Pan was the god of pastures, famous for his pipes. He was the son of Hermes and Penelope (or Dryope), and his name has popularly long been regarded as meaning 'all' (pan). But all what, or all of what? Some writers have maintained that Penelope became the mother of Pan in the absence of Odysseus in the Trojan War, and that he was thus the offspring of all the suitors.

Others say that he was so named since all the gods were pleased at his birth. Others again declare that he was a symbol of the universe, that is, of all. And a fourth group hold that his name embodies all sexual possibilities, since love conquered him and love conquers all, whoever they are.

There is even a school that sees his anatomy as representing all aspects of nature, so that his horns are the sun and moon, for example, and his face the sky! But the truth is probably that in spite of the resemblance to the Greek for 'all' his name actually derives from the root pa- found in feeding and pasturing words such as Greek pateomai, 'to feed on', 'eat', Latin pasco, 'to feed', 'pasture', Latin panis, 'bread' and English 'pasture' itself (to which is even related 'feed').

He was thus 'Pan the Pasturer', 'Pan the Feeder'. Pan's name is also seen in the English 'panic': he may have been an apparently peaceful pastoral god but he had a nasty habit of suddenly startling unwary travellers, who therefore became panicky when they knew he was around.