Pan ho megas tethneke

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Pan ho megas tethneke

The father of Aemilianus the orator, to whom some of you have listened, was Epitherses, who lived in our town and was my teacher in grammar. He said that once upon a time in making a voyage to Italy he embarked on a ship carrying freight and many passengers.

It was already evening when, near the Echinades Islands, the wind dropped and the ship drifted near Paxi. Almost everybody was awake, and a good many had not finished their after-dinner wine. Suddenly from the island of Paxi was heard the voice of someone loudly calling Thamus, so that all were amazed. Thamus was an Egyptian pilot, not known by name even to many on board. Twice he was called and made no reply, but the third time he answered; and the caller, raising his voice, said, “When you come opposite to Palodes, announce that Great Pan is dead.” On hearing this, all, said Epitherses, were astounded and reasoned among themselves whether it were better to carry out the order or to refuse to meddle and let the matter go. Under the circumstances Thamus made up his mind that if there should be a breeze, he would sail past and keep quiet, but with no wind and a smooth sea about the place he would announce what he had heard. So, when he came opposite Palodes, and there was neither wind nor wave, Thamus from the stern, looking toward the land, said the words as he heard them: “Great Pan is dead.”

Plutarch, “On the Obsolescence of Oracles”, Moralia (419 B-E)

The story is told by Plutarch in volume V (or VI, according to the French edition) of Moralia (Ἠθικά). At the time after the birth of Christ, of whose existence Plutarch did not have the most remote idea, the famous philosopher and historian, who was also one of the last priests of the Oracle of Delphi, recounted this story, which would be allotted a glorious allegorical destiny not elsewhere but in Chapter 17 of one of three works devoted to the ancient oracles: “On the Obsolescence of Oracles” (“De defectu oraculorum”), an obsolescence that Plutarch no doubt experienced personally and fatally. “De defectu oraculorum” was in fact devoted to the demons, δαίμονες (or as they are likewise obscurely called “demigods”, probably in order to be distinguished from the Christian (mis)use of the Greek term: for what does “demigod” even mean? Either you are a god or you are not!). The book gives ample evidence for the presence of demons in the human world, and especially of their affinity to philosophers: Empedocles, Democritus, Socrates, Plato, Xenocrates and Chrysippus.

The story recounted in Chapter 17 aims at giving an example of “how these beings perish”, that is δαίμονες. It is no accident that many have read Plutarch’s story as an allegory of the end of the ancient world. (Notwithstanding that the last and perhaps most spectacular glimmering of this world was yet to take place: the fantastic simulation of its sacred archaicness, the mystification of its magical presences in the guise of overly aestheticised decadent theories – the bizarre apocalyptic reflections of its decline, of its outburst and extinction into the ocean of the unknown sun. Or, if for a moment we release ourselves from the ubiquitous snare of allegory, which derives from that declining, yet never really declined world, a dead-alive world, what was forthcoming was the heyday of the so called Hellenic philosophical and mystical-esoteric teachings – Neoplatonism and Orphism admixed with the Eastern mystical doctrines of Gnosticism etc. Monstrous hybrids that coerce culture into exceeding even the most daring of its imaginings of nature with its fiendish beings led by the Goat-Hoofed God who inflamed women, men and beasts, the Great God Pan.)

The story of the Goat-Hoofed God Pan is the story of his demise. His demise is his aesthetisation. His bacchanal low-status kitsch has nothing to do with the savage archaic demon of the Arcadian mount Lykaion.

Pan is an archaic deity from Arcadia. But ancient Arcadia is barely related to the idealisation of Hellenic poets and philologists, the inventors of the idyl who transformed Arcadia into a mise-en-scène of ideal life in nature’s bosom – the ideal natural life understood as culture. Nature as culture: life in nature’s bosom is a life dominated by the muses of the erotic musical ritual and the codes of aesthetics. The transformation of Pan into a σειληνός, a companion of Dionysus, into a satyr and feast-companion of Trimalchio, represents his immunisation as a representative of savage nature within the zoo of imperial culture.

The God Pan departs, so as to make way for the new emerging god who came to be born in this very same age. But why the god Pan is exactly the one who departs? Why does Pan’s death come as a precondition for the cult to a new resurrecting god?

Because the new cult rejects precisely what Pan embodies – nature.

What is nature?

Nature is known to philosophers, friends and acquaintances of demons, the demons from Plutarch’s stories in his “On the Obsolescence of Oracles”.

But the Goat-Hoofed one persisted. None other than he would be the one to serve as a set of iconographic models that those barbaric painters after the fall of the empire, oblivious of Eastern mystical doctrines, resorted to when they needed to portray the ultimate foe of man. The foe, “The Evil One”, wears the insignia of the Great God of Nature. He was a zoomorphic and, naturally, an ithyphallic god. The Goat-Hoofed and Goat-Horned one, as this was the way he was born, made his nurse flee in terror, according to the Homeric hymn in praise of Pan.

Goat-Hoofed one, you, Inspirer of frenzied women. The same god who inflamed women, men and beasts will return in the form of the second other, Dia-bolo, of Otherness. He will be the one to be long chased by women at midnight, along with Diana, along with Aradia.

The ithyphallic god Pan returns.

The archaic deity of Nature.

Hew returns as the Devil, as a lord of fallen nature, of its infernal material archaicness, the archaicness of the underworld. 

He will return as the God of Nature ten centuries after the decline of the ancient world – in a mysterious 15th century painting by one of the first great artists of modern times, and in a forgotten text by one of the first great philosophers of modern times.

Today marks the return of this god.

Today this god returns once again.

Today this god must return.

Necessity – the return of Pan.

Magnus Pan mortuus non est.

The Great God Pan returns.