Silenus (also known as Satyr) was the creature who raised and tutored the god Dionysus, the god of Wine and Fertility. After Dionysus was born, Zeus entrusted the infant Dionysus to Silenus’ care to be raised and taught. Once Dionysus grew to adulthood, Silenus was his companion along with his group of satyrs.
Depictions of Silenus
Often, Silenus (Satyr) was depicted as a jolly older man, overweight and covered in large amounts of hair and nearly bald. The only supernatural element to Silenus’ appearance was that he’d frequently be depicted with the ears and tail of a donkey. Other times, he would have the ears, tail and legs of a horse. This contrasts with the satyrs, who blend the features of a human with that of a goat.
When Silenus would travel in Dionysus’ group of companions, he was nearly always drunk, and would either ride on a donkey or be supported by the satyrs. His great fondness for wine is one of the main characteristics of Silenus. It was believed that Silenus’ drunken state would give him access to mystical wisdom, and he was sought out as a source of knowledge and prophesy of the future.
Myths Involving Silenus
Myths in which Silenus plays a part usually center on either his drunkenness or his knowledge and ability to predict the future.
King Midas and Silenus
One of the most notable myths involving Silenus tells of an encounter between he and King Midas. In one version of the story, the King learns of Silenus’ powers of prophecy and wisdom and wishes to learn from him. Midas has his servants seize Silenus and bring him back to the King. Silenus gives the King some gloomy wisdom, saying that it’s better to die as soon as possible, and the best thing is never to be born at all.
An alternate version of the myth is that Silenus was lost and taken in by King Midas as a guest. To pay Midas back for his hospitality, Silenus tells the King and his court a series of fantastical stories, spanning over five days. Dionysus learns that Midas showed kindness to Silenus, and in return he offers the king a wish of any kind. Midas asks that anything he touches turn to gold.
Silenus and the Cyclops
In another story, Silenus and the satyrs were captured by the one eyed monster the Cyclopes, and must work as his slaves. In this myth, Silenus is a comedic figure, and the myth is a humorous one.
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