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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. vi. Lucretius also has the same metaphor:
" Et quasi cursores vitai lampada tradunt."
scribed 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 makes 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 wiversalities; for these two are the bane and shipwreck of fine geniuses and arts.
XXVIII.-SPHINX, OR SCIENCE.
EXPLAINED OF THE SCIENCES.
TAEY 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 ; hor 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 Novun 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.
to the nature of things, the other to the nature of man; and correspondent to these, the prizes of the solution are two kinds of empire, the empire over nature, and the empire
For the true and ultimate end of natural philosophy is dominion over natural things, natural bodies, remedies, machines, and numberless other particulars, though the schools, contented with what spontaneously offers, and swollen with their own discourses, neglect, and in a manner despise, both things and works.
But the riddle proposed to Edipus, the solution whereof acquired him the Theban kingdom, regarded the nature of man ; for he who has thoroughly looked into and examined human nature, may in a manner command his own fortune, and seems born to acquire dominion and rule. Accordingly, Virgil properly makes the arts of government to be the arts of the Romans. It was, therefore, extremely apposite in Augustus Cæsar to use the image of Sphinx in his signet, whether this happened by accident or by design; for he of all men was deeply versed in politics, and through the course of his life very happily solved abundance of new riddles with regard to the nature of man; and unless he had done this with great dexterity and ready address, he would frequently have been involved in imminent danger, if not destruction.
It is with the utmost elegance added in the fable, that when Sphinx was conquered, her carcass was laid upon an ass ; for there is nothing so subtile and abstruse, but after being once made plain, intelligible, and common, it may be received by the slowest capacity.
We must not omit that Sphinx was conquered by a lame man, and impotent in his feet; for men usually make too much haste to the solution of Sphinx's riddles; whence it happens, that she prevailing, their minds are rather racked and torn by disputes, than invested with command by works and effects.
“ Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento:
Hæ tibi erunt artes." --Æn. vi. 852.