Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Satyr in the corner

NPR had an interesting story recently about Botticelli's painting, Venus and Mars. Apparently no scholar had noticed until now that in the lower right corner, next to the little horned satyr, is a plant known to possess hallucinogenic powers.

This opened a new angle of interpretive interest in the painting, about which we can read more here. The point of interest just now is the presence of the satyr. Horace will also bring satyrs into the Ars Poetica more than once, and of course made his poetic reputation first as a writer of satires. While "satire" does not derive directly from the Greek word for satyr, Σάτυρος, the literary use of the term seems to have been influenced by it.

From Wikipedia:

The satyrs' chief was Silenus, a minor deity associated (like Hermes and Priapus) with fertility. These characters can be found in the only remaining satyr play Cyclops by Euripedes and the fragments of SophoclesThe Tracking Satyrs (Ichneutae). The satyr play was a lighthearted follow-up attached to the end of each trilogy of tragedies in Athenian festivals honoring Dionysus. These plays would take a lighthearted approach to the heavier subject matter of the tragedies in the series, featuring heroes speaking in tragic iambic verse and taking their situation seriously as to the flippant, irreverent and obscene remarks and antics of the satyrs. The groundbreaking tragic playwright Aeschylus is said to have been especially loved for his satyr plays, but none of them have survived.

More here.

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