The Tale of Pan


Of all the personalities brought to life in the stories of Greek mythology, I would have to say that Pan is my favorite. I love his carefree attitude and the aura of wild abandonment that surrounds him. I hope you enjoy reading my compilation of tales featuring the Greek god Pan.

PanPan was a rural deity who was said to live among the rocky hills of Arcadia. He spent his time guarding the many flocks and beehives and frolicking happily with the mountain nymphs.

Pan was a curious creature, as his physical attributes were a combination of both beast and human. From the waist up he donned the form of a man, but from the waist down he took on the appearance of a goat. On top of his head sprouted two horns and he is usually depicted wearing a beard upon his face.

Pan was commonly viewed as being a fertility god, which is why he was often associated with the season of spring. He was the patron god of shepherds and anyone who took delight in the free-spirited way of life.

Pan ruled supreme over the earth's mountainous and woodland areas, and was affiliated with all types of rustic music. He was an easy going fellow who loved nothing more than taking a nap in the warm afternoon sunlight.

But pity be to anyone unfortunate enough to rouse him from his midday slumber, for he was known to let out a loud shout shrill enough to make any intruder's hair stand on end! It is from this frightening encounter that the word panic was originally derived.

Pan also used this terrifying scream to help aid the gods in their war against the Titans. To reward Pan for his allegiance during the battle, Zeus was said to have named one of Saturn's moons in his honor.

Because of his love for the water, Pan is sometimes referred to as being the guardian of fisherman and in rare cases is shown with his lower body bearing scales and a fish tail.

It is said that during the Olympian's perilous encounter with the Titan Typhon, Pan transformed himself into a half-fish, half-goat creature before jumping into the Nile River.

Following the innovative satyr's lead, the rest of the gods took the shape of various animals and were successfully able to make their way to safety. To thank Pan for providing the means for their escape, Zeus placed him among the stars as the constellation Capricornus.

In appreciation for aiding the Greeks in their fight against Persia, the Athenians built a shrine to Pan underneath the Acropolis. It was here that they regularly honored the god with sacrifices and torch races.

At times Pan was also known to be a bit ill-behaved, bringing about unexplained spells of terror, panic and bad dreams. Like a mischievous child he also took pleasure in occasionally frightening cattle and other livestock.


The Birth of Pan

Baby PanThe ancient texts are not very clear as to whom actually were the true parents of Pan. Though most references seem to indicate that the god Hermes was the satyr's father, there is a difference of opinion regarding the identity of his mother.

According to some, Hermes fathered Pan with the wood nymph Dryope, however there are others who believe it was with Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, whom he visited while disguised in the shape of a ram.

In an alternate version, Hermes is said to have joined with the goat nymph Amaltheia, which would explain Pan's curious half-goat, half-man appearance.

Another variation to the story completely eliminates Hermes from the paternity list and names Pan as being the offspring of Cronus and Rhea or Zeus and the temperamental goddess Hybris.

Regardless of whom his true mother was, all stories agree that she took one look at baby Pan and ran away in terror. For when she peeked inside of his neatly wrapped dressing, she found that the odd little thing bore horns and a beard and sported both the tail and legs of a goat.

Believing that the other Olympians would find great amusement in the tiny fellow, Hermes carried him off to the palace of the gods. Pan was eventually adopted into the official pantheon, but the free spirited satyr preferred the wild hills of Arcadia to the golden halls of Mount Olympus.


The Tale of Pan and Syrinx

The Greek god Pan is usually described as having in his possession a musical instrument commonly referred to as a Syrinx or Pan Pipe. The following story will show just how this primitive little flute came about.

Pan and SyrinxOne day as Pan was hunting near the city of Nonacris, he happened to catch a glimpse of the nymph Syrinx as she was enjoying a leisurely stroll through the surrounding countryside.

Finding her to be very beautiful, the randy satyr enthusiastically approached the maiden in the hope of adding a bit of fun and frolic to his afternoon.

But unfortunately for Pan, Syrinx had pledged an oath of celibacy and immediately fled at the first signs of his lustful advances.

With her lascivious pursuer hot on her trail, the fearful nymph ran deeper and deeper into the wilderness until finally reaching the banks of the Ladon River.

Realizing that she would not be able to cross its path on her own, Syrinx desperately began to pray to the local water spirits to save her from the arms of her rapidly approaching suitor.

Hearing the frantic calls for help, the deities quickly responded by changing Syrinx into a water reed and hiding her body within the thick patches of greenery growing along the riverbank.

By the time Pan made it to the water's edge all traces of the maiden had vanished. Much to his dismay, he found only a cluster of marsh reeds murmuring sadly in the midday breeze.

Knowing these could only be his lovely Syrinx, the grief-stricken god plucked himself a handful, cut them into different lengths and fastened them together with wax. He then raised the instrument to his lips and slowly released a melancholy tune into the air.

Vowing to always keep the pipe by his side, Pan honored his lost love by calling his new invention a Syrinx. I will say that the little god remained true to his promise, for he is very rarely shown without his beloved Syrinx fastened securely upon his person.


The Many Loves Of Pan

Pan and NymphsDespite his unsavory appearance, Pan was certainly no stranger to the ladies. He was said to have seduced the nymph Echo as well as all of the female followers of the god Dionysus.

Pan also sought out the company of a woodland nymph by the name of Pitys. Much like Syrinx, Pitys had also pledged herself to a life of virtue.

In order to avoid the god's amorous proposals, the righteous maiden aptly turned herself into a pine tree. This is why Pan is sometimes depicted wearing a crown of pine upon his head or with a fir garland loosely draped across his back.

In a slightly different version of the story we are told that Pitys found herself to be highly desired by both Pan and Boreas, the god of the north wind. It seems that one day Boreas became so overwrought with jealously over the maiden that he released a huge breath and blew her off the side of a nearby cliff.

When her body hit the earth, Mother Gaia was so consumed with pity for the unfortunate nymph that she promptly transformed her into the shape of a healthy pine tree.

It is also rumored that Pan was able to seduce the moon goddess Selene by promising to present her with a beautiful fleece made of delicate white wool.

But when the Titaness entered into the woods to claim her gift she found only the god dressed in the guise of a white sheep. Unaware that she was being deceived, Selene climbed upon his back and much to her surprise was passionately ravished by the god.


The Link Between Pan and Silenus

Silenus and BacchantesThough Silenus is most commonly associated with the god Dionysus, there are some accounts that consider him to be either the son or brother of Pan.

Silenus was a jovial old man, who because of his incessant drunkenness was often shown riding about on the back of an ass. He was oftentimes accompanied by a large group of devotees known as the Seileni.

These faithful followers were said to resemble satyrs in appearance but were thought to be a bit older and wiser than their counterparts.

They were also known to be very heavy drinkers, which is probably why they chose Silenus to be their mentor. Like the satyrs, the Seileni were considered to be highly gifted in the arts of music, prophecy and divination.

However, the physical descriptions given of Silenus and of the Selieni seem to vary from myth to myth. Though Silenus is most often portrayed as an overindulgent old man with the propensity to live his life out of a wine sack, there are times when both he and his attendants appear to embody a mishmash of human and animal attributes.


The Tale of Pan and Psyche

Pan and PsychePan made a brief appearance in the writings of the Roman poet Lucius Apuleius. According to his 2nd century novel entitled The Golden Ass, just as Psyche was about to cast herself into a river, the god Pan appeared and convinced the lovelorn maiden that self-sacrifice was not the answer to her troubles.

With gentle words Pan comforted the despondent young woman, assuring her that all would be well if she would just put aside her sadness and seek forgiveness from her estranged husband Cupid. Psyche took the advice of the wise old satyr to heart, and quietly left the riverbank in quest of her lost love.

The most recognized narrative of the story of Cupid and Psyche comes to us from the Roman poet Ovid. The presence of Pan seems to have been omitted from his rendition of the myth.

You can read my detailed interpretation of his account by following the link to my page titled The Tale of Cupid and Psyche.

I would like to say that for some reason I have been having trouble with my hyperlinks being correctly displayed on this particular page. This is why my paragraph on the interaction of Pan and Psyche contains two links which connect to the same page.


The Death of Pan

PanAccording to both the Greek historian Plutarch and mythologist Robert Graves, Pan was the only Greek god to ever be declared officially dead.

It it said that during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, a sailor named Thamus was on his way to Italy via the Ionian isle of Paxi.

As he made his way through the blue water he heard a divine voice call out to him from across the waves, "Thamus, when you reach Palodes be sure to tell all that the great god Pan is dead!"

Just how Pan met his demise and why he was removed from the ancient texts, we will never know. As for me I would like to believe that he is still with us, romping freely with his band of merry followers through the hilly paths of Arcadia.


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