In Greek mythology, the satyr Marsyas, a creature part horse, part human, challenged Apollo, the god of music, to a flute contest. Apollo won and punished Marsyas by having him hung from a tree and skinned alive. For the Romans, the story of Marsyas served as an example of the consequences of hubris, or excessive pride, and of foolishly challenging one's betters. Yet even with this harsh message, figures of Marsyas were popular in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, and they were frequently used as table supports.
This broken Marsyas comes from just such a table. Traces remain of the paint and gilding that originally elaborated the figure. As is often the case with these table supports, the unknown Roman sculptor has changed the emphasis from a hanging figure to a standing one. The sculptor also appears to have confused or conflated his mythology. The two small horns emerging from the forehead of the figure are not appropriate for Marsyas; they are characteristic of another partially human Greek creature, the god Pan. The sculptor has combined traits of Marsyas and Pan into one figure.