The Great God Pan is Dead….or not.


Over the past several days I have been confronted with multiple references to Pan.  Yesterday I was confronted with direct references to him three times in less than 18 hours!  I took this as a sign that I should make a post on the subject.

According to Greek mythology, he is the son of Hermes the Messenger who is one of the ruling Gods of medicine.  I say this via his function of conducting the living into the realm of the dead; his staff with two snakes coiled around it is the caduceus of modern medicine.  Regardless of his later notation of parentage, Pan is most likely one of the earliest Gods of human civilization.  He rules over the mountainsides, pastures, sheep and goats.  As a God of the wilds, it can be expected that he embodies revelry, fruitfulness, open sexuality, health, and fun.  In Roman times he was identified with Dionysus, God of wine and revelry.

Pan, like all ancient Gods, has a darker side.  In his kinder mode he plays reed pipes known as syrinx, or panpipes.  In his darker aspect he embodies Panic and Pandemonium and plays, not pipes, but a conch.  These are two sides of the same coin; revelry can degrade into debauchery, madness, and chaos.  The mountainside in spring is beautiful and holds the promise of the summer’s fruit.  Winter storms hold death.  Sexuality holds both the promise of birth and the certainty of death.

Pan represents the eternal lust for life, and serendipity of fate.  Which nymph will mate with him this time?  Who will chance his anger by waking him from his nap?  It seems fitting that a spinner should post about the ovine, caprine limbed God of goats and sheep.

Lord Byron wrote an ode to Pan, titled Aristomenes.  Ostensibly, it was about the hero of the Spartan war; in reality it seems to be about the loss of innocence and love of simple pleasures that the death of Pan entailed.  He wrote it in 1823, but it was not published until 1903, I would guess because of the infamous nature of the author.  He and his works, like Oscar Wilde and his, were not particularly appreciated until many years after his death.

I present to you Lord Byron’s lament for Pan:

The Gods of old are silent on their shore

Since the great Pan expired, and through the roar

Of the Ionian waters broke a dread

Voice which proclaimed “the mighty Pan is dead,”

How much died with him! false or true–the dream

Was beautiful which peopled every stream

With more than finny tenants, and adorned

The woods and waters with coy nymphs that scorned

Pursuing Deities, or in the embrace

Of gods brought forth the high heroic race

Whose names are on the hills and o’er the seas.

I too mourn the loss of the certainty of spirits in the waters and the woods.  I too share Oscar Wilde’s plea for Pan to return and his assertion that He is desperately needed in these times:

                       I

O goat-foot God of Arcady!
This modern world is grey and old,
And what remains to us of thee?

No more the shepherd lads in glee
Throw apples at thy wattled fold,
O goat-foot God of Arcady!

Nor through the laurels can one see
Thy soft brown limbs, thy beard of gold,
And what remains to us of thee?

And dull and dead our Thames would be,
For here the winds are chill and cold,
O goat-foot God of Arcady!

Then keep the tomb of Helice,
Thine olive-woods, thy vine-clad wold,
And what remains to us of thee?

Though many an unsung elegy
Sleeps in the reeds our rivers hold,
O goat-foot God of Arcady!
Ah, what remains to us of thee?

                         II

Ah, leave the hills of Arcady,
Thy satyrs and their wanton play,
This modern world hath need of thee.

No nymph or Faun indeed have we,
For Faun and nymph are old and grey,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!

This is the land where liberty
Lit grave-browed Milton on his way,
This modern world hath need of thee!

A land of ancient chivalry
Where gentle Sidney saw the day,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!

This fierce sea-lion of the sea,
This England lacks some stronger lay,
This modern world hath need of thee!

Then blow some trumpet loud and free,
And give thine oaten pipe away,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!
This modern world hath need of thee!

Oh, for the loss of innocence of simpler times.  Oh, for the loss of connection to the land, its spirits and its stories.  Yes, Great God Pan, this modern world hath need of thee!

*”Pan” copied from Victorian Web dot Org, other material from my own personal library.

 

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