Dancing Satyr

Satyros periboetos of Mazara

The “Dancing Satyr”, preserved in the homonymous museum of Mazara del Vallo,  is a bronze statue, a copy from the Hellenistic period, it is not intact, and it measures over the original one. Contrary to the usual, the interpretation of this sculpture is not a matter of doubt: it consists of a satyr, caught in a moment of orgiastic ecstasy during the ritual in honour of Dionysus


The statue was found in the nets of the fishing boat “Capitan Ciccio” of Mazara del Vallo, commanded by captain Francesco Adragna: in a first “fishing session” he founded a bronze leg of a statue; the night of the 04 March 1998 discovered the rest of the sculpture was discovered, even if an arm was lost during the fortuitous operation of recovery. According to the authoritative opinion of the archaeologist Sebastiano Tusa (current Superintendent of the Sea of the Sicilian Region), the statue was located on a Roman cargo ship which shipwrecked between the island of Pantelleria and Capo Bon in Tunisia, probably around the third and the second century B.C.

Turning now to the hypothesis expressed by the scholars, according to Paolo Moreno, the statue would be the famous “Satyros periboetos” of Parassitele, a Greek original of the fourth century B.C. According to this scholar, the appellation “periboetos”, used by Plinius the Elder in reference to statue of Parassitele (Nat. hist., ΧΧΧΙV, 69), should not be interpreted with the meaning of “famous”, but as “the one who screams frantically”. The dating proposed by historians can be confirmed by a comparison with a depiction on an Attic vase dated back to the fourth century B.C. in which we found the god Dionysus sitting in front of a dancing satyr. 

As regards the quality of the statue of Mazara, it has to be said that, while being of very high quality, it does not present the formal features of mastery, which are mostly encountered in the details, such as eyes, brows, eyebrows, nails, hair. In all these elements, it is not possible to see the hand of a master, but that of a skilled copyist, which succeeded in give the power of the original creation, without “chiselled” and refined details. Simply observing and comparing this statue to the Riace Bronzes and the head of Pythagoras of Samos, two original authentic works of a prominent artist, it is possible to understand the difference in style and quality that elapses between the original creation and the copy, even though it is of optimal level. 



Moreover, the exam of the ship’s route induces to the same conclusion: the ship seems to go or come from Carthage, which was completely outside the usual sea routes to and from Greece. Remaining only at a level of hypothesis: why not think about a ship which transported to Rome a part of the spoils of Carthage, which was besieged and conquered by the Romans in 146 B.C, after a siege that lasted two years?

In conclusion, we believe that it is not possible to agree with the hypothesis of Moreno as regards the attribution of the original Satyr of Mazara to Parassitele, because we think that it consists of a copy from the Hellenistic period. 


The integration and reconstruction proposal that we offer, based on several comparisons of the serendipitous statue of Parassitele, considers the literary sources which quote Thyrsus and Cantaro in Satyr’s hands, caught while he is intent on dancing, bringing his head and arms back and opening the mouth to scream “evoé” in honour of Dionysus. From our point of view, the feature of the open mouth gave the name periboetos to the statuary type: not only in Plato, but also in Ares, this adjective is found in other contexts in which it seems clear its use to indicate a loud cry.


English translation by Corinna Castrizio.