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Distributed for Reaktion Books


The Great God’s Modern Return

Distributed for Reaktion Books


The Great God’s Modern Return

From ancient myth to contemporary art and literature, a beguiling look at the many incarnations of the mischievous—and culturally immortal—god Pan, now in paperback.
Pan—he of the cloven hoof and lustful grin, beckoning through the trees. From classical myth to modern literature, film, and music, the god Pan has long fascinated and terrified the western imagination. “Panic” is the name given to the peculiar feeling we experience in his presence. Still, the ways in which Pan has been imagined have varied wildly—fitting for a god whose very name the ancients confused with the Greek word meaning “all.” Part-goat, part-man, Pan bridges the divide between the human and animal worlds. In exquisite prose, Paul Robichaud explores how Pan has been imagined in mythology, art, literature, music, spirituality, and popular culture through the centuries. At times, Pan is a dangerous, destabilizing force; sometimes, a source of fertility and renewal. His portrayals reveal shifting anxieties about our own animal impulses and our relationship to nature. Always the outsider, he has been the god of choice for gay writers, occult practitioners, and New Age mystics. And although ancient sources announced his death, he has lived on through the work of Arthur Machen, Gustav Mahler, Kenneth Grahame, D. H. Lawrence, and countless others. Pan: The Great God’s Modern Return traces his intoxicating dance.

336 pages | 15 color plates, 20 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2

Folklore and Mythology

History: General History

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"A fascinating account of a strange god with meme-like reach across the ages, and a study in the temporal shapeshifting of mythology itself."


"The multiple identities and reincarnations of Pan are eloquently examined by Robichaud in this fascinating book. Every age has its own version of Pan that echoes his Greek origins. . . . This book is probably the most extensive study of Pan attempted. And it’s very well written. Robichaud is not only an academic but a published poet and it shows in the elegance of his sentences—sensitive and careful attention is given to the shades of meaning attached to Pan. . . . And it’s not just the words but the images that captivate. The book has a generous number of color illustrations. . . . If you are looking for a pleasurable source book on everything about Pan then Robinchaud’s is it. An important and self-recommending study. I loved it."

Alan Price | Magonia Review of Books

"An insightful and stimulating read! Recommended."


"It is this long history of variation in both what he is and what he represents that Robichaud‘s recent book Pan: The Great God’s Modern Return explores. By examining how the god has been understood and represented down through history, Robichaud presents a multifaceted and remarkably changeable portrait of a deity whose history is filled with mysteries, tricks, and turnings as represented in the wealth of stories, songs, and images in which he has appeared. . . . Very interesting—as well as enlightening."

Well-read Naturalist

“If you are interested in Pan in any way, from his presence in literature or art to his magical presence in myth and vision, and the myriad ways that his shape flits throughout human history, be it on the edges or in our midst, then Pan: The Great God’s Modern Return is simply a must-purchase. It is, without doubt, the most wide-ranging treatment of the goat-foot god I’ve ever read, combining thorough attention to detail and research, yet at the same time highly accessible to a general reader. . . . This book is a tremendous achievement and deserves a treasured place on the bookshelf of anyone who hearkens to the call of Pan.”

"This is simply the most wide-ranging and up-to-date exploration of the impact of Pan on the Western imagination yet written."

Ronald Hutton, author of "The Triumph of the Moon"

"We get the pleasure of seeing this goat-like god pop up everywhere from classic children’s literature to romantic novels to early environmentalist tracts. . . . The result is a tour de force."

Pericles Lewis, author of "The Cambridge Introduction to Modernism"

"Probably the most thorough overview of the Arcadian goat-footed deity ever written. The book traces the history of Pan from his ancient past to his contemporary depictions. . . You’ll leave with a greater understanding of this vast, complex, and often paradoxical and contradictory deity throughout time."

Modern Witch


With the horns and legs of a goat but the torso of a man, Pan is a god whose very form confounds the distinction between animal and divine. From his earliest appearances in the written record, Pan has been imagined in ways that are often irreconcilable. Even the stories of his birth and parentage vary wildly. According to the Homeric hymn ‘To Pan’, which may date from as early as the fifth century bc, when the newborn Pan’s nurse first saw his goatish face, shaggy legs and cloven hooves she fled in terror, never to return. His father, Hermes, delighted by any sign of mischief, burst out laughing and picked up the strange child at once. He brought him straight to Mount Olympus, where the gods all shared in his mirth and welcomed Pan to their divine company, especially Dionysus. That is how he got his name, the hymn tells us, for the meaning of ‘pan’ is ‘all’.
The earliest archaeological evidence of the worship of Pan dates from the late sixth century. Discovered on Mount Lykaion in Arcadia, two bronze statuettes bear votive inscriptions to Pan, one of which identifies a ram and a jug as offerings. These would have been costly to obtain, suggesting that at least some shepherds had considerable wealth. A fifth-century bronze sculpture from northern Arcadia depicts Pan with a goat head, shaggy mane and large testicles (goatish and suggesting fertility), although the lower parts of his legs are missing. The image conveys the inherently unsettling nature of the god, the way his divinity allows him to transgress the boundary between human and animal. He shields his eyes from the sun with one hand as though looking out over his flocks. Although outside Arcadia Pan was generally worshipped in wild spaces such as grottoes and caves, there was an Arcadian temple dedicated to Pan and Apollo in the gorge where the River Neda runs down from Mount Lykaion.
Pan’s name (in Greek, Πάν) provides some clues about his probable origins. As noted in the Homeric ‘Hymn to Pan’, the Greeks early on confused his name with their word for all, πᾶν, familiar to us as the prefix pan-, as in ‘pandemic’ and ‘pan-European’. This confusion would eventually lead to elaborate speculation about Pan’s true nature, as we’ll see.
In addition to his name, Pan’s epithets or cult titles provide clues about his early religious attributes. These include Agreus (‘of the hunt’ or ‘hunter’); Agrotas (‘giver of pasture’); Haliplanktos (‘Sea-roaming’); Lytêrios (‘releasing’); Nomios (‘of the pasture’); Phorbas (‘Terrifying One’); Sinoeis (‘mischief’ or ‘bane’); and Skoleitas (‘crooked’). While several of these are fairly straightforward, describing Pan’s role as God of hunting and pastures and the source of panic terror, others are more mysterious. Why, for example, is he described as ‘Sea-roaming’? Philippe Borgeaud points out that fishermen venerated ‘Pan Aktios as god of riverbanks and ocean promontories where the goats come for fresh water and salt’, so perhaps they imagined Pan roaming the seas just as shepherds envisioned him upon the mountains.15 The epithet Lytêrios is explained by Pausanias as having the sense ‘deliverer’, and was a title given to Pan at his shrine in Troezen, where he had appeared in dreams to give people a remedy for the plague that was devastating their town. Skoleitas may allude to Pan’s goat horns or legs, or even his gait while walking. Like his purported father Hermes, Pan was fond of mischief, with an added twist of sudden fear, which would explain Sinoeis as a title.

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