Gateway to the Classics: Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding

Pan, the God of Shepherds

P AN was not one of the great gods of Mount Olympus. He lived upon the earth, and was the god of the fields and forests and wild mountain sides. Therefore the Greeks thought that he was the protector of herdsmen and hunters, who were obliged to wander far away from the cities and settled parts of the country.

Pan was not beautiful, like most of the gods; indeed, he was a very strange looking figure He had legs and hoofs like a goat, and little horns upon his forehead, so that he seemed half man and half animal. He was a noisy fellow, with a great, deep voice which was so terrible that when he shouted the bravest men would run away in fear.

The people were usually afraid of Pan, and dreaded meeting him when they were obliged to pass through lonely parts of the country. But there was no reason for this; for in spite of his strange shape and his noisiness, Pan was a very gentle and good-natured old fellow. He loved music, and was fond of playing upon a kind of pipe which he made out of the reeds that grow by the rivers. The wood-nymphs and wood-spirits would often gather around, and dance to his music when he played.

Pan was worshiped especially by the country people. But there was one city called Athens where he was honored as much as anywhere else in Greece, and this is the way it came about. Athens was once threatened by a great army, which was coming to destroy the city, and kill or make slaves of its people. The Athenians were afraid that they would not be able to defend themselves alone, and so determined to send to another city called Sparta for aid. For this purpose they chose their swiftest runner, whose name was Pheidippides; and he set out, alone and on foot, for Sparta

The way lay through a rough, mountainous country, where the road became only a rocky path, winding over the mountains and down into the valleys. Pheidippides traveled with all speed, running most of the way, and scarcely stopping for rest or food. After two days and two nights, he entered the city of Sparta, and breathlessly begged them for help. But the Spartans received him coldly, and would give him no promise of aid. Then, without waiting for rest, Pheidippides was off again for Athens, to tell the Athenians that they must fight alone; but his heart was heavy as he thought how easily they might be conquered by so great an army.

As he was racing along the way back to Athens, he suddenly came upon a strange figure standing by the roadside. It was the god Pan, with his smiling eyes, curling beard, and great goat-legs. Pheidippides stood still in fear; but the god called to him kindly and said:—

"Why is it, Pheidippides, that they do not worship me, and ask me for help, at Athens? I have helped them many times before this, and they may be sure that I will help them now."

Then the god disappeared, and Pheidippides' fear was changed to joy. He sprang forward upon the road, running faster than ever to carry the good news. When he reached Athens, the people were comforted by the promise which the god had given him, and they marched bravely out to battle with as large an army as they could gather. Their enemies had ten soldiers for every one that Athens had; but the thought of the god gave them courage, and they fought so well that they won the victory, and the city was saved. Many of the Athenians used to tell afterward how they saw the great god Pan fighting on their side that day, and overthrowing the enemy by hundreds. Perhaps they only imagined it, but at least they believed it very earnestly; and after that battle the Athenians always worshiped and honored Pan more than did any other people in Greece.

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