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The Great Pan is Dead


Exhibit One:

The Great Pan is Dead

XVII. Thereupon, whilst Heracleon was considering something with himself in silence, Cleombrotus continued, "Nay, but not only Empedocles has bequeathed to us evil dæmons that be evil by nature, but Plato, too, has done the same, as well as Xenocrates and Chrysippus; besides, Democritus, when he prays that 'he may meet with auspicious idola' (apparitions), shows plainly that he knows of others that have morose and mischievous dispositions and inclinations. But with respect to the mortality of beings of the kind, I have heard a tale from a man who is neither a fool nor an idle talker—from that Æmilian the rhetorician, whom some of you know well; Epitherses was his father, a townsman of mine, and a teacher of grammar. This man (the latter) said, that once upon a time he made a voyage to Italy, and embarked on board a ship conveying merchandise and several passengers. When it was now evening, off the Echinad Islands, the wind dropped, and the ship, carried by the current, was come near Paxi; most of the passengers were awake, and many were still drinking, after having had supper. All of a sudden, a voice was heard from the Isle of Paxi, of someone calling 'Thamus' with so loud a cry as to fill them with amazement. This Thamus was an Egyptian pilot, known by name to many of those on board. Called twice, he kept silence; but on the third summons he replied to the caller, and the latter, raising yet higher his voice, said, 'When thou comest over against Palodes, announce that the great Pan is dead.' All, upon hearing this, said Epitherses, were filled with consternation, and debated with themselves whether it were better to do as ordered, or not to make themselves too busy, and to let it alone. So Thamus decided that if there should be a wind he would sail past and hold his tongue; but should there fall a calm and smooth sea off the island, he would proclaim what he had heard. When, therefore, they were come over against Palodes, there being neither wind nor swell of sea, Thamus, looking out from the stern, called out to the land what he had heard, namely, 'That the great Pan is dead:' and hardly had he finished speaking than there was a mighty cry, not of one, but of many voices mingled together in wondrous manner. And inasmuch as many persons were then present, the story got spread about in Rome, and Thamus was sent for by Tiberius Cæsar; and Tiberius gave so much credence to the tale that he made inquiry and research concerning this Pan; and that the learned men about him, who were numerous, conjectured he was the one that was born from Hermes and Penelope." Now, Philip found amongst those present witnesses to the truth of the story, who had heard it from the aged Æmilian.

Plutarch “On why oracles came to fail”

Of course one of the defining points that separate man from god is supposed to be immortality. Pan, unlike Osiris, doesn’t get a second chance. Nor are we told if his shade is with Hades. But from what we can discover Pan predates many of the Olympian gods, maybe his warranty just ran out.

Exhibit 2: Twilight of the Gods

The Linear B tablets include many names of gods: about half were to go on living as Olympian gods, the other half were lost. We know nothing about them: they are mere names that appear alongside those of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera. As if the Olympian gods had once been far more numerous and now carried around with them the shadows of their lost brothers and sisters.

Roberto Calasso “The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony”

Heracles, “The Glory of Hera”, and yet she never seemed to really like him. In the flow of time all the great female “mother” goddesses were slowly pushed aside as the male gods became prominent. Storm gods were very popular in the eastern Mediterranean, Ba’al, Zeus, Yhwy (add the vowels of your choice), and with the mingling of peoples they became mingled. Was Ba’al Hadad or Hadad Ba’al? Or were they all just Hodads.

Isis, who saved her brother/lover/husband Osiris, things were more flexable in those days, Hera, Istar (aka Astarte) who it can be argued kept her power the longest, where great goddesses, but you can watch in the records as their authority fades, and they become consorts, not all powerful beings.

Exhibit 3: Twilight of the Gods - Ragnarok

Of course in the Norse/Teutonic Traditions (deceased) all the gods are mortal and die. It must be remembered that we see this tradition filtered through the lens of Christianity. This was an oral tradition and had no written records itself so we get some comments from Roman writers and some records from the Christian evangelists, who brought written language with them. The Romans were there to conquer and so their view of the tradition is of a travelogue variety, and the Christians were there to convert, not to preserve. But even though the Eddas did manage to get preserved albeit in a Christianized fashion, it is pretty clear that the Norse gods did have an end and took the world with them. Mortal gods, a glorious last stand against overwhelming odds, the end of the world, no wonder these people were basically unconquerable. The real wonder is how readily they converted to a religion based on universal peace.

At The Exit:

And remember this is true of the Celtic traditions too, so when you see people gathering at Stonehenge and doing their “Celtic” thing, we have very little clue how the Druids actually perceived and preserved their world and gods in the pre-Christian millenniums.



Uncle Willie loves to have feedback from both readers who appreciate his point of view as well as from missguided souls who disagree.