Capricornus

The Sea Goat

Capricornus Constellation

The Story

The God Pan

The Sea Goat is associated with the Greek God Pan. Pan the son of the Messenger of the Gods, Hermes. He was the lusty god of the countryside, associated with fertility and fecundity. Pan loved music and invented the Pipes of Pan, which you can think of as an ancient version of the harmonica. Pan spent his time chasing females or sleeping off the aftermath of a binge. Pan was the good time party god!

The Pipes of Pan

The way that the Pipes came about was as a result of the lust of Pan for the nymph Syrinx. To escape his attentions, the nymph changed herself into a stand of reeds. As Pan grabbed for her, he found himself clutching only a handful of reeds. Pan was disappointed at losing his chance at the nymph, but was enchanted by the sound of the wind blowing through the reeds. So he selected reeds of different lengths and fastened them together with wax to create the Pipes of Pan, which became known as a "syrinx" in honor of the nymph who had inspired their creation.

Pan the Shouter

Pan had an extremely loud voice. He could terrify people with a shout. In fact, the word "panic" is in fact derived from the name of the god.

The Goat God

Pan was a hairy guy with the lower body of a goat, including cloven hooves, while the short horns of a goat grew out of his head. Actually he probably looked rather like the Christian picture of the Devil, except than Pan was not red in color. Possibly there is a relationship between the two entities. Pan was the god of the countryside, and the country dwellers, the farmers and peasants who spent their lives laboring at the soil. And it was these rural people who were the last in the Roman world to give up the ancient pagan religions for the new religion of Christianity. Indeed the very word "pagan" derives from a Latin word meaning nothing more than a country dweller.

So the early Christians must have seen the countryside as hostile to the Christian God and His Son. It is then not surprising that the god of the farmers and peasants should have been turned into the image of the Christian God's enemy, the Devil.

The Fishy Goat

The constellation of the Sea Goat is usually portrayed as the forequarters of a goat emerging from the tail of fish - a strange combination! Actually what we are supposed to be seeing is Pan in midtransformation between his normal goatlike form and the form of a fish. The ancient gods could transform themselves at will.

The Monster Born of a Cosmic War

The shape of the Sea Goat commemorates an incident in the cosmic battle between the Titans, the elder generation of gods, and the younger gods, the compatriots of Pan, led by Zeus. In a vicious and destructive ten year war the younger gods overthrew their elders to take control of the cosmos. The very earth herself, Mother Gaia, was so outraged by the violence and destruction that she brought forth the terrible monster Typhon, a monster so powerful and uncontrollable that it could even threaten the gods with destruction.

Swimming Away From Danger

The gods were taken by surprise by the approach of the monster. At the last minute, Pan shouted a warning and suggested that the various gods disguise themselves as various animals in order to hide from the monster. Pan himself took to the river to hide in the form of a fish. In the Sea Goat we see the god being transformed but because of the rush, he did not succeed in completing the transformation. Only his rear was transformed. The front part of him remained in the form of a goat.

Capturing the Monster

Later Zeus grappled with the monster Typhon. He was severely injured in the fight, but Pan and Hermes working together succeeded in restoring Zeus to his powers, so that Zeus was able to cut down the monster with thunderbolts and to confine it deep within the earth underneath the slopes of Mount Etna. The earthquake and eruptions of that volcanic mountain are due to the restless Typhon still snorting fire and struggling against the bounds of its confinement.  
 


Copyright © 1998 - 2010 by Arnold V. Lesikar,
Professor Emeritus
Dept. of Physics, Astronomy, and Engineering Science,
St. Cloud State University,St. Cloud, MN 56301-4498

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