Nonfiction > Francis Bacon > Of the Wisdom of the Ancients
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Francis Bacon (1561–1626).  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients.  1857.
 
XVII. Cupid
Or the Atom
 
THE ACCOUNTS given by the poets of Cupid, or Love, are not properly applicable to the same person; yet the discrepancy is such that one may see where the confusion is and where the similitude, and reject the one and receive the other.  1
  They say then that Love was the most ancient of all the gods; the most ancient therefore of all things whatever, except Chaos, which is said to have been coeval with him; and Chaos is never distinguished by the ancients with divine honour or the name of a god. This Love is introduced without any parent at all; only, that some say he was an egg of Night. And himself out of Chaos begot all things, the gods included. The attributes which are assigned to him are in number four: he is always an infant; he is blind; he is naked; he is an archer. There was also another Love, the youngest of all the gods, son of Venus, to whom the attributes of the elder are transferred, and whom in a way they suit.  2
  The fable relates to the cradle and infancy of nature, and pierces deep. This Love I understand to be the appetite or instinct of primal matter; or to speak more plainly, the natural motion of the atom; which is indeed the original and unique force that constitutes and fashions all things out of matter. Now this is entirely without parent; that is, without cause. For the cause is as it were parent of the effect; and of this virtue there can be no cause in nature (God always excepted): there being nothing before it, therefore no efficient; nor anything more original in nature, therefore neither kind nor form. Whatever it be therefore, it is a thing positive and inexplicable. And even if it were possible to know the method and process of it, yet to know it by way of cause is not possible; it being, next to God, the cause of causes—itself without cause. That the method even of its operation should ever be brought within the range and comprehension of human inquiry, is hardly perhaps to be hoped; with good reason therefore it is represented as an egg hatched by night. Such certainly is the judgment of the sacred philosopher, when he says, He hath made all things beautiful according to their seasons; also he hath submitted the world to man’s inquiry, yet so that man cannot find out the work which God worketh from the beginning to the end. For the summary law of nature, that impulse of desire impressed by God upon the primary particles of matter which makes them come together, and which by repetition and multiplication produces all the variety of nature, is a thing which mortal thought may glance at, but can hardly take in.  3
  Now the philosophy of the Greeks, which in investigating the material principles of things is careful and acute, in inquiring the principles of motion, wherein lies all vigour of operation, is negligent and languid; and on the point now in question seems to be altogether blind and babbling; for that opinion of the Peripatetics which refers the original impulse of matter to privation, is little more than words—a name for the thing rather than a description of it. And those who refer it to God, though they are quite right in that, yet they ascend by a leap and not by steps. For beyond all doubt there is a single and summary law in which nature centres and which is subject and subordinate to God; the same in fact which in the text just quoted is meant by the words, The work which God worketh from the beginning to the end. Democritus considered the matter more deeply; and having first given the atom some dimension and shape, attributed to it a single desire or primary motion simply and absolutely, and a second by comparison. For he thought that all things move by their proper nature towards the centre of the world; but that that which has more matter, moving thither faster, strikes aside that which has less, and forces it to go the other way. This however was but a narrow theory, and framed with reference to too few particulars: for it does not appear that either the motion of the heavenly bodies in circle, or the phenomena of contraction and expansion, can be reduced to this principle, or reconciled with it. As for Epicurus’s opinion of the declination and fortuitous agitation of the atom, it is a relapse to trifling and ignorance. So it is but too plain that the parentage of this Cupid is wrapped in night.  4
  Let us now consider his attributes. He is described with great elegance as a little child, and a child for ever; for things compounded are larger and are affected by age; whereas the primary seeds of things, or atoms, are minute and remain in perpetual infancy.  5
  Most truly also is he represented as naked: for all compounds (to one that considers them rightly) are masked and clothed; and there is nothing properly naked, except the primary particles of things.  6
  The blindness likewise of Cupid has an allegorical meaning full of wisdom. For it seems that this Cupid, whatever he be, has very little providence; but directs his course, like a blind man groping, by whatever he finds nearest; which makes the supreme divine Providence all the more to be admired, as that which contrives out of subjects peculiarly empty and destitute of providence, and as it were blind, to educe by a fatal and necessary law all the order and beauty of the universe.  7
  His last attribute is archery: meaning that this virtue is such as acts at a distance: for all operation at a distance is like shooting an arrow. Now whoever maintains the theory of the atom and the vacuum (even though he suppose the vacuum not to be collected by itself but intermingled through space), necessarily implies the action of the virtue of the atom at a distance: for without this no motion could be originated, by reason of the vacuum interposed; but all things would remain fixed and immovable.  8
  As for that younger Cupid, it is with reason that he is reported to be the youngest of the gods; since until the species were constituted he could have no operation. In the description of him the allegory changes its aim and passes to morals. And yet there remains a certain conformity between him and the elder Cupid. For Venus excites the general appetite of conjunction and procreation; Cupid, her son, applies the appetite to an individual object. From Venus therefore comes the general disposition, from Cupid the more exact sympathy. Now the general disposition depends upon causes near at hand, the particular sympathy upon principles more deep and fatal, and as if derived from that ancient Cupid, who is the source of all exquisite sympathy.  9
 
 
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