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Editor: Lindsay Jones
Date: 2005
Encyclopedia of Religion
From: Encyclopedia of Religion(Vol. 10. 2nd ed.)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 2
Content Level: (Level 5)

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Page 6957


PAN is a Greek god whose name, of Indo-European derivation, means "shepherd" (cf. Latin pastor). In appearance, he has the hooves, tail, hair, and head of a goat and the erect posture, upper body, and hands of a man. He is frequently depicted holding either a lagobolon, a kind of shepherd's crook used for hunting rabbits and controlling small flocks, or a syrinx, a flutelike instrument otherwise known as a panpipe.

Pan has his origins in ancient Arcadia, a remote and mountainous area of central Peloponnesus where an Archaic dialect is still spoken. Lord of Arcadia and guardian of its sanctuaries (according to Pindar), the goat-god is very much at home in this primitive region, with its essentially pastoral economy, where the political system of Classical Greece was slow in being established. The enclosure dedicated to Pan on Mount Lycaeus (Aelianus, De natura animalium 11.6) functions as a sanctuary where animals pursued by the wolf seek protection. Pan thus appears as a master of animals, protecting wild and domestic creatures, while watching over the human activities of hunting and animal breeding. His actions, whether they brought sterility or fertility, were of interest primarily to shepherds and hunters, who were concerned with reproduction in the animal world.

Theocritus in his Idylls (7.103–114) alludes to a rite performed by the Arcadians for Pan during periods when the animals were not reproducing: young men whipped his statue in order to call the inactive god back to life. The Arcadians pictured Pan as reigning over his own flocks in the mountainous lands that constituted his domain and his sanctuaries. Thus the whole of Mount Lampeia, where the Erymanthe has its source, is a sanctuary of Pan. So is the Menale, where people believed they could hear, in the mysterious and fearful sounds of the wilderness (echoes in particular), the music of this wild shepherd.

In Arcadia Pan was considered a major god. He had a cult on Mount Lycaeus, alongside that of Zeus. There is, however, no known figurative representation of the god antedating the diffusion on his cult outside Arcadia, nor does there exist any literary testimony, with the exception of some dedications that retain only the name of the god. Not until the beginning of the fifth century BCE, and after the introduction of his cult in Athens, does the image of Pan take shape. Although the god now loses some of his theological importance, as he assumes a marginal position in regard to Olympus and joins the host of minor gods, he nevertheless gains in symbolic richness, and his rites are no longer confined to the pastoral world. His cult, his mythology, and his iconography spread rapidly throughout the Greek world and were adapted to the local character of Attica, Boeotia, and especially the regions of Delphi and Macedonia.

In an account by Herodotus (6.105ff.), Pan became an official deity at Athens following his appearance in Arcadia to the messenger Philippides, whom the Athenians had sent to Sparta shortly before the Battle of Marathon (490 BCE). Pan asked Philippides why the Athenians did not dedicate a cult to him, since he had already been so benevolent toward them and would be again. Remembering this epiphany after the battle, the Athenians consecrated to Pan a small grotto on the northwest slope of the Acropolis.

The rapid spread of Pan's cult, from this time on, brought with it certain readjustments. A thorough reworking of symbolism gave this god, who was unknown to Homer and Hesiod, a complex but coherent form. In the poetry of the fifth century, numerous allusions are made to Pan. There are allusions to his natural habitat, Arcadia, which becomes a metaphor for the pastoral in contrast to the urban, the wild in contrast to the cultivated. The coexistence of the divine and the animal in Pan explains the ambiguity of a being whose power oscillates unceasingly between fear and seduction, disorder and harmony. Represented as shepherd, hunter, musician, and dancer, as an untiring and often unlucky pursuer of nymphs, Pan also appeared as the agent of "panic" fear (that collective, animal-like disorder that seizes military camps at rest, especially at night) and of a form of individual possession (panolepsy). Finally, some accounts describe the birth of Pan, whose monstrous appearance causes the gods to rejoice but sends his human nurse fleeing (Homeric Hymn to Pan 19). Other stories describe his unfruitful love affairs with Echo, Syrinx, or Pithys (in Alexandrine and post-Alexandrine poetry).

The philosophical destiny of the god, especially among the Stoics, is remarkable. By virtue of a Platonic play on words—the identification of Pan with pan, "all," in Plato's Cratylus (408c–d)—the goat-god becomes the personification of the All, the cosmic totality represented by the coexistence, in a single figure, of the animal (the material nature below) and the human (the spiritual nature above). Outside the Hellenic world his destiny is multiple: in Egypt he is assimilated to the god Min of the region of Coptos, lord of the routes of the eastern desert. At Rome he becomes the Greek version of Faunus, or of Inuus, because of the influence of the legend about the Arcadian origins of the town.

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Plutarch provides the account of the death of Pan, announced by a mysterious voice to the pilot of a ship on its way from Greece to Italy under the reign of Tiberius. Pan's death upset the emperor so much that he called a committee of philologists to find out who this god was. The third-century bishop Eusebius of Caesarea believed that the death of the great Pan meant the death of all the demons of paganism, which occurred after the passion of Christ under Tiberius. Subsequently the account has been of interest to folklorists analyzing popular legends concerning "messages of death," legends that spread through northern Europe beginning with the sixteenth century, that is, at the same time that the ancient figure of Pan reappeared in literature (especially in Rabelais, in chapter 27 of his Quart livre).


Cults, Myths, and Literary Destiny

Borgeaud, Philippe. "La mort du grand Pan: Problèmes d'interpretation." Revue de l'histoire des religions 200 (1983): 5–39.

Borgeaud, Philippe. The Cult of Pan in Ancient Greece. Chicago, 1988.

Merivale, Patricia. Pan the Goat-God: His Myth in Modern Times. Cambridge, Mass., 1969.

Iconography and Archaeology

Bernand, André. Pan du désert. Leiden, 1977.

Boardmann, John. "Pan." In Lexikon iconographicum mythologiae classicae VIII (1997): 923–941.

Cabanes, Pierre. "Le culte de Pan à Bouthrotos." Revue des études anciennes 90 (1988): 385–388.

Herbig, Reinhard. Pan der griechische Bocksgott: Versuch einer Monographie. Frankfurt, 1949.

Jost, Madeleine. Sanctuaires et cultes d'Arcadie. Paris, 1985.

Pouzadoux, Claude. "La dualité du dieu bouc: les épiphanies de Pan à la chasse et à la guerre dans la céramique apulienne." Anthropozoologica 33–34 (2001): 11–21.

Walter, Hans. Pans Wiederkehr: Der Gott der griechischen Wildniss. Munich, 1980.


Translated from French by Mary Lou Masey

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3424502363