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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Classical Review

Vol. 40 (1926), pp6‑8.

The text is in the public domain:
Ernest Harrison died in 1943.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


How old is the association of Pan with groundless fear? In an unguarded moment one might point to the Homeric Hymn or to Herodotus; indeed, some scholars do refer to Herodotus for just this thing. Now Herodotus is one of my chief witnesses, but not for that.

In the Iliad and the Odyssey the name of Pan does not occur. The Hymn to Pan state much of mirth but nothing of fear, save that his nurse at his birth fled in terror of his bearded face. The Hesiodean poems say nought of Pan, and the powers of fear whom they mention,​1 as far as they have any being, are children of Ares and Aphrodite, and have nothing to do with Pan.

Let us turn to Herodotus. On the eve of Marathon, we read,​2 Pan told Philippides that he had done good service to Athens, and would do more. The Athenians showed their gratitude by building him a shrine when their affairs had turned out well. Yet what service he did them we are not told. Neither in his story of Marathon nor elsewhere does Herodotus ascribe any discomfiture of the Persians to Pan. Stranger still, when he tells us how fear once fell upon the Persians by night, he says nothing of Pan. When Xerxes and his host came to the Scamander, they did homage to Athena and the Heroes: ταῦτα δὲ ποιησαμένοισι νυκτὸς φόβος ἐς τὸ στρατόπεδον ἐνέπεσε.​3 That is all. Not πανικὸς φόβος, but just fear.

From Marathon and the Scamander let us pass to Salamis. As Herodotus tells the story we hear nothing of Pan or of panic; indeed, apart from the Persians' wholesome dread of their lord and master,​4 the only combatant to whom he ascribes fear of any kind is not a Persian but a Greek.5

In Herodotus, though gods and heroes, oracles and soothsayers, play their part, the battle is in the main an affair between men and men. In Aeschylus, on the other hand, the work of the gods is seen at every turn.

ἀλλ’ ὧδε δαίμων τις κατέφθειρε στρατόν,

τάλαντα βρίσας οὐκ ἰσορρόπῳ τύχῃ.

θεοὶ πόλιν σῴζουσι Παλλάδος θεᾶς.

ἦρξεν μέν, ὦ δέσποινα, τοῦ παντὸς κακοῦ

φανεὶς ἀλάστωρ ἢ κακὸς δαίμων ποθέν.

οὐ ξυνεὶς δόλον

Ἕλληνος ἀνδρὸς οὐδὲ τὸν θεῶν φθόνον.

οὐ γὰρ τὸ μέλλον ἐκ θεῶν ἠπίστατο.


ναῶν ἔδωκε κῦδος Ἕλλησιν μάχης.​6

Moreover, the mood of the Persians is fear from the very outset,​7 and when things go against them their flight is wild.​8 Xerxes also, when he sees the defeat from the shore, rushes in disorderly flight.​9 Here, if anywhere, we might look for the work of Pan; and the poet might even be thought, by his conduct of the story, to be leading up to Pan. The Messenger tells his tale of disaster, and adds that there is worse, far worse, to follow. 'What could be worse?' asks the Queen; and he enters on the last stage of horror.10

νῆσός τις ἐστι πρόσθε Σαλαμῖνος τόπων,

βαιά, δύσορμος ναυσίν, ἢν ὁ φιλόχορος

Πὰν ἐμβατεύει.

He takes us to Psyttaleia, the haunt of Pan. Yet of any influence of Pan on the issue of the battle he says not a word.

If arguments from silence are ever to have value, I infer that Aeschylus and  p7 Herodotus did not associate Pan with fear.11

Thucydides, like Herodotus, can describe the nocturnal terrors of armies without recourse to Pan:

'When night came on, the Macedonians and most of the barbarians at once took alarm, as it is the way of large armies to feel inexplicable dismay; and thinking that their assailants were many times more numerous than was the fact, and that they were all but upon them, they took to sudden flight.'

They lit many fires and set out through the night; and disorder fell upon them, as it is the way of all armies, and especially of the largest, to suffer alarms and terrors, and above all at night, on the enemy's soil, with the enemy not far away.'​12

First by Euripides is Pan associated with any baneful emotion. In the Medea13 the Messenger supposes the bride's malady to be due to 'the wrath of Pan or some god.' In the Hippolytus14 the Chorus name Pan, Hecate, the Corybantes, and the Mountain Mother, as possible authors of the illness of the Queen. In neither place is the emotion fear.

First in the Rhesus, a play of doubtful date and authorship, does Pan seem to be associated with fear:15

τὰ μὲν ἀγγέλλεις δείματ’ ἀκούειν,

τὰ δὲ θαρσύνεις, κοὐδὲν καθαρῶς.

ἀλλ’ ἢ Κρονίου Πανὸς τρομερᾷ

μάστιγι φοβῇ;

There the adjective τρομερᾷ helps. But in Polybius, Cicero, and Dionysus of Halicarnassus, the noun πανικόν means by itself, without help from the context, groundless fear.​16 Diodorus, Josephus, Plutarch, and Pausanias, have not that noun, but they give the same sense by combining the adjective πανικός with such nouns as φόβος, θόρυβος, δεῖμα and τάραχος. Doubtless these authors connected πανικόν and πανικός with Pan, but first in Plutarch is the connexion expressly alleged.17

If my inference from the silence of Aeschylus and Herodotus is right, how had πανικόν, by the time of Polybius, come to convey the sense of panic fear?

Perhaps a clue may be found in the word πάνειον, which is used twice​a by Aeneas the Tactician, a writer of the middle of the fourth century before Christ, but apparently nowhere else in all Greek. I quote the passages of Aeneas from the text contributed to the Loeb Library by the Illinois Greek Club.

(C. xxi.) Περὶ δὲ φυλάκων καταστάσεως καὶ περιοδειῶν καὶ πανείων καὶ συνθημάτων καὶ παρασυνθημάτων τὰ μὲν πολλὰ ἐν τῇ Στρατοπεδευτικῇ βίβλῳ γραπτέον ὃν τρόπον δεῖ γενέσθαι, ὀλίγα δὲ αὐτῶν καὶ νῦν δηλώσομεν.

Here, if one knew nothing about πάνειον or πανικόν, one might well take πάνειον, or rather πανεῖον, to mean a fire-signal, and to be derived from πανός,  p8 a word which a passage of Athenaeus​18 has restored to Aeschylus​19 and Euripides.20

But in the second passage of Aeneas the word clearly means panic:

(C. xxvii.) Τοὺς δὲ περὶ πόλιν ἢ στρατόπεδα ἐξαίφνης θορύβους καὶ φόβους γενομένους​21 νυκτὸς ἢ μέθ’ ἡμέραν, ἅπερ ὑπό τινων καλεῖται πάνεια (ἔστιν δὲ τὸ ὄνομα Πελοποννήσιον καὶ μάλιστα Ἀρκαδικόν), πρὸς ταῦτ’ οὖν τινες κελεύουσι, καταπαύειν θέλοντες αὐτά, προσυγκεῖσθαι τοῖς ἐν τῇ πόλει σημεῖα, ἃ ἰδόντες γνώσονται· γνώσονται δὲ ὅτι ἔστιν πανεῖον ὧδε· αἰσθήσονται διὰ πυρός τι προσυγκείμενον ἐπὶ χώρου εὐκατόπτου πᾶσιν εἰς δύναμιν τοῖς ἐν τῇ πόλει. ἄριστον δὲ προπαρηγγέλθαι, καθ’ οὓς ἂν τῶν στρατιωτῶν γένηται φόβος, κατὰ χώραν τε ἠρεμεῖν καὶ ἀναβοᾶν παιᾶνα, ἢ λέγειν ὅτι εἴη πανεῖον καὶ τὸν ἀκούοντα ἀεὶ τῷ πλησίον παραγγέλλειν. καθ’ οὓς ἂν τοῦ στρατεύματος μὴ ἀντιπαιανίζωσιν, εἰδέναι κατὰ τούτους τὸν φόβον ὄντα.

The Greek is poor, and the text perhaps corrupt: but πάνειον denotes panic, and one of the ways of dealing with panic is a fire-signal, the meaning which we should assign to the word in the previous passage if that passage were to be taken by itself. How can we reconcile the two passages?

I conjecture that πανεῖον originally meant fire-signal, being related to πανός as λυχνειον is to λύχνος; that in Arcadia, the Peloponnese, and elsewhere, it came to be used in particular of a fire-signal announcing a groundless terror among troops; and that thence it came to mean such a terror itself. The history of the word would then resemble that of alarm, which from meaning a call to arms has come to be synonymous with fear.

The change in the meaning of πανεῖον, a specially Arcadian word, may have been helped by a mistaken connexion with Πάν, the god of Arcady; but it is also possible that the special use of πανεῖον contributed to the change by which Pan came to be regarded as the author of fear.

Even the form πανικόν may owe something to πανεῖον. Without some such help, how did that neuter adjective pass into a noun?22

E. Harrison

The Author's Notes:

1 Shield, 154; Theogony, 933.

2 VI.105.

3 VII.43.

4 VIII.86.

5 VIII.94, 1.

6 Persae, 345, 353, 361, 373, 454.

7 391.

8 422.

9 470.

10 447.

11 The Simonidean epigram (Anth. Pal. 232) supposes Pan to have aided Athens at Marathon, as Μιλτιάδης shows; so do Theaetetus in the following poem (233), Lucian (Philops. 3, Bis Acc. 9, Deor. Dial. 22.3), Pausanias (I.28.4, cf. VIII.54.6), Libanius (V.40, XXX.32), and Nonnus (Dionys. XXVII.299 ff.). So far as I know, only a scholion on Sophocles (Ajax 695) suggests that he played his part at Salamis. Even Plutarch's story of the fight on Psyttaleia (Aristid. ix) says nothing of Pan. The pseudo-Theocritean Syrinx (9‑10) does not commit itself to a place. None of these passages suggests that Pan struck panic into the foe. — Eratosthenes, it seems, made Pan strike 'terrorem qui πανικὸς dicitur' into the Titans in their fight with the Gods (Hygin. Astron. II.28);º and in Polyaenus (Strat. I.2) Pan, as the στρατηγός of Dionysus, frightens the enemy by a ruse, whence τοὺς κενοὺς καὶ τοὺς νυκτερινοὺς τῶν στρατευμάτων φόβους Πανι<κοὺς> κληΐζομεν.

12 IV.125.1; VII.80.. W. Schmid (Rhein. Mus., 1895, p311) has no doubt that Thucydides in both places is combating the ascription of such terrors to Pan. If a similar inference is to be drawn from every sententious passage of Thucydides, there will be a god under every stone. — Xenophon does not seem to help. He does not mention in any terms (Hell. II.4) the θόρυβος ὁ καλούμενος Πανικός which in Diodorus (XIV.32.3) comes upon the troops of the Thirty before Phyle.

13 1172.

14 142.

15 34.

16 An earlier instance of the noun, if we can trust Athenaeus (389F), is Περὶ τοῦ Πανικοῦ, the title of a treatise of Clearchus, a disciple of Aristotle. This treatise is otherwise unknown, and what Athenaeus quotes, though it might have served by way of illustration in a scientific account of panics, resembles what he quotes from another treatise by Clearchus in 393A. This, and the singular, throw doubt on Περὶ τοῦ Πανικοῦ.

17 De Iside et Osiride 14 (356D). Compare Pausanias X.23.7.

18 700E.

19 Ag. 284.

20 Ion 195. See also 1294, and fr. 90 (N.).

21 Read γι(γ)νομένους.

22 Since Antigonus Gonatas is much later than Aeneas, I need not consider the suppositions that panic helped him to defeat the Gauls at Lysimachia, and that this panic came into the hymn of Aratus in praise of Pan (H. Usener, Kleine SchriftenIII, pp405 ff.; W. W. Tarn, Antigonos Gonatas, pp165174). Justin, who alone gives us details of the fight, says nothing of panic or of Pan.

Thayer's Note:

a Four times, actually: 21.2, 25.1, and twice in 27.2‑3.

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