A common figure in Greek and Roman myths, Marsyas is identified as a silenus, perhaps a satyr, a protector of the waters of springs and rivers.
The mythological story is linked to the famous challenge with Apollo and his deeds were sung by Ovid in the Metamorphoses. It is said that Marsyas had collected a flute thrown into the river by the goddess Athena, because she was mocked for playing the instrument, as her cheeks would swell.
Marsyas became an excellent player, wandering through fields and woods, enchanting all with his instrument. His fame annoyed the god Apollo, who feared his supremacy would be undermined, and challenged him to a contest in which he would play the cithara and Marsyas the flute.
The Muses, called upon to judge the winner, established a draw.
The new challenge launched by Apollo was to sing and play at the same time, which meant clear defeat for Marsyas and victory for Apollo who, to punish him, had him tied to a tree and flayed alive by a Scythian slave, thus fulfilling Athena’s curse against the one who had picked up the flute.