Myths about the Roman God Silenus

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Myths about the Roman God Silenus
Silenus. As Bacchus was the god of good humor and fellowship, so none of the deities appeared with a more numerous or splendid retinue, in which Silenus was the principal person; of whose descent, however, we have no accounts to be relied on. Some say he was born at Malea, a city of Sparta; others at Nysa in Arabia; but the most probable conjecture is, that he was a prince of Caria, noted for his equity and wisdom.

But whatever be the fate of these different accounts, Silenus is said to have been preceptor to Bacchus, and was certainly a very suitable one for such a deity, the old man being heartily attached to wine. He however distinguished himself greatly in the war with the giants, by appearing in the conflict on an ass, whose braying threw them into confusion; for which reason, or because, when Bacchus engaged the Indians, their elephants were put to flight by the braying of the ass, it was raised to the skies, and there made a constellation.

The historian tells us that Silenus was the first of all the kings that reigned at Nysa; that his origin is not known, it being beyond the memory of mortals: it is likewise said that he was a Phrygian, who lived in the reign of Midas, and that the shepherds having caught him, by putting wine into the fountain he used to drink of, brought him to Midas, who gave him his long ears; a fable intended to intimate that this extraordinary loan signified the faculty of receiving universal intelligence. Virgil makes Silenus deliver a very serious and excellent discourse concerning the creation of the world, when he was scarcely recovered from a fit of drunkenness, which renders it probable that the sort of drunkenness with which Silenus is charged, had something in it mysterious, and approaching to inspiration.

He is described as a short, corpulent old man, bald-headed, with a flat nose, prominent forehead and long ears. He is usually exhibited as over-laden with wine, and seated on a saddled ass, upon which he supports himself with a long staff in the one hand, and in the other carries a cantharus or jug, with the handle almost worn out with frequent use.

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