Home  »  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients  »  II. Typhon Francis Bacon (1561–1626).  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients.  1857.

Francis Bacon (1561–1626).  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients.  1857.

II. Typhon

II. Typhon Francis Bacon (1561–1626).  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients.  1857.

THE POETS tell us that Juno being angry that Jupiter had brought forth Pallas by himself without her help, implored of all the gods and goddesses that she also might bring forth something without the help of Jupiter: to which when wearied with her violence and importunity they had assented, she smote the earth, which quaking and opening gave birth to Typhon, a huge and hideous monster. He was given to a serpent by way of foster-father to be nursed. As soon as he was grown up he made war upon Jupiter, whom in the conflict he took prisoner; and bearing him on his shoulders to a remote and obscure region, cut out the sinews of his hands and feet, and carrying them away, left him there helpless and mutilated. Then came Mercury, and having stolen the sinews from Typhon gave them back to Jupiter, who finding his strength restored attacked the monster again. And first he struck him with a thunderbolt, which made a wound the blood whereof engendered serpents; then, as he fell back and fled, threw upon him the mountain Ætna and crushed him beneath the weight.  1
  The fable has been composed in allusion to the variable fortune of kings and the rebellions that occur from time to time in monarchies. For kings and their kingdoms are properly, like Jupiter and Juno, man and wife. But it sometimes happens that the king, depraved by the long habit of ruling, turns tyrant and takes all into his own hands; and not caring for the consent of his nobles and senate, brings forth as it were by himself; that is to say, administers the government by his own arbitrary and absolute authority. Whereat the people aggrieved endeavour on their part to set up some head of their own. This generally begins with the secret solicitation of nobles and great persons, whose connivency being obtained, an attempt is then made to stir the people. Thence comes a kind of swelling in the State, which is signified by the infancy of Typhon. And this condition of affairs is fostered and nourished by the innate depravity and malignant disposition of the common people, which is to kings like a serpent full of malice and mischief; till the disaffection spreading and gathering strength breaks out at last into open rebellion; which because of the infinite calamities it inflicts both on kings and peoples is represented under the dreadful image of Typhon, with a hundred heads, denoting divided powers; flaming mouths, for devastations by fire; belts of snakes, for the pestilences which prevail, especially in sieges; iron hands, for slaughters; eagle’s talons, for rapine; feathery body, for perpetual rumours, reports, trepidations, and the like. And sometimes these rebellions grow so mighty that the king is forced, as if carried off on the shoulders of the rebels, to abandon the seat and principal cities of his kingdom, and to contract his forces, and betake himself to some remote and obscure province; his sinews both of money and majesty being cut off. And yet if he bears his fortune wisely, he presently by the skill and industry of Mercury recovers those sinews again; that is to say, by affability and wise edicts and gracious speeches he reconciles the minds of his subjects, and awakens in them an alacrity to grant him supplies, and so recovers the vigour of his authority. Nevertheless, having learned prudence and caution, he is commonly unwilling to set all upon the toss of fortune, and therefore avoids a pitched battle, but tries first by some memorable exploit to destroy the reputation of the rebels: in which if he succeed, the rebels feeling themselves shaken and losing their confidence, resort first to broken and empty threats, like serpent’s hisses, and then finding their case desperate take to flight. And then is the time, when they are beginning to fall to pieces, for the king with the entire forces and mass of his kingdom, as with the mountain Ætna, to pursue and overwhelm them.  2