The Phrygian flute-player who châllenged Apollo to a contest of skill, and, being beaten by the god, was flayed alive for his presumption. From his blood arose the river so called. The flute on which Marsyas played was one Athena had thrown away, and, being filled with the breath of the goddess, discoursed most excellent music. The interpretation of this fable is as follows: A contest long existed between the lutists and the flautists as to the superiority of their respective instruments. The Dorian mode, employed in the worship of Apollo, was performed on lutes; and the Phrygian mode, employed in the rites of Cybele, was executed by flutes, the reeds of which grew on the banks of the river Marsyas. As the banks of the river Marsyas. As the Dorian mode was preferred by the Greeks, they said that Apollo beat the flute-player.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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