Apollo and Marsyas, 1581
Engraving. 231 x 314 mm
Inventory number: E255
The print shows the myth of Apollo and Marsyas, which reminded the people of antiquity how merci¬lessly arrogance was punished – even by the god of light and music.
The satyr Marsyas had found a flute that the goddess Athene (Lat. Minerva) had thrown away on the ground. He taught himself to play, and became so skilled that he thought he could play the flute even better than the god of music, Apollo, could play his lyre. In his arrogance he challenged Apollo to a competition where the winner could do with the loser whatever he liked. The two took turns to play, and both were so good that the Muses, who were the judges, could not choose a winner.
But Apollo refused to be beaten. He decided that they should both reverse their instrument and play on. Of course Marsyas could not blow through the other end of the flute, so Apollo, who could easily play on the reversed lyre, was proclaimed the winner. Apollo could now do whatever he liked with Marsyas, and showed no mercy. The vengeful god tied Marsyas to a tree and while he was still alive he flayed the skin from him as a grim warning to all who might want to challenge him.