Monday, February 28, 2011

Chrystalla Thoma: Satyrs, Silenes and Other Forces of Nature

Today I am SUPER excited to have Chrystalla Thoma on to talk about Greek mythology. I met her on Critique Circle and was quickly charmed by her spunk and constant positive energy. For those who don't know her, she lives in Greece and is a wonderful writer. I hope you all enjoy her post today.

Hi dear Amber! Thank you for hosting me today.

Greeks have a love-and-hate relation with their history and mythology. Lucky for me, I am a lover of such things, so I had a happy time at school learning about ancient history and Homer.

Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I like writing about Greek myths and legends. My upcoming novella, to be released by MuseItUp Publishing next month, is called Dioscuri. It is a retelling of the ancient myth of the twin brothers Kastor and Polydeukes, Zeus’ sons with Leda, one of whom is mortal and the other immortal. The story is set in modern-day Athens where the ancient gods have woken again, and there is war. The two brothers fight against the monsters. When the mortal brother, Kastor, dies in battle, his immortal sibling Polydeukes takes things in his own hands and makes a dark deal with the Underworld. A deal Zeus will sooner or later discover and all hell will break loose.

In this war against the monsters crawling out of the underground passages and the construction sites, and the complicated games of the higher gods of Olympus, certain lesser immortals take the mortals’ side: nature sprites, the satyrs, silenes, nymphs and the griffins, aid Kastor and Polydeukes not only in hand to hand battle, but also in figuring out the mystery of Kastor’s return to life and the deal his brother made with Hades.

In my post for Six Sentence Sunday (a project where each Sunday authors post on their blogs six sentence from a published or unpublished story they wrote), I have an excerpt with the Satyr of the Temple. He is an authoritative figure in the story, and demands to know of Kastor what the heck is going on:

“Listen, Satyr, I appreciate the time you’re taking for me, but I’ve got to meet
someone, I—”

“Because it cannot be someone playing games with the Underworld, can it?” The Satyr leaned closer, his long, flat face driving fear like a dagger into Kast, nailing him to his seat, driving his breath out.
“That would cause the wrath of the higher immortals; call them down to punish us all. One doesn’t toy with the boundaries between the dead and the living.”

Kast drew back, the hairs on the back of his neck rising.

Much has been said about the Greek gods’ anthropomorphism, which simply means that their gods look and behave just like us mere mortals. Oh they do have powers, but their human appearance and petty quarrels don’t differ much from ours. This is taken to be an advance on, say, the grotesque gods of other ancient cultures like the Babylonian and the Egyptian, composites of men and animals. The Greek gods left behind their animalistic side.

But did they, really?

Among ancient Greek findings, we encounter statuettes of bird-headed goddesses and horse-bodied men (perhaps centaurs, i.e. impressions of the first appearance of men riding horses in Greece). But then what happened?

The concept seems to start with the taboo and the totem: the animals either needed for food or labor, and the animals feared, would be worshipped and with sympathetic magic made benevolent to the hunters. These animals evolved into the early gods, and probably merged with the worship of the spirits of the ancestors – an adoration born perhaps of the fear of the unknown beyond the grave.

The animals associated with a god or goddess were at first merged with human parts to represent the divine nature: an owl goddess would have the head of an owl, a stag god would have the head of a stag, maybe also its antlers and tail. The shamans and priests who worshipped these divinities could imitate them, wearing masks and pelts and using musical instruments to imitate their voices – even dancing steps that reminded their mode of movement. The priest became the animal, became the god, and through this ritual propitiated the higher powers.

In later times, with the societies more organized, less fear and more knowledge, man tried for more rationality. Of course, the gods were not animals – gods were the perfect mirror images of man. So the animal parts were mostly separated from them. But they didn’t disappear, because ritual and religion is strong. The animals were relegated either to the gods’ offspring, to symbols they carried about or animals that followed them, or even certain gods, older gods tightly connected to nature, were made into monsters to be feared and hated (but still in some cases worshipped as gods – like the dragons, monstrous snakes whose temples were often taken over by the new gods, like Apollo).

A case in point is the famous Minotaur, who is in fact nothing else but one of the forms of god Poseidon or Zeus – a bull but also a sea god, a god of fertility and also a god of the dead (eating humans inside the Labyrinth, the maze of death). In his more advanced form, Zeus transforms into a bull to abduct Europa, but then turns back into his handsome human form. Yet in other stories Zeus becomes a swan (which is how he had Beautiful Helen and the Dioscuri with Leda), or an eagle (which is how he kidnaps Ganymedes). Zeus is the bull, and the eagle, and the swan – but also the lightning, the storm, and the sky.

The Satyrs survived as composite gods – but they were pushed into the realm of lesser divinities or spirits of the forest. Yet the one Satyr’s real name is “Pan” – god of everything, perhaps, surely an older god of beer and wine, mischievous and a trickster, a god of fertility and the wilderness. The silenes are similar to the satyrs, and like the satyrs were later made followers of Dionysus who took on their real role of reveler god, god of drinking and divine madness and reproduction. The nymphs, goddesses of springs and forests and valleys, all but disappeared from mythology.

The older gods are dead. Long live the older gods! Thanks again for having me here.

About the Author:
Chrystalla Thoma is permanent resident of fantasy land, complete with angels and demons, elves, vampires and werewolves. A Greek Cypriot, she lives in Cyprus with her husband and her vast herd of books. When not reading or writing, she works as a linguistics lecturer at a private university and as a freelance translator.

You can find Chrystalla’s novella Dioscuri at MuseItUp Publishing, here:

Visit Chrystalla’s blog to read more about her writing and ramblings about mythology:


  1. MENSA magazine recently asked if you could only have one book to read for the rest of your life, what book would it be and why? I replied that it would be a comprehensive book of Greek Mythology, like Edith Hamilton's, because there is the entire panoply of human experience in those stories. I would never get bored, or tired of re-reading them! The first book I can remember reading to myself was Greek myths for kids, and I've never outgrown them!

  2. Thank you Chrystalla for coming by. Was having blogger problems yesterday and couldn't access comments.

    Thank you Fiona for stopping by. I love reading about mythology too. So interesting. History is re-releasing a lot of their shows on it too, which is interesting.