Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.06.12 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.06.12

María Cruz Cardete del Olmo, El Dios Pan y los paisajes pánicos: de la figura divina al paisaje religioso. Historia y geografía, 303.   Sevilla:  Universidad de Sevilla, 2016.  Pp. 300.  ISBN 9788447217984.  €23.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Fernando Notario, IES La Estrella – Universidad Complutense de Madrid (

The god Pan is one of the most famous figures of the ancient Greek gods with an enduring presence in later Western culture. It is no surprise, then, that he has attracted some degree of scholarly attention for his role in both ancient Greek religion and more modern periods.1 This book is not, however, the general monograph one could expect about the goat-god. As is clearly attested in both Philippe Bourgeaud´s introduction and the author´s very first sentence, this is not a book about Pan. Rather, it is a deep study of the landscapes associated with the god and the way in which the divine figure helped to establish relational links that interweave the god with believers, their societies and the landscapes they produce.

The previous statement does not mean that this book ignores entirely the figure of Pan. The goat-god is present in many ways in the pages of the monograph, although he seems to be a shadowy figure at the margins rather than the focus of the research. Ancient landscapes and their many social, political, economic and cultural meanings, as they are explored through the Arcadian god, are the real subject of the book. Thus, while this might seem too complex for the casual reader who seeks a first approach to the figure of Pan, it has much more to offer a more informed reader looking for a detailed study of Pan’s deeper meanings for ancient Greek and modern societies.

The general scope of this book is clearly defined in its first chapter (“De la figura divina al paisaje religioso”, p. 27-48). The author centers this chapter on the “Panic landscapes” in a broad selection of secondary literature, mostly in English, Spanish, and Italian. The idea of landscapes as a complex web of significant and historical relationships rather than a simple space, land or territory is suggestive, and aligned with the recent developments in postmodern theoretical geographical studies 2. This chapter provides a broad range of ideas, but perhaps the most appealing is the argument that religious landscapes can be regarded as dynamic elements apparently connected with their socio- political contexts. As such, they are prone to entanglements with the mechanisms of social, political, cultural and economic dominion, serving to naturalize and establish these mechanisms as individual elements of the world.

The second chapter (“Pan desde el Medievo a la actualidad”, p. 49-84) focuses on the ways in which Pan has been regarded in the post-classical period. It is an exciting chapter and one of the most accessible in the book. Following the postmodernist approach of the monograph, the analysis of the Panic landscapes turn to the construction of the modern figure of the goat-god, and hence, to start its deconstruction. Pan is, indeed, a god with an almost protean identity in the post-classical cultural history.

After the modern reception of Pan, the book focuses on the fundamental features this god had in ancient Arcadian religion, society and economy (“Del dios cabrero y cazador al paisaje económico”, p. 85-120). If the preceding chapter put a special emphasis on the post-classical perspectives concerning Pan, here the author explores the role of this divine figure in the mental, social and economic framework of the ancient Arcadians. Even if a significant number of archaeological and historical studies have recently discarded the harsh division traditionally held between the “civilised” and the “savage” horizons in the ancient Greek economy, mainly concerning the dual axis of agriculture versus economic pastoral activities, the author claims that there are still common misconceptions concerning this issue. The perception of Pan as an actual pastoral deity, without major connections with the world of the civilised polis, is still widespread among scholars of the ancient religions. This idea does not seem to be in accordance with either the ancient socio-economic context of the Arcadian communities or a close examination of the available data concerning the archaeological analysis of the most significant religious areas in Arcadia. The study of the votive statues found in the sanctuary of Berekla suggests that the primary worshippers of the deity were not social outcasts that lived in the margins of the civilised world. Instead, they were active members of the otherwise agro-pastoral communities for whom the offering of these statues implies a change of status or a confirmation of their role within the neighbouring communities. The most exciting conclusion to be drawn from this chapter is that the dichotomy between civilization and the wilderness is, at least in the case of the Pan cult, a false one. Pan acts as an ideological connector between two parallel worlds (polis-chora), with complementary economic activities (agriculture-pastoralism/hunting), rather than as the representative of an untamed nature where social outcasts thrive at the back of the great Greek civilization.

It is not coincidental that Pan is usually regarded as an Arcadian god. The relationship between this divinity and the Arcadian area is well attested in the primary literary sources and the archaeological studies. Nevertheless, the precise connection between a god and the territory where his or her sanctuaries are located is still a subject of scholarly debate. The fourth chapter, “Del dios de la Arcadia al paisaje identitario” (p. 121-187), deals with the issue of the connection between the god Pan and the religious landscape of Arcadia. This chapter puts into practice much of the theoretical background previously considered. Through a careful analysis of historical and archaeological data, the author argues that the intense relationship between Pan and the Arcadian horizon is not as immediate and generalized as it might seem. The importance of the Megalopolitan project in the fourth century BC explains the generalization of religious attitudes, ideas, and rituals that aimed to ease the different conflicts between the social groups interwoven under the political hegemony of Megalopolis. Pan, along with other gods and goddesses, such as Zeus Lykaios or Demeter Melaina, form a substantial part of the mechanisms of propaganda developed by Megalopolis aiming to harmonize the religious and cultural identities of the Arcadians communities. Even if the Megalopolitan hegemony was only a partial success, it is hard to underestimate the way in which it influenced foreign and post-classical perceptions concerning the Arcadian identity.

The fifth chapter (“Del dios de lo agreste al paisaje de frontera”, p. 189-230) takes a twofold approach to Pan as an ambiguous divine figure—political and behavioral. It first approaches the liminal sanctuaries of Pan, scattered throughout the Southern Arcadian territory (Bassae, Berekla, etc.), as well as other locations consecrated to the god (Mount Parthenion, in the Eastern area, or Mount Lampea, in the Northern one). The diverse areas form a somewhat cohesive sacred landscape which, nevertheless, is always dynamic, reflecting the historical processes that take place in the communities that are linked to it. The placement of these temples and sanctuaries at the edge of the areas controlled by these communities reminds us of the deep interaction the god Pan has with both the urban and the rural worlds, taken together under a poliadic synthesis. This approach is also taken into consideration in the second part of the chapter, where the author studies the projection of the figure of Pan in the shady context of cultural and behavioural transgressions. Pan is a god prone to distinctly uncivilised attitudes in such areas as music and sex, but his transgressions, even if supposedly liberating, do not reverse the socio-cultural codes of behavior. Instead, appearing as an institutionalised, necessary, and limited counterweight to the embodied patterns of behaviour, Pan paradoxically reinforces the socio-cultural order.

The sixth and final chapter of the book deals with the way in which Pan was perceived and recreated in the later Graeco-Roman world (“Del localismo a la universalidad”, p. 231-244). The mechanisms of appropriation, reinterpretation, and transformation of the Arcadian identity during the Roman Empire are particularly complex, as they involve a broad range of political, ideological and cultural factors. The most exciting developments, the articulation of the idea of an Arcadia felix and the identification between the god Pan and Wholeness, are explored in detail, as well as the well-known prodigy regarding the alleged death of the “Great god Pan.” The last pages of the book contain the final conclusions (p. 245-250), the bibliographic references (p. 251-296) and the index of illustrations (p. 297-300).

The volume is well edited, and I could not find any significant errors that could make reading difficult. The prose of the volume is clear, correct and precise, although I warn that it will not always be easy to follow for non-native Spanish readers. The expression of complex ideas, such as the ones exposed in this monograph, require, in Spanish, the elaboration of equally complex syntactic processes that may require a second reading by foreign scholars. Nevertheless, this book offers an interesting approach to the issues of the god Pan and the sacred landscapes associated with him, and it is highly recommended for a broad range of readers who may be engaged in the study of ancient religion, classical reception or Greek history.


1.   The most important studies are the ones of Merivale, P.: Pan, the goat-god, his myth in modern times, Cambridge, 1969, and Borgeaud, P.: Recherches sur le dieu Pan, Genève, 1979.
2.   The bibliography on this topic is large, but the interested reader may consult further references in Capel, H., Filosofía y ciencia en la Geografía contemporánea. Una introducción a la Geografía, Nueva edición ampliada, Barcelona, 2012.

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