The Legacy of the Satyr

by Hazel Anna Rogers

The passing-down of literature fascinates me. I find something utterly awe-inducing in the ability of human language to convey a narrative generation after generation, and for us to have the knowledge and ingenuity to understand the importance of preserving great stories and characters. I suppose the process must be akin, in some sense, to that of a distillation chamber, in that it consists of years of inter-generational storytelling that distill the story to its essence, to the very narrative blocks that birthed it to begin with. And, from then on, the story itself is open to interpretation, thus presenting us with endless possibilities of adaptation. Tales have been pummeled, pressed, and forced into eternally variable forms, starting from anonymous fables and ending in popular animated entertainment. But do we lose something when we carve away all the layers of a story, or a character, and place in it instead our own values, our own narrative, our own words? If we present a character or story to an audience as de facto, that is to say an original work, why need our audience doubt it? I wish to present here the origins and developments of one such character, the Satyr, so as to suggest the true importance of literary and cultural heritage in the modern day.

So…the Satyr. A half man, half beast creature that allegedly emerged in works of Classical Greek mythology, and was most prominently associated with the god of ecstasy and wine, Dionysus (or Bacchus/Liber Pater in Rome), son of Zeus and Semele (the only mortal to father a god, Semele was Zeus’ mistress but swiftly found her death through the wrath of Zeus’ wife, Hera). Dionysus’ artistic importance in Greek society stems from his purported powers – to produce or inspire ecstasy – and many theatrical performances were attributed to him in festivals bearing his name. His legacy was one of exaltation, pleasure, and sexuality, thus many of the ceremonies ascribed to him involved the phallus and the theme of fecundity in the form of spirits such as satyrs.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - 2 Satyrs

Two Satyrs, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1618

The Satyr differs from the Roman ‘Faunus’, Saturn’s grandson who was revered to bring abundance to the pastoral, in that the Satyr is endowed an (erect) phallus along with horse ears and tail, whereas Faunus is half man half goat. However, in the Hellenistic era Satyrs were also presented as being part goat and man, so this distinction can sometimes be arbitrary. Perhaps a more prominent distinction can be observed in ancient Greek artwork, where Satyrs were often painted alongside women (mortals) and nymphs, whom they would attempt to woo. In Classical Athenian theater, the triad of plays performed for the Dionysia would consist of two tragedies proceeded by a bawdy tragicomedy known as the ‘Satyr play’, in which satyrs would take on the role of the chorus. Not many complete plays of this ilk remain from the period, but Euripides’ ‘Cyclops’ is one such play that we have in its entirety. As is characteristic of ‘Satyrs’, Euripides’ play is founded on debauchery and immorality, the main themes of it being gluttony and excessive ingestion (testimony to Dionysus’ title of the ‘god of wine’). The Cyclops’ belly itself is described as the ‘greatest of all divinities’, and Silenus (Dionysus’ satyresque companion) along with his chorus of satyrs are eager for Odysseus to give them his wine in exchange for the Cyclops’ food. It is a wondrous satire of one of the scenes from Homer’s epic The Odyssey. [Carl Kruse: As an aside, Prof. Emily Wilson has released a new, modernized translation of The Odyssey, which I highly recommend).

Interestingly, the lewd and sexual nature of the Satyr and the figure of Silenus have been lost to time if we look to references of them in 20th and 21st Century literature and media. Mr Tumnus, the faun-like character in C S Lewis’ ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ (1950) is exceedingly tender and tame, despite his appearance being a sort of faun-satyr hybrid (he has a long, horse-like tail but also horns and goatish legs). The ‘Nymph and Satyr’ (1908) painting by Fauvist artist Henri Matisse is distinctly unsexual, aside from the nymph lying in front of him (which I suppose could be interpreted any such way), and with the satyr looking distinctively man-like.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Matisse painting


The Nymph and the Satyr, 1908, Henri Matisse

The satyr Grover Underwood in Rick Riordan’s popular children’s series of ‘Percy Jackson’ novels is also decidedly domestic, acting simply as a loyal friend to protagonist Percy, despite the fact that the series itself is supposedly based on Greek mythology.

Why is this important? Why is it significant that a character that continues to be portrayed in popular culture has lost its defining traits to time? Surely poetic license allows for us to make these changes? Well, yes. I agree. But I also think that this example is perfect in showing us how easily our literary and cultural heritage can fade away. In a few simple sentences, Rick Riordan has replaced the legacy of the satyr with something completely different, and I think it’s a shame to forget where these stories and characters came from in the first place. We are all influenced by what we read, listen to, and watch. As we increasingly rely on fast-paced pleasures such as social media and video games, our interest in the past wanes. Everything is moving faster, everywhere there are new possibilities, all around new futures tempt fewer people to go to university. We don’t need to spend three years learning about one field anymore in the hope of pursuing a career that brings enough money in. We can do short entrepreneur courses or make money through social media outlets. Increasing your intelligence through persistent long-term study is no longer as desirable – it has become a waste of time. You can get all the answers you could ever want through the internet.

I think there’s an alarmingly steep uphill trend of shortening attention spans aligned with the increasing normality of seeing six-year-olds with smartphones, and I find that disarming. Classics and robust tomes of literature were most definitely not shoved down my throat while I was growing up, but the names of such authors as Austen, Lawrence, and Homer were certainly not unknown to me. I loved to sit down and read thick, musty novels through day and night, often becoming so invested in the storyline of a certain protagonist that it would take an almighty level of strength to pull myself away from a book so as to have an agreeable amount of sleep. I used to get reading lights in my stockings at Christmas which only exacerbated my unhealthy night-time habits.

Through our increasing reliance on the internet to solve every question or dilemma, I do believe we have become, or are becoming, quite base thinkers. We are more inclined to rely on the satisfaction derived from a ‘like’ or ‘share’ on a social media post, our primary mode of communication, than to seek it from reading or researching the shelves in a library. Popular classic novels have been turned into graphic novels so they’re easier to ingest, and there is an ever-growing market for pseudo-babble texts that tell you how to improve your life with various methods of spirituality and finance-management. These books employ lists and short phrases to cater to our inability to concentrate on a single idea for longer than a page. Complexity seems unappealing, and ease and speed of ingestion of information is what we now seem to seek.

Reading a long book takes discipline, and time, something many of us don’t have a lot of anymore. But it also takes passion, and with a world endlessly bombarding us with all of the exciting and different things we could be doing with our time we often feel inclined to leave the quiet, secular activity of reading to one side. Even just a hundred years ago, primary and secondary schools often still taught Latin, and reading the ‘canonical’ works was non-negotiable. Though in saying that, there is much to be said about the validity of ‘canonical’ works, and I value the attempts by many university institutions to vary this ‘canon’ to include non-native English writers and literature from marginalized authors.

Why not delve deeper, why not exchange a moment of time you would normally spend binge-watching a television series on something that takes more work, more imagination? Why not pick up a fat book, one that makes you feel when you open it to the first page that it is so impossibly long that you could never possibly finish it? Why not read the books that have influenced timeless authors through the centuries, and see if they inspire you just as much? Why not invest time learning about the history of all of the art and literature around you, all that made us what we are today?

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The blog homepage is at https://carlkruse.net.
Contact: carl At carlkruse DOT com.
Other articles by Hazel Anna Rogers include When Did We Stop Criticizing Art and Paper Books, E-Book Dreams.
The blog’s last post was on Brunelleschi’s Dome.
Carl Kruse is also on the Goodreads book site.

Andrea Liguori, a Wonderful Mind in Berlin


by Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog


Into the urban traffic of Berlin so many people are walking, with them come ideas from all over the world, sometimes changing the surrounding environment. This is the case of Andrea Liguori, an architect from Palermo who has now lived in Berlin for many years. I had a pleasant chat with Andrea, where he told me about his work, his love for architecture and painting.


What brought you to Berlin, Andrea?


“What brought me to Berlin? A girl; sometimes happens that love takes you around the world … sometimes you move for work, other times because you meet someone who moves something inside you. What I always point out is that it’s not so important how you got there but why you stayed there. In my case the reasons for staying were mainly the business aspect, Berlin is a beautiful reality, there is room for all: but also so much competition, and you have to
live with this. for an architect like me there is so much to do, and many possible niches… Here the field of architecture is very interesting because new construction sites are always opening, and Berlin has also an important role in the history of architecture, it was one of the headquarter’s of the Bauhaus.”

Carl Kruse Blog - Andrea Liguori - Wood House




Woodhouse by Andrea Liguori

How did you start your career?


“My very first experience was working in a studio in Palermo with two partners, an experience that I abandoned once I moved. Here I started working in the studio of an architect who spoke Italian, and it was useful for me to start learning German. Gradually I got to know the local reality, I built new acquaintances, and I started being able to do some more personal projects. Today I am a consultant for a studio, with which I design new buildings, such as hotels and apartments … but I also have my studio, where I take care of my projects, which mostly concern bars, restaurants, or small villas.”

And how do you divide yourself between the two activities?


“Since I am an external consultant, I can manage my time based on the importance of the projects I have. I work a lot, I often stay up late, I work on weekends, but all in all, when you find something you like it’s a hobby, and you feel like you never work. I’m not saying it’s exactly like that, because sometimes the tiredness is real, but I enjoy it. I never get bored because I like to differentiate. I’m also into furniture design. Me and a friend of mine have a company in Palermo, we design lamps, objects, we have also worked as
designers for Italian firms. In short, I have a holistic approach, I deal with a bit of everything that has to do with the world of drawing, design, architecture.”

Carl Kruse Blog - Andrea Liguori - Hotel in Georgia

Andrea Liguori – Hotel in Georgia

How do your ideas arise, and how do you put them into practice?


”With architecture, there is a study of reference manuals, while the creative process in design is more important and lighter. It comes from the experience as an individual when you go to a place or buy an object, you look at it, you
are interested, you think about possible changes …but the best ideas always
come in moments of leisure, of freedom, as the theory of creative idleness explains: when you are relaxed, maybe take a shower, an interesting idea comes to your mind more easily.”

How did you experience the lockdown? Was it a
period of greater creativity?


“When we are busy with everyday commitments there are many bureaucratic issues to complete, emails to write, accountants, lawyers, appointments to deal with. During the lockdown, all of this has slowed down a bit, I felt less pressure, and thus creativity increased. I have never been bored, thanks to my other passion that is painting… I paint with watercolors. Three or four years ago I also held a watercolor paintings exhibition in Palermo inspired by places in my city, and I keep painting to this day. I feel a little homesick now and then, but it relaxes me, I like the subject, and I continue to paint.”

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Foro Italico

Foro Italico in Palermo. Watercolor by Andrea Liguori

Was there a project that had left a mark on you, or that you particularly enjoyed doing?


“There is no more important project than others, everyone has their importance. Projects are a bit like children for an architect. I like traveling a lot, and I try to do projects all over the world, and those have a special flavor to me, even if it’s a smaller project. For example, at the moment I am working on the project of a large hotel here in Germany but I enjoyed doing a very small boutique in Miami, Florida last year because it was an opportunity to
discover a new world, a fun place … They are all projects born thanks to public relations, it is important in my opinion to convey your passion to others, you manage to involve them, and they call you and ask you for advice. Social networks also have their weight, with Instagram I share things that maybe don’t have much to do with my work but that give the idea of my vision of the world, of what I like to do, and maybe if there is someone who knows me
and sees himself in my posts he looks for me, calls me and the affinity is
born.”

Andrea is a fascinating man, with a firm and confident gaze; he knows what he wants and he knows how to get it. His university love continues to blossom day by day: he lives with his partner in his Berlin apartment. What struck me most about Andrea is the dedication and commitment he puts into his work, his delicacy in the choice of words, which reveals a brilliant creative intuition, typical of a successful architect. Transforming an idea into something real is what I admire most about architecture, and about art in general: Berlin’s urban planning is varied, always open to new construction sites, always new, always changing, ready to welcome those who, like Andrea, dare to put their personality into this wonderful city.

Carl Kruse Blog - Andrea Liguori - President of Italy

Andrea Liguori with Italian President Sergio Mattarella


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Homepage: Carl Kruse Art Blog
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other posts by Asia Leonardi are here, here and here.

Berlin related posts on the blog include the Boros Bunker art gallery and coverage of Berlin artist Yury Kharcehnko.
Carl Kruse is active in Berlin with the Ivy Circle.

When did we Stop Criticizing Art?

by Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

When I was around 13, I visited the Tate Gallery at the Liverpool Docks in Northern England primarily to see an exhibition of J.M.W. Turner and Cy Twombly, a starkly contrasting set of artists and the latter of which I actually had next-to-no prior knowledge of. Turner’s tableaux were mesmerizing, a sheer cacophony of violent maritime depictions in furious reds and oranges juxtaposed to ominous grey skylines. The walls of the gallery were filled with gloriously calm sunsets at sea alongside terrifying raging flames and waves that curved and swayed and spat like sharks feasting on shoals of fish. It was wonderful, an utterly overwhelming delight for the senses.

Carl Kruse Blog - Painting by JMW Turner


Fishermen At Sea,” J.M.W. Turner (1796) – Image courtesy Tate Gallery

In the next room on I was suddenly surrounded by Cy Twombly’s enormous canvases. Scrawls of paint had been twirled and splatted and daubed onto the huge white expanses creating a graffiti-like effect, some with the appearance of words. I hated it. It felt all wrong, an expression of seeming carelessness towards the production of his masterpieces. After having wandered dreamily through Turner’s paintings, this felt like a punch in the eyes, a pointlessly unartistic exposition in the name of ‘art’. Yet, I felt unable to say anything against those huge, grotesque paintings, being observed as they were by a silent audience of respectful spectators.

Carl Kruse Blog - Twombly

“Untitled (Bacchus),” Cy Twombly (2008) – Image courtesy of Tate Gallery

I understand the differences in artistry and approach to creation much more now than I did at 13. I understand that the process of creating a masterpiece is not prescriptive, nor is it defined by one particular artistic style. I also understand that the emotions I felt, being surrounded by Twombly’s scribbles, were valid sentiments, and likely would have pleased Twombly himself should I have recounted them to him. But that doesn’t discount my anger, my frustration that art with no merit except its colossal size and thus imposing presence should be beside the tender daubs of someone like Turner. The art world has always had opposing views on what is, or is not, art, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I don’t disagree that Twombly’s paintings are art. I also don’t wish to debate what ‘beauty’ is with regards to art, as it isn’t always relevant. A piece of art can be incredible without being beautiful. I just want to understand how it is we came to the art world of today, of the 21st Century, where we no longer criticise art.

I am in a generation bewitched by social media, a generation that is unashamedly narcissistic and that relishes self-importance. It is also the generation that produced the Instagram poet Rupi Kaur, along with her pages of simplistic, immature poetry. I have been to slam poetry contests where the winner was crowned not for poetic merit, but for loudly proclaiming how much hardship they had endured through their life. If I sound embittered, it’s because I am. Bygone eras are much the talk of mine and past generations, times when music was exciting, when people wrote letters, when people read books and wrote ones just as wonderful. I often think about the jazz scene of 1920’s Harlem, a sea of exciting talent emerging from an ever-increasing black population, with such greats as Fats Waller and Willie The Lion Smith striking piano keys in the jazz clubs that popped up left right and centre as New York became the epicentre of jazz in the 1930s. It’s that feeling of ‘You had to be there’. I have no doubt in my mind that the musicians playing in Harlem in the 1920s were often showered with tomatoes, booed off-stage, and not invited back until they were better in their respective trades. To be criticised is to be encouraged, to have the drive to get better, to show how good you can really be if you put your mind to something.

Part of the problem with new art is its audience. We can no longer heckle bad poets and bad musicians, or tell people that their paintings are unimaginative or uninspiring. We live, strangely, in a social climate that tells us we need ‘trigger warnings’ for certain books we read, while we watch poets read lines that shout about how they were bullied, raped, oppressed, and harassed without a metaphor in sight to disguise their meanings. And we sit, stony-faced, silent, and clap them, congratulate them on how brave they are to tell us all how much we should pity them. Art is no longer questioned, at least not within the younger generations that I am often amongst.

I remember when I was 15 and won the Young Poet Laureateship for the region where I grew up. Time and time again I would write poems, and time and time again my family would tell me they needed improving, or that they weren’t good at all. Criticism was a wonderful thing for me. It allowed me to grow as an artist, to shape my language into something subtle, sharp and resonant. I was better for it, a more rounded poet and writer, and never once did I resent feedback on my writing, be it bad, or worse, dismissive.

In a world obsessed with art but unable to distinguish the good from the purely egotistical, we find ourselves stranded. I still fell as though I am in that gallery, looking at Twombly’s artwork, perplexed and unimpressed. We discussed the paintings when we went back to school. Twombly’s paintings were ‘experimental’, ‘disturbing’, ‘interesting’, and ‘thought-provoking’. The space to say how much I hated them disappeared quickly as an overriding sentiment of respect for Twombly’s art overtook the classroom. Was it because it was in a gallery, thus it had to be worthy of our awe and wonder? I can’t say. But I think back on that day where I remained silent, and I also think about what would have happened if my family had praised my poetry when they in fact thought it flawed, meaningless and dull. And I will toast to the day that I have the courage to stand up and tell a bad poet what I really think of them, when I have the courage to tell my friend that her indie alternative jazz band needs to get their act together, because all of their music sounds the damn same. I will praise the day that someone tells me they didn’t like my poetry performance, that it was crass or forced or unintelligent, and I will relish the possibility of self-improvement under the motivation of their harsh words. In a world that censors negativity in the face of art, I hope that we can learn to speak our minds once again.

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Carl Kruse – Ars Lumen Home Page – Here
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Last blog post was on Escher
Another post by Hazel Anna Rogers – Music, Memory, the Cloud
Carl Kruse is also on Pinterest.