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Culture

Get to Know a God/dess
Pan (Πάν)
God of Shepherds and Wild Places

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Image of Pan made by me, using Wonder AI.

Welcome to the second installment of what I hope will be an ongoing series - Get to Know a God/dess. 

Even among the vast and diverse pantheon of Greek mythology, Pan stands as a unique figure. While the Olympians tend towards symbolizing very human virtues, concepts and talents - music, marriage, war, wisdom, etc, Pan embodies the untamed wilderness and all the primal forces of nature. While most other Greek gods point the way towards idealized (if flawed) humanity, Pan is bestial and undomesticated.

Origins and Attributes

Pan is usually represented as shaggy and human-ish, but with the legs, horns, tail and ears of a goat. He is lustful and highly-sexed, as befits a fertility deity who enjoyed endlessly cavorting with nymphs and nearly anything else that stood still long enough. Because of his wild nature, he can inspire "panic" in humans when they unexpectedly run into him in the woods. In fact, the word "panic" is directly attributable to him and his affect on people, particularly the fear caused by unknown noises in the forest. 

He was the keeper of flocks and herds and protector of shepherds, and because he was a shepherd himself, he played the flute or the instrument that's come to be known as the pan pipe or pan flute. The haunting melodies produced by the pan flute are said to echo through the forests, captivating all who hear them.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons.

His origins are veiled in mystery, with various myths attempting to explain his birth and significance. Most commonly he is said to be the son of Hermes. What is of no debate is that he was an Arcadian deity. 

If you have been fortunate enough to see the wild, misty mountains and rushing blue-green rivers of Arcadia, hearing the wind through the trees and the far-off jangle of the bells of goats and sheep, you'll see how easy it would be to imagine such a thing. Arcadia was considered the most rural and bucolic place in ancient Greece, and kept that almost utopian reputation right through the Renaissance and into the 19th century. 

You can see why such wild, mountainous landscape might be considered the home of Pan. 

For more on Arcadia, including a short scenic video, take a look at our gallery here

Both photos taken by me. 

Despite his rustic appearance and association with wild places, Pan's influence also transcends ancient Greece, leaving an enduring mark on art, literature, and cultural imagination through the ages.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Myths and Legends

Pan appears in numerous myths and legends, often as a mischievous and playful figure. One famous myth recounts his pursuit of the nymph Syrinx, who, fleeing from his advances, was transformed into a clump of reeds by her river nymph sisters. Undeterred, the lovelorn Pan fashioned the first pan flute from the reeds and continued to play haunting melodies on his new instrument.

Another well-known story involving Pan is his involvement in the battle of the gods and giants, known as the Gigantomachy. According to legend, Pan's sudden appearance on the battlefield caused the giants to flee in terror, as his wild appearance and frenzied cries struck fear into their hearts.

Pan is also associated with Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy. Pan was seen an attendant to that Olympian. He was part of Dionysus' crazy party retinue which included satyrs, nymphs and maenads, and the two were frequently together as a younger generation of gods who were both wild and unruly in nature. 

Image of Pan made by me, using Wonder AI and Photoshop.

"The Great God Pan is Dead"

It was during the Roman Empire, in the reign of Emperor Tiberius, that was are told of the death of Pan. Plutarch records the story in De Defectu Oraculorum:

 

Plutarch, De defectu oraculorum, section 17

 

“[the] ship drove with the tide till it was carried near the Isles of Paxi; when immediately a voice was heard … calling unto one Thamus, and that with so loud a voice as made all the company amazed; … the voice said aloud to him, ‘When you are arrived at Palodes, take care to make it known that the great god Pan is dead.’ … this voice did much astonish all that heard it, and caused much arguing whether this voice was to be obeyed or slighted…” 

 

Thamus conveyed to the Emperor, and then on to the rest of the Empire.

“Thamus standing on the deck, with his face towards the land, uttered with a loud voice his message, saying, ‘The great Pan is dead!’ He had no sooner said this, but they heard a dreadful noise, not only of one, but of several, who, to their thinking, groaned and lamented with a kind of astonishment. And there being many persons in the ship, an account of this was soon spread over Rome, which made Tiberius the Emperor send for Thamus; and he seemed to give such heed to what he told him, that he earnestly enquired who this Pan was?” 

Even Tiberius, Hellenophile though he was, had forgotten the name of the god Pan. As a result, Pan and “the wild” became forgotten. The message of the tale seems to refer to a tipping point in history when the wild and pastoral was giving way to the urban and civilized. 

Image from Pexels.com

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I couldn't write an artile about Pan without including one of my

favorite portrayals of him. 

This sculpture is in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and depicts Pan trying to seduce Aphrodite with an amused Eros/Cupid looking on. Aphrodite is having none of it and is ready to swat him with her sandal. 

Photo taken by me, 2016. 

Significance and Enduring Presence

Pan's significance extends beyond ancient Greece, influencing later cultures and artistic movements. In Roman mythology, he was equated with the god Faunus, further solidifying his association with nature and the wild. 

During the Renaissance period, Pan experienced a resurgence in popularity as artists and writers drew inspiration from classical mythology. Paintings depicting Pan and other mythological figures adorned the walls of palaces and villas, reflecting a renewed interest in the ideals of beauty, harmony, and a utopian natural world.

Both images from Wikimedia Commons.

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In literature, Pan's presence can be felt in works ranging from Ovid's Metamorphoses to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. His image has been immortalized in countless poems, songs, and stories, capturing the imagination of generations of readers and listeners.

Even in modern times, the figure of Pan still holds a significant place in the hearts of many as an emblem of nature's wild essence.

As long as there are woods to wander and peaks to conquer, Pan's spirit will persist in evoking admiration and curiosity in those who wish to embrace the raw splendor of the wilderness.

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Image by of Pan's Cave on the Acropolis - Wikimedia Commons

Want more Greek Culture? Take a look here!

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