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Paean

Paean, in Homer, was the Greek physician of the gods. In other writers the word is a mere epithet of Apollo in his capacity as a god of healing, but it is not known whether Paean was originally a separate deity or merely an aspect of Apollo.

Homer leaves the question unanswered. Hesiod definitely separates the two, and in later poetry Paean is invoked independently as a health god. It is equally difficult to discover the relation between Paean or Paeon in the sense of "healer" and Paean in the sense of "song." Farnell refers to the ancient association between the healing craft and the singing of spells, and says that it is impossible to decide which is the original sense. At all events the meaning of "healer" gradually gave place to that of "hymn," from the phrase Ii~ llafiu.

Such songs were originally addressed to Apollo, and afterwards to other gods, Dionysus, Helios, Asclepius. About the 4th century the paean became merely a formula of adulation; its object was either to implore protection against disease and misfortune, or to offer thanks after such protection had been rendered. Its connection with Apollo as the slayer of the python led to its association with battle and victory; hence it became the custom for a paean to be sung by an army on the march and before entering into battle, when a fleet left the harbour, and also after a victory had been won.

The most famous paeans are those of Bacchylides and Pindar. Paeans were sung at the festivals of Apollo (especially the Hyacinthia), at banquets, and later even at public funerals. In later times they were addressed not only to the gods, but to human beings. In this manner the Rhodians celebrated Ptolemy I of Egypt, the Samians[?] Lysander of Sparta, the Athenians Demetrius, the Delphians Craterus[?] of Macedon.

The word "paean" is now used in the sense of any song of joy or triumph.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.



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