« PreviousContinue »
back upon her till he came to the light of the upper world ; which he, impatient of, out of love and care, and thinking that he was in a manner past all danger,
nevertheless violated, insomuch that the covenant is broken, and she forthwith tumbles back again headlonginto hell. Orpheus falling into a deep melancholy, became a contemner of women-kind, and bequeathed himself to a solitary life in the deserts; where, by the same melody of his voice and harp, he first drew all manner of wild beasts unto him, who, forgetful of their savage fierceness, and casting off the precipitate provocations of lust and fury, not caring to satiate their voracity by hunting after prey, as at a theatre, in fawning and reconciled amity one towards another, standing all at the gaze about him, and attentively lend their ears to his music. Neither is this all; for so great was the power and alluring force of this harmony, that he drew the woods, and moved the very stones to come and place themselves in an orderly and decent fashion about him. These things succeeding happily, and with great admiration for a time; at length certain Thracian women, possessed with the spirit of Bacchus, made such a horrid and strange noise with their cornets, that the sound of Orpheus' harp could no more be heard, insomuch as that harmony, which was the bond of that order and society being dissolved, all disorder began again, and the beasts returning to their wonted nature, pursued one another unto death as before ; neither did the trees or stones remain any longer in their places; and Orpheus himself was by these female Furies torn in pieces, and scattered all over the desert: for whose cruel death the river Helicon sacred to the Muses, in horrible indignation, hid his head underground, and raised it again in another place.
The meaning of this fable seems to be thus : Orpheus' music is of two sorts, the one appeasing the infernal powers, the other attracting beasts and trees. The first may be fitly applied to natural philosophy, the second to moral or civil discipline.
The most noble work of natural philosophy is the restitution and renovation of things corruptible ; the other, as a lesser degree of it, the preservation of bodies in their estates, detaining them from dissolution and putrefaction; and if this gift may be in mortals, certainly it can be done by no other means than by the due and exquisite temper of nature, as by the melody and delicate touch of an instrument; but seeing it is of all things most difficult, it is seldom or never attained unto; and in all likelihood for no other reason, more than through curious diligence and untimely impatience; and therefore philosophy hardly able to produce so excellent an effect in a pensive humour, and that without cause, busies herself about human objects, and by persuasion and eloquence insinuating the love of virtue, equity, and concord, in the minds of men, draws multitudes of people to a society, makes them subject to laws, obedient to government, and forgetful of their unbridled affections, whilst they give ear to precepts, and submit themselves to discipline ; whence follows the
building of houses, erecting of towns, planting of fields and orchards with trees, and the like; insomuch, that it would not be amiss to say, that even thereby stones and woods were called together and settled in order. And after serious trial made and frustrated about the restoring of a body mortal, this care of civil affairs follows in his due place; because, by a plain demonstration of the inevitable necessity of death, men's minds are moved to seek eternity by the fame and glory of their merits. It is also wisely said in the fable, that Orpheus was averse from the love of women and marriage, because the delights of wedlock and the love of children do for the most part hinder men from enterprising great and noble designs for the public good, holding posterity a sufficient step to immortality without actions.
Besides even the very works of wisdom, although amongst all human things they do most excel, do nevertheless meet with their periods. For it happens that, after kingdoms and commonwealths have flourished for a time, even tumults, and seditions, and wars arise; in the midst of which hurly-burlies first laws are silent, men return to the pravity of their natures; fields and towns are wasted and depopulated; and then, if their fury continue, learning and philosophy must needs be dismembered, so that a few fragments only in some places will be found like the scattered boards of shipwreck, so as a barbarous age must follow; and the streams of Helicon being hid under the earth, until the vicissitude of things passing, they break out again and appear in some other remote nation, though not perhaps in the same climate.
CELUM, OR BEGINNINGS. We have it from the poets by tradition, that Coelum was the ancientest of the gods, and that his members of generation were cut off by his son Saturn, Saturn had many children, but devoured them as soon as they were born ; Jupiter only escaped, who being come to man's estate, thrust Saturn his father into hell, and so usurped the kingdom. Moreover, he pared off his father's genitals with the same faulchion that Saturn dismembered Colum, and cast them into the sea, from whence came Venus. Not long after this, Jupiter, being scarce settled and confirmed in this kingdom, was invaded by two memorable wars: the first of the Titans, in the suppressing of which Sol, who alone of all the Titans favouring Jupiter's side, took exceeding great pains. The second was of the giants, whom Jupiter himself destroyed with thunderbolts; and so all wars being ended, he reigned secure.
This fable seems enigmatically to shew from whence all things took their beginning, not much differing from that opinion of philosophers, which Democritus afterwards laboured to maintain, attributing eternity to the first matter and not to the world; in which he comes somewhat near the truth of divine writ, telling us of a huge deformed mass, before the beginning of the six days' work.
The meaning of the fable is this : by Cælum may be understood that vast concavity or vaulted compass that comprehends all matter; and by Saturn may. be meant the matter itself, which takes from his parent all power of generating ; for the universality or whole bulk of matter always remains the same, neither increasing or diminishing in respect of the quality of its nature; but by the divers agitations and motions of it were first produced imperfect, and ill agreeing compositions of things, making, as it were, certain worlds for proofs or essays, and so in process of time a perfect fabric or structure was framed, which would still retain and keep his form : and therefore the government of the first age was shadowed by the kingdom of Saturn, who for the frequent dissolutions and short continuances of things was aptly feigned to devour his children. The succeeding government was deciphered by the reign of Jupiter, who confined those continual mutations unto Tartarus, a place signifying perturbation. This place seems to be all that middle place between the lower superficies of heaven and the centre of the earth, in which all perturbations, and fragility, and mortality or corruption are frequent. During the former generation of things in the time of Saturn's reign Venus was not born; for so long as in the universality of matter, discord was better and more prevalent than concord, it was necessary that there should be a total dissolution or mutation, and that in the whole fabric; and by this kind of generation were creatures produced before Saturn was deprived of his genitals. When this ceased, that other which