Page images
PDF
EPUB

ing, and in a manner rending them into sundry parts.

Moreover, there is always a twofold condition propounded with Sphynx's ænigmas: to him that doth not expound them, distraction of mind; and to him that doth, a kingdom ; for he that knows that which he sought to know, hath attained the end he aimed at, and every artificer also commands over his work.

Of Sphynx's riddles, they are generally two kinds; some concerning the nature of things, others touching the nature of man. So also there are two kinds of empires, as rewards to those that resolve them. The one over nature, the other over men; for the proper and chief end of true natural philosophy is to command and sway over natural beings; as bodies, medicines, mechanical works, and infinite other things; although the school, being content with such things as are offered, and priding itself with speeches, doth neglect realities and works, treading them as it were under foot. But that ænigma propounded to Edipus, by means of which he obtained the Theban empire, belonged to the nature of man: for whosoever doth thoroughly consider the nature of man, may be in a manner the contriver of his own fortune, and is born to command, which is well spoken of the Roman arts :

Tu regere imperio populos, Romane memento
“ Hæ tibi erunt artes-
Roman remember, that with sceptre's awe
Thy realms thou rul'st. These arts let be thy rule.

It was, therefore, very apposite, that Augustus Cæsar, whether by premeditation, or by a chance, bare a sphynx in his signet : for he, if ever any, was famous not only in political government, but in all the course of his life; he happily discovered many new ænigmas concerning the nature of man, which if he had not done with dexterity and promptness, he had oftentimes fallen into imminent danger and destruction.

Moreover, it is added in the fable, that the body of Sphynx, when she was overcome, was laid upon an ass; which indeed is an elegant fiction, seeing there is nothing so acute and abstruse, but, being well understood and divulged, may be apprehended by a slow capacity.

Neither is it to be omitted, that Sphynx was overcome by a man lame in his feet; for when men are too swift of foot, and too speedy of pace

in hasting to Sphynx's ænigmas, it comes to pass, that, she getting the upper hand, their wits and minds are rather distracted by disputations, than that ever they come to command by works and effects.

PROSERPINA, OR SPIRIT. Pluto, they say, being made king of the infernal dominions, by that memorable division, was in despair of ever attaining any one of the superior goddesses in marriage, especially if he should venture to court them, either with words, or with any amorous behaviour; so that of necessity he was to lay some

1

plot to get one of them by rapine : taking, therefore, the benefit of opportunity, he caught up Proserpina, the daughter of Ceres, a beautiful virgin, as she was gathering Narcissus flowers in the meadows of Sicily, and carried her away with him in his coach to the subterranean dominions, where she was welcomed with such respect, as that she was styled the Lady of Dis. But Ceres, her mother, when in no place she should find this her only beloved daughter, in a sorrowful humour and distracted beyond measure, went compassing the whole earth with a burning torch in her hand, to seek and recover this her lost child. But when she saw that all was in vain, supposing peradventure that she was carried to hell, she importuned Jupiter with many tears and lamentations, that she might be restored unto her again ; and at length prevailed thus far, that if she had tasted of nothing in hell, she should have leave to bring her from thence. Which condition was as good as a denial to her petition, Proserpina having already eaten three grains of a pomegranate. And yet for all this, Ceres gave not over her suit, but fell to prayers and moans afresh; wherefore it was at last granted that, the year being divided, Proserpina should by alternate courses, remain one six months with her husband, and other six months with her mother. Not long after this, Theseus and Perithous in an over-hardy adventure, attempted to fetch her from Pluto's bed, who, being weary with travel and sitting down upon a stone in hell to rest themselves, had not the power to rise

VOL, 3.

H

again, but sat there for ever. Proserpina therefore remained queen of hell, in whose honour there was this great privilege granted ; that, although it were enacted, that none that went down to hell should have the power ever to return from thence; yet was this singular exception annexed to this law, that if any presented Proserpina with a golden bough, it should be lawful for him to go and come at his pleasure. Now there was but one only such a bough in a spacious and shady grove, which was not a plant neither of itself, but budded from a tree of another kind, like a rope of gum which being plucked off, another would instantly spring out.

This fable seems to pertain to nature, and to dive into that rich and plentiful efficacy and variety of subalternal creatures, from whom whatsoever we have is derived, and to them doth again return.

By Proserpina, the ancients meant that ethereal spirit, which being separated from the upper globe, is shut up and detained under the earth, represented by Pluto, which the poet well expressed thus :

“ Sive recens tellus, seductaque nuper ab alto
“Æthere, cognati retinebat semina coeli."
Whether the youngling Tellus (that of late
Was from the high-rear'd æther separate)
Did yet contain her teeming womb within

The living seeds of heaven, her nearest kin. This spirit is feigned to be rapted by the earth, because nothing can withhold it, when it hath time and leisure to escape. It is therefore caught and stayed by a sudden contraction, no otherwise than if à man should go about to mix air with water, which can be done by no means, but by a speedy and rapid agitation, as may be seen in froth, wherein the air is rapted by the water.

Neither is it inelegantly added that Proserpina was rapt as she was gathering Narcissus flowers in the valleys, because Narcissus hath his name from slowness or stupidity : for, indeed, then is this spirit most prepared and fitted to be snatched by terrestrial matter, when it begins to be coagulated, and become as it were slow.

Rightly is Proserpina honoured more than any of the other god's bed-fellows, in being styled the Lady of Dis, because this spirit doth rule and sway all things in those lower regions, Pluto abiding stupid and ignorant.

This spirit, the power celestial, shadowed by Ceres, strives with infinite sedulity, to recover and get again : for that brand or burning torch of æther, which Ceres carried in her hand, doth doubtless signify the sun, which enlighteneth the whole circuit of the earth, and would be of the greatest moment to recover Proserpina, if possibly it might be.

But Proserpina abides still, the reason of which is accurately and excellently propounded in the conditions between Jupiter and Ceres: for first it is most certain there are two ways to keep spirit in solid and terrestrial matter: the one by constipation and obstruction, which is mere imprisonment and constraint; the other by administration or proportionable nutriment, which it receives willingly

« PreviousContinue »