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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 (7.103114) 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 wordsthe identification of Pan with pan, "all," in Plato's Cratylus (408cd)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.

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): 539.

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): 923941.

Cabanes, Pierre. "Le culte de Pan à Bouthrotos." Revue des études anciennes 90 (1988): 385388.

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 3334 (2001): 1121.

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

Phillipe Borgeaud (1987 and 2005)

Translated from French by Mary Lou Masey


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pan1 / pan/ • n. 1. a container made of metal and used for cooking food in. ∎  an amount of something contained in such a container: a pan of hot water. ∎  a large container used in a technical or manufacturing process for subjecting a material to heat or a mechanical or chemical process. ∎  a bowl fitted at either end of a balance, in which items to be weighed are set. ∎ another term for steel drum. ∎  a shallow bowl in which gold is separated from gravel and mud by agitation and washing. ∎  a hollow in the ground in which water may collect or in which a deposit of salt remains after water has evaporated. ∎  a small ice floe. ∎  a part of the lock that held the priming in old types of guns.2. inf. a face.3. a hard stratum of compacted soil. • v. (panned, pan·ning) [tr.] 1. (often be panned) inf. criticize (someone or something) severely: the movie was panned by the critics.2. wash gravel in a pan to separate out (gold): the old-timers panned gold | [intr.] prospectors panned for gold in the Yukon. PHRASAL VERBS: pan out (of gravel) yield gold. ∎  turn out well: Harold's idea had been a good one even if it hadn't panned out. ∎  end up; conclude: he's happy with the way the deal panned out.DERIVATIVES: pan·ful / -ˌfoŏl/ n. (pl. -fuls) .pan2 • v. (panned, pan·ning) [tr.] swing (a video or movie camera) in a horizontal or vertical plane, typically to give a panoramic effect or follow a subject. ∎  [intr.] (of a camera) be swung in such a way: the camera panned to the dead dictator.• n. a panning movement: that slow pan over Los Angeles.PHRASES: pan and scan a technique for narrowing the aspect ratio of a wide-screen movie to fit the squarer shape of a television screen by continuously selecting the portion of the original picture with the most significance, rather than just the middle portion.


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Alternate Names

Faunus (Roman)

Appears In

Ovid's Metamorphoses, Nonnus's Dionysiaca


Son of Hermes and a nymph

Character Overview

Pan was a Greek fertility god associated with flocks and shepherds. He resembled the mythical creatures known as satyrs: from his waist down, he looked like a goat, but above the waist, he had human features, except for goat's ears and horns. The son of the god Hermes (pronounced HUR-meez) and a nymph (the name of the nymph differs in various versions of his life), he was abandoned by his mother at birth and raised by other nymphs , female nature deities that lived in streams, trees, and other objects. Pan was known for his never-ending love of women.

Major Myths

Pan was an accomplished musician, and the pipe he played is part of a well-known myth. Always in pursuit of a female, Pan was chasing a nymph named Syrinx (pronounced SEER-eenks), who was devoted to the goddess Artemis (pronounced AHR-tuh-miss) and not interested in romance, across the countryside. Syrinx reached an impassable stream with sandy banks. To escape from Pan, she called on her sister nymphs within the stream to transform her into a stand of reeds growing along the bank. When Pan reached the stand of reeds, he sighed in despair. The air of his sigh vibrated across the reeds, making a beautiful sound.

Pan cut down the reeds and crafted them into the first flute of its kind, thereafter known as a syrinx.

Pan's musicianship was also the subject of another myth. Pan boasted to his follower Midas that his songs were greater than those of anyone else, even greater than those of the god Apollo (pronounced uh-POL-oh). Apollo took this as a challenge, and the two played against each other in a contest. Although Pan played well, Apollo's songs were even more masterful. All who heard the contest agreed that Apollo was the winner, except for Pan's follower Midas. When Midas protested Apollo's victory, the god transformed Midas's ears into the ears of a donkey.

Although Pan was a playful figure who enjoyed chasing nymphs, he could be very ill-tempered if his sleep was disturbed. In Greek mythology , Pan helped Zeus and the other gods of Olympus overthrow the early gods called Titans. He did this by blowing into a shell and making a loud roar that frightened the Titans.

Pan in Context

Pan was unique among the Greek gods in ways that reflected the more rural culture of ancient Greece. For one, he was the only Greek god who was said to have died; all other gods were considered immortal, or able to live forever. This created an image of a god who was more like a human, and therefore easier for the average person to relate to. In addition, Pan did not live on Olympus (pronounced oh-LIM-puhs) with the other gods, but instead made his home in the Greek countryside, just like many farmers. Also, there is evidence that Pan— whose name literally means “all”—existed before most of the other Greek gods and was still worshipped after the others had fallen out of fashion. This was perhaps due to his association with nature and farmland, which appealed to small groups that were far removed from the ever-changing cultural centers and tended to retain customs and traditions through many generations.

Key Themes and Symbols

Pan represented the lustful and freewheeling nature of man, as well as the passionate and creative side. He represented animal instincts, as illustrated by his goat-like appearance, as well as fertility. His flute, made from the reeds of Syrinx, symbolized the love he always sought but never seemed to find. To Christians, Pan was a symbol of non-Christian belief that marked the uncivilized.

Pan in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Because of his unusual appearance, Pan is a distinctive figure who has appeared in many works of art from ancient to modern times. He was often depicted in pursuit of women and was sometimes shown in the company of the god Dionysus (pronounced deye-uh-NEYE-suhs). In modern times, Pan was one of the fantastical characters played by Tony Randall in the 1964 fantasy film 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. In addition, Pan's ability to cause irrational fear in people lives on in the word “panic.”

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Read The Great God Pan by Donna Jo Napoli (2005), the story of Pan from his own viewpoint. In the story, Pan is a youth with an identity crisis who lives under the cloud of a curse: even though he may love, he will never be loved in return. When he falls in love with the human princess Iphigenia, his carefree world is turned upside-down. Author Napoli weaves many different Greek myths into her tale, though the work as a whole is an original work that in some ways differs from the traditional myths.

SEE ALSO Greek Mythology; Satyrs


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Pan was a Greek fertility god associated with flocks and shepherds. From his waist down, he looked like a goat, but above the waist, he had human features, except for goat's ears and horns. Most often considered the son of Hermes*, he was abandoned by his mother at birth and raised by nymphs.

nymph minor goddess of nature, usually represented as young and beautiful

An accomplished musician, Pan played a reed pipe called a syrinx, named after a nymph that Pan had pursued. The nymph asked the gods to change her into a group of reeds to save her from the attentions of Pan. Pan then gathered these reeds and fashioned them into the instrument.

Although Pan was a playful figure who enjoyed chasing nymphs, he could be very ill-tempered if his sleep was disturbed. He could also cause irrational fear, hence the origin of the English word panic. In Greek mythology, Pan helped Zeus* and the other gods of Olympus* overthrow the early gods called Titans. He did this by blowing into a shell and making a loud roar that frightened the Titans.

See also Greek Mythology.

Titan one of a family of giants who ruled the earth until overthrown by the Greek gods of Olympus


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A. broad shallow vessel OE.; †skull (brain pan) XIV;

B. depression in the ground XVI;

C. hard substratum of the soil XVIII. OE. panne = OS. panna, (M)LG., MDu. panne (Du. pan), OHG. pfanna, (G. pfanne):- WGmc. *panna; perh. — popL. *panna :— L. patina (see PATEN).
Hence pan vb. wash (gravel, etc.) in a pan, separate the gold; (usu. with out) yield gold when so washed; also fig. XIX. pancake XV, prob. after MLG. pannekōke (Du. pannekoek).


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pan (clay pan) Soil horizon, usually in the subsoil, that is strongly compacted, indurated, cemented, or very high in clay content.


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Pan In Greek mythology, the god of woods and fields, shepherds and their flocks. He is depicted with the horns, legs and hoofs of a goat. A forest dweller, he pursued and loved the dryads and led their dances while playing the syrinx, the reed pipes that were his invention.


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pan A soil horizon, usually in the subsoil, that is strongly compacted, indurated (see INDURATION), cemented, or very high in clay content.


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Pan / pan/ Greek Mythol. a god of flocks and herds, typically represented with the horns, ears, and legs of a goat on a man's body. His sudden appearance was supposed to cause terror similar to that of a frightened and stampeding herd, and the word panic is derived from his name.


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pan A soil horizon, usually in the subsoil, that is strongly compacted, indurated (see induration), cemented, or very high in clay content, when it is called a ‘clay pan’.