Having traveled through Italy, Greece, and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.
The Confusing Mythology of the Fauns
The fauns are some of the most identifiable of creatures spoken of in Romany mythology; and despite the passing of two thousand years, many people today would be able to give an accurate physical description of a faun.
Such a description is likely to focus on a mythical creature of half-goat, half-man appearance, with the additional physical features of goat horns emanating from the creature's head.
The common imagery of the faun, however, comes not from Roman mythology and is more rooted in C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The faun, Mr. Tumnus, is the first creature encountered by Lucy in Narnia.
The general concept of the faun as a mythological creature is far more complicated than the character that appears in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series.
Fauns in Ancient Rome
From the surviving sources of Roman mythology, we learn that the fauns were spirit gods of woodlands, and were considered to be both the offspring and attendants of the Roman deities, Faunus and Fauna.
Faunus was the Roman god of the forest, plains, and fields; with Fauna being the Roman female equivalent of the male deity.
Fauns were therefore thought of being the mirror image of Faunus. This causes an issue though because in the earliest mythology of Ancient Rome Faunus was thought of as being human in appearance.
The religious processes of Ancient Rome were quick to incorporate the religious characters from conquered nations or assimilated people, and link them with their own. In the case of Faunus, the Greek god Pan became intertwined with the Roman god. The appearance and characteristics of Pan were therefore transposed onto Faunus, and so the imagery of the half-goat, half-man fauns started to emerge.
The Characteristics of the Fauns
As fauns were the mirror image of Faunus, all of them were male; there were no female fauns. Fauns would reproduce by mating with dryads, the tree nymphs, or other nymphs found in the ancient world.
The characteristics of the fauns also started to evolve, but the personality was soon intertwined with that of the Greek satyrs, and the names fauns and satyrs are even today often used as synonyms.
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In ancient texts though, satyrs were the companions of Bacchus (Dionysus) and were associated with wine, debauchery, and sexual conquest, although in antiquity these were not necessarily bad traits. Satyrs, however, were not half-goat beings but were men with ears of asses, horsetails, and pug noses.
It was though the traits of the satyrs that were passed onto the fauns, and in particular, the fauns were commonly connected with sexual conquest. This trait is not one associated with Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Fauns Reincorporated Into Greek Mythology
Roman mythology had incorporated the imagery of Pan, and the characteristics of the satyrs from Greek mythology, but confusingly, later Greek mythology may well have taken the Roman faun and made use of it.
In later Greek mythology, Panes, followers and companions of the god Pan, started to appear in stories. The appearance of the Panes was consistent with the Roman fauns but was considered to be a branch of the Satyr family of creatures.
Panes were associated with pasture lands, whilst the fauns were very much associated with the woodlands. As a group though, the fauns rarely appeared in Roman mythological stories but were generally thought of as helpful, willing to help those lost in the forests. Satyrs and Panes, however, were more likely to hinder those that were lost.
In reality, in antiquity, the faun was only a minor figure, and is arguably far more famous today, thanks to the works of C.S. Lewis, than it was in the preceding 2000 years.
Sources and Further Reading
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Colin Quartermain (author) on January 16, 2015:
Thanks Fred - it does seem that many things have a darker side to them, but Greek and Roman mythology was always evolving, so the ultra helpful Mr Tumnus might have fit in quite well eventually.
Fred Arnold from Clearwater, FL on January 16, 2015:
Hmm, this hub gave me a new outlook on fauns! I read the Chronicles of Narnia when I was younger and with the making of the movies, when someone says faun, I think of Mr. Tumnus. Now I can't stop thinking that he was just some horny old man goat! Haha.