Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Thursday 9 August 2012


Replica of Greek satyr bust from c.400 BC (Dr Karl Shuker)

A few months ago, I spotted in a charity shop the very unusual artefact depicted above at the beginning of this ShukerNature blog post; and after recognising what it was, I lost no time in purchasing it for the princely sum of just £5. It is a replica of a Greek stone bust dating from c.400 BC, which portrays the head of a satyr.

Today, the popular image of a satyr is that of a semi-human semi-goat entity, with hairy goat-legs and hoofed feet, a pair of short curly horns, and a very inconspicuous goat-tail.

'Satyr Among Roses' (Jade Bengco)

In classical Greek mythology, conversely, the satyr was originally represented with the long, profusely-haired tail of a horse, with pointed donkey-like ears rather than horns, a flattened nose, and the legs and feet of a normal human.

Lovers of wine, nymphs, and playing music with their panpipes, satyrs were disciples of a minor demi-god of fertility called Silenus, and, just like him, they were also enthusiastic followers of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. As Silenus was commonly portrayed as an elderly man of typically inebriated aspect, old satyrs were duly referred to as sileni (young ones were known as satyrisci).

'Drunken Silenus', a 2nd-Century-AD Roman marble statue in the Louvre, Paris (public domain)

During Roman times, however, the image of the satyr became conflated and ultimately synonymised with that of a rustic Roman nature deity called Faunus. He was half-human, half-goat, as were his followers, known as fauns (though originally they were described as half-human, half-deer).

Statue of Faunus at the Fountain of Neptune in Florence, Italy, sculpted by Bartolomeo Ammanati (public domain)

Since then, satyrs and fauns have generally been treated as one and the same type of mythical entity. But just how mythical – or otherwise – are satyrs?

As described time and again in mythology and folklore, satyrs were infamously lewd and lustful, never happier than when, fuelled by copious quantities of wine, they were in lecherous pursuit of some hapless nymph to ravish.
Satyr statue by Frank (Guy) Lynch in Sydney Botanic Gardens, Australia, visited by me during autumn 2006 (Dr Karl Shuker)

In my book The Unexplained (1996), I documented a remarkable cryptozoologically-relevant link between these priapic satyrs of classical legend and certain forms of elusive man-beast being reported today – with the emphasis very definitely upon priapic. Here is what I wrote:

"In Greek mythology, satyrs were semi-humans with the hairy legs, hooves, tail, and short horns of goats - but did they have a basis in reality? This unexpected prospect was raised in a stimulating paper published in the scientific journal Human Evolution in 1994 by Dr Helmut Loofs-Wissowa from the Australian National University's Faculty of Asian Studies.

"In ancient classical art, satyrs were frequently portrayed with a prominently erect penis - even when engaging in non-sexual activity. Indeed, it was this characteristic that earned them their reputation for sexual licentiousness. However, Dr Loofs-Wissowa believes that this is all fallacious - that in reality, the satyrs were displaying a physiological condition known as the penis rectus, in which the penis assumes a horizontal position even when flaccid. Among modern humans, this condition is only recorded from the bushmen of South Africa, but it is often portrayed in prehistoric cave art, including some Upper Palaeolithic examples from Europe, in which the figures exhibiting the penis rectus condition are hairy humanoids."

"There are two very intriguing aspects concerning this. One is that anthropologists have argued that these hirsute figures are representations of Neanderthal Man Homo neanderthalensis, which is believed to have died out at least 30,000 years ago. The other is that sightings of hairy troll-like humanoids are often reported in many parts of Asia, and these are believed by some scientists to be relict, modern-day Neanderthals, eluding formal scientific discovery. Of particular note here is that eyewitness descriptions of these mystifying entities have often alluded to the odd fact that they seem to have permanently erect penises, apparent even when spied indulging in non-sexual activity such as eating or walking. This suggests that they are in reality displaying the penis rectus condition.

"Combining all of this information, Loofs-Wissowa suggests that the penis rectus condition is clearly a marker in human palaeontology, i.e. indicating the identity of Neanderthals. And, as a direct consequence, he boldly proposes that satyrs might actually have been latter-day Neanderthals. He notes that many features attributed to satyrs in artistic representations differentiate them from modern humans but ally them to Neanderthals. These include their hairy body, upturned nose, prominent eye ridges, round head, strong neck - and, most noticeable of all, their exhibition of the penis rectus condition, hitherto wrongly identified as an overtly visual indication that satyrs possessed a hyperactive sex drive.

"A very novel idea, but it still leaves unexplained the small matter of the satyrs' hooves and tail, not to mention their horns..."

Statue of a satyr unearthed at Pompeii, Italy (Dr Karl Shuker)

Not all cryptozoologists, however, agree that satyrs may represent relict Neanderthals. In their book The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide (Avon Books: New York, 1999), Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe propose an alternative but equally thought-provoking option. They suggest that man-beasts exhibiting this distinctive penile condition represent a category of man-beast entirely separate from Neanderthals. They term it the Erectus Hominid, as they believe this man-beast may constitute a surviving representative of one of our own species' ancestors, Homo erectus:

"The Erectus Hominid is probably the least known of the world's mystery hominids. The reason for this is simple: most of the beings in this class have in the past been misidentified as Neanderthal. The Erectus Hominid is human-sized to about six feet tall. Its body is also within the standard human range with a slight barrelling of the chest. They are partially to fully hairy, with head hair longer than their body hair. The males of the class normally display a semi-erect penis."

Whatever the identity of satyrs in European mythology may be, however, there is an intriguing yet generally overlooked reason for their unbridled libido and debauched passion for seducing nymphs – the same reason why I entitled this ShukerNature blog post 'Sex and the Single Satyr'. Remarkably, there is no reference anywhere in the annals of classical mythology to female satyrs!

'Nymphs and Satyr', painted by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)

By definition, therefore, all satyrs were doomed to remain single, celibate, and sexually frustrated – unless they could achieve some lascivious success with the local dryads (wood nymphs) and oreads (mountain nymphs). Equally, such illicit liaisons offered the only opportunity for satyrs to procreate, producing new generations of satyrs, albeit ones that were increasingly diluted by the nymphs' genetic input.

Statue of an infant faun at Glastonbury, Somerset (Dr Karl Shuker)

Eventually, satyrs simply vanished from folklore and traditions, but, faced with such an uncertain, unpredictable pathway to reproductive success, it is hardly surprising really that they became extinct!

Satyr frolicking with nymphs, painted by Claude Lorrain (public domain)


  1. 'homo erectus' is one of the tags. I chuckled. Does that make me juvenile? I wonder how many mythical creatures are an attempt to describe real (or more plausible) animals?

  2. I suppose if satyrs do represent early encounters with other human species, it would perhaps be primarily male hunters that would be met, explaining why satyrs are always represented as male. On the other hand, there are plenty of other examples of unusual races of beasts in Greek mythology which seem to have only a single gender.

    I'm sure the name Homo Erectus has provoked many a childish titter when first heard. How ironic it would be for so named a species to turn out to be priapic.

  3. I always thought of nymphs as the satyrs' female counterparts. Sexual dimorphism, not a separate species.

  4. No, nymphs were basically female personifications of certain topographical features - mountains, streams, woods, trees, rivers, seas, etc, and were intimately linked/tied to those features. For instance, if a hamadryad's tree were chopped down, the hamadryad herself would die, ditto if a river nymph's river were poisoned/polluted, etc.

  5. Fascinating post about the priapic depictions of satyrs, but I'd disagree that they are frustrated. There is a rather notorious statue of a satyr engaging in congress with a goat and 17th-18th century engravings of satyr/nymph (or female human) sexual activity. Also, there are depictions of female satyrs as well as satyr families. For example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satyress

  6. Hi Chris, Glad you enjoyed it. Re female satyrs, however: as specifically pointed out in the Wikipedia entry that you've linked to in your above response, the satyress was a much later invention of artists and poets; such an entity does not occur in the classical Greek myths, and it is because of this, and their resulting frustration, that the satyrs sought sexual solace elsewhere, i.e. with nymphs, goddesses, and even goats.

  7. Very interesting article... I always thought the Satyrs as being inspired by apes (mostly orang-utan) and probably one or 2 wild men. However, given that there are different types of satyrs, it is quiet likely that they might have different bases in reality. Quoting from wikipedia:

    " 1) Island Satyrs, which according to Pausanias[8] were a savage race of red-haired, satyr-like creatures from an isolated island chain.
    2) Libyan Aegipanes (goat-pans), which according to Pliny the Elder[9] lived in Libya, had human heads and torsos, and the legs and horns of goats, and were similar to the Greek god Pan.
    3) Libyan Satyr, which according to Pliny the Elder[9] lived in Libya and resembled humans with long, pointed ears and horse tails, similar to the Greek nature-spirit satyrs.
    Medieval bestiaries also mention several varieties of satyrs, sometimes comparing them to apes or monkeys.[10]"
    I suppose variant 1 are orang-utans.
    Furthermore, I find this tidbit from theoi.org very intriguing concerning variant 1:


    Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 23. 6 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
    "Wishing to know better than most people who the Satyroi (Satyrs) are I have inquired from many about this very point. Euphemos the Karian (Carian) said that on a voyage to Italia he was driven out of his course by winds and was carried into the outer sea, beyond the course of seamen. He affirmed that there were many uninhabited islands, while in others lived wild men. The sailors did not wish to put in at the latter, because, having put in before, they had some experience of the inhabitants, but on this occasion they had no choice in the matter. The islands were called Satyrides by the sailors, and the inhabitants were red haired, and had upon their flanks tails not much smaller than those of horses. As soon as they caught sight of their visitors, they ran down to the ship without uttering a cry and assaulted the women in the ship. At last the sailors in fear cast a foreign woman on to the island. Her the Satyroi outraged not only in the usual way, but also in a most shocking manner."

    I do remember some roman chronist mentioning that during roman times there have been 2 satyrs captured in nowaday Turkey and their skins have been on display for a while and then brought to Rome (Sadly, I cant find the source right now, but will add it later on, if I have the time to search for it). I always wondered what those skins looked like...

  8. Hi Typhon, Thanks very much for this most interesting additional info! Like you, I've read about specimens of satyrs having been captured and preserved - I'll see if I can track them down, and blog about them if I can obtain sufficient info. All the best, Karl

  9. Thank you for an interesting discussion. I have been tracking down this very issue which, as with many questions re Greek mythology, has ended with a shrug, and perhaps with a smile on the part of the ancients looking down on us for expecting a rational explanation.

  10. The picture of nymphs and satyrs -- though it frustrates our sense of completion -- may be the representation of foreplay or of no-play, or an image at once of lust and of innocence, difficult for us to allow.

  11. Hmm. The suggestion of species-wide penis rectus is interesting, but wouldn't a whole species with that condition be likely to have a penile bone (not a pun :) which would have turned up in the fossil record?

    On the other hand, I've heard the horse was a symbol of sexual drive in ancient cultures, so maybe it's just symbolism.