Pan was the Greek god of shepherds, sheep, goats, and pastures. He was represented in art and literature as having the horns, ears, and legs of a goat. Like the god Apollo, Pan was also a musician, and he played an instrument called the syrinx (also known as panpipes). According to myth, Pan chased the nymph* Syrinx, who escaped from him by becoming a bed of reeds, which Pan then made into his panpipes. Panpipes were played by shepherds as dance music for nymphs and satyrs (woodland deities).
* nymph in classical mythology, one of the lesser goddesses of nature
Greek mythology included many different stories regarding Pan’s parents and birth. He was generally believed to be the son of the god Hermes, but sometimes Zeus, Apollo, and other gods were said to be his father. His mother was thought to be Penelope, Callisto, Hybris, or even a goat. When his mother saw that her newborn baby had little horns on his head and the legs of a goat, she abandoned him, and Pan was raised by nymphs.
Pan was sometimes a frightening god, and the word panic comes from his name. He became very angry if his sleep was disturbed, and he had the power to cause sudden terror in an enemy. It was believed that he came to the aid of Athens during the Persian Wars, when he caused the Persians to panic and flee during the Battle of Marathon. According to a story by the Greek historian Herodotus, an Athenian messenger reported that he heard Pan’s voice asking him why the Athenians did not worship him, since he had helped them so often. After their victory at Marathon, the Athenians built a shrine to Pan that can still be seen today in a cave on the Acropolis in Athens. (See also Art, Greek; Divinities; Music and Musical Instruments; Myths, Greek; Ritual and Sacrifice.)