In Greek mythology, satyrs are a troop of male companions of Pan and Dionysus — "satyresses" were a late invention of poets — that roamed the woods and mountains. In mythology they are often associated with sex drive and vase-painters often portrayed them with perpetual erections.
Untamed creatures of the wilderness, halfman and half-beast. A satyr has the body, arms, and sexual organs of a man smothered with coarse hairs, the legs, hooves, and tail of a goat, and a monkey-like face with goat's ears.
Satyrs have the nature usually ascribed to a bully: cruel, greedy, lazy, lustful, and mailicious. They perpetuate their race by raping nymphs (except for water nymphs, because they are afraid of water).
They indugle in drunken orgies, frighten sheep and cattle, and delight in terrifying lonely travellers by pouncing upon them with shrieks of satyric laughter. A couple of satyrs can be a great nuisance to a shepherd, especially if he has offended them by warning the nymphs that there are satyrs in the vicinity. They will hide among the trees and rush out to scatter his flock as he moves it from one pasture to another.
Perhaps the only redeeming feature of satyrs is their love of music and dancing. They have a special dance, the sikinnis, which they perform with great agility to the strains of a syrinx orchestra made up of fellow-satyrs.
A number of satyrs accompany Dionysus on his perpetual mission of spreading the double-edged delights of wine among mankind. Their drunken mischief has done a lot of harm to the cause of serious winebibbers and humans are often blamed for the vandalism perpetrated by satyrs.
The satyrs' chief was Silenus, a minor deity associated (like Hermes and Priapus) with fertility. These characters can be found in the only remaining satyr play Cyclops by Euripedes and the fragments of Sophocles' The Tracking Satyrs (Ichneutae). The satyr play was a lighthearted follow-up attached to the end of each trilogy of tragedies in Athenian festivals honoring Dionysus. These plays would take a lighthearted approach to the heavier subject matter of the tragedies in the series, featuring heroes speaking in tragic iambic verse and taking their situation seriously as to the flippant, irreverent and obscene remarks and antics of the satyrs. The groundbreaking tragic playwright Aeschylus is said to have been especially loved for his satyr plays, but none of them have survived.
Attic painted vases depict mature satyrs as being strongly built with flat noses, large pointed ears, long curly hair, and full beards, with wreaths of vine or ivy circling their balding heads. Satyrs often carry the thyrsus: the rod of Dionysus tipped with a pine cone.
Satyrs acquired their goat-like aspect through later Roman conflation with Faunus, a carefree Italic nature spirit of similar characteristics and identified with the Greek god Pan. Hence satyrs are most commonly described in Latin literature as having the upper half of a man and the lower half of a goat, with a goat's tail in place of the Greek tradition of horse-tailed satyrs; therefore, satyrs became nearly identical with fauns. Mature satyrs are often depicted in Roman art with goat's horns, while juveniles are often shown with bony nubs on their foreheads.
Satyrs are described as roguish but faint-hearted folk — subversive and dangerous, yet shy and cowardly. As Dionysiac creatures they are lovers of wine and women, and they are ready for every physical pleasure. They roam to the music of pipes (auloi), cymbals, castanets, and bagpipes, and they love to dance with the nymphs (with whom they are obsessed, and whom they often pursue), and have a special form of dance called sikinnis. Because of their love of wine, they are often represented holding wine cups, and they appear often in the decorations on wine cups.
In Roman mythology and art
Roman satyrs were conflated in the popular and poetic imagination with Latin spirits of woodland and with the rustic Greek god Pan. Roman satyrs were described as goat-like from the haunches to the hooves, and were often pictured with larger horns, even ram's horns. Roman poets often conflated them with the fauns.
Roman satire is a literary form, a poetic essay that was a vehicle for biting, subversive social and personal criticism. Though Roman satire is sometimes linked to the Greek satyr plays, satire's only connection to the satyric drama is through the subversive nature of the satyrs themselves, as forces in opposition to urbanity, decorum, and civilization itself.