Once upon a time, the goddess Athena, was playing a flute beside a stream, whose rippling water swayed to her melodious notes. By chance, Athena saw her reflection in the flowing water, which due to its swaying distorted her beautiful features. In disgust, Athena threw the flute away.
Later, the satyr Marsyas of Phrygia, picked the flute and began to blow through it. The flute, on its own, naturally emitted harmonious notes of most haunting strains, as it had been previously enthused, by the celestial breath of the goddess Athena. Thrilled to hear godly music, Marsyas puffed up with pride and in his arrogant conceit, he audaciously challenged Apollo’s lyre, to a musical contest.
The contest was to be judged by the Mnemonides, who were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Born at the foot of Mount Olympus in Pieria, they were also known as the virgin Nine Muses, namely, Cleio, Euterpe, Thaleia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Erato, Polymnia, Urania, and Calliope. It was agreed that the victor of the contest, may do whatever he pleased with the vanquished. The contest began and Marsyas emitted delightful notes from his flute. But when Apollo joined his voice, to the music of his Cithara lyre, he became the unquestionable winner.
Since it was agreed that the victor could do anything to the vanquished, Apollo flayed Marsyas alive. Marsyas, in torment, shrieked that was a flute equal to his life, but Apollo ripped off his living skin, until his entire body was an open wound showing bloody veins, nerves and viscera.
Lamenting the sad fate of Marsyas, all the people of the land wept. All the shepherds tending fleecy flocks on the hillocks wept. All the Sylvan deities wept, all the nymphs wept, and all the satyrs wept. All those tears permeated to the recesses of the earth and collected as a stream. Then the stream traversed through winding pathways, turned upwards and issued forth on the sun-kissed surface, in the land of Phyrgia, as the sparkling river Marsyas.
Excerpt from the book “Once Upon A Time-II: 150 Greek Mythology Stories” by Rajen Jani