Pan – Pastoral God of Greek Mythology

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In Greek mythology, the pastoral god Pan (Roman equivalent Faunus) stands out for his unique build and his relation to music. His myth involves several amorous encounters, most notably with Syrinx.  Here’s a closer look.

Origin and Description of Pan

In Greek mythology, Pan was the son of Hermes, the herald of the gods and depending on the myth, his mother was Aphrodite, Penelope or Driope.

Pan was the god of shepherds, hunters, the flocks, the mountain forests and meadows. He was mainly concerned with flocks and cattle. He lived in the caves of the mountains of Arcadia, and the shepherds of the region were his main worshippers. This made him a pastoral god.

In contrast to most gods, Pan was not a human-like deity. Pan was a half-goat half-man creature, with a resemblance to a satyr or a faun. He was born not as a baby but as a bearded man with the lower limbs of a goat and horns on his head. His unique look amused the gods, for which they decided to name him Pan, which means all in ancient Greek. 

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Last update was on: October 17, 2021 12:54 am

Pan’s Romantic Affairs

Several myths involving Pan relate to his undying love for nymphs and other minor female deities, which is why he is also associated with sexuality.

Unfortunately for Pan, due to his appearance, it was common for these women to reject him. He tried to woo Semele, the personification of the moon, the nymph Pitys, and in some accounts, the goddess Aphrodite.

Pan also tried to woo the nymph Echo but she rejected him. Enraged by the rejection, Pan killed Echo and cursed her so that only her voice would remain on earth after her death to repeat what she heard, which is how echoes came to exist in our world.

Pan’s most famous romantic interest was the nymph Syrinx, which would also lead to the creation of his famous symbol – the pan flute.

Pan and Syrinx 

Pan flute Greek myth
The Pan Flute or Syrinx

Syrinx was a beautiful nymph and one of the many nymphs of the goddess Artemis. Like her goddess, she was focused on remaining pure and virginal. So, when Pan made advances, she kept rejecting them. When he started pursuing her, Syrinx ran away from him.

Finally, she came to a river and knew that she couldn’t run away from him, so she beseeched the river nymphs to help her. They immediately transformed her into a reed. Pan sighed on the reeds, and they produced a beautiful sound. When the god realized this, he cut the reeds to different lengths and attached them together in order of length, creating the first panpipes in the world. To honor the late nymph, he called it Syrinx. The instrument would go on to be one of the cultural symbols of Arcadia.

Pan became such an expert player of the syrinx that he even challenged Apollo to a contest to see who the better musician would be. Pan lost.

Pan’s Shout

Since Pan was a shepherd, he worked until noon and then took a nap. In the myths, Pan’s nap was sacred, and he loved them as much as he loved the nymphs, so anybody who dared to disturb him while he was napping would suffer his anger.

When somebody awoke him, he would emit a shrill, loud shout that caused fear and distress to everybody who listened to it. This feeling came to be known as panic, a word that derives its roots from Pan.

The myths say that the god Pan assisted the Athenians in the battle of Marathon against the Persians with his shout. For this, Pan had a strong cult in Athens. 

Pan’s Role in Greek Mythology

Pan god importance in Greek mythology

Pan was a minor figure in literature, and his deeds in the Greek tragedies are scarce. Since he was the protector of shepherds and hunters, these groups worshipped him and offered him sacrifices. Pan was a pastoral god and was associated with other deities of the same nature, such as Aegipan.

Pan was also connected to sexuality and lust, and thus a part of Dionysus‘ Bacchae. He did not have a specific role, and most of his stories talk about what he did daily in Arcadia. Pan worked in the fields in Arcadia, chased down nymphs, and took his naps.

The Death of Pan

Pan is the only god who dies in Greek mythology, which makes him a  unique deity. The myths say that some sailors heard people shouting, “The Great Pan is dead!” from their vessel. The Christians took this episode to symbolize the death of Christ. 

Influence of Pan

Pan appears in several art depictions in the 18th and 19th centuries, either playing the syrinx or chasing a nymph. As a nature god, Pan became popular during this time, and many festivals were organized around Pan.

There is also some connection of Pan to Neo-Paganism and Satanism. Due to his goat-like build, people have connected Pan to some versions of Satan, which depict him also with the tail, horns, and legs of a goat. He’s also worshipped as a version of the horned god. These perspectives have little to do with his original Greek myth.

Facts About Pan God

1- Who are Pan’s parents?

Pan’s parents are Hermes and either Aphrodite, Driope or Penelope.

2- Did Pan have siblings?

Yes, Pan’s siblings were the Satyrs, Laertes, Maenads and Circe.

3- Who was Pan’s consort?

Pan had several romantic interests, but the most important are Syrinx, Echo and Pitys.

4- Who are Pan’s children?

Pan’s children were Silenos, Krotos, Iynx and Xanthus.

5- Who is Pan’s Roman equivalent?

Pan’s Roman equivalent is Faunus.

6- Was Pan a god?

Pan was a minor deity. He ruled over shepherds, flocks, the mountain wilds. He is also associated with sexuality.

7- What did Pan invent?

Pan invented the panpipes, also known as the Syrinx, a musical instrument made of reeds of varying sizes, set together in descending order.

8- What type of body did Pan have?

Pan’s hindquarters, legs and body were those of a goat, while his torso was that of a man. He also had goat’s horns on his head.  

9- What’s Pan’s symbol?

Pan is often depicted with the pan flute.

10- Which is Pan’s sacred animal?

Pan’s sacred animal is the goat.

11- Where did Pan live?

Pan lived in Arcadia.

In Brief

Pan was an important deity for the rural communities of Arcadia, and his cult spread from small groups of shepherds and hunters to the great city of Athens. Greek mythology always looks for explanations of the things we have on earth, and the god Pan has to do not only with the feeling of panic but also with echoes.