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turning of mills and other engines; and plants, and animals of what kind soever, are useful either for men's houses and places of shelter, or for raiment, or for food, or medicine, or for ease of labour, or in a word, for delight and solace; so that all things seem to work, not for themselves, but for man.
Neither is it added without consideration that certain particles were taken from divers living creatures, and mixed and tempered with that clayic mass, because it is most true, that of all things comprehended within the compass of the universe, man is a thing most mixed and compounded, insomuch, that he was well termed by the ancients a little world; for although the chemists do, with too much curiosity, take and wrest the elegancy of this word Microcosm to the letter, contending to find in man all minerals, all vegetables, and the rest, or any thing that holds proportion with them; yet this proposition remains sound and whole, that the body of man, of all material beings, is found to be most compounded and most organical, whereby it is endued and furnished with most admirable virtues and faculties and as for simple bodies, their powers are not many, though certain and violent, as existing without being weakened, diminished, or stinted by mixture; for the multiplicity and excellency of operation have their residence in mixture and composition, and yet, nevertheless, man in his originals seems to be a thing unarmed and naked, and unable to help itself, as needing the aid of many things; therefore Prometheus made haste to find out fire,
which suppeditates and yields comfort and help in a manner to all human wants and necessities; so that if the soul be the form of forms, and if the hand be the instrument of instruments, fire deserves well to be called the succour of succours, or the help of helps, which infinite ways affords aid and assistance to all labours and mechanical arts, and to the sciences themselves.
The manner of stealing this fire is aptly described, even from the nature of things: it was, they say, by a bundle of twigs held to touch the chariot of the sun; for twigs are used in giving blows or stripes, to signify clearly, that fire is engendered by the violent percussion and mutual collision of bodies, by which their material substances are attenuated and set in motion, and prepared to receive the heat of influence of the heavenly bodies; and so in a clandestine manner, and as it were by stealth, may be said to take and snatch fire from the chariot of the sun.
There follows next a remarkable part of the parable, that men instead of gratulation and thanksgiving were angry, and expostulated the matter with Prometheus, insomuch, that they accused both him and his invention unto Jupiter, which was so acceptable unto him, that he augmented their former commodities with a new bounty. Seems it not strange, that ingratitude towards the author of a benefit, a vice that in a manner contains all other vices, should find such approbation and reward? No, it seems to be otherwise; for the meaning of the
allegory is this, that men's outcries upon the defects of nature and art, proceed from an excellent disposition of the mind, and turn to their good; whereas the silencing of them is hateful to the gods, and redounds not so much to their profit; for they that infinitely extol human nature, or the knowledge they possess, breaking out into a prodigal admiration of that they have and enjoy, adoring also those sciences they profess, would have them be accounted perfect; they do first of all shew little reverence to the divine nature, by equalizing, in a manner, their own defects with God's perfection. Again; they are wonderful injurious to men, by imagining they have attained the highest step of knowledge, resting themselves contented, seek no further. On the contrary, such as bring nature and art to the bar with accusations and bills of complaint against them, are indeed of more true and moderate judgments; for they are ever in action, seeking always to find out new inventions. Which makes me much to wonder at the foolish and inconsiderate dispositions of some men, who, making themselves bond slaves to the arrogancy of a few, have the philosophy of the Peripatetics, containing only a portion of Grecian wisdom, and that but a small one neither, in so great esteem, that they hold it not only an unprofitable, but a suspicious and almost heinous thing, to lay any imputation of imperfection upon it. I approve rather of Empedocles' opinion, who like a madman, and of Democritus' judgment, who with great moderation complained how that all things were involved in a mist, that we knew nothing,
that we discerned nothing, that truth was drowned in the depths of obscurity, and that false things were wonderfully joined and intermixed with true, as for the new academy, that exceeded all measure, than of the confident and pronunciative school of Aristotle. Let men therefore be admonished, that by acknowledging the imperfection of nature and art, they are grateful to the gods, and shall thereby obtain new benefits and greater favours at their bountiful hands; and the accusation of Prometheus their author and master, though bitter and vehement, will conduce more to their profit, than to be effuse in the congratulation of his invention; for, in a word, the opinion of having enough, is to be accounted one of the greatest causes of having too little.
Now, as touching the kind of gift which men are said to have received in reward of their accusation, to wit, an ever-fading flower of youth, it is to shew, that the ancients seemed not to despair of attaining the skill, by means and medicines, to put off old age, and to prolong life, but this to be numbered rather among such things, having been once happily attained unto, are now, through men's negligence and carelessness, utterly perished and lost, than among such as have been always denied and never granted; for they signify and shew, that by affording the true use of fire, and by a good and stern accusation and conviction of the errors of art, the divine bounty is not wanting unto men in the obtaining of such gifts ; but men are wanting to themselves in laying this gift of the gods upon the back of a silly slow-paced
which may seem to be experience, a stupid thing, and full of delay; from whose leisurely and snaillike pace proceeds that complaint of life's brevity, and art's length; and to say the truth, I am of this opinion, that those two faculties, dogmatical and empyrical, are not as yet well joined and coupled together, but as new gifts of the gods imposed either upon philosophical abstractions, as upon a flying bird, or upon slow and dull experience, as upon an ass. And yet methinks I would not entertain an ill conceit of this ass, if it meet not for the accidents of travel and thirst for I am persuaded, that whoso constantly goes on, by the conduct of experience, as by a certain rule and method, and not covets to meet with such experiments by the way, as conduce either to gain or ostentation, to obtain which, he must be fain to lay down and sell this burthen, may prove no unfit porter to bear this new addition of divine munificence.
Now, in that this gift is said to pass from men to serpents, it may seem to be added to the fable for ornament sake, in a manner, unless it were inserted to shame men, that having the use of that celestial fire and of so many arts, are not able to get unto themselves such things as nature itself bestows upon many other creatures.
But that sudden reconciliation of men to Prometheus, after they were frustrated of their hopes, contains a profitable and wise note, shewing the levity and temerity of men in new experiments: for if they have not present success answerable to their expec