Exploring the History of Medicine, Part 38: Florence, Part 18

December 1, 2023


Uffizi Gallery

3. Marsyas, the Flayed Satyr

In Greek mythology, the "goddess of craftsmanship," Athena, crafted a beautiful flute that produced enchanting melodies and played it at a divine feast.

However, Zeus's wife, Hera, and the goddess of beauty, Aphrodite, mocked Athena, saying that her puffed-up cheeks looked ridiculous.

Enraged, Athena threw the flute away, which was then picked up by Marsyas, a forest spirit with goat horns and hooves.

Marsyas soon mastered the flute skillfully and captivated all the inhabitants of the forest, from birds to wild animals.

He became arrogant and believed himself to be the greatest musician in the world.

In his hubris, he challenged Apollo, the "god of music" and the "sun god."

Apollo accepted the reckless challenge with the condition that the winner can treat the loser as he wish.

Marsyas played his flute skillfully, trying to compete with Apollo's lyre, but there was no way he could match a god.

The musical contest ended with Apollo's overwhelming victory.

Apollo, who embodied the ideals of a god with excellence in heart, skill, and body, shone brilliantly.

However, he was also a frightening god who mercilessly punished those who acted recklessly with excessive pride.

Apollo bound Marsyas to a pine tree and flayed him alive, making him pay a cruel price for his arrogance.

Marsyas finally died.

The tears shed by Marsyas's music-loving companions became the Marsyas River in Phrygia (modern-day Turkey).

To this day, this river is known for its crystal-clear water, which is said to produce beautiful melodies in its flow.


In his work "Rhetoric," the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle stated, "Young people and the wealthy are prone to arrogance because behaving arrogantly gives them a sense of superiority."

David Owen, a British psychiatrist, has also proposed the concept of "hubris syndrome" as a form of personality disorder.

The word of Greek origin “hubris” means “arrogance.”

David Owen said:

“When hubris takes hold of a person, it fosters ambitions beyond their limits, ultimately leading to their downfall.

Those with a strong sense of self-love are more prone to arrogance.

When arrogance takes over, it inflates their desire for self-display, power, and wealth.

This personality disorder often affects individuals who have worked hard to achieve their desired positions.”

Leaders such as R. President V. P., C. President X. J., and N. K. leader K. J. are typical examples of this personality disorder.

It serves as a reminder for us to engage in self-reflection, prioritize etiquette, and conduct ourselves with humility.

Interestingly, the English and Greek word "hubris," is also the origin of the English word "hybrid," which means "mixture" or "combination."

"Hybrid" is a word often associated with high functionality in modern contexts, such as hybrid cars or hybrid computers.

From the perspective of ancient people, "high functionality" might indeed be seen as a form of "arrogance."