MOSAIC FROM THE MUSEUM OF NOJA. Height, 13 8/25 inches.
THIS mosaic, in which is retraced the adventure of Pan and Syrinx, is unquestionably one of the finest pieces of the secret cabinet of the Museum of Naples,
We have already had occasion to say that several mythographers have very seriously called into question the reputation of chastity of the wife of Ulysses. According to their account, Penelope accorded her favours to every one of the numerous adorers who aspired to her hand and not knowing to whom to give the honour of an illegitimate son of which she was brought to bed, she named him Pan, from a Greek word, signifying all; thus attributing it conjointly to, the whole amorous community. Others suppose that Pan was the son of Penelope and Mercury. The messenger of the gods, they say, being unable to triumph over the chastity of the Queen of Ithaca, transformed himself into a he-goat, and thus attained his end; that is to say; Penelope granted to the animal what she had refused to the god. This was scarcely flattering to the latter; but the divinities of paganism were not very delicate on this point, and men received from them very bad examples. It is difficult indeed, to conceive that a religion so immodest could so long have resisted the progressive march of the philosophic
spirits. It can only be explained by the reflection that the greater the corruption of morals became among the heathen, the more they strove to maintain a worship which not only excused the weakness of humanity but which sanctified the most infamous debauchery.
From the loves of Mercury and Penelope, then, was born a child, half-man and half-goat. This was Pan, who became the terror of the nymphs and shepherdesses. One day this lascivious god met the lovely daughter of the river Ladon, Syrinx, a nymph of Arcadia, and companion of Diana. She was peaceably coming down Mount Lyceum, unwitting the fate that awaited her; but at the approach of Pan, who manifested his desires in the most unequivocal manner, she began to fly rapidly. Her strength, however, was not equal to her virtue; she was nearly caught, and her defeat appeared certain when Diana, whose aid she invoked in this grave peril, did not abandon her, and the nymph was changed into a reed. The god, touched by his misfortune, stopped for a long time before the well-loved plant, whose foliage, caressed by the breeze, seemed to utter long groans. Pan, desirous of perpetuating the recollection of this sad adventure, and of rendering homage, at the same time, to the memory of the chaste nymph, formed, from several pieces of the reed, a rustic flute, to which he gave the name of Syrinx:
"Now while the lustful god, with speedy pace,
First thought to strain her in a strict embrace,
He fills his arms with reeds, new-rising on the place.
And while he sighs, his ill-success to find,
The tender canes were shaken by the wind,
And breathed a mournful air, unheard before,
That much surprising Pan, yet pleased him more.
Admiring this new music, 'Thou,' he said,
'Who canst not be the partner of my bed,
At least shalt be the comfort of my mind: p. 111
And often, often to my lips be join'd.'
He form'd the reeds, proportion'd as they are,
Unequal in their length, and wax'd with care,
They still retain the name of his ungrateful fair. 1
111:1 Metamorphoses, Book I. (translated by Dryden).