The ancients have with great exactness, delineated universal nature, under the person of Pan. They leave his origin doubtful: some asserting him the son of Mercury; and others the common offspring of all Penelope's suitors. The latter supposition doubtless occasioned some later writers to entitle this ancient fable, Penelope: a thing frequently practiced, when the earlier relations are applied to more modern characters and persons; though sometimes with great absurdity and ignorance; as in the present case: for Pan was one of the most ancient gods, and long before the time of Ulysses: besides, Penelope was venerated by antiquity for her matronal chastity. A third sort will have him the issue of Jupiter and Hybris, that is reproach. But whatever his origin was, the destinies are allowed his sisters.
He is described by antiquity with pyramidal horns, reaching up to heaven, a rough and shaggy body, a very long beard, of a biform-figure, human above, half brute below, ending in goat's feet. His arms, or ensigns of power, are, a pipe in his left hand, composed of seven reeds; in his right a crook; and he wore for his mantle a leopard's skin.
His attributes and titles were, the god of hunters, shepherds, and all the rural inhabitants; president of the mountains; and after Mercury the next messenger of the gods. He was also held the leader and ruler of the nymphs, who continually danced and frisked about him, attended with the Satyrs, and their elders the Sileni. Ha had also the power of striking terrors, especially such as were vain and superstitious: whence they came to be called panic terrors.
Few actions are recorded of him, only a principal one is, that he challenged Cupid at wrestling, and he worsted. He also caught the giant Typhon in a net, and held him fast. They relate further of him, that when Ceres growing disconsolate for the rape of Proserpine, hid herself, and all the gods took utmost pains to find her, by going out different ways for that purpose, Pan only had the good fortune to meet her, as he was hunting, and discovered her to the rest. He likewise had the assurance to rival Apollo in music; and in the judgment of Midas was preferred; but the judge had, though with great privacy and secrecy, a pair of asses ears fastened on him for his sentence.
There is very little said of his amours; which may seem strange among such a multitude of gods, so profusely amorous. He is only reported to have been very fond of Echo, who was also esteemed his wife; and a nymph more, called Syrinx, with the love of whom Cupid inflamed him for his insolent challenge.
Lastly, Pan had no descendant, which also is a wonder, when the male gods were so extremely prolific; only he was the reputed father of a servant girl, called Iambe, who used to divert strangers with her ridiculous prattling stories.
This fable is perhaps the noblest of all antiquity; and pregnant with the mysteries and secrets of nature. Pan, as the name imports, represents the universe, about whose origin there are two opinions, viz; that it either sprung from Mercury, that is, the divine word, according to the scriptures, and philosophical divines: or from the confused seeds of things. For they who allow only one beginning of all things, either ascribe it to God; or if they suppose a material beginning, acknowledge it to be various in its power; so that the whole dispute comes to theses two points, viz: either that nature proceeds from Mercury, or from confused mixture, according to the fable.
The third origin of Pan seems borrowed by the Greeks from the Hebrew mysteries; for it relates to the state of the world, not in its first creation, but as made subject to death and corruption after the fall: and in this state it was, and remains the offspring of God and sin, or Jupiter and reproach. And therefore these three several accounts of Pan's birth may seem true, if duly distinguished in respect of things and times. For this Pan, or the universal nature of things which we view and contemplate, had its origin from the divine word, and confused matter, first created by God himself; with the subsequent introduction of sin, and consequently corruption.
The destinies, or the natures and fates of things, are justly made Pan's sisters: as the chain of natural causes links together the rise, duration, and corruption; the exaltation, degeneration, and workings; the processes, the effects, and changes, of all that can any way happen to things.
Horns are given him, broad at the roots, but narrow and sharp a-top, because the nature of all things seem pyramidal: for individuals are infinites; but being collected into a variety of species, they rise up into kinds; and these again ascend, and are contracted into generals; till at length nature may seem collected to a point. And no wonder if Pan's horns reach to the heavens, since the sublimities of nature, or abstract ideas, reach in a manner to things divine: for there is a short and ready passage from metaphysics to natural theology.
Pan's body, or the body of nature, is, with great propriety and elegance, painted shaggy and hairy; as representing the rays of things: for rays are as the hair, or fleece of nature; and more or less worn by all bodies. This evidently appears in vision; and in all effects or operations at a distance: for whatever operates thus, may be properly said to emit rays. (this is always supposed the case in vision; so that the mathematical demonstrations in optics, proceeded upon it. And hence we may the better understand the meaning of the Author, when the mentions, as he frequently does, the ray of things.) But particularly the beard of Pan is exceeding long; because the rays of the celestials bodies penetrate and act to a prodigious distance; and the sun himself, when clouded on its upper part, appears to the eyes bearded.
Again, the body of nature is justly described biform, because of the differnce between its superior or inferior parts; as the former, for their beauty, regularity of motion, and influence over the earth, may be properly representd by the human figure; and the latter, because of their disorder, irregularity, and subjection to the celestial bodies, are by the brutal. This biform figure also represents the participation of one species with another; for there appear to be no simple natures; but all participate or consist of two: thus man has somewhat of the brute, the brute somewhat of the plant, the plant somewhat of the mineral; so that all natural bodies have really two faces; or consist of a superior and an inferior species.
There lies a curious allegory in the making of Pan's goat-footed; on account of the motion of ascent which the terrestrial bodies have towards the air and heavens: for the goat is a clambering creature, that delights in climbing up the rocks and precipices: and in the same manner, the matters destined to this lower globe strongly affect to rise upwards; as appears from the clouds and meteors.
Pan's arms, or the ensigns he bears in his hands, are of two kinds; the one as emblem of harmony, the other of empire. His pipe, composed of seven reeds, plainly denotes the consent annd harmony, or the concords and discords of things, produced by the motion of the seven planets. His crook also contains a fine representation of the ways of nature; which are partly straight, and partly crooked: thus the staff having an extraordinary bend towards the top, denotes, that the work of divine Providence are generally brought about by remote means, or in a circuit; as if somewhat else were intended, rather than the effect produced, as in the sending of Joseph into Egypt, &c. so likewise in human government, they who sit at the helm, manage and wind the people more successfully, by pretext and oblique courses, than they could by such as are direct and straight; so that in effect all sceptres are crooked a-top.
Pan's mantle, or cloathing, is with great ingenuity made of leopard's skin; because of the spots it has: for, in like manner, the heavens are sprinkled with stars, the sea with islands, the earth with flowers, and almost each particular thing is variegated, or wears a mottled coat.
The office of Pan could not be more lively expressed, than by making him the gid of hunters: for every natural action, every motion and process, is no other than a chace: thus arts and sciences hunt out their works; and human schemes and counsels, their several ends: and all living creatures either hunt out their aliment, pursue their prey, or seek their pleasures; and this in a skilful and sagacious manner. He is also styled the god of the rural inhabitants; because men in this situation live more according to nature, than they do in cities and courts, which corrupt them with effeminate arts. He is likewise particularly styled President of the mountains, because in mountains and lofty places, the nature of things lies more open ad exposed to the eyes and the understanding.
In his being called the messenger of the gods, next after Mercury, lies a divine allegory; as, next after the word of God, the image of the world is the herald of the divine power and wisdom; ccording to the expression of the Psalmist: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showed his handy-works."
Pan is delighted with the company of the nymphs; that is, the souls of all living creatures are the delight of the world; and he is properly called their governor, because each of them follows its own nature as a leader; and all dance about their own respective rings, with infinite variety, and never-ceasing motion. And with these continually join the Satyrs and Sileni, that is, Youth and Age; for all things have a kind of young, cheerful, and dancing time; and again their time of slowness, tottering, and creeping. And whoever, in a true light considers the motions and endeavors of both these ages, like another Democritus, will perhaps find them as odd and strage, as the gesticulations and antic motions of the Satyrs and Sileni.
The power he had of striking terrors, contains a very sensible doctrine; for nature has implanted fear in all living creatures, as well to keep them from risquing their lives, as to guard against injuries and violence: and yet this nature, or passion keeps not its bounds; but with just and profitable fears always mixes such as are vain and senseless; so that all things, if we could see their insides, would appear full of panic terrors. Thus mankind, particularly the vulgar, labour under a high degree of superstition; which is nothing more than a panic dread that principally reigns in unsettled and troublesome times.
The presumption of Pan, in challenging Cupid to the conflict, denotes that matter has an appetite, and tendency to a dissolution of the world; and falling back to its first chaos again; unless this depravity and inclination were restrained and subdued by a more powerful concord and agreement of things, properly expressed by love or Cupid: it is therefore well for mankind, and the state od all things, that Pan was thrown and conquered in the struggle. ( this kind of explainations may appear like forced accommodations, to hasty and juvenile minds: but perhaps will have a greater effect upon a sober and philosophical natures, versed in the knowledge of men and things. It certainly requires a knowledge of history, depth in philosophy, and a mature judgment, to discover the origin, the intention, and use of the ancient mythology.)
His catching and detaining Typhon in the net, requires a similar explanation; for whatever vast and unusual swells, which the word Typhon signifies, may sometimes be raised in nature, as in the sea, the clouds, the earth, or the like; yet nature catches, entangles, and holds all such outrages and insurrections in her inextricable net, wove as it were of adamant.
That part of the fable, which attributes the discovery of lost Ceres to Pan, whilst he was hunting; a happiness denied the other gods, though they diligently and expressly sought her, contains an exceeding just and prudent admonition; viz: that we are not to expect the discovery of things useful in common life, as that of corn, denoted by Ceres, from abstract philosophies; as if these were the gods of the fist order; no, not though you used your utmost endeavors this way; but only from Pan, that is, a sagacious experience and general knowledge of nature; which is often found even by accident, to stumble upon such discoveries, whilst pursuit was directed another way.
The event of his containding with Apollo in music, affords us an useful instruction, that may help to humble the human reason and judgment, which is too apt to boast, and glory in itself. There seems to be two kinds of harmony; the one of divine Providence, the other of human reason: but the government of the world, the administration of its affairs, and the more secret divine judgments, sound harsh and dissonant to human ears, of human judgment; and though this ignorance be justly rewarded with asses-ears; yet they are put on and wore, not openly, but with great secrecy: nor is the deformity of the thing seen or observed by the vulgar.
We must not fid it strange if no amours are related of Pan, besides his marriage with Echo: for nature enjoys itself, and in itself all other things: he that loves, desires enjoyment: but in profusion there is no room for desire: and therefore Pan, remaining content of himself, has no passion, unless it be for discourse, which is well shadowed out by Echo, or talk; or when it is more accurate, by Syrinx, or writing. ( Observe that Syrinx signifies a reed, or the ancient pen) But Echo makes a most excellent wife for Pan, as being no other than genuine philosophy, which faithfully repeats his words: or only transcribes exactly as nature dictates; thus representing the true image and reflection of the world, without adding a tittle. (The author endeavors to place himself in this situation, and accordingly calls himself, and is called by others, the secretary of nature.)
It tends also to the support and perfection of Pan or nature, to be without offspring; for the world degenarate in its parts, and not in the way of a whole; as wanting a body external to itself, wherewith to generate.
Lastly, for the supposed or spurious prattling daughter of Pan, it is an excellent addition to the fable, and aptly represents the talkative philosophies that have at all times been stirring, and filled the world with idle tales: being ever barren, empty, and servile; though sometimes indeed diverting and entertaining; and sometimes again, troublesome and importunate. (after reading the explanation, it may be proper to read the fable again, which makes the conformity appear so great, that one can scarce help believing, or at least wishing, the things drawn out of it by the author, were originally intended by the contriver.)