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

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

IV. Narcissus

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

NARCISSUS is said to have been a young man of wonderful beauty, but intolerably proud, fastidious, and disdainful. Pleased with himself and despising all others, he led a solitary life in the woods and hunting-grounds; with a few companions to whom he was all in all; followed also wherever he went by a nymph called Echo. Living thus, he came by chance one day to a clear fountain, and (being in the heat of noon) lay down by it; when beholding in the water his own image, he fell into such a study and then into such a rapturous admiration of himself, that he could not be drawn away from gazing at the shadowy picture, but remained rooted to the spot till sense left him; and at last he was changed into the flower that bears his name; a flower which appears in the early spring; and is sacred to the infernal deities,—Pluto, Proserpine, and the Furies.  1
  In this fable are represented the dispositions, and the fortunes too, of those persons who from consciousness either of beauty or some other gift with which nature unaided by any industry of their own has graced them, fall in love as it were with themselves. For with this state of mind there is commonly joined an indisposition to appear much in public or engage in business; because business would expose them to many neglects and scorns, by which their minds would be dejected and troubled. Therefore they commonly live a solitary, private, and shadowed life; with a small circle of chosen companions, all devoted admirers, who assent like an echo to everything they say, and entertain them with mouth-homage; till being by such habits gradually depraved and puffed up, and besotted at last with self-admiration, they fall into such a sloth and listlessness that they grow utterly stupid, and lose all vigour and alacrity. And it was a beautiful thought to choose the flower of spring as an emblem of characters like this: characters which in the opening of their career flourish and are talked of, but disappoint in maturity the promise of their youth. The fact too that this flower is sacred to the infernal deities contains an allusion to the same thing. For men of this disposition turn out utterly useless and good for nothing whatever; and anything that yields no fruit, but like the way of a ship in the sea passes and leaves no trace, was by the ancients held sacred to the shades and infernal gods.  2