Pandaemonia: A study of Eusebius' recasting of Plutarch's story of the "Death of Great Pan"

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




David L. Miller


Eusebius of Caesarea, Plutarch, Pan, Religious meaning

Subject Categories



This study is based on a comment by Eusebius of Caesarea on a story transmitted by the first-century philosopher Plutarch, the story of the "Death of Great Pan." In his commentary, Eusebius calls attention to the time when Plutarch says the death occurred, during the reign of Tiberius, the same era as that which saw the advent of Christ on earth. Eusebius claims that the death of Pan, imaged as the death of "all" the pagan gods, based on an ancient pun which equated the name of the shepherd god Pan with its Greek homonym pan ("all,") was not a natural or chance occurrence. Rather, it resulted from a purposive act of exorcism by Christ to chase away all the pagan gods which were imagined to be "demons." In this proclamation, Eusebius turns Plutarch's story into a polemical weapon to use against the pagans. By pursuing this tactic, Eusebius subtly changes the meaning of the terms "Pan" and "daemon" to make them stand for dimensions of evil, whereas in Greek religious and literary history, both terms had stood for dimensions of the sacred.

This transformation in religious meaning and value is the subject of the present study. The method employed involves a comparative linguistic analysis of the terms "Pan" and "daemon" in Greek and Christian literature, covering the period from Homer to Eusebius. Since the transformation of these words results from their utilization in a polemical, apologetic context, the place and role of Eusebius as apologist, in contrast to his more familiar identification as "the father of church history" will also be carefully examined.

The thesis argues that Eusebius has taken two terms which stood for highly ambiguous, multivalent meanings, and has, in the course of his polemical treatment, transformed them into flat, univocal meanings which were exclusively negative. Eusebius does this precisely by denying the terms their native ambiguity and reducing them to simple, unambiguous meanings. This is a classical representation of the movement which distorted the highly complex deity "Pan," transforming him into the Christian devil, and the complicated, ambiguous entities, the "daemons" into "demons," the evil spirits of Christian lore.


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