Page images
PDF
EPUB

she oftentimes descended from her sphere to enjoy his company as he slept ; and after she had kissed him ascended up again. Yet, notwithstanding this, his idleness and sleepy security did not any way impair his estate or fortune ; for Luna brought it so to pass, that he alone, of all the rest of the shepherds, had his flock in best plight, and most fruitful.

This fable may have reference to the nature and dispositions of princes; for they being full of doubts and prone to jealousy, do not easily acquaint men of prying and curious eyes, and as it were of vigilant and wakeful dispositions, with the secret humours and manners of their life; but such rather as are of quiet and observant natures, suffering them to do what they list without further scanning, making as if they were ignorant, and perceiving nothing but of a stupid disposition, and possessed with sleep, yielding unto them simple obedience rather than sly compliments; for it pleaseth princes now and then to descend from their thrones or majesty, like Luna from the superior orb, and laying aside their robes of dignity, which always to be cumbered with, would seem a kind of burthen, familiarly to converse with men of this condition, which they think may be done without danger; a quality chiefly noted in Tiberius Cæsar, who, of all others, was a prince most severe ; yet such only were gracious in his favour, as being well acquainted with his disposition, did yet constantly dissemble as if they knew nothing. This was the custom also of Lewis the Eleventh, King of France, a cautious and wily prince.

Neither is it without elegancy that the cause of Endymion is mentioned in the fable, because that it is a thing usual with such as are the favourites of princes, to have certain pleasant retiring places whither to invite them for recreation both of body and mind, and that without hurt or prejudice to their fortunes also. And indeed these kind of favourites are men commonly well to pass; for princes, although peradventure they promote them not ever to places of honour, yet do they advance them sufficiently by their favour and countenance : neither do they affect them thus only to serve their own turn; but are wont to enrich them now and then with great dignities and bounties.

THE SISTER OF THE GIANTS, OR FAME.

It is a poetical relation, that the giants begotten of the earth made war upon Jupiter and the other gods; and by the force of lightning they were resisted and overthrown: whereat the earth being excitated to wrath, in revenge of her children, brought forth Fame, the youngest sister of the giants.

“ Illam terra parens ira irritata deorum.
“ Extremam (ut prohibent) Cæo Enceladoque sororem.
“ Progenuit”
Provok'd by wrathful gods, the mother earth
Gives Fame, the giants' youngest sister, birth.

The meaning of the fable seems to be thus : By the earth is signified the nature of the vulgar, always swollen and malignant, and still broaching new scandals against superiors, and having gotten

fit opportunity stirs up rebels and seditious persons, that with impious courage do molest princes, and endeavour to subvert their estates; but being suppressed, the same natural disposition of the people still leaning to the viler sort, being impatient of

peace and tranquillity, spread rumours, raise malicious slanders, repining whisperings, infamous libels, and others of that kind, to the detraction of them that are in authority; so as rebellious actions and seditious reports differ nothing in kind and blood, but as it were in sex only, the one sort being masculine and 'the other feminine.

ACTÆON AND PENTHEUS, OR A CURIOUS

MAN.

The curiosity of men in prying into secrets, and coveting with an undiscreet desire to attain the knowledge of things forbidden, is set forth by the ancients in two other examples, the one of Actæon, the other of Pentheus.

Actæon having unawares, and as it were by chance, beheld Diana naked, was turned into a stag, and devoured by his own dogs.

And Pentheus climbing up into a tree with a desire to be a spectator of the hidden sacrifices of Bacchus, was strucken with such a kind of frenzy, as that whatsoever he looked upon, he thought it always double, supposing, among other things, he saw two suns and two Thebes ; insomuch, that running towards Thebes, spying another Thebes instantly turned back again, and so kept still running forward and backward with perpetual unrest.

“ Eumenidum veluti demens vidit agmina Pentheus.
Et solem geminum, duplices se ostendere Thebas."

Pentheus amazed, doth troops of Furies spy;
And sun and Thebes seem double to his eye.

The first of the fables pertains to the secrets of princes, the second to divine mysteries. For those that are near about princes, and come to the knowledge of more secrets than they would have them, do certainly incur great hatred : and therefore, suspecting that they are shot at, and opportunities watched for their overthrow, do lead their lives like stags, fearful and full of suspicion. And it happens oftentimes that their servants, and those of their household, to insinuate into the princes' favour, do accuse them to their destruction, for against whomsoever the prince's displeasure is known, look how many servants that man hath, and you shall find them for the most part so many traitors unto him, that his end may prove to be like Actæon's.

The other is the misery of Pentheus; for that by the height of knowledge and nature in philosophy, having climbed as it were into a tree, do with rash attempts, unmindful of their frailty, pry into the secrets of divine mysteries, and are justly plagued with perpetual inconstancy, and with wavering and perplexed conceits ; for seeing the light of nature is one thing and of grace another ; it happens so to them as if they saw two suns. And seeing the actions of life and decrees of the will to depend on

the understanding, it follows that they doubt, are inconstant no less in will than in opinion; and so in like manner they may be said to see two Thebes : for by Thebes, seeing there was the habitation and refuge of Pentheus, is meant the end of actions. Hence it comes to pass that they know not whither they go, but as distracted and unresolved in the scope of their intentions, are in all things carried about with sudden passions of the mind.

ORPHEUS, OR PHILOSOPHY. The tale of Orpheus, though common, had never the fortune to be fitly applied in every point. It may seem to represent the image of philosophy : for the person of Orpheus, a man admirable and divine, and so excellently skilled in all kind of harmony, that with his sweet ravishing music he did, as it were, charm and allure all things to follow him, may carry a singular description of philosophy; for the labours of Orpheus do so far exceed the labours of Hercules in dignity and efficacy, as the works of wisdom excel the works of fortitude.

Orpheus, for the love he bare to his wife, snatched, as it were, from him by untimely death, resolved to go down to hell with his harp, to try if he might obtain her of the infernal power. Neither were his hopes frustrated; for having appeased them with the melodious sound of his voice and touch, prevailed at length so far, as that they granted him leave to take her away with him; but on this condition, that she should follow him, and he not to look

« PreviousContinue »