Pan – The Wild Spirit of the Countryside -

Pan, one of the unusual gods of the ancient world. 

Pan is the god of the wild nature, shepherds and flocks and  mountain in ancient Greek mythology. He has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, in the same manner as a faun or satyr. In Roman myth, His counterpart was Faunus and he was also closely associated with Sylvanus, due to their similar relationships with woodlands.

According to the ancients, he was born in pastoral Arcadia, a rugged mountainous area of Greece, where his worship first originated. He became the  god of Arcadian shepherds, who prayed to him to protect their flocks from wolves and other predators. These herdsmen hid their sheep in nearby caves after consecrating them to Pan. They sacrificed lambs to him as offerings and left bowls of milk and honey.

Pan symbolize uncontrolled sexual desire, lust and the darkness of nature.

He is famous for his sexual powers, and is often depicted with a phallus. Pan belonged to the retinue of God of wine Dionysus. they show many similarities. Both represent the wild side of human, excluded from society because of the free sexuality they represent.

Dionysus & Child Pan and Satyr
The word panic ultimately derives from the god’s name.

Aside from his role as a Nature god, Pan has many other attributes, of which some are lesser known. Disturbed in his secluded afternoon naps, Pan’s angry shout inspired panic (panikon deima) in lonely places. Following the Titans’ assault on Olympus, Pan claimed credit for the victory of the gods because he had frightened the attackers. In the Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.), it is said that Pan favored the Athenians and so inspired panic in the hearts of their enemies, the Persians.

Pan described as amorous and he was known to chase and seduce countless nymphs, shepherd boys, and other goats in ancient times.

One of the famous myths of Pan involves the origin of his pan flute, fashioned from lengths of hollow reed. Syrinx was a lovely wood-nymph of Arcadia. As she was returning from the hunt one day, Pan met her. To escape from his importunities, the fair nymph ran away and didn’t stop to hear his compliments. He pursued from Mount Lycaeum until she came to her sisters who immediately changed her into a reed. When the air blew through the reeds, it produced a plaintive melody. The god, still infatuated, took some of the reeds, because he could not identify which reed she became, and cut seven pieces (or according to some versions, nine), joined them side by side in gradually decreasing lengths, and formed the musical instrument bearing the name of his beloved Syrinx. Henceforth Pan was seldom seen without it.

Pan and Syrinx

Echo is another fairy that died while escaping the lust of Pan. Echo was a nymph who was a great singer and dancer and scorned the love of any man. This angered Pan, a lecherous god, and he instructed his followers to kill her. Echo was torn to pieces and spread all over earth. The goddess of the earth, Gaia, received the pieces of Echo, whose voice remains repeating the last words of others.

Echo – Alexandre Cabanel

Pan also loved a nymph named Pitys, who was turned into a pine tree to escape him. The tree fairy meets Pitys Pan. Pan, after seeing the beautiful Pitys start chasing her. The beautiful fairy escapes with fear, hiding under the soil, asking the gods for help. Gods helping her and they turn the fairy into an elegant pine tree. That was disappointed for Pan and he broke one branch of the pine tree and made a wreath for his head which is never take of until die.

Pitsy turning a pine tree – Edward Calvert
Pan culture has also adopted itself in Phrygia in Anatolia.

Midas was a king of Phrygia who was famous for his ability to change anything that he touched into solid gold. He was also famous for a more unfortunate trait, his donkey ears. These he gained as punishment for judging Pan the better musician than Apollo. the king was asked to judge a musical contest between Apollo and Pan. When Midas decided against Apollo, the god changed his ears into those of an ass.

The Musical Duel of Pan and Apollo

Pan does not fit into the mold that the cult accepts.

He is the most rejected side of mankind, he is an animal. An animal that can not be tamed. For this reason his place is not the city or the Olympus, but the mountains.
Just like Dionysus, Pan is the wild side of the humankind that Greek culture is trying to suppress.

Stoa philosophers have accepted Pan as a symbol of “universal unity” . Plato writes that Socrates pray to Pan;

       ”Dear Pan, give me beauty for my soul”  Socrates -

Undergraduate student at Ege University, Classical Archaeology. Contact:

Leave a Reply