Nonfiction > Francis Bacon > Of the Wisdom of the Ancients

Francis Bacon (1561–1626).  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients.  1857.
XII. Cœlum
Or the Origin of Things
IT is a tradition of the poets that Cœlum was the most ancient of all the gods: that his parts of generation were cut off by his son Saturn with a scythe; that Saturn himself begot a numerous progeny, but devoured his sons as fast as they were born; that at last Jupiter escaped this fate, and as soon as he grew up overthrew his father Saturn, cast him into Tartarus, and took possession of his kingdom; also that he cut off his genitals with the same scythe with which he, Saturn, had cut off those of Cœlum, and threw them into the sea; and that from them was born Venus. Afterwards they say that the kingdom of Jupiter, when as yet it was scarcely settled, had to stand the brunt of two memorable wars: the first, the war of the Titans, in the subduing of whom the assistance of the Sun (the only one of the Titans that was on Jupiter’s side) was conspicuous; the second, the war of the Giants, who were likewise by thunder and the arms of Jupiter defeated; and that when these were put down Jupiter reigned afterwards in security.  1
  This fable seems to be an enigma concerning the origin of things, not much differing from the philosophy afterwards embraced by Democritus: who more openly than any one else asserted the eternity of matter, while he denied the eternity of the world; a point in which he came somewhat nearer to the truth as declared in the divine narrative; for that represents matter without form as existing before the six days’ works.  2
  The fable may be explained in this manner. By Cœlum is meant the concave or circumference which encloses all matter. By Saturn is meant matter itself; which, inasmuch as the sum total of matter remains always the same and the absolute quantum of nature suffers neither increase nor diminution, is said to have deprived its parent of all power of generation. Now the agitations and motions of matter produced at first imperfect and ill-compacted structures of things, that would not hold together,—mere attempts at worlds. Afterwards in process of time a fabric was turned out which could keep its form. Of these two divisions of time, the first is meant by the reign of Saturn; who by reason of the frequent dissolutions and short durations of things in his time, was called the devourer of his children: the second, by the reign of Jupiter, who put an end to those continual and transitory changes, and thrust them into Tartarus—that is to say the place of perturbation: which place seems to be midway between the lowest parts of heaven and the innermost parts of the earth: in which middle region perturbation and fragility and mortality or corruption have their chief operation. And while that former system of generation lasted which had place under the reign of Saturn, Venus, according to the story, was not yet born. For so long as in the universal frame of matter discord was stronger than concord and prevailed over it, there could be no change except of the whole together; and in this manner did the generation of things proceed before Saturn was castrated. But as soon as this mode of generation ceased, it was immediately succeeded by that other which proceeds by Venus, and belongs to a state in which, concord being powerful and predominant, change proceeds part by part only, the total fabric remaining entire and undisturbed. Nevertheless Saturn is represented as thrust out and overthrown only, not as cut off and extinguished; because it was the opinion of Democritus that the world might yet relapse into its ancient confusion and intervals of no government: an event which Lucretius prayed might not happen in his own times.
        Which may all-ruling Fortune keep far hence,
And reason teach it, not experience.
  Again, after the world was established and settled in respect of its mass and moving force, yet it did not from the first remain in quiet. For first there followed notable commotions in the heavenly regions; which however, by the power of the Sun predominating in those regions, were so composed that the world survived and kept its state; afterwards in like manner followed convulsions in the lower regions, by inundations, tempests, winds, earthquakes of more universal character than any we now have; and when these likewise were subdued and dispersed, things settled at last into a more durable state of consent and harmonious operation.  4
  It must be said however of all this, that as there is philosophy in the fable so there is fable in the philosophy. For we know (through faith) that all such speculations are but the oracles of sense which have long since ceased and failed; the world, both matter and fabric, being in truth the work of the Creator.  5

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.