« PreviousContinue »
made to stir the people. Thence comes a kind of swelling in the State, which is signified by the infancy of Typhon. And this condition of affairs is fostered and nourished by the innate depravity and malignant disposition of the common people, which is to kings like a serpent full of malice and mischief; till the disaffection spreading and gathering strength breaks out at last into open rebellion; which because of the infinite calamities it inflicts both on kings and peoples is represented under the dreadful image of Typhon, with a hundred heads, denoting divided powers; flaming mouths, for devastations by fire; belts of snakes, for the pestilences which prevail, especially in sieges; iron hands, for slaughters; eagle's talons, for rapine; feathery body, for perpetual rumours, reports, trepidations, and the like. And sometimes these rebellions grow so mighty that the king is forced, as if carried off on the shoulders of the rebels, to abandon the seat and principal cities of his kingdom, and to contract his forces, and betake himself to some remote and obscure province; his sinews both of money and majesty being cut off. And yet if he bears his fortune wisely, he presently by the skill and industry of Mercury recovers those sinews again; that is to say, by affability and wise edicts and gracious speeches he reconciles the minds of his subjects, and awakens in them an alacrity to grant him supplies, and so recovers the vigour of his authority. Nevertheless, having learned prudence and caution, he is commonly unwilling to set all upon the toss of fortune, and therefore avoids a pitched battle, but tries first by some memorable exploit to destroy the reputation of the rebels: in which if he succeed, the rebels feeling themselves shaken and losing their confidence, resort first to broken and empty threats, like serpent's hisses, and then finding their case desperate take to flight. And then is the time, when they are beginning to fall to pieces, for the king with the entire forces and mass of his kingdom, as with the mountain -35tna, to pursue and overwhelm them.
OR MINISTERS OP TERROR.
The story is that the Cyclopes were at first on account of their fierceness and brutality driven by Jupiter into Tartarus, and condemned to perpetual imprisonment; but afterwards he was persuaded by the Earth that it would be for his interest to release them and employ them to make thunderbolts for him; which he accordingly did; and they with officious industry laboured assiduously with a terrible din in forging thunderbolts and other instruments of terror. In course of time it happened that Jupiter's wrath was kindled against iEscuIapius, son of Apollo, for raising a man from the dead by medicine; but because the deed was pious and famous and no just cause of displeasure, he concealed his anger and secretly set the Cyclopes upon him: who made no difficulty, but presently dispatched him with their thunderbolts; in revenge whereof Apollo (with Jupiter's permission) slew them with his arrows.
This fable seems to relate to the doings of kings; by whom cruel and bloody and exacting ministers are in the first instance punished and put out of office. But afterwards by counsel of the Earth, that is by ignoble and dishonourable counsel, yielding to considerations of utility, they take them into service again, when they have need either of severity of executions or harshness in exactions. They on their part being by nature cruel and by their former fortune exasperated, and knowing well enough what they are wanted for, apply themselves to this kind of work with wonderful diligence; till for want of caution and from over eagerness to ingratiate themselves, they at one time or another (taking a nod or an ambiguous word of the prince for a warrant) perpetrate some execution that is odious and unpopular. Upon which the prince, not willing to take the envy of it upon himself, and well knowing that he can always have plenty of such instruments, throws them overboard, and leaves them to the course of law and the vengeance of the friends and relatives of their victims, and to popular hatred; and so amid much applause of the people, and great acclamations and blessings on the king, they meet at last, though late, the fate they deserve.
Narcissus is said to have been a young man of wonderful beauty, but intolerably proud, fastidious, and disdainful. Pleased with himself and despising all others, he led a solitary life in the woods and hunting-grounds; with a few companions to whom he was all in all; followed also wherever he went by a nymph called Echo. Living thus, he came by chance one day to a clear fountain, and (being in the heat of noon) lay down by it; when beholding in the water his own image, he fell into such a study and then into such a rapturous admiration of himself, that he could not be drawn away from gazing at the shadowy picture, but remained rooted to the spot till sense left him; and at last he was changed into the flower that bears his name; a flower which appears in the early spring; and is sacred to the infernal deities, — Pluto, Proserpine, and the Furies.
In this fable are represented the dispositions, and the fortunes too, of those persons who from consciousness either of beauty or some other gift with which nature unaided by any industry of their own has graced them, fall in love as it were with themselves. For with this state of mind there is commonly joined an indisposition to appear much in public or engage in business; because business would expose them to many neglect^ and scorns, by which their minds would be dejected and troubled. Therefore they commonly live a solitary, private, and shadowed life; with a small circle of chosen companions, all devoted admirers, who assent like an echo to everything they say, and entertain them with mouthhomage; till being by such habits gradually depraved and puffed up, and besotted at last with self-admiration, they fall into such a sloth and listlessness that they grow utterly stupid, and lose all vigour and alacritv. And it was a beautiful thought to choose the flower of spring as an emblem of characters like this: characters which in the opening of their career flourish
and are talked of, but disappoint in maturity the promise of their youth. The fact too that this flower is sacred to the infernal deities contains an allusion to the same thing. For men of this disposition turn out utterly useless and good for nothing whatever; and anything that yields no fruit, but like the way of a ship in the sea passes and leaves no trace, was by the ancients held sacred to the shades and infernal gods.
It is a very common tradition that of the one oath by which the gods bound themselves when they meant to leave no room for repentance ; and finds a place in a great many fables. In that case they invoked in witness, not any majesty of heaven or any divine attribute, but Styx; a river in the infernal regions which with many windings encircled the palace of Dis. This form of oath alone, and no other, was held to be sure and inviolable: the penalty of breaking it being one which the deities most dreaded, — namely that the breaker should for a certain period of years be excluded from the banquets of the gods.
The fable seems to have been invented in allusion to treaties and compacts of princes: in respect of which it is but too true that whatever be the solemnity and sanctity of the oath they are confirmed with, yet they are little to be depended on; insomuch that they are used in fact rather with an eye to reputation and fame