Drunk satyr

A statue in white marble of a drunk satyr or faun. He is lying on a rocky bed with the left leg bent a little more than the right one. The left arm is stretched out lying alongside the body. The missing right arm would have been bend up towards the head. His head is lying on a wineskin, which, along with the uncomfortable posture, points clearly to the drunken state of the individual. While this theme can be seen frequently in frescoes and mosaics – less so in remaining sculptures - the identification is further confirmed by the faun’s pointed ears. The wineskin, generally made from a goatskin sewn and glued together below the area of the animal’s neck, was used for wine but also to hold oil and other materials like butter and cheese.

Satyrs were related to the Maenads, and together made up the retinue of Dionysus. They can also be associated with the god Pan. Some traditions consider Silenus to be the father of the tribe of satyrs. The three principal ones were Maron, Leneus and Astraios, and as they were like their father, they are also known as Sileni. According to some versions of the myth, these three were the fathers of the other satyrs (of whom Silenus was in this instance the grandfather). The three were in the entourage of Dionysus when he travelled to India, and it was Astaios who drove his carriage.

A satyr is the equivalent of a faun in Roman mythology. A faun was a god of the fields and woods, a protector of the flocks. These he made more productive and protected from attacks by beasts of prey. Another facet of a faun was his role as an oracular god who revealed the future through voices that could be heard in the woods and in dreams: sometimes he was considered to be responsible for nightmares. He is represented as a lascivious creature, always chasing nymphs in the woods. It was also believed that he could hex peasants, and for this reason they would rub their bodies with certain herbs as a form of protection.

Although it is Roman, this piece in question follows Greek lines as does much sculpture, and therefore the iconography is that of a Greek satyr sleeping after sylvan revelry, a bacchanalia of dancing under the light of the moon. One of the most iconic images, and one of the masterpieces of classical antiquity is the Barberini Faun, one of the most important works from the school of Rhodes. The figure is sleeping, almost agonising, lying on an animal skin with both legs wide apart in an explicitly sexual posture.

Some experts maintain that the Barberini Faun is an ancient copy of a bronze original. However, the marble sculptures were always considered to be more valuable and better finished as they achieved surface textures unobtainable with cast metal, and for this reason they were painted in polychrome and kept under shelter. They appeared so real and fabulous that even after they had lost their colouring they were extremely beautiful, and so in the end the custom of leaving them unpainted prevailed.

One of the preferred motifs was the expedition of Dionysus to India accompanied by his retinue. This god was not only that of winemaking but also by extension a god of theatre and agriculture. His fundamental role, however, was that of liberating man from his preoccupations through ecstasies and ritual madness (produced by music, wine and sex). In the entourage of Dionysus we find the satyrs and bacchantes. The satyrs, confounded with the fauns, were represented as old and ugly (and could be violent and evil) until Praxiteles made them less violent and more youthful in his “Resting Satyr”. After this they began to be depicted as more beautiful figures, such as this one in question.


- Drunk faun. From the Faun House. Conserved in the Museum of Zaragoza, Zaragoza. Spain.
- Sculpture of a drunk faun. 1st century AD. Marble. National Museum of Archaeology, Madrid.

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