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The Goat-God


The Lovable Monster
Egyptian Pan
Pan and Nymphs
Sacred Places
Encounters With Pan
Pan Lyterius
Images of Pan
Immortals Index
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The Lovable Monster

The birth of Pan was somewhat mysterious ... he is the son of the god Hermes and an unnamed mortal woman but Pan's countenance is not godlike or human.

While the messenger god Hermes was tending the flocks of a man named Dryops, he fell in love with Dryops's daughter. Hermes seduced the young woman and Pan was born ... Pan had goat ears, horns on his head and goat-hooves for feet. When the young mother and the attending nurse saw the infant they fled in fear but Hermes was proud of his new son.

Hermes wrapped the baby in the warm skins of mountain hares and showed him to Zeus and the rest of the Immortals. The gods and goddesses were delighted with the strange child ... especially Dionysos, the god of wine. They named him Pan, which literally means All, because they all adored him.

When the war with the Titans erupted, Pan fought alongside Zeus because he was so appreciative of the kindly reception he received from the Immortals.

An Original Egyptian God

The Egyptians knew Pan as Mendes and considered him to be one of the original eight gods. In the Egyptian pantheon, eight gods preceded the second ranked twelve gods [such as Herakles] who in turn preceded the third ranked gods [such as Dionysos]. In other words, the Egyptians considered Pan to be a very ancient god.

The historian Herodotus makes an important point when he says that there must have been a very ancient god named Pan and then several extraordinary mortal men who were also named Pan. Because of the antiquity of the immortal Pan, we know nothing of his youth or early travels. The antiquity of Pan's presence in Egypt is attested to by the fact that he accompanied the god Osiris on his military campaigns ... Osiris was one of the original god-kings of Egypt.

In deference to Pan's divinity, the Egyptians did not sacrifice goats, male or female, and goat herders had greater social status than other herdsmen. The Egyptian artistic representations of Pan clearly showed him with a goat's face and legs but insisted that that was not his actual appearance. We are not told how Pan appeared to the Egyptians nor are we given an explanation as to why they would not elaborate on this subject.

The Egyptian city of Chemmo [City of Pan or Panopolis] was dedicated to Pan. The Egyptians had a very high regard for Pan and displayed images of him in most temples ... the images of Pan were worshiped alongside images of Satyrs because both were considered to be the figures of unquestioned virility ... Pan was often shown with an erect goat-like phallus.

Pan and Nymphs


Three Nymphs with Apollon and Pan

The Nymphs who cavort with Pan are young beautiful female spirits who personify the natural world. Nymphs can take various forms as they give life and spender to their habitats. The name Nymph literally means Bride ... there are several specific types of Nymphs:

Pan was hardly mentioned in the early myths but later stories recanted his amorous pursuits of the Nymphs Echo, Syrinx and Pitys. To avoid the unwanted advances of the lusty Pan, the Nymphs were transformed into various forms to escape the relentless Goat-God. Echo was made invisible and only capable of repeating the last words spoken to her ... Syrinx was turned into a reed from which Pan made a flute which was named after her [the syrinx is also simply called a pan-pipe] ... Pitys was transformed into a pine tree.


Pan playing the syrinx.

Sacred Places

By day Pan hunts and kills predator animals that menace the flocks and then retreats to his lofty mountain abode by night where he plays the syrinx with such skill that the tune is more beautiful than the song of birds ... the mountain Nymphs dance and sing while Pan plays and capers on the rocky crags.

Mount Parnassos is especially sacred to Pan. The proximity of Parnassos to the Oracle of Apollon at Delphi as well as the presence of the Korykian Nymphs makes Parnassos particularly holy. Before they became known as the Korykian Nymphs, the Nymphs of Parnassos would cavort with Pan on the slopes of the mountain. When Apollon arrived to establish the Oracle at Delphi, he took one of the Nymphs as his consort ... her name was Korykia. From that time onward, the Nymphs of Parnassos became known as the Korykian Nymphs.

Pan is worshiped as Nomian Pan in the Nomian Mountains in Arkadia. It is believed that Pan pastured his flocks on the mountainside and first discovered the music of the pipes there. The name Nomian was either taken from the word νομαῑος [nomaios - the cry of a shepherd] or derived from a Nymph of those mountains.

The Erymanthus River in Arkadia has its source on Mount Lampeia, which is sacred to Pan. Also in Arkadia, Mount Maenalus is held to be especially sacred to Pan because those who dwell around it say that they can actually hear him playing on his pipes.

Mountains Sacred to Pan

The most important site in Arkadia is Mount Parthenios because that was where the Athenian messenger Phidippides encountered Pan before the battle of Marathon.

Encounters With Pan

One of the most notable historical accounts of an encounter with Pan was given by the historians Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus.

In 490 BCE King Darius of Persia was marching his army down the eastern coast of the Greek mainland with the intention of conquering all of Greece. The Athenians were making preparations for the inevitable attack on their city and sent a messenger to Sparta to ask for help. They chose a man named Phidippides to deliver their request to the Spartans because he was a herald as well as a professional runner.

When Phidippides reached Mount Parthenios, which is above Tegea, he heard someone calling his name ... he stopped and came face-to-face with Pan. The Goat-God told Phidippides that he had always been well disposed towards the Athenians and had helped them on many occasions, and would continue to do so. But Pan was perplexed as to why the Athenians did not care for him.

After Pan departed, Phidippides continued on to Sparta to deliver his message ... doing as he was instructed, Phidippides asked the Spartans to join the fight against the Barbarians alongside the Athenians. The Spartans were sympathetic but they were bound by their laws and could not leave Sparta "until the circle of the moon should be full" ... it was their custom not to go out to fight before the moon was full.

Phidippides returned to Athens and reported the Spartan response and also of his encounter with Pan. Diodorus Siculus said that Pan promised to fight with the Athenians at Marathon but Herodotus makes no mention of such a promise. After the Athenian victory over the Persians, a temple of Pan was built under the Acropolis and a yearly sacrifice was offered accompanied by a torch-race.

The Cave of Pan

The Cave of Pan on the south face of the Acropolis of Athens.

Near Marathon there are several places sacred to Pan. A little beyond the plain of Marathon is the Hill of Pan and a remarkable Cave of Pan. The entrance to the cave is narrow, but inside are chambers and baths and the so-called "Pan's herd of goats," which are rocks shaped in most respects like goats.

Circa 279 BCE, the Gauls invaded Greece and made their way towards temple of Apollon at Delphi and Mount Parnassos. The Gauls were in retreat when they made camp for the night ... Pan invaded the dreams of the Gauls and caused them to hear imaginary cavalry charging their camp ... terror turned into panic until the entire Gaul encampment was mired in delusion.

Pan Lyterius

Circa 400 BCE, a mysterious plague ravaged Athens and other parts of southern Greece, including Troezen. Although modern speculation runs high, the actual cause of the plague remains unknown. The plague finally ended when Pan interceded.

Below the citadel of Troezen the traveler/historian Pausanias observed a sanctuary of Pan Lyterius [Releasing]. The sanctuary was built after Pan entered the dreams of the magistrates of Troezen and instructed them as to how they could cure the epidemic that was devastating Troezen and Athens.

The Romans had a deity similar to Pan named Faunus.

Images of Pan
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