« ZurückWeiter »
Chaos, the ancients never paid divine honours, nor gave the title of a god thereto. Love is represented absolutely witliout progenitor, exceping only that he is said to have proceeded from the egg of Nox; but that himself begot the gods, and all things else, on Chaos. His attributes are four; viz., 1. perpetual infancy ; 2. blindness; 3. nakedness; and 4. archery.
There was also another Cupid, or Love, the youngest son of the gods, born of Venus ; and upon him the attributes of the elder are transferred, with some degree of correspondence.
EXPLANATION.—This fable points at, and enters, the cradle of nature. Love seems to be the appetite, or incentive, of the primitive matter ; or, to speak more distinctly, the natural motion, or moving principle, of the original corpuscles, or atoms; this being the most ancient and only power that made and wrought all things out of matter. It is absolutely without parent, that is, without cause ;
for causes are as parents to effects; but this power or efficacy could have no natural cause; for, excepting God, nothing was before it; and therefore it could have no efficient in nature. And as nothing is more inward with nature, it can neither be a genus nor a form; and therefore, whatever it is, it must be somewhat positive, though inexpressible. And if it were possible to conceive its modus and process, yet it could not be known from its cause, as being, next to God, the cause of causes, and itself without a cause. And perhaps we are not to hope that the modus of it should fall
, or be comprehendel, under human inquiry. Whence it is properly feigned to be the egg of Nox, or laid in the dark.
The divine philosopher declares, that “God has made everything beautiful in its season ; and has given over the world to our disputes and inquiries : but that man cannot find out the work which God has wrought, from its beginning up to its end.” Thus the summary or collective law of nature, or the principle of love, impressed by God upon the originai particles of all things, so as to make them attack each other and come together, by the repetition and multiplication whereof all the variety in the universe is produced, can scarce possibly find full admittance into the thoughts of men, though some faint notion may be had thereof. The Greek philosophy is subtile, and busied in discovering the material principles of things, but negligent and languid in discovering the principles of motion, in which the energy and efficacy of every operation consists. And here the Greek philosophers seem perfectly blind and childish ; for the opinion of the Peripatetics, as to the stimulus of matter, by privation, is little more than words, or rather sound than signification. And they who refer it to God, though they do well therein, yet they do it by a start, and not by proper degrees of assent ; for doubtless there is one summary, or capital law, in which nature meets, subordinate to God, viz., the law mentioned in the passage above quoted from Solomon; or the work which God has wrought from its beginning up to its end.
Democritus, who farther considered this subject, having first supposed an atom, or corpuscle, of some dimension or figure, attributed thereto an appetite, desire, or first motion simply, and another comparatively, imagining that all things properly tended to the centre of the world; those containing more matter falling faster to the centre, and thereby removing, and in the shock driving away, such as held less. But this is a slender conceit, and regards too few particulars ; for neither the revolutions of the celestial bodies, nor the contractions and expansions of things, can be reduced to this principle. And for the opinion of Epicurus, as to the de clination and fortuitous agitation of atoms, this only brings the matter back again to a trifle, and wraps it up in ignorance and night.
Cupid is elegantly drawn a perpetual child; for compounds are larger things, and have their periods of age ; but the first seeds or atoms of bodies are small, and remain in a perpetual infant state.
He is again justly represented naked; as all compounds may properly be said to be dressed and clothed, or to assume a personage; whence nothing remains truly naked, but the original particles of things.
The blindness of Cupid, contains a deep allegory ; for this same Cupid, Love, or appetite of the world, seems to have very little foresight, but directs his steps and motions conformably to what he finds next him, as blind men do when
they feel out their way; which renders the divine and overruling Providence and foresight the more surprising; as by a certain steady law, it brings such a beautiful order and regularity of things out of what seems extremely casual, void of design, and, as it were, really blind.
The last attribute of Cupid is archery, viz., a virtue or power operating at a distance ; for everything that operates at a distance, may seem, as it were, to dart, or shoot with
And whoever allows of atoms and vacuity, necessarily supposes that the virtue of atoms operates at a distance ; for without this operation, no motion could be excited, on account of the vacuum interposing, but all things would remain sluggish and unmoved.
As to the other Cupid, he is properly said to be the youngest sons of the gods, as his power could not take place before the formation of species, or particular bodies. The description given us of him transfers the allegory to morality, though he still retains some resemblance with the ancient Cupid ; for as Venus universally excites the affection of association, and the desire of procreation, her son Cupid applies the affection to individuals ; so that the general disposition proceeds from Venus, but the more close sympathy from Cupid. The former depends upon a near approximation of causes, but the latter upon deeper, more necessitating and uncontrollable principles, as if they proceeded from the ancient Cupid, on whom all exquisite sympathies depend.
XVIII.—DIOMED, OR ZEAL. EXPLAINED OF PERSECUTION, OR ZEAL FOR RELIGION. DIOMED acquired great glory and honour at the Trojari war, and was highly favoured by Pallas, who encouraged and excited him by no means to spare Venus, if he should casually meet her in fight. He followed the advice with too much eagerness and intrepidity, and accordingly wounded that goddess in her hand. This presumptuous action remained unpunished for a time, and when the war was ended he returned with great glory and renown to his own country, where, finding himself embroiled with domestic affairs, he retired into Italy. Here also at first he was well received and nobly entertained by King Daunus, who, besides other gifts and honours, erected statues for him over all his dominions. But upon the first calamity that afflicted the people after the stranger's arrival, Daunus immediately reflected that he entertained a devoted person in his palace, an enemy to the gods, and one who had sacrilegiously wounded a goddess with his sword, whom it was impious but to touch. To expiate, therefore, his country's guilt, he, without regard to the laws of hospitality, which were less regarded by him than the laws of religion, directly slew his guest, and commanded his statues and all his honours to be razed and abolished. Nor was it safe for others to commiserate or bewail so cruel a destiny; but even his companions in arms, whilst they lamented the death of their leader, and filled all places with their complaints, were turned into a kind of swans, which are said, at the approach of their own death, to chant sweet melancholy dirges.
EXPLANATION.—This fable intimates an extraordinary and almost singular thing, for no hero besides Diomed is recorded to have wounded any of the gods. Doubtless we have here described the nature and fate of a man who professedly makes any divine worship or sect of religion, though in itself vain and light, the only scope of his actions, and resolves to propagate it by fire and sword. For although the bloody dissensions and differences about religion were unknown to the ancients, yet so copious and diffusive was their knowledge, that what they knew not by experience they comprehended in thought and representation. Those, therefore, who endeavour to reform or establish any sect of religion, though vain, corrupt, and infamous (which is here denoted under the person of Venus), not by the force of reason, learning, sanctity of manners, the weight of arguments, and examples, but would spread or extirpate it by persecution, pains, penalties, tortures, fire and sword, may perhaps be instigated hereto by Pallas, that is, by a certain rigid, prudential consideration, and a severity of judgment, by the vigour and efficacy whereof they see thoroughly into the fallacies and fictions of the delusions of this kind ; and through aversion to depravity and a well-meant zeal, these
mien. usually for a time acquire great fame and glory, and are by the vulgar, to whom no moderate measures can be acceptable, extolled and almost adored, as the only patrons and protectors of truth and religion, men of any other disposition seeming, in comparison with these, to be lukewarm, mean-spirited, and cowardly. This fame and felicity, however, seldom endures to the end; but all violence, unless it escapes the reverses and changes of things by untimely death, is commonly unprosperous in the issue ; and if a change of affairs happens, and that sect of religion which was persecuted and oppressed gains strength and rises again, then the zeal and warm endeavours of this sort of men are condemned, their very name becomes odious, and all their honours terminate in disgrace.
As to the point that Diomed should be slain by his hospitable entertainer, this denotes that religious dissensions may cause treachery, bloody animosities, and deceit, even between the nearest friends.
That complaining or bewailing should not, in so enormous a case, be permitted to friends affected by the catastrophe without punishment, includes this prudent admonition, that almost in all kinds of wickedness and depravity men have still room left for commiseration, so that they who hate the crime may yet pity the person and bewail his calamity, from a principle of humanity and good nature ; and to forbid the overflowings and intercourses of pity upon such occasions were the extremest of evils; yet in the cause of religion and impiety the very commiserations of men are noted and suspected. On the other hand, the lamentations and complainings of the followers and attendants of Diomed, that is, of men of the same sect or persuasion, are usually very sweet, agreeable, and moving, like the dying notes of swans, or the birds of Diomed. This also is a noble and remarkable part of the allegory, denoting that the last words of those who suffer for the sake of religion strongly affect and sway
men's minds, and leave a lasting impression upon the sense and memory,