Category: Gods

Also see Ephialtes.

1 Introduction

In the modern imagination, Pan stands for a “pagan” sensibility of lust and animality unshackled by Christian morality, for a religiosity governed by Romantic aestheticism rather than chaste devotion. This is really not wrong as a way to understand Pan (although it only captures certain aspects of a complex deity), but it risks misrepresenting the values of ancient pagan society, in which Pan’s influence was not seen as purely liberatory, but also as terrifying and dangerous (the word ‘panic’ comes from his name). Further, as we will see, the stories of sexual violence that surround the god already made ancient readers, and not just Christians or “politically correct” university students, uncomfortable, and challenged them to develop non-literal ways of reading myths and iconography.

Pan holding a bunch of grapes and a flute, from Wikimedia Commons

2 Goat-legged Pan, the Universe?

One potentially offensive characteristic of Pan was the fact that “he was combined from a human and a goat” (Porphyry, On Abstinence 3.16). As is well known, the Greek custom was generally to depict gods in human shape, and this was frequently vaunted as a point of superiority over the Egyptians, who worshipped statues with animal heads and even living animals, like the sacred bull Apis kept at Memphis. Yet it was indelibly inscribed in Greek tradition that Pan was goat-legged and horned.

The name of the god, ὁ Πάν (ho Pán), suggested a way out of this embarrassment. It was not that the god was actually goat-legged, but that the conventional image was a symbolic representation of the universe, τὸ πᾶν (tò pân). As the Stoic Cornutus writes, “Pan is the same as the universe, and his lower parts are shaggy and goat-like because they contain the roughness of the Earth, whereas his upper parts are anthropomorphic because the ruling faculty (hēgemonikon), that is, the rational element (to logikon) of the cosmos is in the ether” (Cornutus, Compendium of Greek Mythology 27). Thus, the spherical model of the universe, with the Earth ‘below’ (in the center) and the fiery ether, the realm of the stars, ‘above’ (in the outer part), is encoded in the god’s half-human, half-animal iconography.

His goat horns could also could be integrated into this interpretation: “They made Pan a symbol of the universe, giving him horns as symbols of Sun and Moon, and his fawn-skin as a symbol of the stars in heaven or because of the variety of the universe” (Porphyry, On Cult Statues).

[Content Notice: sexual violence]
Another aspect of the god that is liable to give offense is his sexual aggression, which shows itself in stories and artworks depicting attempted (and sometimes successful) rape, usually of Nymphs. This too is taken in a transferred sense by Cornutus: “He is depicted as lustful and desirous because of the mass of seminal principles (spermatikoi logoi)” – patterns from which the universe is shaped – “which he contains, and because of the beings which arise from these principles through intermingling (or ‘intercourse’)”; “And he chases Nymphs” – the goddesses of watery places – “because he delights in the moist vapors that rise from the Earth, without which he himself could not hold together” (ibid.).

Now, if it seems absurd that I begin my article with such flights of philosophical fancy rather than the conventional view of the god, which provided their basis, I can offer two or three arguments in my defence. Firstly, such philosophical interpretations were quite conventional throughout most of antiquity. Secondly, placing special emphasis on Greco-Roman philosophy acts as a counter to the prevailing modern attitude towards Greek myths, which runs on a spectrum from banal literalism to reductive psychologism. Third and most importantly, those texts which give allegorical interpretations of Pan’s attributes also, if incidentally, give the most complete accounts of his iconography and the mythical and conventional ideas about him.

Let me continue, therefore, with Cornutus, who also writes: “He especially dwells in lonely places – because this represents the his singleness (monotēs), and the cosmos is one and unique (monogenēs). […]
“He is unruly and playful – which shows the eternal motion of the universe (ta hola).
“He wears a fawn-skin or leopard-skin – because of the variety of the stars and the other colors which can be seen in the cosmos.
“He is a flute player – perhaps because all kinds of winds blow through the cosmos, perhaps because it has a harmony that appears wild and harsh” – like the music of the Pan pipe or syrinx – “but is difficult to demonstrate.
“From his dwelling in mountains and caves follows (that he has) a garland of pine – since that plant has something mountainous and especially tall about it.
“Further, fears that are sudden and without reason are called Panic fears (Panikai tarakhai); for in the same way, herds and herders are terrified when they hear a kind of loud noise coming from the forest, from caverns or from ravinous places.
“Fittingly, they have also made him the overseer (episkopos) of herd animals; and perhaps it is because of this that they depict him with horns and cloven hoofs, or perhaps they symbolically doubled his protruding ears” (ibid.)

The same tradition of Stoicizing interpretation exemplified by Cornutus and Porphyry in Greek can also be found in the Latin grammarians. They add to our picture both of the conventional Pan and of the philosophical cosmic god.

Servius Buc. 2.31: imitabere pana canendo exemplo numinis in agris mecum poteris canere. nam Pan deus est rusticus in naturae simili- tudinem formatus, unde et Pan dictus est, id est omne: habet enim cornua in radiorum solis et cornuum lunae similitudinem; rubet eius facies ad aetheris imitationem; in pectore nebridem habet stel- 5 latam ad stellarum imaginem; pars eius inferior hispida est propter arbores, virgulta, feras; caprinos pedes habet, ut ostendat terrae soliditatem; fistulam septem calamorum habet propter harmoniam caeli, in qua septem soni sunt, ut diximus in Aeneide „septem discrimina vocum“; καλαύροπα habet, id est pedum, 10 propter annum, qui in se recurrit. hic quia totius naturae deus est, a poetis fingitur cum Amore luctatus et ab eo victus, quia, ut legimus, „omnia vincit Amor“. ergo Pan secundum fa- bulas amasse Syringa nympham dicitur: quam cum sequeretur, illa implorato Terrae auxilio in calamum conversa est, quem Pan ad 15 solacium amoris incidit et sibi fistulam fecit.

Brevis Expositio 1.17: PAN OVIVM CVSTOS.  Pana  Pindarus ex Apolline et Penelopa in Lycaeo monte editum scribit, qui a Lycone, rege Arcadiae, Lycaeus mons dictus est. Alii ex Mercurio et Penelopa natum, comitem Dianae feras solitum a cubilibus excitare et ideo capripedem figuratum, quo facilius densitatem cursu posset evadere. Cicero ait in IIII Verrinarum, Liberi esse filium. Alii eum ex Aethere et Iunone, Apollodorus * sine parentibus eum fingit, quoniam universum, idest τὸ πᾶν, huic Deo sit adtributum. Cornua, quibus solis circuli lunaeque designantur; pellis maculis distincta, quae variam designat imaginem siderum; inferior pars corporis hirsuta, ut situs terrae; cum fistula est, quoniam flatus ventorum ex eo oriuntur; metus vero ad repentinas fugas Panicus dictus propter subitam aeris commotationem. Eundem volunt etiam lanificii repertorem, a quo dictas paniculas. Denique Virgilius ex eo: Munere sic niveo lanae, si credere dignum est, Pan, Deus Arcadiae, captam te, Luna, fefellit.

Philagrius Bucolica 2.32:  PAN  PRIMVS idest Syringam cum  Pan  persequeretur, versa est in calamos. Vnde Graece syringa dicitur fistula.  Pan  idest natura omnium rerum, inventor fistulae.  Pan , pastoralis Deus, per cornua solem significat et lunam, per fistulam VII planetas stellas, per pellem maculosam caeli sidera, per cannam ventos, per pedum tenuitatem aeris, per ungulas caprinas soliditatem terrae. Villosus est, quia vestitis gaudet terra. Hic autem natus est Mercurio in arietem converso et Penelope, uxore Vlixi, et adamavit vero Syringam Nympham, quae fugiens eius informitatem in calamum versa est seu fistulam et amorem suum cantu delectabat. Ac <cum> non posset magnitudinem fluminis transire, fusis precibus meruit in calamum transfigurari, quo praeciso quoniam amori suo satis facere aliter non poterat, cantu delectabatur velut adloquio.


3 Pan as the Sun

Saturnalia 1.22: [2] Pan ipse, quem vocant Inuum, sub hoc habitu quo cernitur solem se esse prudentioribus permittit intellegi. [3] Hunc deum Arcades colunt appellantes τὸν τῆς ὕλης κύριον, non silvarum dominum sed universae substantiae materialis dominatorem significari volentes, cuius materiae vis universorum corporum, seu illa divina sive terrena sint, componit essentiam. [4] Ergo Inui cornua barbaeque prolixa demissio naturam lucis ostendunt, qua sol et ambitum caeli superioris inluminat et inferiora conlustrat, unde Homerus de eo ait: ὤρνυθ᾽, ἵν᾽ ἀθανάτοισι φόως φέροι ἠδὲ βροτοῖσιν. Quid fistula vel virga significent superius in habitu Attinis expressimus. [5] Quod in caprae pedes desinit, haec argumenti ratio est, quia materia, quae in omnem substantiam sole dispensante porrigitur, divinis de se corporibus effectis in terrae finitur elementum. [6] Ad huius igitur extremitatis signum pedes huius animalis electi sunt, quod et terrenum esset et tamen semper peteret alta pascendo, sicut sol, vel cum radios superne demittit in terras vel cum se recolligit, in montibus visitur. [7] Huius Inui amor et deliciae Ἠχώ creditur nullius oculis obnoxia, quod significat harmoniam caeli, quae soli amica est quasi sphaerarum omnium de quibus nascitur moderatori nec tamen potest nostris umquam sensibus deprehendi.

4 Goat-legged Pans, or, the story of Philippides

While the interpretation of the Pan as the universe was popular in the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman periods when it came to interpreting mythological poetry, there were other contexts where it was less applicable. For instance, virtually every student of Greek literature would sooner or later read the historian Herodotus, and come across the story of Philippides:

Scholia on Aristides: ton Pana esti; ho Pan eipen
Libanius: Philippidês
Catena in NT > Philippidês
Pausanias: Philippides x3


Proclus: Panikoi daimones, Damascius: Panikon ti zôon

Animals: Solinus (Capella, Pliny), Mela; Philoponus and Proclus on Panes

Pan in Iambl. „Sarapis idôn ton Pana“. „hôs ho Pan tou Dionysou“
ho megas Pan tethnêken

Prayer to Pan in the Phaedrus 279b, Hermias 7.233.265, Menander peri apeuktikôn, inscription; Lydus 3.1 & 3.21, Philoponus zwon, Proclus hliakon, Damascius Pana

Multiple Panes: Scholia on Theocritus 4.62, Greek Anthology 6.108; Suda s.v. Bakkhai; Plato, Laws 815c; Diodorus 1.88.3; Strabo 10.3; Aristides (Panes, Panas); Clement; Julian; Artemidorus; Nonnus ofc

Nonnus: 14.68

Mythological genealogies of Pan

Lydus 4.117 genealogy

He is described as a son of Hermes by the daughter of Dryops (Hom. Hymn. vii. 34), by Callisto (Schol. ad Theocr. i. 3), by Oeneis or Thymbris (Apollod. i. 4. § 1; Schol. ad Theocrit. l. c.), or as the son of Hermes by Penelope, whom the god visited in the shape of a ram (Herod. ii. 145; Schol. ad Theocrit. i. 123 ; Serv. ad Aen. ii. 43), or of Penelope by Odysseus, or by all her suitors in common. (Serv. ad Virg. Georg. i. 16; Schol. ad Lycoph. 766; Schol. ad Theocrit. i. 3.) Some again call him the son of Aether and Oeneis, or a Nereid, or a son of Uranus and Ge. (Schol. ad Theocrit. i. 123; Schol. ad Lycoph. l. c.)

Scholia on Theocritus 7.109, 1.117, 1.3, Anec Est.1.24

Serv. Aen. 2.44: sic notvs vlixes? quia, ut ait Homerus, voluntate verberatus et sub habitu mendici Troiam ingressus exploravit universa. {⁴³hic sane Ulixes, filius Laertae, Penelopae maritus fuit. qui filios habuit 5 Telemachum ex Penelope, ex Circe vero Telegonum, a quo etiam inscio cum is ipse patrem quaereret, occisus est. huic Ulixi primus Nico- machus pictor pilleo caput texisse fertur. huius post Iliense bellum errores Homerus notos omnibus fecit. de hoc quoque alia fabula nar- ratur. nam cum Ithacam post errores fuisset reversus, invenisse Pana 10 fertur in penatibus suis, qui dicitur ex Penelope et procis omnibus natus, sicut ipsum nomen Pan videtur declarare: quamquam alii hunc de Mercurio, qui in hircum mutatus cum Penelope concubuerat, natum ferunt. sed Ulixes posteaquam deformem puerum vidit, fugisse dicitur in errores. necatur autem vel senectute, vel Telegoni filii manu aculeo 15 marinae beluae extinctus. dicitur enim, cum continuo fugeret, a Mi- nerva in equum mutatus.}⁴³


Fir-trees were sacred to him, as the nymph Pitys, whom he loved, had been metamorphosed into that tree (Propert. i. 18. 20), and the sacrifices offered to him consisted of cows, rams, lambs, milk, and honey. (Theocrit. v. 58; Anthol. Palat. ii. 630, 697, vi. 96, 239, vii. 59.) Sacrifices were also offered to him in common with Dionysus and the nymphs. (Paus. ii. 24. § 7; Anthol. Palat. vi. 154.)

Hesych. s.v. Agreus

Homeric Hymn

Lucianus: description of his features Dialogi deorum 2.2; Longus 2.24

Hymn: Eusebius 3.14.8; OH, Marullus?

Genealogy: Scholia on Lycophron 772

Lactantius Placidus 3.479: (VNDOSAE QVI RVSTICVS ACCOLA PISAE) / PANA LYCAONIA (NOCTVRNVM EXAVDIT IN VMBRA) Pan apud Pisas rusticos numine suo replere solet, datque oracula qui impletur deo. Ergo neque ille aequari potest tibi, o Iuppiter, qui in nocturna umbra audit Pana, id est: quasi per ipsum numen loquitur hominibus. — diuersa loca commemorat et quis deus quo in loco futura praedixerit.

Polyaenus: Stratagemata 1.2, Excerpta Polyaeni 27; Onosander?, Longus
Scholia on Euripides Med. 1172, Rhes. 36: panic and genealogy

Aelius Herodian: Τὰ εἰς <αν> σύνθετα ἀπὸ ἁπλῶν ῥητῶν πάντα βαρύνονται οἷον <εὐ- παίαν, Αἰγίπαν, Ἑρμόπαν, Ἀντίπαν, Εὐήπαν, Τιτανόπαν, Αἰνοτίταν>.

Aigipan: Apollodorus, Eratosthenes, S. Arat., Hyginus (both)

Pan in Egypt

Herodotus; Pseudo-Nonnus Mendê- [x2] (also Diodorus, Strabo, Eusebius), Suda; Plutarch de malignitate Herodoti?

Pan in Latin

Scholia in Verg. codicis rescripti Veronensis, Georg. 3.34: (b) <SILVAE AMNESQVE> LYCAEI. Lycaeus mons Arcadiae circa quem  Pan deus colitur. Arcadia autem abundat his <pastoriciis etia>mnum relligionibus unde et idem  Pan Lupercus colitur.

Serv. Aen.: castrvmqve invi una est in Italia civitas, quae castrum 6.775.1 novum dicitur: de hac autem ait ‚castrum Inui‘, id est Panos, qui illic colitur. Inuus autem latine appellatur, graece Πάν: item Ἐφιάλ- της graece, latine Incubo: idem Faunus, idem Fatuus, Fatuclus. dicitur autem Inuus ab ineundo passim cum omnibus animalibus, 5 unde et Incubo dicitur. ‚castrum‘ autem civitas est; nam castra numero plurali dicimus, licet legerimus in Plauto „castrum Poe- norum“: quod etiam diminutio ostendit; nam ‚castellum‘ dicimus.

Cledonius: omnia nomina quae in on terminantur apud Graecos perdunt n ultimam et Latina fiunt, ut puta Apollon dicit Graecus, Latinus Apollo dicit. Calypso : hic Pan Panos next hit Pani Pana o Pan, ablatiuum non habet quia Graeca est declinatio. Latine Inuus Inui dicitur, id est previous hit Panos : Vergilius «Pometios castrumque Inui». alii illum Incubonem dicunt, hic Incubo huius Incubonis, huic Incubo hunc Incubum o Incubo ab hoc Incubone, sicut hic botruo botruonis huic botruo ab hoc botruone.

+Origo Gentis Romanae(!). Praefatio comm. in Verg. Eclogas. Fragmentum Spangenberg(?)

Parallela minora