|Greek and Roman Mythology > The Rural Deities
The Rural Deities
in grottos, wandered on the mountains and in valleys, and amused
himself with the chase or in leading the dances of the nymphs.
He was fond of music, and, as we have seen, the inventor of the
syrinx, or shepherd's pipe, which he himself played in a masterly
manner. Pan, like other gods who dwelt in forests, was dreaded
by those whose occupations caused them to pass through the woods
by night, for the gloom and loneliness of such scenes dispose the
mind to superstitious fears. Hence sudden fright without any
visible cause was ascribed to Pan, and called a Panic terror.
As the name of the god signifies in Greek, ALL, Pan came to be
considered a symbol of the universe and personification of
Nature; and later still to be regarded as a representative of all
the gods, and heathenism itself.
Sylvanus and Faunus were Latin divinities, whose characteristics
are so nearly the same as those of Pan that we may safely
consider them as the same personage under different names.
The wood-nymphs, Pan's partners in the dance, were but one of
several classes of nymphs. There were beside them the Naiads,
who presided over brooks and fountains, the Oreads, nymphs of
mountains and grottos, and the Nereids, sea-nymphs. The three
last named were immortal, but the wood-nymphs, called Dryads or
Hamadryads, were believed to perish with the trees which had been
their abode, and with which they had come into existence. It was
therefore an impious act wantonly to destroy a tree, and in some
aggravated cases was severely punished, as in the instance of
Erisichthon, which we shall soon record.
Milton, in his glowing description of the early creation, thus
alludes to Pan as the personification of Nature:
Knit with the Graces and the Hours in dance,
Led on the eternal spring."
And describing Eve's abode:
"In shadier bower
More sacred or sequestered, though but feigned,
Pan or Sylvanus never slept, nor nymph
Nor Faunus haunted."
Paradise lost, B. IV.
It was a pleasing trait in the old Paganism that it loved to
trace in every operation of nature the agency of deity. The
imagination of the Greeks peopled all the regions of earth and
sea with divinities, to whose agency it attributed those
phenomena which our philosophy ascribes to the operation of the
laws of nature. Sometimes in our poetical moods we feel disposed
to regret the change, and to think that the heart has lost as
much as the head has gained by the substitution. The poet
Wordsworth thus strongly expresses this sentiment:
"Great God, I'd rather be
A Pagan, suckled in a creed outworn.
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from th4e sea,
And hear old Tritou blow his wreathed horn."
Schiller, in his poem The Gods of Greece, expresses his regret
for the overthrow of the beautiful mythology of ancient times in
a way which has called forth an answer from a Christian poetess,
Mrs. Browning, in her poem called The Dead Pan. The two
following verses are a specimen:
"By your beauty which confesses
Some chief Beauty conquering you,
By our grand heroic guesses
Through your falsehood at the True,
We will weep NOT! Earth shall roll
Heir to each god's aureole,
And Pan is dead.
"Earth outgrows the mythic fancies
Sung beside her in her youth;
And those debonaire romances
Sound but dull beside the truth.
Phoebus' chariot course is run!
Look up poets, to the sun!
Pan, Pan is dead."
These lines are founded on an early Christian tradition that when
the heavenly host told the shepherds at Bethlehem of the birth of
Christ, a deep groan, heard through all the isles of Greece, told
that the great Pan was dead, and that all the royalty of Olympus
was dethroned, and the several deities were sent wandering in
cold and darkness. So Milton, in his Hymn to the Nativity:
"The lonely mountains o'er,
And the resounding shore,
A voice of weeping heard and loud lament;
>From haunted spring and dale,
Edged with poplar pale,
The parting genius is with sighing sent;
With flower-enwoven tresses torn,
The nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn."