The Story of Marsyas
Marsyas was a Satyr, which in Greek mythology refers to a man with horse ears and a horsetail, who hailed from Phrygia. His role is deeply connected with music, which started the day he found an aulos, similar to a modern day flute. Athena had thrown that flute down to Earth. Although Athena had invented the flute, she had quickly abandoned its use as a musical instrument when the other gods ridiculed the way her cheeks puffed up as she played it. As she threw the instrument away, she cursed an awful death upon whoever came across the flute next. This curse would later come true, after Marsyas received recognition for inventing the music of the flute.
Despite this noble accomplishment, Marsyas suffered a tragic fate at the hands of Apollo, the god of music. After having been lauded for his wondrous talent of playing the flute, he had challenged Apollo to a musical contest. The first round started off on a good note as the music from his flute earned an energetic dance from onlookers. However, Apollo’s lyre brought tears to their eyes. As a result, that round ended in a tie. He naturally lost as the second round called for a feat physically impossible to accomplish with a flute: playing the instrument upside down. In other versions, Marsyas is said to have lost when Apollo lent his voice to his lyre, which was simply too captivating. Either way, Marsyas had undoubtedly lost to Apollo in the competition. As a result of his loss and as punishment for his hubris against Apollo, Marsyas was hung on a tree and flayed alive.
It is said that Apollo regretted his excessive punishment after the fact and repented by giving his lyre a grace period. Many mourned for the loss of Marsyas. His brothers, the gods, goddesses and nymphs were devastated by this loss and their tears came together to form the river of Marsyas, which travelled through Phrygia in his honor.
- During his lifetime, Marsyas served as a minister for Dionysus, the Greek god of wine.
- King Midas, a judge during the competition, had a differing opinion from the other judges, who had given victory to Apollo. Since Midas supported Marsyas, Apollo cursed him to have horse ears just like the contestant who earned his vote. From then on, Midas walked around with a conical cap that hid his embarrassing horse ears.
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