A Book of Myths

Page: 101

“But even in death, so strong is love,
I could not wholly die; and year by year,
When the bright springtime comes, and the earth lives,
Love opens these dread gates, and calls me forth
Across the gulf. Not here, indeed, she comes,
Being a goddess and in heaven, but smooths
My path to the old earth, where still I know
Once more the sweet lost days, and once again
Blossom on that soft breast, and am again
A youth, and rapt in love; and yet not all
As careless as of yore; but seem to know
The early spring of passion, tamed by time
And suffering, to a calmer, fuller flow,
Less fitful, but more strong.”

Lewis Morris.

And when the time of the singing of birds has come, and the flowers have thrown off their white snow pall, and the brown earth grows radiant in its adornments of green blade and of fragrant blossom, we know that Adonis has returned from his exile, and trace his footprints by the fragile flower that is his very own, the white flower with the golden heart, that trembles in the wind as once the white hands of a grief-stricken goddess shook for sorrow.

[Pg 208] “The flower of Death” is the name that the Chinese give to the wind-flower—the wood-anemone. Yet surely the flower that was born of tears and of blood tells us of a life that is beyond the grave—of a love which is unending.

The cruel tusk of a rough, remorseless winter still yearly slays the “lovely Adonis” and drives him down to the Shades. Yet we know that Spring, with its Sursum Corda, will return as long as the earth shall endure; even as the sun must rise each day so long as time shall last, to make

“Le ciel tout en fleur semble une immense rose
Qu’un Adonis céleste a teinte de son sang.”

De Heredia.


[Pg 209]


“What was he doing, the great god Pan,
Down in the reeds by the river?
Spreading ruin and scattering ban,
Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,
And breaking the golden lilies afloat
With the dragon-fly on the river.
He tore out a reed, the great god Pan,
From the deep cool bed of the river:
The limpid water turbidly ran,
And the broken lilies a-dying lay,
And the dragon-fly had fled away,
Ere he brought it out of the river.

‘This is the way,’ laughed the great god Pan
(Laughed while he sat by the river),
‘The only way, since gods began
To make sweet music, they could succeed.’
Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed,
He blew in power by the river.
Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan!
Piercing sweet by the river!
Blinding sweet, O great god Pan!
The sun on the hill forgot to die,
And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly
Came back to dream on the river.
Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,
To laugh as he sits by the river,
Making a poet out of a man:
The true gods sigh for the cost and pain,
For the reed which grows nevermore again
As a reed with the reeds in the river.”

E. B. Browning.

[Pg 210] Were we to take the whole of that immense construction of fable that was once the religion of Greece, and treat it as a vast play in which there were many thousands of actors, we should find that one of these actors appeared again and again. In one scene, then in another, in connection with one character, then with another, unexpectedly slipping out from the shadows of the trees from the first act even to the last, we should see Pan—so young and yet so old, so heedlessly gay, yet so infinitely sad.

If, rather, we were to regard the mythology of Greece as a colossal and wonderful piece of music, where the thunders of Jupiter and the harsh hoof-beats of the fierce black steeds of Pluto, the king whose coming none can stay, made way for the limpid melodies of Orpheus and the rustling whisper of the footfall of nymphs and of fauns on the leaves, through it all we should have an ever-recurring motif—the clear, magical fluting of the pipes of Pan.

We have the stories of Pan and of Echo, of Pan and of Midas, of Pan and Syrinx, of Pan and Selene, of Pan and Pitys, of Pan and Pomona. Pan it was who taught Apollo how to make music. It was Pan who spoke what he deemed to be comfort to the distraught Psyche; Pan who gave Diana her hounds. The other gods had their own special parts in the great play that at one time would have Olympus for stage, at another the earth. Pan was Nature incarnate. He was the Earth itself.

Many are the stories of his genealogy, but the one that is given in one of the Homeric hymns is that Hermes, the swift-footed young god, wedded Dryope, the beautiful [Pg 211] daughter of a shepherd in Arcadia, and to them was born, under the greenwood tree, the infant, Pan. When Dryope first looked on her child, she was smitten with horror, and fled away from him. The deserted baby roared lustily, and when his father, Hermes, examined him he found a rosy-cheeked thing with prick ears and tiny horns that grew amongst his thick curls, and with the dappled furry chest of a faun, while instead of dimpled baby legs he had the strong, hairy hind legs of a goat. He was a fearless creature, and merry withal, and when Hermes had wrapped him up in a hare skin, he sped to Olympus and showed his fellow-gods the son that had been born to him and the beautiful nymph of the forest. Baby though he was, Pan made the Olympians laugh. He had only made a woman, his own mother, cry; all others rejoiced at the new creature that had come to increase their merriment. And Bacchus, who loved him most of all, and felt that here was a babe after his own heart, bestowed on him the name by which he was forever known—Pan, meaning All.