Thursday, September 22, 2011


This is part two from last night! Srsly, a part two when I said? Shocker!

Last night I posted about Pan and his associations, but I didn't post about how panic got its name. Legend has it that Pan's mother saw him when he was born and, well, panicked. She ran off, never to be heard from again. Hmmm, ok. Didn't she know she was getting involved with a deity associated with rams?

I've come across some nifty articles on the web, including this one which gives a basic background and literal dictionary definitions, but it amuses me! and this other one which is really in depth and journeys to Egyptian associations as well.

Panic, it is said, came from Pan's music. His dad did invent the lyre (and gave it to Apollo later!). However, I take it as a metaphor: His music is the sounds of the forest, those sounds you never quite recognize or know from whence they came. This music can also inspire other emotions, such as lust. There is a later legend, most famously provided by Ovid,  about Pan and Apollo throwing down in the first ever battle of the bands:

While Pan was boasting there to mountain nymphs
of his great skill in music, and while he
was warbling a gay tune upon the reeds,
cemented with soft wax, in his conceit
he dared to boast to them how he despised
Apollo's music when compared with his--.
At last to prove it, he agreed to stand
against Apollo in a contest which
it was agreed should be decided by
Tmolus as their umpire.

This old god
sat down on his own mountain, and first eased
his ears of many mountain growing trees,
oak leaves were wreathed upon his azure hair
and acorns from his hollow temples hung.

First to the Shepherd-god Tmolus spoke:
"My judgment shall be yours with no delay.
Pan made some rustic sounds on his rough reeds,
delighting Midas with his uncouth notes;
for Midas chanced to be there when he played.
When Pan had ceased, divine Tmolus turned
to Phoebus, and the forest likewise turned
just as he moved. Apollo's golden locks
were richly wreathed with fresh Parnassian laurel;
his robe of Tyrian purple swept the ground;
his left hand held his lyre, adorned with gems
and Indian ivory. His right hand held
the plectrum--as an artist he stood there
before Tmolus, while his skilful thumb
touching the strings made charming melody.

Delighted with Apollo's artful touch,
Tmolus ordered Pan to hold his reeds
excelled by beauty of Apollo's lyre.
That judgment of the sacred mountain god
pleased all those present, all but Midas, who
blaming Tmolus called the award unjust."
-Ovid Metamorphoses

Pan wasn't just a lusty, frolicking goat-god. His sexual prowess inspires fearful stories as well:
Echo was a beautiful and musical nymph who could sing and play many instruments. She lived in the woods and denied the love of any man or God. Pan fell in love with Echo, but she ran away from him. He became so angry when she refused him, he created such a "panic" causing a group of  shepherds to kill her. And poor Syrinx! To escape Pan's pursuit, she was turned into reeds. Even then there was no escape as she was turned into his eponymous flute. Pan kept company with Dionysus and as such, are we surprised about the sex and music associations? Sounds like a party. Pan is also said to have been with every Maenad.

Why then, his is name the inspiration for a word which means "Sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior?" He isn't just fear itself, he is nature itself: The uncertainty of finding food and drink and shelter and sex out in the wild, of continued existence, or the sun rising the next day. He is a primal deity, I believe, one which attests to our evolution. When we look to his Roman counterpart, Faunus, we find an indigenous deity who was present well before any capitoline triad. Pan is the wild. We came from the caves and the woods, the very place where he dwells and we no longer live there. Most of us barely know how to function without a cell phone, let alone make our way out in the wild. Now that is some scary stuff. Perhaps enough to cause a panic.

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