MARSYAS, a celebrated piper of Celænæ, in Phrygia, son of Olympus, or of Hyagnis, or according to others, of Œagrus. He was so skillful in playing on the flute, that he is generally considered the inventor of it. According to the opinion of some, he found it when Minerva had thrown it aside on account of the distortion of her face when she played upon it. Marsyas became enamoured of Cybele, and travelled with her as far as Nysa, where he had the imprudence to challenge Apollo to a trial of his skill as musician. The god accepted the challenge, and it was mutually agreed that he who was defeated should be flead alive by the conqueror. The muses, according to Diodorus, the inhabitants of Nysa, were appointed umpires. Each exerted his utmost skill, and the victory, with much difficulty, was adjudged to Apollo. The god, upon this, tied his antagonist to a tree, and flayed him alive.
The death of Marsyas was universally lamented; the Fauns, Satyrs, and Dryads wept at his fate, and from their abundant tears a river of Phrygia, well known by the name of Marsyas, is said to have arisen.
The unfortunate Marsyas is often represented on monuments as tied, his hands behind his back, to a tree, while Apollo stands before him with his lyre in his hands, and a youth, supposed to be Olympus, the unfortunate musician's pupil, in a supplicating posture eager to save the life of his friend, or to honour his remains with funeral rites. In independent cities among the ancients, the statue of Marsyas was generally erected in the forum, to represent the intimacy which subsisted between Bacchus and Marsyas, as the emblems of liberty. It was also erected at the entrance of the Roman forum, as a spot to which usurers and merchants resorted to transact business, being principally intended in terrorem litigatorum; a circumstance to which Horace seems to allude, 1 sat. 6.v. 120. At Celænæ, the skin of marsyas was shown to travellers for some time; it was suspended in the public place in the for of a bladder or a football.
Hygi. fab 165.—Ovid. Fast. 6. v. 707. Ex Ponto, 3. el. 3. Met. 6. fab. 7.— Diod. 3.—Ital. 8.v.503.—Paus.10.c.30—Apollod. 1.c.4.—Apul. in. Met. 11.—Plut. de Irat. Coh.—Plin. 5. c. 20.1.7. c.56—Philostr. Icon. 1. c. 20 & 21.—Lucian. Dial. Jun.& Lat.—Palæphat. Inc. 48.—Servius. in Æn. 3. v, 20.
[A representation of Marsyas tied to the tree, is in the possession of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, at Florence]