Never enter a musical contest with a god

Marsyas being flayed by ApolloMinerva, goddess of the mind, war and music, invents the aulos, a type of double-pipe reed, but when the other gods make fun of her for the way it makes her cheeks bulge, she throws it away. The satyr Marsyas finds it and becomes a skillful player. He challenges Apollo to a contest, to be judged by the Muses, but naturally he is defeated by Apollo, who then flays Marysas alive for his hubris. The myth suggests the superiority of the orderly, refined music of the stringed lyre over the sounds of the countryside played by a nature spirit (the superiority of culture over country). For the Pythagoreans (6th century BC), the lyre did indeed embody harmony that could be broken by the shrill tones of the aulos. Pliny, in the first century AD, describes how a painting of Marsyas being flayed was displayed in a temple as a warning of what happens to those who disturb the social order. Continue reading →

The mystery of Orpheus

Orfeo ed Euridice (Cervelli)The myths associated with the musician Orpheus are some of the best known of the Greek and Roman myths. But underlying the various versions of the myth are contradictions, or complementary opposites, that make Orpheus the uniter of dualities. Orpheus is son of Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry, and the ancient Thracian king Oeagrus. Apollo teaches him to play the lyre as a child. His legendary singing and musical skill moves stones and trees and calms wild beasts. Jason recruits Orpheus to join the Argonauts in the quest for the Golden Fleece, because Orpheus will be able to silence the beautiful singing of the Sirens so the ship can safely pass without being lured onto the rocks. Continue reading →