An Artist Wounded by Apollo's Injustice: Marsyas


5 Minute

An Artist Wounded by Apollo's Injustice: Marsyas 


Marsyas, the son of the Thracian king Oegrus and the mythical musician Hyagnis, who is said to have invented the unique Phrygian form in music, is one of the mythological heroes who, like Prometheus or Sisyphus, were condemned to extraordinarily harsh punishments. Marsyas, one of the satyrs depicted in mythology as nature spirits fond of music, drinking, dancing and women, and sometimes have the form of a horse below the waist, has a very sad history. Let us take a look at this story together, which shows that the unique talent of Marsyas, who like his mother is a unique musician, brings about his end and that the wrath of the gods in the mythological tale is as great as it is fragile.


Pipe of Athena


Our mythological narrative begins with the playing of the flute, invented by the goddess Athena herself. As Athena happily plays her flute, Aphrodite and Hera make fun of her. Athena realizes that this is because her face becomes ugly due to her swollen cheeks when she blows the pipe, but she does not believe Aphrodite and Hera at first. Athena, who has come to Phrygia to check whether what the goddesses have said is true, looks at her face in the reflection of a water as she plays her pipe and finds that she has indeed become ugly. Then he throws away the pipe and curses the one who finds it and takes it.


Unfortunately, the person who will incur the wrath of this curse is none other than Marsyas, the "holy" son of Hyagnis. Marsyas takes the pipe he saw in passing and begins to play it. Of course, this pipe created by a goddess has a fascinating voice and the music-loving Marsyas quickly falls under its spell and begins to play the pipe, which he considers the best musical instrument in the world. Of course, when the pipe's mesmerizing voice combines with Marsyas' talent, the satyr and his music soon gain a great reputation.


Naturally, Apollo, the god of fine arts, also learns about this famous musician and his instrument. When he hears what is said about Marsyas' talent, Apollo becomes very jealous and challenges him to a contest against himself. At the end of the contest, with Apollo playing the lyre and Marsyas his pipe, the parties agree that the winner can do whatever he wants with the other. The judges of the contest are to be the Muses, the mythological goddesses of inspiration, or the Nymphs of Nysa, the fairies of nature, the daughters of Oceanos.


Enthusiasm of Marsyas, Sadness of Apollo


When Marsyas plays his pipe in the contest, the nature fairies who listen to them dance wildly and enthusiastically, while Apollo, when it is his turn, plays a touching melody with his lyre that moves everyone to tears. There are several versions for the next part of the narrative, even if the conclusion remains the same. One of them says that when Marsyas was about to win the contest, Apollo played his lyre upside down and asked Marsyas to do the same, but of course he lost because he could not play the satyr's pipe upside down. The other refers to the fact that Apollo's instrument was victorious because he accompanied his music with his voice, and he told Marsyas, who objected, that he also played his pipe and therefore did the same. Another version of the story says that Marsyas was out of tune while playing his pipe and admitted defeat himself.

But no matter which of the narratives about the contest we accept, the outcome does not change. Marsyas, who was defeated and allowed the victor to do what he pleased, as they had agreed at the beginning, was punished by the god Apollo with flaying. It is said that the place where this cruel punishment was carried out was a cave near the Phrygian city of Kelainai and that the flayed skin of Marsyas was hung by Apollo on a pine tree near Lake Aulocrene.


Turkish Museums You Can Trace Marsyas 


Let us come to the point where the mythological and the real open to each other... First of all, we should note that these places of the narrative are located within the present borders of Türkiye. The ruins of the ancient city of Kelainai and the Aulocrene or present-day Lake Karakuyu mentioned in the narrative are located near the Dinar district of Afyonkarahisar. In addition, many statues of Marsyas, which were found during archaeological investigations and are worth seeing, are exhibited in Turkish museums. Manisa Museum, Aydın Museum, Antalya Museum and İstanbul Archaeological Museums are museums where you can see the sculptures of this mythological figure whose story ended in a sad way.