Greek God Pan
In Greek religion and mythology, Pan (/ˈpæn/; Ancient Greek: Πάν, Pan) is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music, and companion of the nymphs. His name originates within the Ancient Greek language, from the word paein (πάειν), meaning “to pasture.”
Pan has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, in the same manner as a faun or satyr. With his homeland in rustic Arcadia, he is also recognized as the god of fields, groves, and wooded glens; because of this, Pan is connected to fertility and the season of spring. The ancient Greeks also considered Pan to be the god of theatrical criticism.
In Roman religion and myth, Pan’s counterpart was Faunus, a nature god who was the father of Bona Dea, sometimes identified as Fauna. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Pan became a significant figure in the Romantic movement of western Europe and also in the 20th-century Neopagan movement.
In his earliest appearance in literature, Pindar’s Pythian Ode iii. 78, Pan is associated with a mother goddess, perhaps Rhea or Cybele; Pindar refers to virgins worshipping Cybele and Pan near the poet’s house in Boeotia.
The parentage of Pan is unclear; generally he considered to be the son of Hermes, although in some myths he is the son of Zeus, or Dionysus, with whom his mother is said to be a nymph, sometimes Dryope or, even in the 5th-century AD source Dionysiaca by Nonnus (14.92), Penelope of Mantineia in Arcadia. In some early sources such as Pindar, his father is Apollo via Penelope, the wife of Odysseus.
Herodotus (2.145), Cicero (ND 3.22.56), Apollodorus (7.38) and Hyginus (Fabulae 224) all make Hermes and Penelope his parents. Pausanias 8.12.5 records the story that Penelope had in fact been unfaithful to her husband, who banished her to Mantineia upon his return. Other sources (Duris of Samos; the Vergilian commentator Servius) report that Penelope slept with all 108 suitors in Odysseus’ absence, and gave birth to Pan as a result. This myth reflects the folk etymology that equates Pan’s name (Πάν) with the Greek word for “all” (πᾶν). It is more likely to be cognate with πάειν paein, “to pasture”, and to share an origin with the modern English word “pasture”.
In 1924, Hermann Collitz suggested that Greek Pan and Indic Pushan might have a common Indo-European origin. In the mystery cults of the highly syncretic Hellenistic era Pan is made cognate with Phanes/Protogonos, Zeus, Dionysus and Eros.
The Roman Faunus, a god of Indo-European origin, was equated with Pan. However, accounts of Pan’s genealogy are so varied that it must lie buried deep in mythic time. Like other nature spirits, Pan appears to be older than the Olympians, if it is true that he gave Artemis her hunting dogs and taught the secret of prophecy to Apollo. Pan might be multiplied as the Panes (Burkert 1985, III.3.2; Ruck and Staples, 1994, p. 132) or the Paniskoi.
Kerenyi (p. 174) notes from scholia that Aeschylus in Rhesus distinguished between two Pans, one the son of Zeus and twin of Arcas, and one a son of Cronus. “In the retinue of Dionysos, or in depictions of wild landscapes, there appeared not only a great Pan, but also little Pans, Paniskoi, who played the same part as the Satyrs”.
The worship of Pan began in Arcadia which was always the principal seat of his worship. Arcadia was a district of mountain people whom other Greeks disdained. Greek hunters used to scourge the statue of the god if they had been disappointed in the chase (Theocritus. vii. 107).
Being a rustic god, Pan was not worshipped in temples or other built edifices, but in natural settings, usually caves or grottoes such as the one on the north slope of the Acropolis of Athens. These are often referred to as the Cave of Pan. The only exceptions are the Temple of Pan on the Neda River gorge in the southwestern Peloponnese – the ruins of which survive to this day – and the Temple of Pan at Apollonopolis Magna in ancient Egypt. In the 4th century BC Pan was depicted on the coinage of Pantikapaion.
The goat-god Aegipan was nurtured by Amalthea with the infant Zeus in Athens. In Zeus’ battle with Gaia, Aegipan and Hermes stole back Zeus’ “sinews” that Typhon had hidden away in the Corycian Cave. Pan aided his foster-brother in the battle with the Titans by letting out a horrible screech and scattering them in terror. According to some traditions, Aegipan was the son of Pan, rather than his father.
One of the famous myths of Pan involves the origin of his pan flute, fashioned from lengths of hollow reed. Syrinx was a lovely water-nymph of Arcadia, daughter of Landon, the river-god. As she was returning from the hunt one day, Pan met her. To escape from his importunities, the fair nymph ran away and didn’t stop to hear his compliments. He pursued from Mount Lycaeum until she came to her sisters who immediately changed her into a reed. When the air blew through the reeds, it produced a plaintive melody. The god, still infatuated, took some of the reeds, because he could not identify which reed she became, and cut seven pieces (or according to some versions, nine), joined them side by side in gradually decreasing lengths, and formed the musical instrument bearing the name of his beloved Syrinx. Henceforth Pan was seldom seen without it.
Echo was a nymph who was a great singer and dancer and scorned the love of any man. This angered Pan, a lecherous god, and he instructed his followers to kill her. Echo was torn to pieces and spread all over earth. The goddess of the earth, Gaia, received the pieces of Echo, whose voice remains repeating the last words of others. In some versions, Echo and Pan had two children: Iambe and Iynx. In other versions, Pan had fallen in love with Echo, but she scorned the love of any man but was enraptured by Narcissus. As Echo was cursed by Hera to only be able to repeat words that had been said by someone else, she could not speak for herself. She followed Narcissus to a pool, where he fell in love with his own reflection and changed into a narcissus flower. Echo wasted away, but her voice could still be heard in caves and other such similar places.
Pan also loved a nymph named Pitys, who was turned into a pine tree to escape him.
Disturbed in his secluded afternoon naps, Pan’s angry shout inspired panic (panikon deima) in lonely places. Following the Titans’ assault on Olympus, Pan claimed credit for the victory of the gods because he had frightened the attackers. In the Battle of Marathon (490 BC), it is said that Pan favored the Athenians and so inspired panic in the hearts of their enemies, the Persians.
Pan is famous for his sexual powers, and is often depicted with a phallus. Diogenes of Sinope, speaking in jest, related a myth of Pan learning masturbation from his father, Hermes, and teaching the habit to shepherds.
Pan’s greatest conquest was that of the moon goddess Selene. He accomplished this by wrapping himself in a sheepskin to hide his hairy black goat form, and drew her down from the sky into the forest where he seduced her.
Pan and music
In two late Roman sources, Hyginus and Ovid, Pan is substituted for the satyr Marsyas in the theme of a musical competition (agon), and the punishment by flaying is omitted.
Pan once had the audacity to compare his music with that of Apollo, and to challenge Apollo, the god of the lyre, to a trial of skill. Tmolus, the mountain-god, was chosen to umpire. Pan blew on his pipes and gave great satisfaction with his rustic melody to himself and to his faithful follower, Midas, who happened to be present. Then Apollo struck the strings of his lyre. Tmolus at once awarded the victory to Apollo, and all but Midas agreed with the judgment. Midas dissented and questioned the justice of the award. Apollo would not suffer such a depraved pair of ears any longer and turned Midas’ ears into those of a donkey.
In another version of the myth, the first round of the contest was a tie, so the competitors were forced to hold a second round. In this round, Apollo demanded that they play their instruments upside-down. Apollo, playing the lyre, was unaffected. However, Pan’s pipe could not be played while upside down, so Apollo won the contest.
All of the Pans
Pan could be multiplied into a swarm of Pans, and even be given individual names, as in Nonnus’ Dionysiaca, where the god Pan had twelve sons that helped Dionysus in his war against the Indians. Their names were Kelaineus, Argennon, Aigikoros, Eugeneios, Omester, Daphoineus, Phobos, Philamnos, Xanthos, Glaukos, Argos, and Phorbas.
Two other Pans were Agreus and Nomios. Both were the sons of Hermes, Agreus’ mother being the nymph Sose, a prophetess: he inherited his mother’s gift of prophecy, and was also a skilled hunter. Nomios’ mother was Penelope (not the same as the wife of Odysseus). He was an excellent shepherd, seducer of nymphs, and musician upon the shepherd’s pipes. Most of the mythological stories about Pan are actually about Nomios, not the god Pan. Although, Agreus and Nomios could have been two different aspects of the prime Pan, reflecting his dual nature as both a wise prophet and a lustful beast.
Aegipan, literally “goat-Pan,” was a Pan who was fully goatlike, rather than half-goat and half-man. When the Olympians fled from the monstrous giant Typhoeus and hid themselves in animal form, Aegipan assumed the form of a fish-tailed goat. Later he came to the aid of Zeus in his battle with Typhoeus, by stealing back Zeus’ stolen sinews. As a reward the king of the gods placed him amongst the stars as the Constellation Capricorn. The mother of Aegipan, Aix (the goat), was perhaps associated with the constellation Capra.
Sybarios was an Italian Pan who was worshipped in the Greek colony of Sybaris in Italy. The Sybarite Pan was conceived when a Sybarite shepherd boy named Krathis copulated with a pretty she-goat amongst his herds.
The “Death” of Pan
According to the Greek historian Plutarch (in De defectu oraculorum, “The Obsolescence of Oracles”), Pan is the only Greek god (other than Asclepius) who actually dies. During the reign of Tiberius (A.D. 14–37), the news of Pan’s death came to one Thamus, a sailor on his way to Italy by way of the island of Paxi. A divine voice hailed him across the salt water, “Thamus, are you there? When you reach Palodes, take care to proclaim that the great god Pan is dead.” Which Thamus did, and the news was greeted from shore with groans and laments.
Robert Graves (The Greek Myths) reported a suggestion that had been made by Salomon Reinach and expanded by James S. Van Teslaar that the hearers aboard the ship, including a supposed Egyptian, Thamus, apparently misheard Thamus Panmegas tethneke ‘the all-great Tammuz is dead’ for ‘Thamus, Great Pan is dead!’, Thamous, Pan ho megas tethneke. “In its true form the phrase would have probably carried no meaning to those on board who must have been unfamiliar with the worship of Tammuz which was a transplanted, and for those parts, therefore, an exotic custom.” Certainly, when Pausanias toured Greece about a century after Plutarch, he found Pan’s shrines, sacred caves and sacred mountains still very much frequented. However, a naturalistic explanation might not be needed. For example, William Hansen has shown that the story is quite similar to a class of widely known tales known as Fairies Send a Message.
The cry “Great Pan is dead” has appealed to poets, such as John Milton, in his ecstatic celebration of Christian peace, On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity line 89, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
One remarkable commentary of Herodotus on Pan is that he lived 800 years before himself (c. 1200 BCE), this being already after the Trojan War.
Identification with Satan
Pan’s goatish image recalls conventional faun-like depictions of Satan. Although Christian use of Plutarch’s story is of long standing, Ronald Hutton has argued that this specific association is modern and derives from Pan’s popularity in Victorian and Edwardian neopaganism. Medieval and early modern images of Satan tend, by contrast, to show generic semi-human monsters with horns, wings and clawed feet.
In 1933, the Egyptologist Margaret Murray published the book, The God of the Witches, in which she theorised that Pan was merely one form of a horned god who was worshipped across Europe by a witch-cult. This theory influenced the Neopagan notion of the Horned God, as an archetype of male virility and sexuality. In Wicca, the archetype of the Horned God is highly important, as represented by such deities as the Celtic Cernunnos, Indian Pashupati and Greek Pan.
A modern account of several purported meetings with Pan is given by Robert Ogilvie Crombie in The Findhorn Garden (Harper & Row, 1975) and The Magic of Findhorn (Harper & Row, 1975). Crombie claimed to have met Pan many times at various locations in Scotland, including Edinburgh, on the island of Iona and at the Findhorn Foundation.