I’m researching the history of musical instruments for my book based on Orpheus and have come across some really unique insights about fauns and satyrs. My interpretation is mythology-inspired and supported by the available evidence but not universally accepted.
Professor Paleva made me practice until my fingers bled. I waited for her to notice slick red running down my violin strings, but she didn’t let up for another half hour. I pushed past the pain but I was having trouble hitting the right notes. Finally she sighed and nodded that we were done.
I took my hand off my instrument and stretched my fingers. She handed me a damp rag to wash them off.
I thought about what Denzi had done to my shoulder and wondered whether I could heal myself with music.
“I don’t suppose you can fix these?” I said, waving my red fingers in the air.
“Unfortunately, no,” she said. “Healing with music is… challenging. Even for me. And you need the right instrument.”
“Denzi showed me, with his flute.”
“So you know then. What he is?” she asked, pushing her glasses up higher on her nose.
“A satyr,” I nodded. “But I didn’t really understand the difference but them and fauns. Can you tell me more about the history?”
Professor Dobreva sighed and sat beside me.
“Fauns are nature deities. They play the syrinx – a wind instrument consisting of cane pipes of different lengths tied in a row or in a bundle held together by wax or cord, and generally closed at the bottom. Legend has it that the god Pan, the patron of shepherds, fell in love with the Nymph Syrinx, daughter of Ladon the river-god.”
“Fleeing his attentions, Syrinx pleaded with Zeus to save her and just when Pan captured her, Zeus turned the Nymph into reeds. Enraged, Pan smashed the reeds into pieces but on reflection he was struck with remorse and wept and kissed the broken reeds, all that remained of his beloved. As he kissed the reeds, he discovered that his breath could create sounds from them, and so he made the musical instrument that would carry the lost Nymph’s name.”
“The roman counterpart of Pan is “Faunus” – which became the name given to immortal followers of Pan. They believe in harmony and unity. They give up their personal selfish desires for a greater, universal purpose. They play music for the love, as a selfless gift to the world. They’re poets. You could say that Fauns are just the Roman translation of the Greek Satyrs, and they’re actually the same species, but there are other differences.”
“Satyrs follow Dionysus. They play the aulos, a double reeded instrument like a modern oboe. It’s long, phallic instrument that was used for martial music. The satyrs were Dionysus’s military brigade, using music as a weapon. They used music to subdue, to dominate, to conquer.”
“In myth, Marsyas the satyr was supposed to have invented the aulos, or else picked it up after Athena had thrown it away because it caused her cheeks to puff out and ruined her beauty. In any case, he challenged Apollo to a musical contest, where the winner would be able to “do whatever he wanted” to the loser—Marsyas’s expectation, typical of a satyr, was that this would be sexual in nature. But Apollo and his lyre beat Marsyas and his aulos. And since the pure lord of Delphi’s mind worked in different ways from Marsyas’s, he celebrated his victory by stringing his opponent up from a tree and flaying him alive.”
I shuddered at the image.
“I thought Apollo was the good guy?”
“It’s not that simple,” Paleva said. “Apollo represents rational thought and order, but without emotion he lacks sympathy and can be cold and brutal. Dionysus meanwhile is pure emotion, left unchecked it can also manifest as violence. The order of Orpheus was meant to keep the balance between them, unifying head and heart. Balancing the powers so that no one side can dominate the other.”
“And ultimately, both sides are weak without the other. Orpheus was at his most powerful after Eurydice died. Suffering, heartbreak. You must bleed into your strings, but not with your fingers, with your heart.”
“After what happened with Marsyas, Satyrs were the enemy of Apollo. When Denzi turned from Dionysus and became a follower of Apollo after Orpheus’ death, he turned his back on his own kind. They view him as a traitor.”
“You could say the difference between satyrs and fauns could is the difference in platonic and erotic love: one love prioritizes personal satisfaction over the beloved object. The other gives up selfish desire for the happiness of the other. You could also say that fauns are elevated satyrs, who have overcome their baser natures and learned wisdom and philosophy. They experience guilt and shame, regret and remorse. They prioritize the happiness of their beloved rather than simply the gratification of their own sexual desire. But you can also see fauns as simply childish innocents, and the satyrs are more adult, jaded and cynical.”
“So only fauns can heal, with their pipes? Because of the harmonious notes?” I asked, trying to understand.
“Not necessarily. Both use personal force and energy to create music from their wind instruments. Orpheus plays the lyre, a string instrument where music is made from vibration. It was so pure and beautiful, he was able to suspend the laws of physics and nature. It gave him total mastery of the universe. But it’s not really about the instrument. It’s about the player.”
I wondered then where Denzi’s abilities came from. Who had broken his heart?