Nonfiction > Francis Bacon > Of the Wisdom of the Ancients
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Francis Bacon (1561–1626).  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients.  1857.
 
VI. Pan
Or Nature
 
THE ANCIENTS 1 have given under the person of Pan an elaborate description of universal nature. His parentage they leave in doubt. Some call him the son of Mercury; others assign him an origin altogether different; saying that he was the offspring of a promiscuous intercourse between Penelope and all her suitors. But in this the name of Penelope has doubtless been foisted by some later author into the original fable. For it is no uncommon thing to find the more ancient narrations transferred to persons and names of later date; sometimes absurdly and stupidly, as in this instance; for Pan was one of the oldest gods, and long before the times of Ulysses; and Penelope was for her matronly chastity held in veneration by antiquity. But there is yet a third account of his birth, which must not be passed over; for some have called him the son of Jupiter and Hybris, or Insolence.  1
  Whatever was his origin, the Fates are said to have been his sisters.  2
  His person is described by ancient tradition as follows: With horns, and the tops of the horns reaching heaven; his whole body shaggy and hairy; his beard especially long. In figure, biform; human in the upper parts, the other half brute; ending in the feet of a goat. As emblems of his power he carried in his left hand a pipe compact of seven reeds, in his right a sheep-hook or staff crooked at the top; and he was clothed in a scarf, made of panther’s skin. The powers and offices assigned to him are these,—he is the god of hunters, of shepherds, and generally of dwellers in the country: also he presides over mountains; and is (next to Mercury) the messenger of the gods. He was accounted moreover the captain and commander of the nymphs, who were always dancing and frisking about him: the Satyrs, and their elders, the Sileni, were also of his company. He had the power likewise of exciting sudden terrors,—empty and superstitious ones especially;—thence called Panics. The actions that are recorded of him are not many; the principal is that he challenged Cupid to wrestle; and was beaten by him. He also entangled and caught the giant Typhon in a net; and they say besides, that when Ceres, out of grief and indignation at the rape of Proserpina, had hid herself, and all the gods were earnestly engaged in seeking her out, and had dispersed several ways in search of her, it was Pan’s good fortune to light upon and discover her by accident while he was hunting. He had also the presumption to match himself against Apollo in music; and was by Midas’s judgment pronounced victor; for which judgment Midas had to wear the ears of an ass, but not so as to be seen. There are no amours reported of Pan, or at least very few: which among a crowd of gods so excessively amorous may seem strange. The only thing imputed to him in this kind is a passion for Echo, who was also accounted his wife; and for one nymph called Syringa, with love of whom he was smitten by Cupid in anger and revenge because of his presumption in challenging him to wrestle. Nor had he any issue (which is again strange, seeing that the gods, especially the males, were remarkably prolific) except one daughter, a little serving woman called Iambe, who used to amuse guests with ridiculous stories, and was supposed by some to be Pan’s offspring by his wife Echo.  3
  A noble fable this, if there be any such; and big almost to bursting with the secrets and mysteries of Nature.  4
  Pan, as the very word declares, represents the universal frame of things, or Nature. About his origin there are and can be but two opinions; for Nature is either the offspring of Mercury—that is of the Divine Word (an opinion which the Scriptures establish beyond question, and which was entertained by all the more divine philosophers); or else of the seeds of things mixed and confused together. For they who derive all things from a single principle, either take that principle to be God, or if they hold it to be a material principle, assert it to be though actually one yet potentially many; so that all difference of opinion on this point is reducible to one or other of these two heads,—the world is sprung either from Mercury, or from all the suitors. He sang, says Virgil,
        How through the void of space the seeds of things
Came first together; seeds of the sea, land, air,
And the clear fire; how from these elements
All embryos grew, and the great world itself
Swelled by degrees and gathered in its globe.
  5
  The third account of the generation of Pan, might make one think that the Greeks had heard something, whether through the Egyptians or otherwise, concerning the Hebrew mysteries; for it applies to the state of the world, not at its very birth, but as it was after the fall of Adam, subject to death and corruption. For that state was the offspring of God and Sin,—and so remains. So that all three stories of the birth of Pan (if they be understood with a proper distinction as to facts and times) may be accepted as indeed true. For true it is that this Pan, whom we behold and contemplate and worship only too much, is sprung from the Divine Word, through the medium of confused matter (which is itself God’s creature), and with the help of sin and corruption entering in.  6
  To the Nature of things, the Fates or destinies of things are truly represented as sisters. For natural causes are the chain which draws after it the births and durations and deaths of all things; their fallings and risings, their labours and felicities:—in short all the fates that can befall them.  7
  That the world is represented with horns, and that such horns are broad at bottom and narrow at top, has relation to the fact that the whole frame of nature rises to a point like a pyramid. For individuals are infinite: these are collected into species, which are themselves also very numerous; the species are gathered up into genera, and these again into genera of a higher stage; till nature, contracting as it rises, seems to meet at last in one point. Nor need we wonder that Pan’s horns touch heaven; since the summits, or universal forms, of nature do in a manner reach up to God; the passage from metaphysic to natural theology being ready and short.  8
  The body of Nature is most elegantly and truly represented as covered with hair; in allusion to the rays which all objects emit; for rays are like the hairs or bristles of nature; and there is scarcely anything which is not more or less radiant. This is very plainly seen in the power of vision, and not less so in all kinds of magnetic virtue, and in every effect which takes place at a distance. For whatever produces an effect at a distance may be truly said to emit rays. But Pan’s hair is longest in the beard, because the rays of the celestial bodies operate and penetrate from a greater distance than any other; and we see also that the sun, when the upper part of him is veiled by a cloud and the rays break out below, has the appearance of a face with a beard.  9
  Again, the body of Nature is most truly described as biform; on account of the difference between the bodies of the upper and the lower world. For the upper or heavenly bodies, are for their beauty and the equability and constancy of their motion, as well as for the influence they have upon earth and all that belongs to it, fitly represented under the human figure: but the others, by reason of their perturbations and irregular motions, and because they are under the influence of the celestial bodies, may be content with the figure of a brute. The same description of Nature’s body may be referred also to the mixture of one species with another. For there is no nature which can be regarded as simple; every one seeming to participate and be compounded of two. Man has something of the brute; the brute has something of the vegetable; the vegetable something of the inanimate body; and so all things are in truth biformed and made up of a higher species and a lower. There is also a very ingenious allegory involved in that attribute of the goat’s feet; which has reference to the motion upwards of terrestrial bodies towards the regions of air and sky: for the goat is a climbing animal, and loves to hang from rocks and cling to the sides of precipices: a tendency which is also exhibited in a wonderful manner by substances that belong properly to the lower world—witness clouds and meteors.  10
  The emblems in Pan’s hands are of two kinds—one of harmony, the other of empire. The pipe compact of seven reeds evidently indicates that harmony and concent of things, that concord mixed with discord, which results from the motions of the seven planets. Also the sheep-hook is a noble metaphor, alluding to the mixture of straight and crooked in the ways of nature. But the staff is curved chiefly towards the top; because all the works of Divine Providence in the world are wrought by winding and roundabout ways—where one thing seems to be doing, and another is doing really—as in the selling of Joseph into Egypt, and the like. So also in all the wiser kinds of human government, they who sit at the helm can introduce and insinuate what they desire for the good of the people more successfully by pretexts and indirect ways than directly; so that every rod or staff of empire is truly crooked at the top. The scarf or mantle of Pan is very ingeniously feigned to be made of a panther’s skin; on account of the spots scattered all over it. For the heavens are spotted with stars, the sea with islands, the earth with flowers; and even particular objects are generally variegated on the surface, which is as it were their mantle or scarf.  11
  Now the office of Pan can in no way be more lively set forth and explained than by calling him god of hunters. For every natural action, every motion and process of nature, is nothing else than a hunt. For the sciences and arts hunt after their works, human counsels hunt after their ends, and all things in nature hunt either after their food, which is like hunting for prey, or after their pleasures, which is like hunting for recreation;—and that too by methods skilful and sagacious.
        After the wolf the lion steals; the wolf the kid doth follow;
The kid pursues the cytisus o’er hillock and thro’ hollow.
  12
  Also Pan is the god of country people in general; because they live more according to nature; whereas in courts and cities nature is corrupted by too much culture; till it is true what the poet said of his mistress,—the girl herself is the least part of the matter.  13
  Pan is likewise especially called president of mountains—because it is in mountains and elevated places that the nature of things is most spread abroad, and lies most open to view and study. As for Pan’s being, next to Mercury, the messenger of the gods, that is an allegory plainly divine; seeing that next to the Word of God, the image itself of the world is the great proclaimer of the divine wisdom and goodness. So sings the Psalmist: The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.  14
  Again Pan takes delight in the nymphs; that is the souls; for the souls of the living are the delight of the world. And Pan is truly called their commander, since they follow the guidance each of her several nature; leaping and dancing about it with infinite variety, every one in her country’s fashion, and with motion that never ceases. And in their company are ever found the Satyrs and the Sileni; that is old age and youth; for all things have their merry and dancing time, and likewise their heavy and tippling time. And yet to one who truly considers them, the pursuits of either age appear perhaps, as they did to Democritus, ridiculous and deformed,—like to a Satyr or Silenus.  15
  In the Panic terrors there is set forth a very wise doctrine; for by the nature of things all living creatures are endued with a certain fear and dread, the office of which is to preserve their life and essence, and to avoid or repel approaching mischief. But the same nature knows not how to keep just measure—but together with salutary fears ever mingles vain and empty ones; insomuch that all things (if one could see into the heart of them) are quite full of Panic terrors; human things most of all; so infinitely tossed and troubled as they are with superstition (which is in truth nothing but a Panic terror), especially in seasons of hardship, anxiety, and adversity.  16
  With regard to the audacity of Pan in challenging Cupid to fight, it refers to this,—that matter is not without a certain inclination and appetite to dissolve the world and fall back into the ancient chaos; but that the overswaying concord of things (which is represented by Cupid or Love) restrains its will and effort in that direction and reduces it to order. And therefore it is well for man and for the world that in that contest Pan was foiled. The same thing is alluded to in that other circumstance of the catching of Typhon in a net: because however it be that vast and strange swellings (for that is the meaning of Typhon) take place occasionally in nature,—whether of the sea, or the clouds, or the earth, or any other body—nevertheless all such exuberancies and irregularities are by the nature of things caught and confined in an inextricable net, and bound down as with a chain of adamant.  17
  As for the tale that the discovery of Ceres was reserved for this god, and that while he was hunting, and denied to the rest of the gods though diligently and specially engaged in seeking her; it contains a very true and wise admonition—namely that the discovery of things useful to life and the furniture of life, such as corn, is not to be looked for from the abstract philosophies, as it were the greater gods, no not though they devote their whole powers to that special end—but only from Pan; that is from sagacious experience and the universal knowledge of nature, which will often by a kind of accident, and as it were while engaged in hunting, stumble upon such discoveries.  18
  Then again that match in music and the result of it exhibits a wholesome doctrine, fit to restrain and reduce to sobriety the pride and overweening confidence of human reason and judgment. For it seems there are two kinds of harmony and music; one of divine providence, the other of human reason; and to the human judgment, and the ears as it were of mortals, the government of the world and nature, and the more secret judgments of God, sound somewhat harsh and untunable; and though this be ignorance, such as deserves to be distinguished with the ears of an ass, yet those ears are worn secretly and not in the face of the world—for it is not a thing observed or noted as a deformity by the vulgar.  19
  Lastly, it is not to be wondered at that no amours are attributed to Pan, except his marriage with Echo. For the world enjoys itself and in itself all things that are. Now he that is in love wants something, and where there is abundance of everything want can have no place. The world therefore can have no loves, nor any want (being content with itself) unless it be of discourse. Such is the nymph Echo, or, if it be of the more exact and measured kind, Syringa. And it is excellently provided that of all discourses or voices Echo alone should be chosen for the world’s wife. For that is in fact the true philosophy which echoes most faithfully the voice of the world itself, and is written as it were from the world’s own dictation; being indeed nothing else than the image and reflection of it, which it only repeats and echoes, but adds nothing of its own. That the world has no issue, is another allusion to the sufficiency and perfection of it in itself. Generation goes on among the parts of the world, but how can the whole generate, when no body exists out of itself? As for that little woman, Pan’s putative daughter, it is an addition to the fable, with a great deal of wisdom in it: for by her are represented those vain babbling doctrines about the nature of things, which wander abroad in all times and fill the world—doctrines barren in fact, counterfeit in breed, but by reason of their garrulity sometimes entertaining; and sometimes again troublesome and annoying.  20
 
Note 1. For an enlarged version of this fable, see Translation of the “De Augmentis,” Book the Second, Chap. XIII. [back]
 
 
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