Silenus Bearing the Child Dionysus
is a Roman copy from the first or second century AD of a Greek original from the late fourth century BC, the work of the school of Lysippos. It was rediscovered in the sixteenth century in the Gardens of Sallust in Rome.
The sileni were followers of the god Dionysus, often depicted together with their divine master and his other followers – satyrs and maenads – or individually. They are rotund, pot-bellied, cheerful old men, usually drunk and with dishevelled hair. Essentially older satyrs, the sileni are Dionysus’ closest companions. One of these sileni, commonly known as Silenus, had a prominent role in the retinue of Dionysus, from whom he is inseparable, and whom he is said to have brought up and educated.
This Silenus is depicted in this statue cradling the infant Dionsysus, whose head is already adorned with vine leaves. Dionysus became the god of wine, viticulture, the grape-harvest and fertility. He was very popular with the common people because wine liberated mind and body, instilled courage and boosted the imagination and creativity. Dionysian revelries were widely celebrated. The rulers of the Hellenistic dynasties, in particular, liked to identify with Dionysus, or at least prove their divine origin through him.
Plaster cast; Roman copy, Horti Sallustiani, Rome; (copy 1927)