Thursday, 18 June 2015


“Great abilities produce great vices as well as virtues.” 
Greek Proverb

Greek mythology is a rich storehouse of literature in which mortals, heroes, gods and goddesses interact with monsters, strange creatures and the forces of nature. Amazing metamorphoses abound, tales of bravery and guile, adventure and pathos all blend together to weave a rich tapestry of brilliant pattern and matchless colour.

Apollo was the ancient Greek god of the sun, light, the arts and more specifically of music. Athena was the virgin goddess of wisdom and of righteous battle. One of the legends that concerns these two gods is that of the hapless Marsyas. One day Athena, having time on her hands, was whittling deer bones and her ingenuity contrived on them the first long flute (or in some versions of the myth an oboe). She was so proud of her invention, that she came with her oboe to the banquet of the gods on Mont Olympus to play for them.

Aphrodite and Hera, the two beautiful goddesses of Olympus, seeing Athena’s cheeks puffed out, mocked her exquisite playing and called her ugly. Athena left in anger and came to a spring in Mount Ida to view herself in the water. She blew her oboe and looked at herself in the water of the spring, understanding why she was mocked: Her face was puffed up and red with the effort of the blowing. Disgusted, she threw away the oboe, vowing that whoever picked it up would be severely punished.

Marsyas was a rustic Phrygian satyr who found Athena’s discarded oboe. He became extremely skilled in its playing and the forests rang out with his beautiful melodies. People and animals were enchanted with his music and he was quite proud of himself, daring to say he played even better than the god of music himself, Apollo, could play his lyre. In his hubris, Marsyas dared to challenge Apollo to a musical contest, the conditions of which were that the victor should do what he pleased with the vanquished.

Apollo incensed with Marsyas bragging and grave insult, agreed to the contest. When King Midas of Phrygia (of golden touch fame!), who had been appointed judge, declared in favour of Marsyas, Apollo punished Midas by changing his ears into ass’s ears. Marsyas then inevitably lost and was flayed alive by the god for his presumption. The rustic gods then transformed him into a stream. Thus was Marsyas’s arrogance and impiety punished. Furthermore, the myth asserts the superiority of Greek music over Phrygian music and Apollonian spirit over Dionysian passion.


  1. Enjoyed this myth. One I did not know of. Playing the oboe can land you into a lot of difficulty in life. Gosh...even the Greeks knew that. Not surprising they call it the ill wind that nobody plays any good :)

  2. The ancient Greeks sure did gruesome well! That is one cautionary tale. Don't mess around with Apollo!