Silenus was an elderly companion of the Maenads in the revels of Dionysus, a cross between a dirty old man and a chronic alcoholic - yet also wise and possessing powers of prophecy.

He is usually regarded as being a son of Pan or Hermes and a nymph. He may originally have been a river god, in which case his name can perhaps be derived from eilo or Mo, 'to roll'. In this respect it may be no coincidence that Latin silanus means 'fountain', 'jet of water'.

Some writers, too, say that Silenus was the son of Gaia, which further suggests a fountain or stream that springs from the earth. Whether this 'moisture' connection can be extended to the wine that he drank and that Dionysus symbolised is another matter.