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in such manner that putting off their several natures, forgetting all their quarrels and ferocity, no longer driven by the stings and furies of lust, no longer caring to satisfy their hunger or to hunt their prey, they all stood about him gently and sociably, as in a theatre, listening only to the concords of his lyre. Nor was that all: for so great was the power of his music that it moved the woods and the very stones to shift themselves and take their stations decently and orderly about him. And all this went on for some time with happy success and great admiration; till at last certain Thracian women, under the stimulation and excitement of Bacchus, came where he was; and first they blew such a hoarse and hideous blast upon a horn that the sound of his music could no longer be heard for the din: whereupon, the charm being broken that had been the bond of that order and good fellowship, confusion began again; the beasts returned each to his several nature and preyed one upon the other as before; the stones and woods stayed no longer in their places: while Orpheus himself was torn to pieces by the women in their fury, and his limbs scattered about the fields: at whose death, Helicon (river sacred to the Muses) in grief and indignation buried his waters under the earth, to reappear elsewhere.
The meaning of the fable appears to be this. The singing of Orpheus is of two kinds: one to propitiate the infernal powers, the other to draw the wild beasts and the woods. The former may be best understood as referring to natural philosophy ; the latter to philosophy moral and civil. For natural philosophy proposes to itself, as its noblest work of all, nothing less than the restitution and renovation of things corruptible, and (what is indeed the same thing in a lower degree) the conservation of bodies in the state in which they are, and the retardation of dissolution and putrefaction. Now certainly if this can be effected at all, it cannot be otherwise than by due and exquisite attempering and adjustment of parts in nature, as by the harmony and perfect modulation of a lyre. And yet being a thing of all others the most difficult, it commonly fails of effect; and fails (it may be) from no cause more than from curious and premature meddling and impatience. Then Philosophy finding that her great work is too much for her, in sorrowful mood, as well becomes her, turns to human affairs; and applying her powers of persuasion and eloquence to insinuate into men's minds the love of virtue and equity and peace, teaches the peoples to assemble and unite and take upon them the yoke of laws and submit to authority, and forget their ungoverned appetites, in listening and conforming to precepts and discipline; whereupon soon follows the building of houses, the founding of cities, the planting of fields and gardens with trees; insomuch that the stones and the woods are not unfitly said to leave their places and come about her. And this application of Philosophy to civil affairs is properly represented, and according to the true order of things, as subsequent to the diligent trial and final frustration of the experiment of restoring the dead body to life. For true it is that the clearer recognition of the inevitable necessity of death sets men upon seeking immortality by merit and renown. Also it is wisely added in the story, that Orphous was averse from women and from marriage; for the sweets of marriage and the dearness of children commonly draw men away from performing great and lofty services to the commonwealth; being content to be perpetuated in their race and stock, and not in their deeds.
But howsoever the works of wisdom are among human things the most excellent, yet they too have their periods and closes. For so it is that after kingdoms and commonwealths have flourished for a time, there arise perturbations and seditions and wars; amid the uproars of which, first the laws are put to silence, and then men return to the depraved conditions of their nature, and desolation is seen in the fields and cities. And if such troubles last, it is not long before letters also and philosophy are so torn in pieces that no traces of them can be found but a few fragments, scattered here and there like planks from a shipwreck; and then a season of barbarism sets in, the waters of Helicon being sunk under the ground, until, according to the appointed vicissitude of things, they break out and issue forth again, perhaps among other nations, and not in the places where they were before.
OR THE ORIGIN OF THINGS.
It is a tradition of the poets that Coelum was the most ancient of all the gods: that his parts of generation were cut off by his son Saturn with a scythe; that Saturn himself begot a numerous progeny, but devoured his sons as fast as they were bor n; that at last Jupiter escaped this fate, and as soon as he grew
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up overthrew his father Saturn, cast him into Tartarus, and took possession of his kingdom; also that he cut off his genitals with the same scythe with which he, Saturn, had cut off those of Coelum, and threw them into the sea; and that from them was born Venus. Afterwards they say that the kingdom of Jupiter, when as yet it was scarcely settled, had to stand the brunt of two memorable ware: the first, the war of the Titans, in the subduing of whom the assistance of the Sun (the only one of the Titans that was on Jupiter's side) was conspicuous; the second, the war of the Giants, who were likewise by thunder and the arms of Jupiter defeated; and that when these were put down Jupiter reigned afterwards in security.
This fable seems to be an enigma concerning the origin of things, not much differing from the philosophy afterwards embraced by Democritus: who more openly than any one else asserted the eternity of matter, while he denied the eternity of the world; a point in which he came somewhat nearer to the truth as declared in the divine narrative; for that represents matter without form as existing before the six days' works.
The fable may be explained in this manner. By Coelum is meant the concave or circumference which encloses all matter. By Saturn is meant matter itself; which, inasmuch as the sum total of matter remains always the same and the absolute quantum of nature suffers neither increase nor diminution, is said to have deprived its parent of all power of generation. Now the agitations and motions of matter produced at first imperfect and ill-compacted structures of things, that would not hold together, — mere attempts at worlds. Afterwards in process of time a fabric was turned out which could keep its form. Of these two divisions of time, the first is meant by the reign of Saturn; who by reason of the frequent dissolutions and short durations of things in his time, was called the devourer of his children: the second, by the reign of Jupiter, who put an end to those continual and transitory changes, and thrust them into Tartarus — that is to say the place of perturbation: which place seems to be midway between the lowest parts of heaven and the innermost parts of the earth: in which middle region perturbation and fragility and mortality or corruption have their chief operation. And while that former system of generation lasted which had place under the reign of Saturn, Venus, according to the story, was not yet born. For so long as in the universal frame of matter discord was stronger than concord and prevailed over it, there could be no change except of the whole together; and in this manner did the generation of things proceed before Saturn was castrated. But as soon as this mode of generation ceased, it was immediately succeeded by that other which proceeds by Venus, and belongs to a state in which, concord being powerful and predominant, change proceeds part by part only, the total fabric remaining entire and undisturbed. Nevertheless Saturn is represented as thrust out and overthrown only, not as cut off" and extinguished; because it was the opinion of Democritus that the world might yet relapse into its ancient confusion and intervals of no government: an event which Lucretius prayed might not happen in his own times.