Abstract In Archaic Athenian vase-painting, silens (satyrs) are often sexually aroused, but only sporadically satisfy their desires in a manner acceptable to most Athenian men. Franççois Lissarrague persuasively argued that the sexuality of silens in vase-painting was probably laughable rather than awe-inspiring. What sort of laughter did the vase-paintings elicit? Was it the scornful laughter of a person who felt nothing in common with silens, or the laughter of one made to see something of himself in their behavior? For three reasons, I argue for the latter interpretation. First, some vase-paintings are constructed so as to invite the viewer to adopt imaginatively the persona of a silen. Second, parallels for the less-than-triumphant sexuality of silens occur in Archaic iambic poetry. Like the vase-paintings, the poetry was often constructed so that performers of the poems are incorporated into the narratives as all-too-human protagonists. Third, certain formal features of classical satyr-play encouraged the audience to identify with the point of view of the satyr-chorus, while others reminded it that there were better role models than silens. In all three media, a negative characterization of male characters or silens is combined with a manner of presentation that invites the viewer or performer to see himself among those characters despite their negative traits. That form of humor may have been common in Archaic symposia, but its presence in satyr-play suggests that it may also be a fundamental characteristic of silens.
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