BACON, Sir Francis.
De Sapientia Veterum.London, Johannem Bilium, 1617
12mo. Pp. (xiv) 130. Italic letter. Text with printed line border. Tp square ornamental woodcut, ornamental head pieces, floriated initials. Light age yellowing, little ink spots to corner of tp, light water stain towards foot of final gathering. A good, clean, well margined copy in attractive contemporary vellum, double ruled in blind, title elegantly recorded on spine, original eps present, new pastedown and ep added.
Second edition of this important essay by Sir Francis Bacon which sought to expound the hidden practical meanings embodied in ancient myths. Bacon described this work in 1610 as “a little work of mine that hath begun to pass the world. They tell me my Latin is turned into silver, and become current” ( Anna-Maria Hartmann, ‘A little work of mine that hath begun to pass the world’: The Italian Translation of Francis Bacon’s De Sapientia Veterum, 2010). It went through several editions. George Sandys praises Bacon as the one of the great mythographers in his ‘Ovid’s Metamorphosis englished, mythologiz’d, and represented in figures’, 1632. Bacon was an English philosopher and statesman who wrote and published prolifically. He was a passionate humanist, and studied Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge. The work comprises 31 classical myths, and Bacon suggests the intended deeper meanings for each.
For example, in ‘The Sirens’ he attempts to upturn the common supposition that knowledge and the conformity of the will (knowing and acting) are interchangeable terms. He stated, in his essay on Custom and Education, that “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 accustomed; Aesop’s Damsel, transformed from a cat to a woman, sat very demurely at the board-end until a mouse ran before her.” In the Sirens he affirms these views. He states “The habitation of the Sirens was in a certain pleasant island, 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 afflictions be manifest and eminent, yet they do not sufficiently deter us from the wicked enticements of pleasure.”
The author of Bacon’s life in the Biographica Brittanica wrote on this work “That he might relieve himself a little from the severity of these studies, and, as it were, amuse himself with erecting a magnificent pavilion, while his great palace of philosophy was building, he composed and sent abroad, in 1610, his celebrated treatise of the Wisdom of the Ancients, in which he showed that none had studied them more closely, was better acquainted with their beauties, or had pierced deeper into their meaning. There have been very few books published, either in this or any other nation, which either deserved or met with more general applause than this, and scarce any that are like to retain it longer, for in this performance Sir Francis Bacon gave a singular proof of his capacity to please all parties in literature, as in his political conduct he stood fair with all the parties in the nation. The admirers of antiquity were charmed with this discourse, which seems expressly calculated to justify their admiration; and, on the other hand, their opposites were no less pleased with a piece from which they thought they could demonstrate that the sagacity of a modern genius had found out much better meanings for the ancients than ever were meant by them.”ESTC S100336; Lowndes Vol 1 95; Gibson 86.