Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
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c. 170 / Athens

Paternity Test



Pan: How do you do, my father Hermes?

Hermes: And how are you? But how am I your father?

Pan: Are you not, perchance, the Kyllenian Hermes?

Hermes: Certainly. How, then, are you my son?

Pan: I am the result of an irregular intrigue, your love child.

Hermes: By heaven, rather, probably, of an intrigue of goats: for how could you be mine, with your horns, and such a snub nose, and shaggy beard, and cloven feet, and goatish legs, and tail upon your rump?

Pan: Whatever sneers you aim at me, it is your own son you render an object of reproach, my dear father, but yourself still more, for begetting and making such offspring. I am innocent of it all.

Hermes: And whom do you call your mother? Have I perchance had an intrigue with a goat without knowing it?

Pan: You have not committed adultery with a goat: but recollect yourself, if you have never offered violence to a girl of gentle birth in Arcadia. Why do you bite your thumb to find an answer, and remain in doubt so long? I allude to Penelope, the daughter of Ikarius.

Hermes: Then under what circumstances did she bring you into the world, resembling a goat instead of myself?

Pan: I will give you her very own story. Well, when she despatched me to Arcadia, “My child,” said she, “I am your mother, Penelope, of Sparta, and know you have a God, Hermes, the son of Maia and Zeus, for your father. And if you wear horns and have the legs of a goat, let not that circumstance distress you, for when your father visited me, he gave himself the form of a he-goat, to avoid notice, and for that reason you have turned out very like that animal.

Hermes: In truth, I remember to have done something of the kind. Shall I, however, who pride myself so greatly on my good looks and am still without a beard, have the reputation of being your father and incur ridicule at the hands of all on account of my lovely offspring?

Pan: Yet I shall not disgrace you, Father, for I am a musician and play the pipe with remarkable sweetness, and Bacchus can do nothing without me, but has made me his companion and thyrsus bearer for himself, and I lead the dance for him. And if you could see my flocks, too, what a large number I possess in the neighborhood of Tegea and all over Parthenius, you would be greatly delighted. And I rule over all Arcadia; and, but lately, having fought on the side of the Athenians, I distinguished myself so much at Marathon, that even a prize of valor was awarded me, the cave under the Acropolis. In fact, if you go to Athens, you will know how great is the name of Pan there.

Hermes: But tell me, have you already married, Pan?—For that, I believe, is what they call you.

Pan: Certainly not, Father, for I am of an amorous turn and could never be content to live with one wife.

Hermes: Then, no doubt, you make love to your she-goats.

Pan: You are indulging in sarcasm. I keep company with Echo and with Pitys and with all the Maenads of Bacchus, and am made much of by them.

Hermes: Do you know, however, how you could gratify me, my dear son, who asks a favor of you for the first time?

Pan: Lay your commands upon me, Father, and let us know them.

Hermes: Come to me, then, and affectionately embrace me—but see that you don’t call me Father, at least in the hearing of anybody else.

Image: Goat legs via Melissa Maples

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About the Author

Lucian, from The Dialogues of the Gods. It is from the half-man, half-goat god known for his antic mischief that we derive the word “panic.” Born around 120, Lucian was apprenticed to a sculptor in his native Syria and became a successful rhetorician in Italy and Gaul before beginning his writing career in Athens around 160. William Shakespeare drew inspiration from one of Lucian’s plays for Timon of Athens; Ben Jonson took the idea that Helen “launched a thousand ships” from his Dialogues of the Dead.

You don’t have to deserve your mother’s love. You have to deserve your father’s. He’s more particular. The father is always a Republican towards his son, and his mother’s always a Democrat.
Robert Frost, 1960
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