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The antiquities of the first age (except those we find in sacred writ) were buried in oblivion and silence : silence was succeeded by poetical fables ; and fables again were followed by the records we now enjoy: so that the mysteries and secrets of antiquity were distinguished and separated from the records and evidences of succeeding times, by the veil of fiction, which interposed itself, and came between those things which perished and those which are extant. I suppose some are of opinion that my purpose is to write toys and trifles, and to usurp the same liberty in applying, that the poets assumed in feigning, which I might do (confess) if I listed, and with more serious contemplation intermix these things, to delight either myself in meditation, or others in reading. Neither am I ignorant how fickle and inconstant a thing fiction is, as being subject to be drawn and wrested any way, and how great the commodity of wit and discourse is, that is able to apply things well, yet so as never meant by the first authors. But I remember that this liberty hath
been lately much abused, in that many, to purchase the reverence of antiquity to their own inventions and fancies, have for the same intent laboured to wrest many poetical fables ; neither hath this old and common vanity been used only of late, or now and then : for even Chrysippus long ago did, as an interpreter of dreams, ascribe the opinions of the stoics to the ancient poets; and more sottishly do the chemists appropriate the fancies and delights of poets in the transformations of bodies to the experiments of their furnace. All these things, I say, I have sufficiently considered and weighed ; and in them have seen and noted the general levity and indulgence of men's wits above allegories; and yet for all this, I relinquish not my opinion.
For, first, it may not be that the folly and looseness of a few should altogether detract from the respect due to the parables ; for that were a conceit which might savour of profaneness and presumption; for religion itself doth sometimes delight in such veils and shadows; so that whoso exempts them, seems in a manner to interdict all commerce between things divine and human. But concerning human wisdom, I do indeed ingenuously and freely confess, that I am inclined to imagine, that under some of the ancient fictions lay couched certain mysteries and allegories, even from their first invention; and I am persuaded, whether ravished with the reverence of antiquity, or because in some fables I find such singular proportion between the similitude and the thing signified, and such apt and clear cohe
rence in the very structure of them, and propriety of names wherewith the persons or actors in them are ascribed and intituled, that no man can constantly deny but this sense was in the author's intent and meaning, when they first invented them, and that they purposely shadowed it in this sort : for who can - be so stupid and blind in the open light, as (when he hears how fame, after the giants were destroyed, sprang up as their youngest sister), not to refer it to the murmurs and seditious reports of both sides, which are wont to fly abroad for a time after the suppressing of insurrections ? Or when he hears how the giant Typhon having cut out and brought away Jupiter's nerves, which Mercury stole from him, and restored again to Jupiter ; doth not presently perceive how fitly it may be applied to powerful rebellions, which take from princes their sinews of money and authority ; but so, that by affability of speech and wise edicts (the minds of their subjects being in time privily, and as it were by stealth reconciled) they recover their strength again? Or when he hears how, in that memorable expedition of the gods against the giants, the braying of Silenus's ass, conduced much to the profligation of the giants, doth not confidently imagine that it was invented to shew how the greatest enterprises of rebels are oftentimes dispersed with vain rumours and fears.
Moreover, to what judgment can the conformity and signification of names seem obscure ? Seeing Metis, the wife of Jupiter, doth plainly signify counsel; Typhon, insurrection ; Pan, universality ; Nemesis, revenge; and the like. Neither let it trouble any man, if sometimes he meet with historical narrations, or additions for ornament's sake, or confusion of times, or something transferred from one fable to another, to bring in a new allegory; for it could be no otherwise, seeing they were the inventions of men which lived in divers ages, and had also divers ends, some being ancient, others neoterical ; some have an eye to things natural, others to moral.
There is another argument, and that no small one neither, to prove that these fables contain certain hidden and involved meanings, seeing some of them are observed to be so absurd and foolish in the
very relation that they shew, and, as it were, proclaim a parable afar off; for such tales as are probable they may seem to be invented for delight and in imitation of history. And as for such as no man would so much as imagine or relate, they seem to be sought out for other ends : for what kind of fiction is that wherein Jupiter is said to have taken Metis to wife, and perceiving that she was with child, to have devoured her, whence himself conceiving, brought forth Pallas armed out of his head? Truly, I think there was never dream, so different to the course of cogitation and so full of monstrosity, ever hatched in the brain of man. Above all things this prevails most with me, and is of singular moment; many of these fables seem not to be invented of those by whom they are related and celebrated, as by Homer, Hesiod, and others : for if it were so, that they took beginning in that age, and from those authors by whom