Silenus – Companion to Dionysius in Greek Mythology
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Greek mythology is full of colorful characters of amazing power and insight, none more so than Silenus. Silenus was known in ancient Greece as a minor god of drunkenness and winemaking. A constant companion of Dionysus, Silenus was known as an individual of immense wisdom, whose advice was sought after by the highest kings. In this article, we’ll take a close look at Silenus, with particular emphasis on his origins and the tales of his remarkable wisdom.
All About Silenus
Silenus was the son of Pan and Gaea. In appearance, Silenus resembled a fat old man. While mainly human, the minor god also had the ears, tail, and legs of a horse. Constantly drunk and jovial, Silenus typically traveled on the back of a donkey. As previously stated, Silenus was the constant companion of Dionysus, the son of Zeus and the god of wine and the grape harvest. Usually regarded as the foster-father to Dionysus, Zeus entrusted Silenus with the education of Dionysus.
Silenus is also the namesake for the sileni, who were also companions to Dionysus. The sileni differ from the satyrs, the other companions of Dionysus, in that while the satyrs had the parts of a goat, the sileni had the physical characteristics of horses. Silenus is typically regarded as the chief of Dionysus’s retinue and the father of all his companions.
Wise Follower of Dionysius
In addition to being the most drunken of Dionysus’s followers, Silenus was further purported to be the wisest of all Dionysus’s companions. Today, most scholars classify the wisdom of Silenus as antinatalist, a school of philosophy that teaches that the best thing for man and woman is to never be born. Much of Silenus’s philosophy is explained by Aristotle in Eudemus. In explaining Silenus’s conception of antinatalist philosophy, Aristotle notes that it is considered blasphemous to speak ill of the dead. As such, in Silenus’s view, it is better to never be born at all or, if born, to die immediately.
Silenus and King Midas
One of the most important stories centering around Silenus involves him and the Phrygian King Midas. Midas heard tales of Silenus’s wise counsel and sought to ensnare the minor god. Secretly mixing wine into a fountain, Midas and his followers trapped Silenus and brought him to his palace. While there, Silenus taught Midas his antinatalist ideas.
Another version of the story tells of Silenus getting lost while wandering about the Phrygian countryside in a drunken stupor. Lost and in a perilous situation, villagers rescued Silenus and brought him to King Midas. As his guest, Midas helped Silenus and reunited him with Dionysus. Overcome with joy at the kindness shown to his teacher and chief companion, Dionysus offered Midas anything he desired for rescuing Silenus. Thanking the god for his hospitality, Midas asked that he be given the ability to turn objects into gold.
The story of Silenus offers amazing insight into Greek storytelling. As Dionysus’s companion, Silenus was not only a figure in Greek religious tradition, he was also a teacher of antinatalist philosophy.
Categorized in: Greek Mythology
This post was written by GreekBoston.com