Friday, August 10, 2012
Pan Is Not Yet Dead
Out on the hills Pan is not yet dead; if he sleeps perchance, at least the Nereids are awake. In the form of lovely women ("fair as a Nereid," or "ugly as a Fate," the folk say in their proverbs), drest in white, with long black hair, they accost the lonely shepherd or the wayfarer, and woe be to him if he fails to fend them off. To reply is fatal: they strike him dumb, or they paralyse a limb, do him some hurt anyhow. One old man, a storehouse of ancient lore told me that as he kept his flocks by night he heard the Nereids as it were a great sound of bells; since when he has heard nothing plainly, for they made him deaf. If you would have them harmless, you draw a circle around you with a black-handled knife, and within this they cannot come. Nor have the dryads gone, nor the nymphs of the streams; witness this chapel over some sacred well, or that tree with its tribute of rags and onions. All over the land, I might say in nearly every field, often far from any now inhabited spot, are ruined shrines or simple enclosures, each with its patron saint; recalling the corners set apart for Pan and the nymphs in a Greek farm of old. Many of these spots have Byzantine remains upon them, and it is surely not impossible to believe that some at least may be the very spots where Pan once was worshipped. They are marked in no maps and known only in local tradition; and a list of their saints, if such could be made, might throw light on their origin. Very many of them are dedicated to the Virgin, Παναγíα, and it is perhaps not too fanciful to hear in the name an echo of the old god, when we see how Demeter becomes St Dimitri, and Eilithyia, St Lephteri (Eleutheros).Id., p. xv:
We long to climb the rugged hill paths once more, to see the partridges fly whirring from under our feet or the eagle sail among the rocks; to lie in the evening beneath the cloudless sky, and hear the innumerable buzzing things that fill the air with life, the moan of the sea on the not distant shores; to feel the whiff of the evening breeze setting off the land; and with all around so untouched by what is ugly in modern life, to dream that the world is three thousand years younger, and that Troy has but just fallen; and half expect to hear Pan piping down there in the glen,The closing quotation is from Homer, Iliad 18.576 (by a murmuring river, by a waving thicket of reeds).
πὰρ ποταμὸν κελάδοντα, παρὰ ῥοδανὸν δονακῆα.
- A Worshipper at Pan's Shrine (Henry David Thoreau)
- This Modern World Is Grey and Old (Oscar Wilde)
- Poems of a Stockbroker (John Myers O'Hara)
- The Survival of Pan (Robert Frost)