Home  »  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients  »  VI. Pan Francis Bacon (1561–1626).  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients.  1857.

Francis Bacon (1561–1626).  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients.  1857.

VI. Pan

VI. Pan Francis Bacon (1561–1626).  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients.  1857.

THE ANCIENTS 1 have given under the person of Pan an elaborate description of universal nature. His parentage they leave in doubt. Some call him the son of Mercury; others assign him an origin altogether different; saying that he was the offspring of a promiscuous intercourse between Penelope and all her suitors. But in this the name of Penelope has doubtless been foisted by some later author into the original fable. For it is no uncommon thing to find the more ancient narrations transferred to persons and names of later date; sometimes absurdly and stupidly, as in this instance; for Pan was one of the oldest gods, and long before the times of Ulysses; and Penelope was for her matronly chastity held in veneration by antiquity. But there is yet a third account of his birth, which must not be passed over; for some have called him the son of Jupiter and Hybris, or Insolence.   1
  Whatever was his origin, the Fates are said to have been his sisters.   2
  His person is described by ancient tradition as follows: With horns, and the tops of the horns reaching heaven; his whole body shaggy and hairy; his beard especially long. In figure, biform; human in the upper parts, the other half brute; ending in the feet of a goat. As emblems of his power he carried in his left hand a pipe compact of seven reeds, in his right a sheep-hook or staff crooked at the top; and he was clothed in a scarf, made of panther’s skin. The powers and offices assigned to him are these,—he is the god of hunters, of shepherds, and generally of dwellers in the country: also he presides over mountains; and is (next to Mercury) the messenger of the gods. He was accounted moreover the captain and commander of the nymphs, who were always dancing and frisking about him: the Satyrs, and their elders, the Sileni, were also of his company. He had the power likewise of exciting sudden terrors,—empty and superstitious ones especially;—thence called Panics. The actions that are recorded of him are not many; the principal is that he challenged Cupid to wrestle; and was beaten by him. He also entangled and caught the giant Typhon in a net; and they say besides, that when Ceres, out of grief and indignation at the rape of Proserpina, had hid herself, and all the gods were earnestly engaged in seeking her out, and had dispersed several ways in search of her, it was Pan’s good fortune to light upon and discover her by accident while he was hunting. He had also the presumption to match himself against Apollo in music; and was by Midas’s judgment pronounced victor; for which judgment Midas had to wear the ears of an ass, but not so as to be seen. There are no amours reported of Pan, or at least very few: which among a crowd of gods so excessively amorous may seem strange. The only thing imputed to him in this kind is a passion for Echo, who was also accounted his wife; and for one nymph called Syringa, with love of whom he was smitten by Cupid in anger and revenge because of his presumption in challenging him to wrestle. Nor had he any issue (which is again strange, seeing that the gods, especially the males, were remarkably prolific) except one daughter, a little serving woman called Iambe, who used to amuse guests with ridiculous stories, and was supposed by some to be Pan’s offspring by his wife Echo.   3
  A noble fable this, if there be any such; and big almost to bursting with the secrets and mysteries of Nature.   4
  Pan, as the very word declares, represents the universal frame of things, or Nature. About his origin there are and can be but two opinions; for Nature is either the offspring of Mercury—that is of the Divine Word (an opinion which the Scriptures establish beyond question, and which was entertained by all the more divine philosophers); or else of the seeds of things mixed and confused together. For they who derive all things from a single principle, either take that principle to be God, or if they hold it to be a material principle, assert it to be though actually one yet potentially many; so that all difference of opinion on this point is reducible to one or other of these two heads,—the world is sprung either from Mercury, or from all the suitors. He sang, says Virgil,
How through the void of space the seeds of things
Came first together; seeds of the sea, land, air,
And the clear fire; how from these elements
All embryos grew, and the great world itself
Swelled by degrees and gathered in its globe.