Head of a faun

Fauns, in Roman mythology, are minor divinities charged with protecting crops and flocks. They are descendants of Faunus, the great god of the fields and of shepherds. He was often also a spirit of the forests, and the one responsible for the fertility of cattle and the fields. His name comes from the Latin, favere, meaning “be favourable” or “the carrier”.

Fauns are commonly confused with Pan, the Greek semi-god of flocks and shepherds, and also with the satyrs as they, just like the fauns, have both human and animal characteristics. The difference between them is that the fauns, from the waist down, have the body of a goat, and from the waist up that of a human, but with goat’s horns and the ears of a deer.

The unmistakable characteristics of a faun can be clearly seen in this example: almond-shaped eyes, clearly marked cheeks and the classical pointed ears. The hair is held back by a vegetal wreath around the head. The expression on the face is that common to representations of fauns: one can sense his joyful and playful character.

Faunus, the main god and ancestor of all fauns, is the one responsible for the invention of the manner of flute, the panpipes, which the fauns played with such skill. Fauns are friendly and inoffensive; however, on occasion they take pleasure in making mischief among humans. They mainly take pleasure in making music with their pipes and sharing dances with nymphs. Given that they were responsible for protecting crops and exercised influence over the harvest, some farmers were happy to have a faun in their fields.

Pan is also the god of unbridled male sexuality. It was thought that he pursued nymphs, elemental female spirits of nature, to try to win favours from them. He is related to the wild side of nature. His companions are the satyrs, considered in art and the poetic imagination as woodland spirits in the Latin world, and also related to sexual appetite. Painters of pottery vases used to represent them along with nymphs and maenads, with the fauns displaying at times perpetual erections. They were members of the Thiasus, the retinue of Dionysus. On occasion a subgroup of fauns has been described, the Sileni. In place of the lower part of their body being that of a goat, these had some attributes of a horse, as well as the ears and a tail. At times they also had the legs of a horse, although it was most usual to see depictions of them with human legs.

Some differences between fauns and satyrs are that the former were at times imagined to be infantile, playful and unpredictable, while satyrs were seen as aggressive, strong and always out to satisfy their basis instincts.

Due to the mutual influence between Roman and Greek cultures, fauns and satyrs were often confused or identified with each other. The stories of one group were even sometimes adapted for the other, by simply replacing the word “faun” with “satyr” or vice versa.


- Bust of the satyr «Fauno de Vienne». Roman copy from the 1st-2nd century AD. Marble. Louvre Museum, Paris. Inv. No. LL 308 / Ma 528.

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