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cross their genius, and (what is far worse) torment and wear themselves away with cares and solicitude and inward fears. For being bound to the column of Necessity, they are troubled with innumerable thoughts (which because of their flightiness are represented by the eagle), thoughts which prick and gnaw and corrode the liver and if at intervals, as in the night, they obtain some little relaxation and quiet of mind, yet new fears and anxieties return presently with the morning. Very few therefore are they to whom the benefit of both portions falls, to retain the advantages of providence and yet free themselves from the evils of solicitude and perturbation. Neither is it possible for any one to attain this double blessing, except by the help of Hercules; that is, fortitude and constancy of mind, which being prepared for all events and equal to any fortune, foresees without fear, enjoys without fastidiousness, and bears without impatience. It is worth noting too that this virtue was not natural to Prometheus, but adventitious, and came by help from without; for it is not a thing which inborn and natural fortitude can attain to; it comes from beyond the ocean, it is received and brought to us from the Sun; for it comes of Wisdom, which is as the Sun, and of meditation upon the inconstancy and fluctuations of human life, which is as the navigation of the ocean: two things which Virgil has well coupled together in those lines :
Ah, happy, could we but the causes know
Of all that is! Then should we know no fears:
Most elegantly also is it added for the consolation and
encouragement of men's minds, that that mighty hero sailed in a cup or pitcher; lest they should too much mistrust the narrowness and frailty of their own nature, or plead it in their own excuse, as though it were altogether incapable of this kind of fortitude and constancy: the true nature of which was well divined by Seneca, when he said, It is true greatness to have in one the frailty of man and the security of God.
But I must now return to a part which, that I might not interrupt the connexion of what precedeș, I have purposely passed by. I mean that last crime of Prometheus, the attempt upon the chastity of Minerva. For it was even for this offence, certainly
a very great and grave one, that he underwent that punishment of the tearing of his entrails. The crime alluded to appears to be no other than that into which men not unfrequently fall when puffed up with arts and much knowledge, of trying to bring the divine wisdom itself under the dominion of sense and reason from which attempt inevitably follows laceration of the mind and vexation without end or rest. And therefore men must soberly and modestly distinguish between things divine and human, between the oracles of sense and of faith; unless they mean to have at once a heretical religion and a fabulous philosophy.
The last point remains, namely the races with burning torches instituted in honour of Prometheus. This again, like that fire in memory and celebration of which these games were instituted, alludes to arts and sciences, and carries in it a very wise admonition, to this effect, — that the perfection of the sciences is
to be looked for not from the swiftness or ability of any one inquirer, but from a succession. For the strongest and swiftest runners are perhaps not the best fitted to keep their torch alight; since it may be put out by going too fast as well as too slow. It seems however that these races and games of the torch have long been intermitted; since it is still in their first authors, Aristotle, Galen, Euclid, Ptolemy, -that we find the several sciences in highest perfection; and no great matter has been done, nor hardly attempted, by their successors. And well were it to be wished that these games in honour of Prometheus, that is of Human Nature, were again revived; that the victory may no longer depend upon the unsteady and wavering torch of each single man; but competition, emulation, and good fortune be brought to aid. Therefore men should be advised to rouse themselves, and try each his own strength and the chance of his own turn, and not to stake the whole venture upon the spirits and brains of a few persons.
Such are the views which I conceive to be shadowed out in this so common and hacknied fable. It is true that there are not a few things beneath which have a wonderful correspondency with the mysteries of the Christian faith. The voyage of Hercules especially, sailing in a pitcher to set Prometheus free, seems to present an image of God the Word hastening in the frail vessel of the flesh to redeem the human race. But I purposely refrain myself from all licence of speculation in this kind, lest peradventure I bring strange fire to the altar of the Lord.
THE FLIGHT OF ICARUS; ALSO SCYLLA AND
OR THE MIDDLE WAY.
MODERATION, or the Middle Way, is in Morals much commended; in Intellectuals less spoken of, though not less useful and good; in Politics only, questionable and to be used with caution and judg
The principle of moderation in Morals is represented by the ancients in the path which Icarus was directed to take through the air; the same principle in relation to the intellect, by the passage between Scylla and Charybdis, so famous for its difficulty and danger.
Icarus was instructed by his father to beware, when he came to fly over the sea, of taking either too high or too low a course. For his wings being fixed on with wax, the fear was that if he rose too high the wax would be melted by the sun's heat; if he kept down too near the vapour of the sea, it would lose its tenacity by the moisture. Icarus, in the adventurous spirit of youth, made for the heights, and so fell headlong down.
It is an easy and a familiar parable. The path of virtue goes directly midway between excess on the one hand and defect on the other. Icarus, being in the pride of youthful alacrity, naturally fell a victim to excess. For it is on the side of excess that the young commonly sin, as the old on the side of defect. And yet if he was to perish one way, it must be admitted
that of two paths, both bad and mischievous, he chose the better. For sins of defect are justly accounted worse than sins of excess; because in excess there is something of magnanimity, — something, like the flight of a bird, that holds kindred with heaven; whereas defect creeps on the ground like a reptile. Excellently was it said by Heraclitus, Dry light is the best soul. For when the moisture and humours of earth get into the soul, it becomes altogether low and degenerate. And yet here too a measure must be kept the dryness, so justly praised, must be such as to make the light more subtle, but not such as to make it catch fire. But this is what everybody knows.
Now for the passage between Scylla and Charybdis (understood of the conduct of the understanding) certainly it needs both skill and good fortune to navigate it. For if the ship run on Scylla, it is dashed on the rocks, if on Charybdis, it is sucked in by the whirlpool by which parable (I can but briefly touch it, though it suggests reflexions without end) we are meant to understand that in every knowledge and science, and in the rules and axioms appertaining to them, a mean must be kept between too many distinctions and too much generality, between the rocks of the one and the whirlpools of the other. For these two are notorious for the shipwreck of wits and arts.