The fruits which we cannot possess are often those which grow in our minds to become sweeter still. Syrinx is a nymph of the woodlands whose passion is the hunt: a passion which claims her heart more than the romance of love. But those same Arcadian woods are also the haunt of the great god Pan, and it is inevitable that, sooner or later, the god will catch sight of the nymph. And this is the day for that sighting. One look is enough. Pan is smitten. Fiercely independent, and with her heart already claimed by her woodland passion, Syrinx rejects the god’s advances. Understandable, perhaps, for even a god can be ugly, and this god is only too aware that his shaggy, horned appearance does not play to his advantage in matters of the heart.
Syrinx takes flight. Pan gives chase. But in her panic (a word we derive from the god who even now pursues her) the nymph runs into a natural barrier – the banks of the deep-flowing river Ladon. With the goat-legged god hard at her heels, the nymph cries desperately to the river god to save her. The lord of the reedy river obliges – but it is a mixed blessing. Be careful what you wish for, we might urge the desperate nymph. For as the shaggy arms of Pan reach forward to embrace her, in that same moment Syrinx is transformed into a reed, indistinguishable from the many which line the river’s banks.
A reed that is indistinguishable to our mortal eyes, perhaps – but not indistinguishable to the ardent god, who now clutches the reed in his arms. In his lovelorn desperation the god breathes out an inexpressible sigh – a sigh so deep, so full of longing for what now cannot be, that it releases a melody in the reed, a melody so tender that it fills the Arcadian air around him, so sweet that it is carried across the river on the wind. Oh, poor lonesome god! What must you do now to fill your aching heart?
But Pan is inventive. From the reed that was the nymph he fashions a flute: a flute which we call the pan pipes after its creator, but which the god understandably names a syrinx. There Pan sits in the sunlit glades of Arcadia, playing heartfelt melodies on the form which his love has taken. And if you venture into those groves of braided light, you might, if you listen very carefully, catch a hint of this music of the heart, and know that it is possible for a love which is lost to be regained in another form.