The Greek God Pan

Lusty Pan Speaks to Our Wildest Nature

Bronze Of Pan Above Town With Ocean
Axiom Photographic / Getty Images

Pan, the horned - and horny - furry little half man half goat god of Greek mythology speaks to such basic instincts and has so many names and attributes that he is probably one of the most ancient Greek gods - perhaps even predating Greek religion as we think of it.

In Classical Mythology, he is the original bad boy. He watches over flocks, forests, mountains, and all wild things. He shares this aspect with Apollo. But, also, with Apollo, he shares a taste for chasing after and despoiling maidens - usually wood nymphs.

Stories About Pan

Two of the most famous stories about him suggest that, like Byron, he was "mad, bad and dangerous to know":

  • In the story of the origin of his pan pipes, he fell in love with - or probably simply lusted after - a beautiful wood nymph named Syrinx, the daughter of a river god. She ran away without listening to his entreaties. She fled to her sisters for safety and when she arrived, they turned her into a reed that made a mournful melody when air was blown through it. Pan was still infatuated with her but he could not tell which reed she had become. So he picked several, cut them into pieces and fastened them side by side into a set of pipes. Forever after, Pan was rarely seen without the pan-pipe. He named the instrument a Syrinx in her honor.
  • But if he could be sentimental, his lust could also make him very cruel. In another story, he was angered by the nymph Echo because she scorned all men. He sent his followers to tear her to pieces and spread her over the earth. The earth mother Gaia received her and her voice, repeating the words of others, remains.  

On the other hand, he could also be gentle and kind. He is said to have talked Psyche out of committing suicide over her thwarted love for the god Eros.

Pan's Most Common Attributes

Besides his goat horns and furry haunches, he usually carries his pan-pipe, in paintings, sculpture and ancient representations, he's often shown playing it.

His main strengths - he's lusty and an able musician - are pretty much the same as his main weaknesses - he's lusty and he likes loud music. In fact, he likes loud, chaotic noise in general.

His mischievous side can turn very dark in an instant. He can incite 'panic', a mindless fear or rage, sometimes at the order of the goddess Rhea. It was said that his presence made men panic when crossing through dark, lonely woods. And he was not averse to tearing people apart on occasion.

If you happened to be in his vicinity, you might notice his slightly musky or goat-like smell.

The Origins of Pan

Pan is usually said to be the son of Hermes and Dryope, a tree-nymph. In ancient times, he was associated with Arcadia, a beautiful but wild part of Greece. Even today, Arcadia, in the central Peloponnese, is a rustic and lightly populated part of the country.  

The name Pan is also a Greek prefix meaning "all" and, at one time, Pan may have been a much more powerful, all-encompassing figure. Less familiar stories give him powers as a sea-god with the epithet Haliplanktos; He's also considered a healer of epidemics through cures revealed in dreams, and an oracle-god. These many attributes suggest very ancient proto-Indo-European origins. Some of them,  such as his sea-god aspect, even puzzled Classical Greek writers, again suggesting that his origin tradition was so ancient it was forgotten by classical times.

Temples of Pan

As a rustic god of wild places, Pan had many sanctuaries but they were not in buildings. Instead, they were probably in grottos and caves. Some ancient writers have mentioned temples and altars in Arcadia but these places no longer exist and therefore can't be verified. There is a tradition of the ruins of a Temple to Pan found near the source of the Neda River on at the base of Mount Lykaion, in the Western Peloponnese. This river valley has a fairy-tale quality and it has long been associated with myths and ancient stories. But the connection with a temple dedicated to Pan is probably more fanciful and romantic than true.

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Regula, deTraci. "The Greek God Pan." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, Regula, deTraci. (2021, December 6). The Greek God Pan. Retrieved from Regula, deTraci. "The Greek God Pan." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 29, 2023).