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mgly, Virgil has prudently joined these two together, accounting him happy who knows the causes of things, and has conquered all his fears, apprehensions, and superstitions.
It is added, with great elegance, for supporting and confirming the human mind, that the great hero who thus delivered him sailed the ocean in a cup, or pitcher, to prevent fear, or complaint ; as if, through the narrowness of our nature, or a too great fragility thereof, we were absolutely incapable of that fortitude and constancy to which Seneca finely alludes, when he says, “It is a noble thing, at once to participate in the frailty of man and the security of a god.
We have hitherto, that we might not break the connection of things, designedly omitted the last crime of Prometheus—that of attempting the chastity of Minerva—which heinous offence it doubtless was, that caused the punishment of having his liver gnawed by the vulture. The meaning seems to be this,—that when men are puffed up with arts and knowledge, they often try to subdue even the divine wisdom and bring it under the dominion of sense and reason, whence inevitably follows a perpetual and restless rending and tearing of the mind. A sober and humble distinction must, therefore, be made betwixt divine and human things, and betwixt the oracles of sense and faith, unless mankind had rather choose an heretical religion, and a fictitious and romantic philosophy.d.
The last particular in the fable is the Games of the Torch, instituted to Prometheus, which again relates to arts and sciences, as well as the invention of fire, for the commemoration and celebration whereof these games were held. And here we have an extremely prudent admonition, directing us to expect the perfection of the sciences from succession, and not from the swiftness and abilities of any single person; for he who is fleetest and strongest in the course may perhaps be less fit to keep his torch a-light, since there is danger of its going out from too rapid as well as from too slow a motion.e
“ Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas,
Quique metus omnes et inexorabile fatum
Subjecit pedibus, strepitumque Acherontis avari.”—Georg. ii. 48). d De Augmentis Scientiarum, sec. xxviii. and supplem. xv.
e An allusion which, in Plato's writings, is applied to the rapid sucression of generations, through which the continuity of human life is
But this kind of contest, with the torch, seems to have been long dropped and neglected; the sciences appearing to have flourished principally in their first authors, as Aristotle, Galen, Euclid, Ptolemy, &c.; whilst their successors have done very little, or scarce made any attempts. But it were highly to be wished that these games might be renewed, to the honour of Prometheus, or human nature, and that they might excite contest, emulation, and laudable endeavours, and the design meet with such success as not to hang tottering, tremulous, and hazarded, upon the torch of any single person. Mankind, therefore, should be admonished to rouse themselves, and try and exert their own strength and chance, and not place all their dependence upon a few men, whose abilities and capacities, perhaps, are not greater than their own.
These are the particulars which appear to us shadowed out by this trite and vulgar fable, though without denying that there may be contained in it several intimations that have a surprising correspondence with the Christian mysteries. In particular, the voyage of Hercules, made in a pitcher, to release Prometheus, bears an allusion to the word of God, coming in the frail vessel of the flesh to redeem mankind. But we indulge ourselves no such liberties as these, for fear of using strange fire at the altar of the Lord.
XXVII.-ICARUS AND SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS, OR
THE MIDDLE WAY.
EXPLAINED OF MEDIOCRITY IN NATURAL AND MORAL PHILOSOPHY.
MEDIOCRITY, or the holding a middle course, has been highly extolled in morality, but little in matters of science, though no less useful and proper here; whilst in politics it is held suspected, and ought to be employed with judgment. The ancients described mediocrity in manners by the course premaintained from age to age; and which are perpetually transferring from hand to hand the concerns and duties of this fleeting scene. Γεννώντες τε και εκτρέφοντες παίδας, κάθαπερ λαμπάδα τον βίον παραδιδόντες άλλοις εξ άλλων.-Plato, Leg. b. νι. Lucretius also has the same metaphor :
· Et quasi cursores vitai la:npada tradunt"
ICARUS, OR THE MIDDLE WAY.
scribe to Icarus ; and in matters of the understanding by the steering betwixt Scylla and Charybdis, on account of the great difficulty and danger in passing those straits.
Icarus, being to fly across the sea, was ordered by his father neither to soar too high nor fly too low, for, as his wings were fastened together with wax, there was danger of its melting by the sun's heat in too high a flight, and of its becoming less tenacious by the moisture if he kept too near the vapour of the sea. But he, with a juvenile confidence, soared aloft, and fell down headlong.
EXPLANATION.—The fable is vulgar, and easily interpreted; for the path of virtue lies straight between excess on the one side, and defect on the other. And no wonder that excess should prove the bane of Icarus, exulting in juvenile strength and vigour; for excess is the natural vice of youth, as defect is that of old age ; and if a man must perish by either, Icarus chose the better of the two; for all defects are justly esteemed more depraved than excesses.
There is some magnanimity in excess, that, like a bird, claims kindred with the heavens ; but defect is a reptile, that basely crawls upon the earth. It was excellently said by Heraclitus, “A dry light niakes the best soul ;" for if the soul contracts moisture from the earth, it perfectly degenerates and sinks. On the other hand, moderation must be observed, to prevent this fine light from burning, by its too great subtilty and dryness. But these observations are common.
In matters of the understanding, it requires great skill and a particular felicity to steer clear of Scylla and Charybdis. If the ship strikes upon Scylla, it is dashed in pieces against the rocks ; if upon Charybdis
, it is swallowed outright. This allegory is pregnant with matter; but we shall only observe the force of it lies here, that a mean be observed in every doctrine and science, and in the rules and axioms thereof, between the rocks of distinctions and the whirlpools of universalities; for these two are the bane and shipwreck of fine geniuses and arts.
XXVIII.-SPHINX, OR SCIENCE.
EXPLAINED OF THE SCIENCES.
They relate that Sphinx was a monster, variously formed, having the face and voice of a virgin, the wings of a bird, and the talons of a griffin. She resided on the top of a mountain, near the city Thebes, and also beset the highways. Her manner was to lie in ambush and seize the travellers, and having them in her power, to propose to them certain dark and perplexed riddles, which it was thought she received from the Muses, and if her wretched captives could not solve and interpret these riddles, she with great cruelty fell upon them, in their hesitation and confusion, and tore them to pieces. This plague having reigned a long time, the Thebans at length offered their kingdom to the man who could interpret her riddles, there being no other way to subdue her. Edipus, a penetrating and prudent man, though lame in his feet, excited by so great a reward, accepted the condition, and with a good assurance of mind, cheerfully presented himself before the monster, who directly asked him, “What creature that was, which being born four-footed, afterwards became two-footed, then three-footed, and lastly four-footed again?” Edipus, with presence of mind, replied it was man, who, upon his first birth and infant state, crawled upon all fours in endeavouring to walk ; but not long after went upright upon his two natural feet; again, in old age walked three-footed, with a stick ; and at last, growing decrepit, lay four-footed confined to his bed ; and having by this exact solution obtained the victory, he slew the monster, and, laying the carcass upon an ass, led her away in triumph ; and upon this he was, according to the agreement,
, made king of Thebes.
EXPLANATION.—This is an elegant, instructive fable, and seems invented to represent science, especially as joined with practice. For science may, without absurdity, be called a monster, being strangely gazed at and admired by the ignorant and unskilful. Her figure and form is various, by reason of the vast variety of subjects that science considers ; bor voice and countenance are represented female, by reason
of her gay appearance and volubility of speech ; wings are added, because the sciences and their inventions run and fly about in a moment, for knowledge, like light communicated from one torch to another, is presently caught and copiously diffused; sharp and hooked talons are elegantly attributed to her, because the axioms and arguments of science enter the mind, lay hold of it, fix it down, and keep it from moving or slipping away. This the sacred philosopher observed, when he said, “The words of the wise are like goads or nails driven far in.”a Again, all science seems placed on high, as it were on the tops of mountains that are hard to climb; for science is justly imagined a sublime and lofty thing, looking down upon ignorance from an eminence, and at the same time taking an extensive view on all sides, as is usual on the tops of mountains.
Science is said to beset the highways, because through all the journey and peregrination of human life there is matter and occasion offered of contemplation.
Sphinx is said to propose various difficult questions and riddles to men, which she received from the Muses; and these questions, so long as they remain with the Muses, may very well be unaccompanied with severity, for while there is no other end of contemplation and inquiry but that of knowledge alone, the understanding is not oppressed, or driven to straits and difficulties, but expatiates and ranges at large, and even receives a degree of pleasure from doubt and variety; but after the Muses have given over their riddles to Sphinx, that is, to practice, which urges and impels to action, choice, and determination, then it is that they become torturing, severe, and trying, and, unless solved and interpreted, strangely perplex and harass the human mind, rend it every way, and perfectly tear it to pieces. All the riddles of Sphinx, therefore, have two conditions annexed, viz., dilaceration to those who do not solve them, and empire to those that do. For he who understands the thing proposed obtains his end, and every artificer rules over his work.b
Sphinx has no more than two kinds of riddles, one relating
Eccles. xii. 11. b. This is what the author so frequently inculcates in the Novum Organum, viz., that knowledge and power are reciprocal ; so that to improve in knowledge is to improve in the power of commanding nature, by introducing new arts, and producing works and effects.