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Wisdom of the Ancients, was translated into Italian, and dedicated to Cosmo de Medici, by Tobie Mathew; and in the following year the Esays were translated into French by Sir Arthur Gorges, and printed in London.
Wisdom of the Ancients. In the year 1609, as a relaxation from abftrufe speculations, he published in Latin his interesting little Work, De Sapientia Veterum.
This Tract seems, in former times, to have been much valued. The Fables, abounding with a union of deep thought and poetic beauty, are thirty-one in Number, of which a part of The Sirens, or Pleafures, may be selected as a Specimen.
In this Fable he explains the common but erroneous Supposition, that Knowledge and the Conformity of the Will, knowing and acting, are convertible Terms. Of this Error he, in his Essay of Custom and Education, admonishes his Readers, by saying, “ Men's Thoughts are much according to their Inclination; their Discourse and Speeches according to their Learning and infused Opinions, but their Deeds are after as they have been accuftomed; Æsop's Damsel, transformed from a Cat to a Woman, fat very demurely at the board-end till a Mouse ran before her.”_In the Fable of the Sirens he exhibits the same Truth, saying, “The Habitation of the Sirens was in certain pleasant Islands, from whence, as soon as out of their watchtower they discovered any Ships approaching, with their sweet Tunes they would first entice and stay them, and, having them in their power, would destroy them; and, so great were the mischiefs they did, that these Isles of the Sirens, even as far off as man can ken them, appeared all over white with the Bones of unburied Carcasses : by which it is signified that albeit the examples of Africtions be manifest and eminent, yet they do not sufficiently deter us from the wicked Enticements of Pleasure.”
The following is the Account of the different Editions of this work :- The first was published in 1609. In February 27, 1610, Lord Bacon wrote to Mr. Mathew, upon sending his Book De Sapientia Veterum :
« Mr. Mathew,—I do very heartily thank you for your Letter of the 24th of August from Salamanca ; and in Recompence therefore I send you a little Work of mine that hath begun to pass the World. They tell me my Latin is turned into Silver, and become current: had
been here, you should have been my Inquisitor before it came forth ; but, I think, the greatest Inquisitor in Spain will allow it. But one thing you must pardon me if I make no haste to believe, that the World should be grown to such an ecstacy as to reject Truth in Philosophy, because the Author diffenteth in Religion ; no more than they do by Aristotle or Averroes. My great Work goeth forward ; and after my manner, I alter even when I add ; so that nothing is finished till all be finished. This I have written in the midst of a Term and Parliament; thinking no time so possessed, but that I should talk of these matters with so good and dear a Friend.
And so with my wonted Wishes I leave you to God's Goodness.
“ From Gray's Inn, Feb. 27, 1610.”
And in his Letter to Father Fulgentio, giving some account of his Writings, he says, “ My Efsays will not only be enlarged in Number, but still more in Substance. Along with them goes the little Piece De Sapientia Veterum.”
In the Advancement of Learning, he says, “ There remaineth yet another Use of Poefy parabolical, opposite to that which we last mentioned: for that tendeth to demonstrate and illustrate that which is taught or delivered, and this other to retire and obscure it: that is, when the Secrets and Mysteries of Religion, Policy, or Philosophy, are involved in Fables or Parables. Of this in Divine Poely we see the Use is authorized. In Heathen Poefy we see the exposition of Fables doth fall out sometimes with great felicity; as in the Fable that the Giants being overthrown in their War against the Gods, the Earth, their Mother, in revenge thereof brought forth Fame : Illam Terra parens, irâ irritata Deorum, Extremam, ut perhibent, Ceo Enceladoque fororem Progenuit, expounded, that when Princes and Monarchs have suppressed actual and open Rebels, then the Malignity of the People, which is the Mother of Rebellion, doth bring forth Libels and Slanders, and Taxations of the State, which is of the same kind
with Rebellion, but more feminine. So in the Fable, that the rest of the Gods having conspired to bind Jupiter, Pallas called Briareus with his hundred Hands to his aid ; expounded, that Monarchies need not fear any Curbing of their Absoluteness by mighty Subjects, as long as by Wisdom they keep the Hearts of the People, who will be sure to come in on their Side. So in the Fable, that Achilles was brought up under Chiron the Centaur, who was part a Man and part a Beast, expounded ingeniously, but corruptly by Machiavel, that it belongeth to the Education and Discipline of Princes to know as well how to play the part of the Lion in violence, and the Fox in guile, as of the Man in virtue and justice. Nevertheless, in many the like encounters, I do rather think that the Fable was first, and the Exposition then devised, than that the Moral was first, and thereupon the Fable framed. For I find it was an ancient vanity in Chryfippus, that troubled himself with great Contention to fasten the Assertions of the Stoics upon the Fictions of the ancient Poets; but yet that all the Fables and Fictions of the Poets were but pleasure and not figure, I interpose no opinion. Surely of those Poets which are now extant, even Homer himself, (notwithstanding he was made a kind of Scripture by the latter Schools of the Grecians,) yet I should without any dificulty pronounce that his Fables had no such inwardness in his own meaning; but what they might have upon a more original Tradition, is not eafy to affirm ; for he was not the Inventor of
many of them.”
In the treatise De Augmentis, the fame Sentiments will be found with a slight alteration in the expreffions. He says, “ there is another use of Parabolical Poely opposite to the former, which tendeth to the folding up of those things, the Dignity whereof deserves to be retired and distinguished, as with a drawn curtain : that is, when the Secrets and Mysteries of Religion, Policy, and Philosophy are veiled and invested with Fables and Parables. But whether there be any mystical sense couched under the ancient Fables of the Poets, may admit some doubt: and indeed for our part we incline to this opinion, as to think that there was an infused Mystery in many of the ancient Fables of the Poets. Neither doth it move us that these matters are left commonly to Schoolboys and Grammarians, and so are embased, that we should therefore make a flight judgement upon them: but contrariwise, because it is clear that the Writings which recite those Fables, of all the Writings of Men, next to Sacred Writ, are the most ancient : and that the Fables themselves are far more ancient than they (being they are alleged by those Writers, not as excogitated by them, but as credited and recepted before) seem to be like a thin rarefied air, which from the Traditions of more ancient Nations, fell into the Flutes of the Grecians.
Of this Tract, Archbishop Tenison in his Baconiana, says, “In the seventh Place, I may reckon his book De Sapientia Veterum, written by him in Latin, and set forth a second time with enlargement; and translated into English by Sir Arthur