Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The Faun

The Faun, the hero and narrator. The faun of mythological antiquity, half man and half goat, was associated with bucolic settings and lascivious sexual appetites, so the Faun of this work is imagined to be a creature of considerable sensual indulgence. His sexuality links him to fundamental human desire, but his intellectual probing reflects the continuing human preoccupation with self-definition. In this way, he seems remote from his animal half. Through both his aesthetic and his physical preoccupations, the Faun presents himself as essentially a romantic hero. He seeks to dominate his surroundings both to find answers and to create his songs. He lives in a pastoral setting and creates a literal harmony with it through his songs. The Faun’s major role is as a representation of the poet himself. Throughout the poem, he speaks of the music he plays on panpipes, and his dreams either create or transform his encounter with the nymphs, depending on which perception of reality the reader accepts. Because the nymphs appear only through the musings of the Faun, they seem to be entirely his creatures. If the encounter with them is taken to be a literal event, the Faun has only a limited perception of the nymphs, illustrating the difficulty of finding poetic insight, something as difficult to capture as the nymphs themselves.

The nymphs

The nymphs, the only two other characters in the poem. They remain only partially revealed. Each is rendered specific by contrast with the other; one is younger and naïve, the other more sophisticated and aggressive. In their similarity and variety, they serve as emblems of the Faun’s desire and the poet’s ideal. In their variety, they encompass all women and all beauty, but described only obliquely, without realistic detail. They serve as an idealized focus for any specific concept of beauty the reader may bring to the poem.