Nonfiction > Francis Bacon > Of the Wisdom of the Ancients
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Francis Bacon (1561–1626).  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients.  1857.
 
XXIII. Achelous
Or the Battle
 
THE ANCIENTS relate that when Hercules and Achelous disputed which should marry Deianira, they agreed to decide the question by a fight. Now Achelous began by trying a variety of different shapes, which he was at liberty to do, and presented himself before Hercules at last in the shape of a savage and roaring bull, and so prepared for the combat. Hercules on the other hand retaining his wonted human figure, fell upon him. A close fight followed; the end of which was that Hercules broke off one of the bull’s horns: whereupon he, greatly hurt and terrified, to redeem his own horn gave Hercules the horn of Amalthea, or Abundance, in exchange.  1
  The fable alludes to military expeditions. The preparation for war on the part defensive (which is represented by Achelous) is various and multiform. For the form assumed by the invader is one and simple, consisting of an army only, or perhaps a fleet. Whereas a country preparing to receive an enemy on its own ground sets to work in an infinity of ways; fortifies one town, dismantles another, gathers the people from the fields and villages into cities and fortified places; builds a bridge here, breaks down a bridge there; raises, and distributes, forces and provisions; is busy about rivers, harbours, gorges of hills, woods, and numberless other matters; so that it may be said to try a new shape and put on a new aspect every day; and when at last it is fully fortified and prepared, it represents to the life the form and threatening aspect of a fighting bull. The invader meanwhile is anxious for a battle, and aims chiefly at that; fearing to be left without supplies in an enemy’s country; and if he win the battle, and so break as it were the enemy’s horn, then he brings it to this: that the enemy, losing heart and reputation, must, in order to recover himself and repair his forces, fall back into his more fortified positions, leaving his cities and lands to the conqueror to be laid waste and pillaged; which is indeed like giving him Amalthea’s horn.  2
 
 
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