Wednesday, March 22, 2017

So that the Porters of the Pylons Shook

Dead Pan
by Dorothy Sayers

* At the hour of Christ's agony a cry of "Great Pan is dead!" swept across the waves in the hearing of certain mariners; and the oracles ceased. PLUTARCH.

* For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now.

* I fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ.

And there was darkness all over the land
Three hours; and in the dark so wild a cry
That all men hearing sought to understand
What thing it was that in such pain must die.

But there was darkness, so that none may say
What there befel, except the midnight bird
Whose staring face is still struck white to-day
For blank amaze at all he saw and heard.

He that maintained unblinded vigil there
Told us: "There were vast shapes which loomed and grew
Around, and He was fearfully changed: I swear
They were goat's feet the nails had stricken through.

"How mourned pale Isis, 'neath the hideous rood
Crouched in the dust! How passed in one fierce sound
Side-smitten Balder! For what grim festal food
Smoked forth the blood of Mithra to the ground?

"But Pasht my cousin, the wise African,
Looked from the judgment hall toward the North,
And knew all things fulfilled when thus began
The deathless Ritual of the Coming Forth;

"For One came treading those eternal floors
That was the Word of the tremendous Book,
Crying throughout the long-drawn corridors
So that the porters of the pylons shook:

"I am Osiris! and the gates reeled back
Before the God twin-crowned with white and red,
And an echo rose and went in the wind's track
Over the Middle Sea: Great Pan is dead! . . .
Whereat the oracles fell mute," he said.

Plutarch himself, of course, does not say that it was at Christ's death; but the story of the voice that cried out to the sailors, "Great Pan is dead" is found in his De defectu oraculorum, which is trying to explain why the divine oracles were not effective in his day. Eusebius of Caesarea, in his Preparatio Evangelica, Book V, Chapter XVII, quoted Plutarch's story and then notes the timing Plutarch attributed to the tale:

But it is important to observe the time at which he says that the death of the daemon took place. For it was the time of Tiberius, in which our Saviour, making His sojourn among men, is recorded to have been ridding human life from daemons of every kind: so that there were some of them now kneeling before Him and beseeching Him not to deliver them over to the Tartarus that awaited them.

The story is a fairly common part of the poetic treasury of English literature. It is referred to in a poem by Milton and by G. K. Chesterton; Elizabeth Barrett Browning also has a poem on the theme.

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