of a Satyr that had been preserved in salt. Possible explanations:

(1) A symbol of precivilized, Neolithic Greece.

(2) Early Greek tribal groups who followed the god PAN and revered goats as their totem animals.

(3) Folk memory of Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) or archaic Homo sapiens.

(4) An imaginative explanation for fossils of large vertebrates that are occasionally found in Greece and Turkey.

(5) Indian Satyrs may have been based on monkeys.

(6) As early as the fifth century B.C., cleverly manufactured Satyr masks for Greek dramatic performances were made from hair and skins. Fake Satyrs were probably created as tourist attractions out of human mummies fitted with such masks and other stage props.

Sources: Lucretius, The Nature of the Universe, ed. R. E. Latham (Baltimore, Md.: Penguin, 1951), pp. 199-201 (v. 925-1010); Pliny the Elder, Natural History: A Selection, trans. John F. Healy (New York: Penguin, 1991), pp. 55, 57-58, 78-79 (v. 7, 46; vii. 24); Pomponius Mela, De Chorographia, III. 9; Plutarch, "Life of Sulla," in Fall ofthe Roman Republic, trans. Rex Warner (New York: Penguin, 1958), p. 97; Pausanias, A Description ofGreece, trans. W. H. S. Jones (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1918) (I. 23.5-6); J. D. P. Bolton, Aristeas of Proconnesus (Oxford: Clarendon, 1962), pp. 89-91; Richard Bernheimer, Wild Men in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1952), pp. 93-102; New Larousse Encyclopedia ofMythology (New York: Putnam, 1968), pp. 160-161; Peter Costello, The Magic Zoo (New York: St. Martin's, 1979), pp. 61-62; Timothy Gantz, Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), vol. 1, pp. 135-139, 146; Adrienne Mayor, The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 236-238.

Sources: Claire Cook, "Seeing Fins," BBC Wildlife 13 (April 1995): 11; Jeremy Wade, "Tales from the Bush," BBC Wildlife 14 (June 1996): 106; Jeremy Wade, "Hell's Teeth," Fortean Times, no. 99 (July 1997): 24-26.

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