Nonfiction > Francis Bacon > Of the Wisdom of the Ancients
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Francis Bacon (1561–1626).  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients.  1857.
 
V. Styx
Or Treaties
 
IT is a very common tradition that of the one oath by which the gods bound themselves when they meant to leave no room for repentance; and finds a place in a great many fables. In that case they invoked in witness, not any majesty of heaven or any divine attribute, but Styx; a river in the infernal regions which with many windings encircled the palace of Dis. This form of oath alone, and no other, was held to be sure and inviolable: the penalty of breaking it being one which the deities most dreaded,—namely that the breaker should for a certain period of years be excluded from the banquets of the gods.  1
  The fable seems to have been invented in allusion to treaties and compacts of princes: in respect of which it is but too true that whatever be the solemnity and sanctity of the oath they are confirmed with, yet they are little to be depended on; insomuch that they are used in fact rather with an eye to reputation and fame and ceremony, than for confidence and security and effect. And even when the ties of relationship (which are as the sacraments of nature) or of mutual good services come in to aid, yet in most cases all are too weak for ambition and interest and the licence of power: the rather because princes can always find plenty of plausible pretexts (not being accountable to any arbiter) wherewith to justify and veil their cupidity and bad faith. There is adopted therefore but one true and proper pledge of faith; and it is not any celestial divinity. This is Necessity (the great god of the powerful), and peril of state, and communion of interest. Now Necessity is elegantly represented under the figure of Styx; the fatal river across which no man can return. This is the deity which Iphicrates the Athenian invoked to witness treaties; and since he was one that spoke out plainly what most men think and keep to themselves, his words are worth quoting. Finding that the Lacedæmonians were devising and propounding various cautions and sanctions and securities and bonds to hold the treaty fast, There is only one bond and security (said he, interrupting them) that can hold between you and us:—you must prove that you have yielded so much into our hands that you cannot hurt us if you would. And so it is that if the means of hurting be taken away, or if a breach of the treaty would endanger the existence or the integrity of the state and revenue,—then the treaty may be considered to be ratified and sanctioned and confirmed as by the oath of Styx: for then it is upon peril of being interdicted from the banquets of the gods; which was the ancient expression for the rights and prerogatives of empire, and wealth, and felicity.  2
 
 
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