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As long as were on the subject of sculpture and Greek and Roman mythology, I thought I’d feature these two masks of Silenus. They’re both Roman 1st century. Silenus (Seilenos) is the rustic god (not worshipped in temples) of drunkenness who rode in the train of Dionysos seated on the back of a donkey.  

Mosaic with Mask of Silenus. Roman 1st century.  The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens.

Mosaic with Mask of Silenus. Roman 1st century. The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens.

The old satyr was the foster-father of the god Dionysos. The divine child was delivered into his care after his birth from the thigh of Zeus, and raised by Seilenos and the Nysiades in a cave on the mythical mountain of Nysa. — The Theoi Project

The masks are used mostly for The Cyclops, an Ancient Greek satyr play by Euripides. It is the only complete satyr play that has survived antiquity. 

BACKGROUND:  The Cyclops is a comical burlesque-like play based on the same story depicted in book nine of Homer’s Odyssey.The cowardly and drunken Satyr characters are not in the Odyssey’s version but their addition is mostly what makes The Cyclops a burlesque comedy.

 SYNOPSIS:  Odysseus has lost his way on the voyage home from the Trojan War. He and his hungry crew make a stop in Sicily at Mount Aetna, which is inhabited by Cyclopes. They happen upon the Satyrs and their father Silenus, who have been separated from their god Dionysus and enslaved by a Cyclops.

Mask of Silenus. Marble.  Roman Mid-1st century. Vienna Museum of Art.

Mask of Silenus. Marble. Roman Mid-1st century. Vienna Museum of Art.

Odysseus meets Silenus and offers to trade wine for food. Being a servant of Dionysus, Silenus cannot resist obtaining the wine despite the fact that the food is not his to trade. The Cyclops soon arrives and Silenus is quick to accuse Odysseus of stealing the food.

After an argument, the Cyclops brings Odysseus and his crew inside his cave and eats some of them. Odysseus manages to sneak out and schemes to get the Cyclops drunk and burn out his eye with a giant poker after he has passed out from inebriation.

The Cyclops and Silenus drink together. When the Cyclops is drunk he becomes (deviantly) delusional  and steals Silenus away into his cave. Odysseus decides to execute the next phase of his plan. The Satyrs initially offer to help but later chicken out with a variety of absurd excuses, so the annoyed Odysseus gets his crew to help instead and they burn out the Cyclops’ eye.

Although he successfully makes his escape, the rest of the troubles Odysseus faces on his voyage home are related to this act as he then faces the wrath of Poseidon, the father of the Cyclops. 

♠♠♠

NOTE: The Mosaic with Mask of Silenus is part of the permanent collection at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens on Riverside Avenue; the marble mask at the Vienna Museum of Art.

 

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