Featured Marsyas - the skinned

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen, Feb 20, 2019.

  1. Jochen

    Jochen Well-Known Member

    Dear friends of ancient mythology!

    Marsyas is a famous tragic figure of the Greek mythology. Here I will tell his story. But first a coin.

    1st coin:
    Phrygia, Apameia, pseudo-autonomous, c.3rd century AD
    AE 19, 3.29g, 225°
    obv. ΔH - MOC
    Bearded bust of Demos, draped, r.
    rev. AΠA - MEΩ - N (starting at 3 o'clock)
    Marsyas, nude, with waving nebris behind, tip-toed walking r., playing on double
    ref. SNG Copenhagen 200; SNG München 137; BMC 50
    VF, sand patina
    Marsyas was a Silen or Satyr, an attendant of Pan, who found the flute, which some time before was invented by Athena.

    But seeing her face in a mirror and how awful it looks when she played the flute and how all other goddesses were laughing about her, she throw it away with the curse that he who would raise the flute should suffer the worst fate. This Marsyas didn't know! He learned to play the flute better and better and when he felt at top of his art he coltish challenged Apollon for a competition. The winner should be allowed to do with the loser what he wants. Arbiters should be the Muses. But Apollo outsmarted Marsyas. When playing his Kithara he started to sing. This was not possible for Marsyas. So he lost the competition. And Apollon hung him on a tree and commanded a Skyth to skin Marsyas alive. It is said that by his blood - or the tears of the Muses and the other Satyrs - the river Marsyas has arised. (Ovid Met. VI, 382-400).

    Cultural-historical the meaning of Marsyas exhausted not in being a clumsy Satyr. He originally was a Phrygian river god or a spring daimon of the river Marsyas which flow in the valley Aulokrene near Kelainai. He was the protecting heroe of Kelainai and played an important part in the defense against the Galati (the Anatolic Gauls). Already early he came into the circle of Kybele. Only the Greek made him a Satyr.

    Excursion: The double flute (Auloi)
    Aulos means 'playing the aulos' (with and without singing), the so-called auletik, but the corpus, the instrument, too. It is more correct to say Auloi in plural because it were double pipes. They could be half looped, total looped, with holes at the side or holes at the underside. They could be tuned: at drinking binges they were used in unison, at marriage ceremonies in octave distance. Sometimes it could be seen that the two pipes have different lengths. It is discussed that one pipe plays the melody the other the accompanist.

    And actually the aulos is not a flute but a reed- (tongue-) instrument, so rather a simple double oboe!

    The aulos has a tongue piece, an upper beginning part, the actual pipe and the grip holes. The aulos was called by Pindar and Euripides 'kalamos' or 'Libyan lotos'. The aulos pair had separated tongues (so-called double reeds), there were called yoke. Because of its pettishness they were kept in a small sheath (glottokomeion); the entire instrument was hold in a bag made from untanned skin (synbene). When playing the lips were pressed against the reed; the strong pressure of the inflated cheeks was absorbed by a kind of bridle, the phorbeia: leather bands which were tied from the mouth over the cheeks to the back of the head.

    The reeds were made from reed (from the lake Kopais) which was scraped thin. If the tongues eventually broke the auloi could be played with open hole. The pipe (kalamos bombykias), slightly conical carved, probably could be played by a little over blowing and so allowing some harmonics too. Probably the (oval) holes were played half occluded and so on the auloi all keys are obtainable. A 5th grip hole (for the thumb) possibly could be in use if the phorbeia was tight. Diodoros of Thebes introduced a special mechanism to open and close the holes (turnable rings?) which had hooks to allow turning. As material for the corpus besides reed, boxwood, lotos wood, laurel were used too bones of stag, ass, eagle and vulture; ivory was mediated by the Phoinicians. Boiotia, with its abundance of reed, became the home of the aulos players, mostly Thebians.

    The age of the auletik is seen deversely. Athen in its heroic age saw the auloi only at the barbarians. Plutarch regards the auloi for older than the kithara but this remains questionable because many terms used for the auloi were originating from playing the kithara. The peleponnesian myth calls Ardalos from Troizen, son of Hephaistos, the inventor of the auloi. The first historical aulet was Klonos of Tegea. The sole instrumental auletik spread quickly from Phrygia and was favoured as war music especially at the Lakedaimonians. At the Phrygians it served as keen. The elegy always was accompanied by auloi (armen. elega = pipe!). Plutarch assumed that the sound of the auloi contained to theon, the divine, and because of that evokes religious feelings. Aulodic means that the aulet, the aulos player, was accompanied by the aulode, a singer.

    Since Pythagoras the high-spirited panegyric sound of the auloi was antagonized. Because of its orgiastic effect the auloi were choosed as accompanist for the dithyrambos. Criticized was the instrument used at the wild satyr chorus because it crushed the melody. Among the aristocratic Athenians Alkibiades regarded the auloi as unseemly because it distorts the face of the player. That matches the myth were Athena threw away the auloi because of the same reason. It seems to be Euripides who invented the myth of the competition between Apollo and Marsyas and the following terrible punishment. Another matter of critizism was the then upcoming luxury clothing of the aulets. Aristoteles too disapproved and then in Socrates and his followers new strong opponents emerged. Aristoteles wanted to prohibit the education of auloi playing because of its uselessness for the cultivation of the mind. So until the late ancient time the playing of the kithara was obtained as more noble. Cicero assumed that the auloi player doesn't need so much dexterity as the kithara player. This devaluating estimation was practically adopted in modern times by Nietzsche who called the kithara playing 'Apollonian', the auloi playing 'Dionysian'.

    BTW On the coin the elevated grip holes are clearly seen.

    Now I have a republican denar from L. Censorinus of the gens Marcia. Steve Minnoch has pointed out that Marsyas here was an allusion to the moneyer's gens Marcia too.

    2nd coin:
    Roman republic, gens Marcia, L. Censorinus
    AR - Denar, 3.68g, 24.17mm
    Rome 82 BC.
    obv. (without legende)
    laureate head of Apollo, r.
    rev. L. CENSOR
    Marsyas advancing l., staring upwards, raising r. hand, carrying wine sack above
    shoulder; behind him column with draped figure (Minerva?)
    ref. Crawford 363/1d; Syd. 737; Kestner 3155; BMCR Rome 2657; Marcia 24
    This statue of Marsyas possibly has stood on the Forum. The picture of this statue regularly appears on coins of Roman colonias, Alexandreia Troas, Berytos, Deultum, Dasmascus and so on. Ziegler has written: Marsyas is the symbol of the Roman colonias, which have got the ius Italicum. This has included that the concerned cities were freed of the oppressing pivotal taxes (tributum capitis and tributum soli). Numerous colonias with ius Italicum are listed in liber 50 of the Digestes (Greek pandektes). Unfortunately not all of them.Here is an example from Alexandreia Troas:

    Coin #3:
    Troas, Alexandreia, Volusian, AD 251-253
    AE 24, 6.79g, 24.26mm, 180°
    Bust, draped and cuirassed, seen from behind, laureate, r.
    rev. COL - AVG TROADE
    Statue of Marsyas, nude, wearing boots, stg. l. on small base, holding wineskin over l. shoulder and raising r. hand in greeting attitude
    ref. Bellinger -; SNG Copenhagen -; Sng von Aulock -
    probably unpublished
    very rare, about VF
    History of Art:
    I have attached the pic of an auloi player with phorbeia and dancer with krotala, detail from a kylix found at Vulci, Italy, signed by Epictetus, c. 520–510 BC; in the British Museum, London.
    Auloi player with phorbeia.jpg
    At least a pic of the famous Marsyas sculpture of the Capitoline Museum in Rome which I visited on our class trip in 1962. It shows the Roman copy of a lost hellenistic original from the 2nd century BC. This motive is outstanding because it is the only time in ancient art where a hanging figure was depicted, a motive which later in the Christian art became the leading theme in the figure of Christ hanging at the cross.
    (1) Ovid, Metamorphoses
    (2) Der kleine Pauly
    (3) Anemone Zschätsch, Verwendung und Bedeutung griechischer Musikinstrumente in Mythos und Kult, Marie Leidorf 2002

    Best regards
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2019
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  3. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    Somewhere I read that Marsyas' bag was made out of his own skin. I am not sure if that is an ancient story or a modern attempt to shock.

    Phoenicia, Berytus (modern Beirut), "Imperial Times", 1.36g, AE12
    Obv: CO-L; Marsyas
    Rev: BER; Prow
    BMC 27

    These inscriptions show Beirut was a Roman COLony at the time of issue. They are in Latin, not Greek.
  4. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    I always liked that picture of Marsyas, it must have been a beautiful statue. This is my Alexandria Troas coin:

    3279 AT ct.jpg

    AE Trebonianus Gallus, Alexandria Troas. Obv. Laureated bust t.r. Rev. Marsyas with wine skin t.l. COL AVG TROAD. 21 mm, 7.54 gr.
  5. Orfew

    Orfew Supporter! Supporter

    Nice writeup. Here is my coin with Marsyas.

    L. Censorinus. AR Denarius, 82 BC. Pair number: 15. D/ Laureate head of Apollo right. On right, [fish] off flan. R/ L. CENSOR. The satyr Marsyas standing left, with right arm raised and holding wine-skin over left shoulder; behind, column bearing statue on top. On right, letter D. Cr. 363/1a. B. (Marcia) 24. AR. g. 3.85 mm. 16.50 RRRR. Of the highest rarity, only 5 specimens known. Old cabinet tone. VF.The gash across the reverse surface is an 'adjustment al marco'. (C. Stannard 'The adjustment al marco of the weight of Roman Republican denarii blanks by gouging' in 'Metallurgy in numismatics vol 3' Royal Numismatic Society, 1993).
    Ex: Artemide Aste Auction L Lot 246. November 3, 2018.

    "An Unprecedented Important Collection of Cr. 363/1a-b"
    L Censorinus pair 15.jpg
  6. Jochen

    Jochen Well-Known Member

    Hi Pellinore!

    Your coin and mine are the only types from Alexandreia Troas where Marsyas is standing left.

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  7. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Interesting article, @Jochen . You might be interested in this post I wrote about the statue of Marsyas as depicted on coins of Deultum and Alexandreia Troas.
  8. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    This was a really popular statue. On the provincial of Tyre below, the central figure within the temple is Fortuna-Astarte, but crouched before her on the left you can just about make out the little statue of Marsyas in its familiar pose.

    Trebonianus Gallus - Tyre Temple.jpg
    Rare. AE29. 19.56g, 29.3mm. PHOENICIA, Tyre, AD 251-253. Rouvier 2462. O: IMP C C [VIBIVS TREBO G]ALLVS AVG, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right. R: COL TVRO [METR], Hexastyle temple enclosing statue of Fortuna-Astarte standing facing, placing right hand on trophy; to right, Victory standing on column crowning Fortuna-Astarte; at feet to left, small statue of Marsyas; below, altar between murex shell and palm tree.
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  9. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Great write-up, Jochen. Marsyas is pretty much my favorite myth - a drunken bald guy taking on Apollo in a flute slam, only to be horribly punished. Tack on an MFA and you have the contemporary literary/academic music scene.

    One of the best representations of Marsyas in the Roman Forum is the Plutei of Trajan - reliefs showing scenes from Trajan's reign: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutei_of_Trajan

    Photo from Wikipedia (not the best for Marsyas - he is in shadows at the right under his fig tree - a Google image search will show better views):

    Plutei of Trajan - Wikipedia.jpg

    If you want to hear somebody playing an auloi there are several YouTube videos - it is a rather haunting sound, I think, a bit strange to my rock n' roll ruined ears, but I rather like it

    With singing:

    As for coins, I have a few:

    Censorinus (with a die clash):

    Censorinus - Marsyas Den. die clash Nov. 2017 (3).JPG

    Severus Alexander Provincial:

    Severus Alexander - Marsyas Prov Aug 2018.jpg
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  10. Jochen

    Jochen Well-Known Member

    Thank you. Especially the YouTube videos are a nice addition.

    Bayern likes this.
  11. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Censorinus L Censorinus a.jpg
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  12. Bayern

    Bayern Active Member

    Excellent article~ also great contributions by fellow members :happy:
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