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A (Pagan) Wind in the Willows

By Jason Mankey

In many ways there are two different versions of the Greek God Pan. There’s the classic understanding of Pan: Arcadian, son of Hermes, and god of shepherds, panic, lust, and masturbation. I’ve never been a shepherd but I understand those three other impulses reasonably well. This is also the “darker” Pan, the one who rapes nymphs and causes armies to fall on their own swords just for entering his domain. Pan is often portrayed as sweetness and light today, but that’s not how he was understood in Ancient Greece.

The kinder, gentler version of Pan many of us know today comes courtesy of early Nineteenth Century England and can be directly traced to the Romantic Poetry of the period. In the writings of Keats, Shelley, Hunt, and Wordsworth Pan was transformed from a more minor untamed god into the protector of the eternal English Countryside. Certainly the Ancient Greeks liked Pan, but they never quite saw him as the embodiment of all nature. In the Nineteenth Century Pan went from god of the shepherds (the Indo-European root word “pa” means shepherd) to god of all (which is how the word pan translates in Modern Greek). The change in Pan’s disposition can be looked at in a number of ways. The easiest one might be that of “artistic license,” with Pan becoming the English god of nature through a misunderstanding of his name. That’s certainly possibly, but I’ve always believed that it most likely came about due to a change in the god himself.

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