Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 109

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:

  "Universal Pan,
  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: