Pan, Satyr and Silenus are all mythical creatures associated with Dionysus – god of endless ritual feasts and the iconic Dionysian rituality, accompanied by Bacchic processions with ecstatic songs and dances. Their symposium gatherings were famed by many artists and poets through the years. The typical “drinking party” was part of a social occasion commonly happening after supper where wine was poured to the guests. Naturally, wine drinking was essential for these symposiums.
Usually the main drinking vessels used during the feasts were: oinochoe, kantharos, situla, phiale, rhyton and calyx, etc. These specific crafts are primarily decorated with the faces of those creatures, because of the correlation between them. All three of the personages listed above, could be described very similarly. Their appearance could be said to be very exceptional and noteworthy. They were often depicted with animal furs on their naked bodies, typically panther or deer.
Bronze Pan Head Situla, 340 – 320 BC, Vassil Bojkov Collection
Satyrs and Silenus were mainly shown as humans with accented animal-like features. Pan on the other hand was always portrayed in the ancient iconography as part man, part goat. Literature has preserved his worship as a Great divinity of all nature (from where comes his name – in Greek “Pan” means “All”). Nevertheless, later mythology shifts the personage to be identified as the god of shepherds and wild countryside. Like any other God, Pan possessed enormous strength. He is frequently characterized in both literature and art. Pan is often interpreted with his exemplary flute
(syrinx). According to one of the mythology versions, his parents are believed to be Penelope, the wife of Odysseus and Hermes – the Messenger.
However, conforming to another myth, he is the son of an anonymous daughter of Driope, possibly named Penelope, and later distracted with the
faithful wife of Odysseus, due to the mixing of names, and again – god Hermes. Pan is considered to be one of the oldest Greek Gods. His worship began in primitive areas, which is the main reason why there weren’t any large temples and sanctuaries dedicated to him.
Hermes is one of the most well-known gods in Greek mythology. He was the son of Zeus and the pleiad Maia. Hermes was constantly associated with the protection of sheep and cattle and was closely connected to Pan and the nymphs. In Homer’s Odyssey he appears as the herald and messenger of Olympian gods. However, Hermes seems to be the messenger between the two worlds too. He travels between the land of the dead and the living constantly and that is one way to be portrayed in Roman art, where he is known as Mercurius/Hermes Nuntis (messanger). Illustrations from that time show Hermes holding a mortals hand towards the land of the living. He could be said to be the soul leader. His functions among both gods and men were very appreciated, because he brought messages from the gods down to Earth. The Messenger often appears in ancient art and is easily recognized by his traveler’s hat and winged sandals.
Classical Greek mythology has its own way of describing and telling the myths. However, our chosen “heroes” have been in the spotlight of many intriguing sagas. Silenus is an older Satyr and possibly the caretaker and raiser of Dionysus and also – his constant companion. Ancient mythology often identifies him as the teacher of great heroes like Heracles and Achilles. He is all naughty and permanently drunk, but also carries a deep wisdom and knowledge of the forest and its secrets. Socrates was often associated with Silenus, due to his ugliness and for his God-given wisdom. The old Satyr appears in many postclassical art, regularly portrayed bashed.
Satyrs were male creatures of the obsessive madness. Their insatiable drive for wine, sex and music were the distinctive signs of their nature. The
wild souls were also enduring in Dionysus’ caste. Satyrs are the first mentioned by Hesiod as being “hopeless at working and worthless”. They also appear in literature and paintings. Their appearance may vary from artist to artist. Some portray them as young men with strong facial hair, rough
hairstyle, tiny horns and human legs, others present them with goat feet and horsetails.
Low Based Silver Kantharos with Dionysus’ Masks, 460 – 450 BC, Vassil Bojkov Collection
Dionysus is one of the greatest 12 Olympian gods. He has been worshiped for all his good deeds, but mostly because of his feasts as the symposium has occupied an important part of ancient Greek culture. He was the son of Zeus and a mortal – Semele. According to the legend, Dionysus was the last god to enter Olympus. Due to his popularity, many festivals were held in his honour: Great Dionysia or the feast of Dionysus Eleuthereus (also known as City Dionysia), the Lesser Dionysia and the Anthesteria – the Athenian festival of Dionysus. The “wine god” has also been glorified in literature and art. Intriguingly, until about 430 BC, Dionysus has been depicted as heavy bearded man, wearing panther skin, while after 430 BC he could also be portrayed as a young, beardless and mostly naked man.
Watch and learn more about the Satyrs in our short series Myths and Treasures of the Vassil Bojkov Collection:
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You can learn more about the Amazons in our previous blog post: