This painting, by the German artist Johann Liss (1597 – 1631), was inspired by one of the fables attributed to the legendary tale-teller, Aesop, who was said to have lived in the 6th century BCE. Although the title of the artwork is called “The Satyr And The Peasant,” the particular story from which the artist drew inspiration is often called the fable of “The Man and the Satyr.” Naming differences aside, let’s get on with the story.
As the fable goes, a man was walking through a forest near his house one day when he had a chance encounter with a mythical satyr. The man and creature became great friends, and the satyr eventually was invited to live in the man’s house. As the two walked together on a certain cold day, the satyr was amused to see the man shivering and holding his hands up at his mouth, blowing air on his fingers. The furry-legged satyr, who apparently was immune to the cold, asked the man what he was doing, and the man responded that he was blowing hot air on his hands to keep them warm. This conversation continued until the two reached the man’s home.
During their walk, the man and satyr had worked up an appetite, and they soon began cooking a hot meal—reportedly porridge—to fill their empty bellies. They were so hungry that they did not wait for the food to cool before they sat down to eat. Nevertheless, the man could see that the porridge was too hot, and he began to blow on his serving of porridge, dispersing the steam that was rising up from his meal. It is this part of the fable (the man cooling down his porridge while dining with the satyr) that Johann Liss re-created in his painting. Unfortunately, the friendship of the man and the satyr was ended by this very incident. The satyr was curiously outraged when he learned that the man was now using his breath to cool down food, as opposed to heating up cold hands. After making this realization, the satyr immediately stood up from the table and began to grumpily march back to his own forest homeland. As he left the man’s home, the satyr explained himself by saying, “I’ve seen enough. A fellow that blows hot and cold in the same breath cannot be friends with me!” (Aesop, The Man and the Satyr).
Written by C. Keith Hansley