BAS-RELIEF OF MARBLE. Height, 8 inches; width, 18 inches.
IN this bas-relief the god Pan is mounted on a mule, of which the covering is made of a leopard's skin. A little bell is suspended to the animal's neck, which proves this custom, still kept up in Italy and Spain, to be of great antiquity. In Sicily, where the mule is an indispensable beast to the traveller, it carries a necklace of little bells, whence a most wearisome tinkling proceeds; but he will seek in vain to purchase from the muleteer an exemption from this disagreeable accompaniment. Whether from prejudice, or from positive experience on their part, they declare that, if deprived of their orchestra, the mules would sleep on their way, and might fall over the precipices with which the roads are not unfrequently bordered.
On this bas-relief the animal seems to be neighing, and he even accompanies, with an expressive gesture, an action which among beasts of burden indicates an amorous sensation. The position of his legs sufficiently indicates that he wishes to stop: but his rider makes every effort to compel him to pursue his road; he leans backward, strikes him on the crupper, and raises the bridle. The face of the god is full of expression; his lower
lip is protruded to make way for the exclamation well-known to all muleteers: dgia. But who can thus retard the progress of the mule which bears so noble a burden? One would say that he recoils before the statue of Priapus, which is perceived on a mass of rocks to the spectator's right. This Hermes, stripped of his usual attributes, holds in his hands two objects which it is not very easy to distinguish: one is, perhaps, a little cup, the other a cornucopia, or horn of plenty, or simply a club. The ancients were sufficiently inclined to represent the divinities who presided over the reproduction of the human species with the horn of plenty; and this symbol of fecundity is an application so easily understood, that it would be useless to explain it here. Generally, among the fruits with which this horn was filled, might be seen the quince, a fruit consecrated to erotic enjoyment. Among the Romans a quince was given to a newly-married pair to cat before conducting them to the nuptial bed.
The Priapus-Hermes of this bas-relief rises, as we said, over a mass of rocks. Doubtless he is the guardian of a garden, placed on the limit of the estate, with the inscription, which the dimensions of this fragment do not admit of our distinguishing. On an antique marble referred to by Grutler, 1 from Boissard, may be seen a Priapus between two baskets of fruit and flowers; a club lies by his side; and we read on it also this inscription: To Priapus Ithyphallus, club bearer, keeper of gardens and chastiser of thieves.
An oak extends its vigorous branches over the Hermes: this tree was consecrated to Priapus, to Pan, and to all the rural divinities. To one of the branches is suspended a cymbal, the offering of a devout Bacchante, and at the foot of the tree may be seen a little altar, surrounded by a
sort of garland. Against the rocks stands a dog, and appears on the point of springing upon the Hermes.
Behind the god Pan we observe a Doric column. It supports a small open casket: this is the arca ineffabilis, in which the image of Bacchus was shut up at the Dionysiac mysteries, or Bacchanalia.
Pan, who here plays the chief part, is represented, as usual, with pointed ears and goat's legs. According to the principal mythologists, he was the son of Penelope and Mercury: this god desiring, as they say, to triumph over the chastity of the wife of Ulysses, metamorphosed himself into a he-goat, and by this means obtained what he desired; the god of the Satyrs was born of this union. This is, it must be admitted, a pleasant way of preserving to Penelope her reputation of chastity! Weighing the two faults together, she had better have yielded to a young and beautiful god than to a filthy beast. According to another version, no less shocking and absurd, Penelope, far from showing herself so severe as has been supposed with respect to her admirers, granted, on the contrary, her favours to all of them, and Pan, which signifies all in the Greek language, was the result of the intrigue.
Setting aside these ridiculous interpretations, we will remind the reader in this place of a fact of which we said a few words in the introduction to this work. The first idea of Pans, Satyrs, and Fauns originated in the mind of the men of ancient times in consequence of their positive ignorance, their prejudices and superstition, and not as the result of a high and eminently mystical conception. Then, as now, shepherds who passed long months of the year in profound solitudes, sometimes conceived a criminal passion for the animals entrusted to their care. The crime of bestiality is still in our own day frequent enough among Sicilian herdsmen. Among women it has
always been rarer, but not unknown. The ignorance of the men of this epoch made them think that from these unions arose extraordinary beings, half men and half goats. These same herdsmen often committed outrages which rendered them objects of fear, and consequently of respect. If it happened that one of them offered violence to a young girl in the solitudes of the valley, the parents of the victim did not fail, whether from interest or credulity, to make it known that their daughter had been seduced by one of those rural divinities who partake both of the man and the brute. Hence arose the worship of pans and satyrs; hence the origin of the nymphs, the dryads, and hamadryads. It is needless to add that legislators and priests laid hold of these ideas and used them to govern the multitude. And our learned men do far too much honour to antiquity when they would fain see mystic conceptions, ingenious fictions, and brilliant allegories where nothing existed but materialism and ignorance.
11:1 GRUTLER, Pl. xcv.