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Silenus and Bacchus on a Donkey with a Satyr

by Lindsay Worley

Unknown Artist, "Silenus and Bacchus on a Donkey with a Satyr," late 19th Century CE, terracotta clay. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Bacchus, the God of entertainment, merriment, and wine, has been a symbol associated with feasting since his invention. However, the fact that this sculpture is a forgery provides an additional lens through which we can interpret feasting and its portrayal.

Visualized here in his younger form, Bacchus (also known as Dionysus) was raised by Silenus, the older figure on the donkey. According to mythology, Silenus taught Bacchus how to enjoy wine and festivities. Silenus often traveled on a donkey because he was usually too intoxicated to walk (Jones). Bacchus was usually pictured surrounded by his clan of satyrs, seen in the figure as the half-man, half-goat character on the left. Originally, the sculpture was thought to have been created the 4th – 3rd century BCE in Greece (Sturgeon).

When the Metropolitan Museum of Art discovered that the figurine was a forgery in 1960, the piece took on a realm of previously hidden meanings. The act of forgery exposes a deeper part of humanity; why do humans seek to fabricate pleasurable moments, and pass them off as authentic? Within the theme of feasting, a group of people sitting down to a picture-perfect meal give an appearance of shared unity, provision, and peace. However, the feast could be considered a “forgery” if the group is experiencing discord, scarcity, and shame beneath the surface. For example, within the film Big Night, the owners of a restaurant put on a grand feast to save their restaurant, and the meal began as a wonderful celebration. However, it turned into an anti-feast when one guest betrayed them, revealing that the feast was set up to trick the owners into causing the restaurant’s ultimate downfall (Tucci and Scott).

In the 20th century, Bacchus’s forgery can be connected to social media. This tool has made it even easier to manufacture appearances and fabricate meaningful moments. In conclusion, Bacchus’s forgery reveals humanity’s search for authentic feast-like moments of abundance, peace, companionship, and ultimate fulfillment.


Works Cited

Jones, Jonathan. “Drunken Silenus Supported by Satyrs (c1620), Rubens’s (Studio).” The Guardian, 20 Dec. 2002,

Sturgeon, Mary C. “Ancient Mediterranean Art in the Ackland Art Museum.” Ackland Art Museum, 2015.

Tucci, Stanley and Campbell Scott, directors. Big Night. The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1996.



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