Farwell Pan: the Rise of Satan in Christian Imagery

Nicole Tubman

University of Southern California

Art and Art History

If someone were to describe to you a being, a man who is half man, half goat, with horns, hooves, a tail, and is bearded, probably the first thing you think of is an image of the Devil, or maybe, if you know a bit about Greek mythology, you might immediately get a mental image of the nature god Pan. These two supernatural beings share all of these characteristics when it comes to their iconography. They share another aspect; they are both hated by the Christians. But how did one of the most beloved gods of the pagan times become the symbol for the Greatest Evil, and why? In similar fashion to building over temples to create churches, Christian missionaries seeking to convert the Greeks took what was already established and fit it to their own narrative. The great god Pan, in a few hundred years, went from a revered guardian of shepherds and hunters, to a demon, to finally, the Dark Angel himself.

 “The great god Pan is dead!”[1] These words are said to have been heard by an Egypain sailor, named Thamus, during the reign of Roman emperor, Tiberius and was recorded by Greek historian Plutarch.[2] But who was Pan, one of the two Greek deities to have ever died. Hailing from Arcadia, depending on the retelling of the myth, Pan was the son of either the lightning god Zeus, or the Messenger god, Hermes, and Driope.[3] Seeing as both possible fathers are associated with fertility, or general sexuality, the latter is honored through dedications of herms (after his own namesake), a portraiture atop a column with a representation of genitals, it is very fitting for a son who is a god of fertility himself. Pan was the ruler of the wilds, protector of shepherds, forests, pasturelands, and flocks.[4] To the Greeks, a civilization reliant on agriculture for sustenance, Pan was a known favorite, even though he was not of the Olympian Pantheon. In regards of his appearance, Pan was known to be half man, half goat. He had the upper body of a man, with horns sprouting from his head, a beard and a pug nose, a trait the ancient Greeks deemed unappealing. His lower body was purely that of a goat, complete with cloven hooves and a tail. While an anthropomorphic mix of man and beast was not uncommon in Ancient Greek religion, centaurs (half man, half horse), the minotaur (half man, half bull), and satyrs (men with horns and tails), aside from Pan, it was unheard of for any of them to reach the status of actually being divine. Another defining feature of the iconography of Pan is that he was always depicted as being fully aroused,[5] speaking to his role as a fertility god.

While it is not known why or how Pan’s death came about, it should be noted the time period that it was announced. Emperor Tiberius ruled over Rome from 14-37AD,[6] which was right around the time Jesus was crucified on the cross. This may be interpreted as the death of Pan (and thus the old religion) allowing for the coming of Christ through his sacrifice (and thus the coming of Christianity), or vice versa. This then begs the question, that, of all the gods and goddesses worshiped by the ancient Greeks, why Pan? First and foremost, the Christians needed to stamp out the old religion in order to make room for their God, and Pan proved to be a bit of a nuisance. Even though he was not one of the top Olympians, Pan was unusually hard to get rid of, and thus was one of the last worshiped gods of the ancient world. Worship of Pan was also not centered in one place; as a god worshiped mainly in spaces of nature, such as forests, caves, and grottos.[7] Christians were not able to simply come in and destroy his sacred spaces, like they could with a temple dedicated to the god Zeus, for example, or turn it into a church, as was done with the famous temple of Athena, the Parthenon. Getting rid of Pan would take a bit more finesse on the part of the Christians. In addition to being a fixture of the old religion, Pan was notorious for his lustful nature, and thus constant chasing of women, including the goddess Aphrodite herself, as is seen in the Hellensitic sculpture, Aphrodite and Pan, currently at the National Archeological Museum in Athens. Another common myth highlighting the god’s hypersexuality is the one of his chase of the naiad, Syrinx. Syrinx was a naiad, a beautiful water spirit. Due to her beauty, she was often pursued by satyri, and because of this, took a vow of chastity. This, however, did not deter Pan once he had set his sights on her. In order to escape the god, Syrinx fled to the river, her father Landon, for protection, where she then called on her sisters for help, when in which they turned her into reeds. Pan, not wanting to give up so easily on his love tried to catch her in the stream, but alas, was met with a bunch of reeds. As he sighed, mourning the loss of his lustful affections, heard that the plants produced a beautiful melody, which reminded him of the beautiful Syrinx, and thus he gathers them, places them in size order, and so fashioned his iconic pipes, aka the Pan Pipes.[8] This oversexualized lifestyle of Pan was in complete opposition to the virtuous, Jesus-like, lifestyle promoted by early Christians, a life of chastity and resistance of earthly pleasures. Pan was the polar opposite of Jesus in this regard, as was Greek culture in general in antiquity. Sex was seen as a normal part of everyday life, something that even the gods would often take part in; even gay sex was seen as normal at the time and encouraged between male youths and their slightly older counterparts as they learned how to become proper citizens.

Another fault against Pan in the eyes of the Christians was his ugliness, not even the Greeks described him as being attractive, unlike the more divine gods, who were the epitome of beauty. With his pug nose, tail, and furry goat behind, Pan was truly a creature meant to be kept in the wild where he belonged. This, did not prove issue for the Greeks, who worshiped him nonetheless. However, according to the Christians, things like ugliness, deformity and disease were punishment sent from God almighty,[9] which would be fitting for a figure later to be associated with Satan himself. The way the Christians saw it, if they couldn’t get the Greeks to fear their God, they would have them fear something else, i.e. the Devil, i.e. Pan.

Saint Augustine of Hippos of the fourth century AD was probably the first to demonize Pan and the satyrs, calling them incubi and succubi, respectively.[10] While demons existed in Greek pagan tradition, they were not solely evil, more like spirits, good and bad, who would sometimes have influence over people’s lives. Doing this was the first step in removing Pan from the minds of the Greek people. Incubi, and their female counterparts, the succubi, are said to be sexual demons that come in the night to assault individuals as they sleep. The demonic sexuality of these entities highlight the way early Christians viewed pagan traditions of a loose sense of sexuality. Christian demonization, however, was not solely reserved for Pan, and, in fact, many of the Greek deities were demonized in order to curb their worship. Scripture refers to the pagan gods as “demons”, posing in the place of God, getting mortals to sacrifice to them instead,  “20No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”.[11]  In demonizing the pagan gods, the Christians aimed to invalidate their worship in order to convert the Greek population. Fourth century Christian historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, took things even further and officially made the connection between Pan and Satan, thus solidifying the iconic image of the Devil as a man/goat hybrid entity of pure nightmare.[12] Pan represented the animalistic side to humanity, the side that Christians sought to squash with unfathomable vigor by Salvation through the Church. The Greek gods all had a dualistic nature, Pan included. There was no such binary of those who are only good, and those who were only evil. This, plus Pan’s already beastly appearance, made him an easy target once early Christians had set their eyes on him. Simply remove the good, and you have a being with no place in society, a devil, if you will. He cites how Pan would even go as far as to kill his worshipers if they displeased him with actions as simple as waking him from a nap with music played in his own honor.[13] One can see how this type of action could only be taken by one who is truly evil, and so Pan was. With no redeeming qualities, it is easy to see how this goat god became the scapegoat for all of humanity’s follies.

Now, when looking for descriptions of the Devil in the Bible, it is most likely that you will be searching in vain. The Bible never gives a physical description of Satan, as he is not a physical being. Having once been an angle, now fallen, Satan has no physical form. In encounters with him, Biblical text merely describes him as light, as he chooses to disguise himself: “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light”.[14] In the book of Revelations, there is a description of two Beasts who are to come first to bring about the demise of mankind, and then comes the devil, whose only description is as a dragon. True imagery of Satan did not come about until the middle ages, when the notion of Pan as the Devil was already being established. However, the negative connotation with goats and Christianity had already been laid. In the Judgement of Nations, Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus speaks to the sheep (the saved) and the goats (the damned): “31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’40 The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’44 They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’45 He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”.[15] Already we see how sheep are to be associated with goodness, while goats are regarded as wicked creatures. This would only make Pan’s association with all things evil all the easier. Combine a pre established disdain towards goats, a rejection of all things sexual, and a god that the people refused to give up, and the setting for making the imagery of Satan is set.

            Pan, the god who once roamed the wilds, embodying Nature itself, met his demise with the coming of Christianity. While he still lives on in modern tradition, the ambiguous, at times benevolent god has been reduced to the purest form of evil, an entity to be feared and scorned, not honored and revered. In truth, the great god Pan did die, at least, this notion of him did. What has been left in his wake is the face of fallen evil, of destruction and deceit. Pan has fallen and Satan has risen, an image that has now persisted for over a thousand years. And so, was said farewell to the once great god, Pan.

[1] Goodwin, William W., translator. “Section 17.” De Defectu Oraculorum, by Plutarch.

[2] “Demon Lovers & Gods Dark & Light : The Great God Pan: Not dead, just poorly translated”


[3]“Pan • Facts and Information on the God Pan.” Greek Gods & Goddesses, 7 Feb. 2017, greekgodsandgoddesses.net/gods/pan/.

[4] Hesiod. “Hymn 19 to Pan.” Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Hymn 19 to Pan, To Pan, data.perseus.org/texts/urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0013.tlg019.perseus-eng1.

[5] Hearne, Kevin. “The Demonization of Pan.” The Demonization of Pan, 1998, www.mesacc.edu/~thoqh49081/StudentPapers/pan.html.

[6] “Demon Lovers & Gods Dark & Light : The Great God Pan: Not dead, just poorly translated”


[7]“Pan • Facts and Information on the God Pan.” Greek Gods & Goddesses, 7 Feb. 2017, greekgodsandgoddesses.net/gods/pan/.

[8] Ovid, Metamorphoses 1. 689 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.)

[9] Hearne, Kevin. “The Demonization of Pan.” The Demonization of Pan, 1998, www.mesacc.edu/~thoqh49081/StudentPapers/pan.html.

[10]Luijk, Ruben van. Children of Lucifer the Origins of Modern Religious Satanism. Oxford University Press, 2016.

[11] 1 Cor 10:20-22

[12] Coggan, Sharon. Pandaemonia: A study of Eusebius’ recasting of Plutarch’s story of the “Death of Great Pan.” January 1992. http://search.proquest.com/docview/304004651/.

[13] Coggan, Sharon. Pandaemonia: A study of Eusebius’ recasting of Plutarch’s story of the “Death of Great Pan.” January 1992. http://search.proquest.com/docview/304004651/.

[14] 2 Corinthians 11:14

[15] Matthew 25:31-46

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