Translation: The Contest Between Phoebus and Pan

Cast of characters

Momus is the personification of satire and mockery.

Phoebus, another name of Apollo especially when identified with the sun.

Apollo is also recognized as a god of music, truth, healing and prophecy.

Pan is god of the wild, of rustic music, of shepherds and flocks, and he is the amorous companion of the nymphs. He is half man, half goat

Tmolus is the mountain god, who advocates for Phoebus.

Midas, King of Lydia, is known to turn anything he touches to gold, but makes quite the fool of himself in his advocacy of Pan over Phoebus.

Mercurius is the god of commerce, eloquence, boundaries, and is the guide of souls to the underworld.  Here he mediates the contest ‘twixt Phoebus and Pan.



Hurry, ye swirling Winds,

Back to your cavern,

So that our resonating rejoinders

Might please even Echo herself

And become beloved of the very Breezes.


2. Recitative

Phoebus: How can you be so impudent, so brazen,

To dare to say, right to my face,

That your singing is more beauteous than mine?

Pan: How can you doubt that I’m superior?

The forest wide adores my many airs;

The choir of nymphs cannot repress the urge to dance

When I play my pipes (invented, by the way, by myself,

with seven, well-tuned steps).

The nymphs will tell you, too:

“Pan sings most beautifully of all.”

Phoebus: That may be true for nymphs, but ah,

To truly please the gods, your paltry pipes will never do!

Pan: I do but fill the air with sound, and the mountains dance,

The wild beasts prance, the very branches bend and sway,

And all throughout creation, there’s a cheerful, springing step.

The birds themselves come thronging to me,

And bid me teach them how to sing.

Momus: Hey, get a load of Pan, the “Meistersinger” man.


3. Aria (Momus)

Master, it is but hot air

When one boasts but has no wherewithal,

When one believes merely what one sees,

When fools are “wise,” and [sheer] luck blinds them.

Master, that is but hot air.


4. Recitative

Mercurius: What good is all this wrangling?

Since neither will concede, may I humbly suggest:

Both of you will choose a worthy man

Who will advocate your claim.

Let us see, then, whom you retain.

Phoebus: Tmolus will take my part.

Pan: And mighty Midas will champion… ART.

Mercurius: So come, good people,

At my behest, and listen to this test,

And note well whom you find the best.


5. Aria (Phoebus)

With longing, I caress your delicate cheek,

Lovely, graceful Hyacinth.

And joyfully I kiss your eyes,

As they are my morning stars,

And the very sun of my soul.


6. Recitative

Momus: Pan, flex your vocal chords, now

In well-tuned harmony.

Pan: I’ll put my best hoof forward

And triumph over Phoebus, you wait and see.


7. Aria (Pan)

To dance, to leap, so the heart rejoices.

When the music is dreary

And the fettered mouth sings

There’s no delightful play.


8. Recitative

Mercurius: So there you have it, judges!

Tmolus: There just isn’t any contest;

The truth is all too obvious:

Phoebus has handily won the prize.

Pan sings a pretty ditty

That will titillate the nymphs,

But so stunningly does Phoebus’s voice resound,

It does the pipes of Pan confound.


9. Aria (Tmolus)

Phoebus, your melody is loveliness itself,

Even he who understands Art,

And how wondrous your tones are,

Will become lost in them.


10. Recitative

Pan: Come now, Midas,

Tell us how, then, have I done.

Midas: O Pan, you intoxicate my soul.

Your song was surpassing fair.

At once I know it extraordinaire!

I must now to the leafy wood repair,

The very trees to teach you air.

So crabbed and tortured is Phoebus’s art,

But what issues from your lips

Is sweet and unaffected.


11. Aria (Midas)

Pan is the master, give it up for him.

Phoebus has lost the concert.

According to my ears, Pan sang

With incomparable beauty.


12. Recitative

Momus: What?! Midas, are you mad?

Mercurius: It’s clear that you’ve been had.

Tmolus:  I’ve always known you were such a cad.

Phoebus: Tell me, what should we do with you?

Shall I turn you into a pheasant?

To skin you would be quite pleasant!

Midas: O, why must you all torment me?

I simply chose the one who pleased my ears.

Phoebus: Well, then; you shall have an ass’s ears!

Mercurius: Yes that’s a fitting prize

when one tries to dupe one’s peers.

Pan: Fool!  How could you have so botched,

The selling of such beauty.

Midas: Next time I’ll think twice

before I take on such a duty.


13. Aria (Mercurius)

Overblown, overheated,

but with little substance.

Midas earns the fools cap in the end.

He who can’t sail, yet takes the rudder,

Will drown in shame and sorrow.


14. Recitative (Momus)

And now, good Midas,

Go thy way, and lose thyself in forest profound;

But take some comfort, knowing well,

That your soulmates do abound!

Frivolity and Artlessness would cozy up to Wisdom,

But since you’ve judged so carelessly,

YOU’re the fellow they will both end up with.

Now, Phoebus, tune your lyre apace,

For nothing is lovelier than your sweet voice’s grace.


15. Chorus

Refresh the heart, ye noble strings.

Harmonize art with delight!

Though you may be mocked or scorned,

Your sweet sounds issue from the gods themselves.

Translation by Daniel Stepner