« السابقةمتابعة »
X11.-CELUM, OR BEGINNINGS.
EXPLAINET OF THE CREATION, OR ORIGIN OF ALL THINGS.
The poets relate, that Cælum was the most ancient of all the gods; that his parts of generation were cut off by his son Saturn; that Saturn had a numerous offspring, but devoured all his sons, as soon as they were born; that Jupiter at length escaped the common fate; and when grown up, drove his father Saturn into Tartarus; usurped the kingdom ; cut off his father's genitals, with the same knife wherewith Saturn had dismembered Cælum, and throwing them into the sea, thence sprung Venus.
Before Jupiter was well established in his empire, two memorable wars were made upon him : the first by the Titans, in subduing of whom, Sol, the only one of the Titans who favoured Jupiter, performed him singular service; the second by the giants, who being destroyed and subdued by the thunder and arms of Jupiter, he now reigned secure.
EXPLANATION.—This fable appears to be an enigmatical account of the origin of all things, not greatly differing from the philosophy afterwards embraced by Democritus, who expressly asserts the eternity of matter, but denies the eternity of the world ; thereby approaching to the truth of sacred writ, which makes chaos, or uninformed matter, to exist before the six days' works.
The meaning of the fable seems to be this : Colum denotes the concave space, or vaulted roof that incloses all matter, and Saturn the matter itself, which cuts off all power of generation from his father; as one and the same quantity of matter remains invariable in nature, without addition or diminution. But the agitations and struggling motions of matter, first produced certain imperfect and illjoined compositions of things, as it were so many first rudiments, or essays of worlds ; till
, in process of time, there arose a fabric capable of preserving its form and structure. Whence the first age was shadowed out by the reign of verned passions and appetites, &c. And in the same manner all the ancient fables might be familiarly illustrated, and brought down to the capacities of chiluren.
Saturn; who, on account of the frequent dissolutions, and short durations of things, was said to devour his children. And the second age was denoted by the reign of Jupiter ; who thrust, or drove those frequent and transitory changes into Tartarus-a place expressive of disorder. This place seems to be the middle space, between the lower heavens and the internal parts of the earth, wherein disorder, imperfection, mutation, mortality, destruction, and corruption, are principally found.
Venus was not born during the former generation of chings, under the reign of Saturn; for whilst discord and jar had the upper hand of concord and uniformity in the matter of the universe, a change of the entire structure was necessary.
And in this manner things were generated and destroyed, before Saturn was dismembered. But when this manner of generation ceased, there immediately followed another, brought about by Venus, or a perfect and established harmony of things; whereby changes were wrought in the parts, whilst the universal fabric remained entire and undisturbed. Saturn, however, is said to be thrust out and dethroned, not killed, and become extinct; because, agreeably to the opinion of Democritus, the world might relapse into its old confusion and disorder, which Lucretius hoped would not happen in his time.a
But now, when the world was compact, and held together by its own bulk and energy, yet there was no rest from the beginning; for first, there followed considerable motions and disturbances in the celestial regions, though so regulated and moderated by the power of the Sun, prevailing over the heavenly bodies, as to continue the world in its state. Afterwards there followed the like in the lower parts, by inundations, storms, winds, general earthquakes, &c., which, however, being subdued and kept under, there ensued a more peaceable and lasting harmony, and consent of things.
It may be said of this fable, that it includes philosophy; and again, that philosophy includes the fable ; for we know, by faith, that all these things are but the oracle of sense, long since ceased and decayed ; but the matter and fabric of the world being justly attributed to a creator.
Quod procul a nobis flectat Fortuna gubernans;
XIII.-PROTEUS, OR MATTER.
EXPLAINED OF MATTER AND ITS CHANGES.
PROTEUS, according to the poets, was Neptune's herdsman an old man, and a most extraordinary prophet, who understood things past and present, as well as future; so that besides the business of divination, he was the revealer and interpreter of all antiquity, and secrets of every kind. He lived in a vast cave, where his custom was to tell over his herd of sea-calves at noon, and then to sleep. Whoever consulted him, had no other way of obtaining an answer, but by binding him with manacles and fetters; when he, endeavouring to free himself, would change into all kinds of shapes and miraculous forms; as of fire, water, wild beasts, &c.; till at length he resumed his own shape again.
EXPLANATION.—This fable seems to point at the secrets of nature, and the states of matter. For the person of Proteus denotes matter, the oldest of all things, after God himself ;a that resides, as in a cave, under the vast concavity of the heavens. He is represented as the servant of Neptune, because the various operations and modifications of matter are principally wrought in a fluid state. The herd,
The herd, or flock of Proteus, seems to be no other than the several kinds of animals, plants, and minerals, in which matter appears to diffuse and spend itself; so that after having formed these several species, and as it were finished its task, it seems to sleep and repose, without otherwise attempting to produce any new ones. And this is the moral of Proteus's counting his herd, then going to sleep.
This is said to be done at noon, not in the morning or evening; by which is meant the time best fitted and disposed for the production of species, from a matter duly prepared, and made ready beforehand, and now lying in a middle state, between its first rudiments and decline ; which, we learn from sacred history, was the case at the time of the creation; when, by the efficacy of the divine command, matter directly came together, without any transformation or
a Proteus properly signifies primary, oldest, or first
intermediate changes, which it affects ; instantly obeyed the order, and appeared in the form of creatures.
And thus far the fable reaches of Proteus, and his flock, at liberty and unrestrained. For the universe, with the common structures and fabrics of the creatures, is the face of matter, not under constraint, or as the flock wrought upon and tortured by human means. But if any skilful minister of nature shall apply force to matter, and by design torture and vex it, in order to its annihilation, it, on the contrary, being brought under this necessity, changes and transforms itself into a strange variety of shapes and appearances ; for nothing but the power of the Creator can annihilate, or truly destroy it ; so that at length, running through the whole circle of transformations, and completing its period, it in some degree restores itself, if the force be continued. And that method of binding, torturing, or detaining, will prove the most effectual and expeditious, which makes use of manacles and fetters ; that is, lays hold and works upon matter in the extremest degrees.
The addition in the fable that makes Proteus a prophet, who had the knowledge of things past, present, and future, excellently agrees with the nature of matter; as he who knows the properties, the changes, and the processes of matter, must of necessity understand the effects and sum of what it does, has done, or can do, though his knowledge extends not to all the parts and particulars thereof.
XIV.-MEMNON, OR A YOUTH TOO FORWARD.
EXPLAINED OF THE FATAL PRECIPITANCY OF YOUTH,
THE poets made Memnon the son of Aurora, and bring him to the Trojan war in beautiful armour, and flushed with popular praise ; where, thirsting after farther glory, and rashly hurrying on to the greatest enterprises, he engages the bravest warrior of all the Greeks, Achilles, and falls by his hand in single combat. Jupiter, in commiseration of his death, sent birds to grace his funeral, that perpetually chanted certain mournful and bewailing dirges. It is also reported, that the rays of the rising sun, striking his statue, used to give a lamenting sound.
EXPLANATION.—This fable regards the unfortunate end of those promising youths, who, like sons of the morning, elate with empty hopes and glittering outsides, attempt things beyond their strength : challenge the bravest heroes; provoke them to the combat; and proving unequal, die in their high attempts.
The death of such youths seldom fails to meet with in finite pity; as no mortal calamity is more moving and afflicting, than to see the flower of virtue cropped before its time. Nay, the prime of life enjoyed to the full, or even to a degree of envy, does not assuage or moderate the grief occasioned by the untimely death of such hopeful youths; but lamentations and bewailings fly, like mournful birds, about their tombs, for a long while after; especially upon all fresh occasions, new commotions, and the beginning of great actions, the passionate desire of them is renewed, as by the sun's morning rays.
XV.-TYTHONUS, OR SATIETY.
EXPLAINED OF PREDOMINANT PASSIONS,
It is elegantly fabled by Tythonus, that being exceedingly beloved by Aurora, she petitioned Jupiter that he might prove immortal, thereby to secure herself the everlasting enjoyment of his company ; but through female inadvertence she forgot to add, that he might never grow old; so that, though he proved immortal, he became miserably worn and consumed with age, insomuch that Jupiter, out of pity, at length transformed him to a grasshopper.
EXPLANATION.—This fable seems to contain an ingenious description of pleasure ; which at first, as it were in the morning of the day, is so welcome, that men pray to have it everlasting, but forget that satiety and weariness of it will, like old age, overtake them, though they think not of it ; so that at length, when their appetite for pleasurable actions is gone, their desires and affections often continue ; whence we commonly find that aged persons delight them selves with the discourse and remembrance of the things agreeable to then in their better day: This is very remarkable in men of a