Chap. XVII.

Of some others.

1. WE ARE sad when we reade the story of Belisarius that worthy Cheiftain of Justinian; who, after his Victories over the Vandals, Goths, Persians, and his Trophies in three parts of the World, had at last his eyes put out by the Emperour, and was reduced to that distress, that he begged relief on the high-way, in that uncomfortable petition, Date obolum Belisario. And this we do not only hear in Discourses, Orations and Themes, but find it also in the leaves of Petrus Crinitus, Volaterranus and other worthy Writers.

But, what may somewhat consolate all men that honour vertue, we do not discover the latter Scene of his misery in Authors of Antiquity, or such as have expresly delivered the story of those times. For, Suidas is silent herein, Cedrenus and Zonaras, two grave and punctual Authors, delivering only the confiscation of his goods, omit the History of his mendication. Paulus Diaconus goeth farther, not only passing over this act, but affirming his goods and dignities were restored. Agathius who lived at the same time, declareth he suffered much from the envy of the Court: but that he descended thus deep into affliction, is not to be gathered from his pen. The same is also omitted by Procopius a contemporary and professed enemy unto Justinian and Belisarius, and who hath left an opprobrius book1 against them both.

And in this opinion and hopes we are not single, but Andreas Alciatus the Civilian in his Parerga, and Franciscus de Cordua in his Didascalia, have both declaratorily confirmed the same, which is also agreeable unto the judgement of Nicolaus Alemannus, in his notes upon that bitter History of Procopius. Certainey, sad and Tragical stories are seldom drawn within the circle of their verities; but as their Relators do either intend the hatred or pitty of the persons, so are they set forth with additional amplifications. Thus have some suspected it hath happened unto the story of Oedipus; and thus do we conceive it hath fared with that of Judas, who having sinned beyond aggravation, and committed one villany which cannot be exasperated by all other: is also charged with the murther of his reputed brother, parricide of his father, and Incest with his own mother, as Florilegus or Matthew of Westminster hath at large related.[2] And thus hath it perhaps befallen the noble Belisarius; who, upon instigation of the Empress, having contrived the exile, and very hardly treated Pope Serverius, Latin pens, as a judgment of God upon this fact, have set forth his future sufferings: and omitting nothing of amplification, they have also delivered this: which notwithstanding Johannes the Greek, makes doubtful, as may appear from his Jambicks in Baronius, and might be a mistake or misapplication, translating the affliction of one man upon another, for the same befell unto Johannes Cappadox, contemporary unto Belisarius, and in great favour with Justinian; who being afterward banished into Egypt, was fain to beg relief on the high-way.3

2. That fluctus Decumanus, or the tenth wave is greater and more dangerous then any other, some no doubt will be offended if we deny; and hereby we shall seem to contradict Antiquity; for, answerable unto the literal and common acception, the same is averred by many Writers, and plainly described by Ovid.

Qui venit hic fluxtus, fluctus supereminet omnes,
Posterior nono est, undecimoq; prior.

Which notwithstanding is evidently false; nor can it be made out by observation either upon the shore or the Ocean, as we have with diligence explored in both. And surely in vain we expect a regularity in the waves of the Sea, or in the particular motions thereof, as we may in its general reciprocations whose causes are constant, and effects therefore correspondent. Whereas its fluctuations are but motions subservient; which winds, storms, shores, shelves, and every interjacency irregulates. With semblable reason we might expect a regularity in the winds; whereof though some be statary, some anniversary, and the rest do tend to determinate points of heaven, yet do the blasts and undulary breaths thereof maintain no certainty in their course; nor are they numerally feared by Navigators.

Of affinity hereto is that conceit of Ovum Decumanum, so called, because the tenth egg is bigger then any other, according unto the reason alledged by Festus, Decumana ova dicuntur, quia ovum decimum majus nascitur. For the honour we bear unto the Clergy, we cannot but wish this true: but herein will be found no more of verity than in the other: and surely few will assent hereto without an implicite credulity, or Pythagorical submission unto every conception of number.

For, surely the conceit is numeral, and though not in the sense apprehended, relateth unto the number of ten, as Franciscus Sylvius hath most probably declared. For, whereas amongst simple numbers or Digits, the number of ten is the greatest: therefore whatsoever was the greatest in every kind, might in some sense be named from this number. Now, because also that which was the greatest, was metaphorically by some at first called Decumanus; therefore whatsoever passed under this name, was literally conceived by others to respect and make good this number.

The conceit is also Latin; for the Greeks to express the greatest wave, do use the number of three, that is, the word τρικυμία, which is a concurrence of three waves in one, whence arose the proverb, τρικυμία κακῶν, or a trifluctuation of evils,[4] which Erasmus doth render, Malorum fluctus Decumanus. And thus, although the terms be very different, yet are they made to signifie the self-same thing; the number of ten to explain the number of three, and the single number of one wave the collective occurrence of more.

3. The poyson of Parysatis reported from Ctesias by Plutarch in the life of Artaxerxes, whereby annointing a knife on the one side, and therewith dividing a bird; with the one half she poysoned Statira, and safely fed her self on the other, was certainly a very subtile one, and such as our ignorance is well content it knows not. But surely we had discovered a poyson that would not endure Pandoras box, could we be satisfied in that which for its coldness nothing could contain but an Asses hoof, and wherewith some report that Alexander the great was poysoned. Had men derived so strange an effect from some occult or hidden qualities, they might have silenced contradiction; but ascribing it unto the manifest and open qualities of cold, they must pardon our belief; who perceive the coldest and most Stygian waters may be included in glasses; and by Aristotle who saith, that glass is the perfectest work of Art, we understand they were not then to be invented.

And though it be said that poyson will break a Venice glass, yet have we not met with any of that nature.[5] Were there a truth herein, it were the best preservative for Princes and persons exalted unto such fears: and surely far better than divers now in use. And though the best of China dishes, and such as the Emperour doth use, be thought by some of infallible vertue unto this effect; yet will they not, I fear, be able to elude the mischief of such intentions. And though also it be true, that God made all things double, and that if we look upon the works of the most High, there are two and two, one against another; that one contrary hath another, and poyson is not without a poyson unto it self; yet hath the curse so far prevailed, or else our industry defected, that poysons are better known than their Antidotes, and some thereof do scarce admit of any. And lastly, although unto every poyson men have delivered many Antidotes, and in every one is promised an equality unto its adversary, yet do we often find they fail in their effects: Moly will not resist a weaker cup then that of Circe;[6] a man may be poysoned in a Lemnian dish;[7] without the miracle of John, there is no confidence in the earth of Paul;8 and if it be meant that no poyson could work upon him, we doubt the story, and expect no such success from the diet of Mithridates.[9]

4. A story there passeth of an Indian King, that sent unto Alexander a fair woman fed with Aconites and other poysons, with this intent, either by converse or copulation complexionally to destroy him. For my part, although the design were true, I should have doubted the success.[10] For, though it be possible that poysons may meet with tempers whereto they may become Aliments, and we observe from fowls that feed on fishes, and others fed with garlick and onyons, that simple aliments are not always concocted beyond their vegetable qualities; and therefore that even after carnall conversion, poysons may yet retain some portion of the natures; yet are they so refracted, cicurated and subdued, as not to make good their first and destructive malignities. And therefore the Stork that eateth Snakes, and the Stare that feedeth upon Hemlock, though no commendable aliments, are not destructive poysons.[11] For, animals that can inoxiously digest these poisons become antidotall unto the poyson digested. And therefore whether their breath be attracted, or their flesh ingested, the poysonous reliques go still along with their Antidote: whose society will not permit their malice to be destructive. And therefore also animals that are not mischieved by poysons which destroy us, may be drawn into Antidote against them; the blood or flesh of Storks against the venom of Serpents, the Quail against Hellebore, and the diet of Starlings against the draught of Socrates.12 Upon like grounds are some parts of Animals Alexipharmacall unto others; and some veins of the earth, and also whole regions, not only destroy the life of venemous creatures, but also prevent their productions.[13] For, though perhaps they containe the seminals of Spiders, and Scorpions, and such as in other earths by suscitation of the Sun may arise unto animation; yet lying under command of their Antidote, without hope of emergency they are poysoned in their matrix by powers easily hindring the advance of their originals, whose confirmed forms they are able to destroy.

5. The story of the wandring Jew is very strange, and will hardly obtain belief; yet is there a formall account thereof set down by Matthew Paris, from the report of an Armenian Bishop; who came into this kingdom about four hundred years ago, and had often entertained this wanderer at his Table. That he was then alive, was first called Cartaphilus, was keeper of the Judgement Hall, whence thrusting out our Saviour with expostulation pf his stay, was condemned to stay untill his return;14 was after baptized by Ananias, and by the name of Joseph; was thirty years old in the dayes of our Saviour, remembred the Saints that arised with him, the making of the Apostles Creed, and their several peregrinations. Surely were this true, he might be an happy arbitrator in many Christian controversies; but must impardonably condemn the obstinacy of the Jews, who can contemn the Rhetorick of such miracles, and blindly behold so living and lasting conversions.

6. Clearer confirmations must be drawn for the history of Pope Joan,[15] who succeeded Leo the fourth, and preceding Benedict the third, then any we yet discover. And since it is delivered with aiunt and ferunt by many; since the learned Leo Allatius16 hath discovred, that ancient copies of Martinus Polonus, who is chiefly urged for it, had not this story in it; since not only the stream of Latine Historians have omitted it, but Photius the Patriarch, Metrophanes Smyrnæus, and the exasperated Greeks have made no mention of it, but conceded Benedict the third to bee Successor unto Leo the fourth; he wants not grounds that doubts it.

Many things historicall which seem of clear concession, want not affirmations and negations, according to divided pens: as is notoriously observable in the story of Hildebrand or Gregory the seventh, repugnantly delivered by the Imperiall and Papal party. In such divided records partiality hath much depraved history, wherein if the equity of the reader do not correct the iniquity of the writer, he will be much confounded with repugnancies, and often finde in the same person, Numa and Nero. In things of this nature moderation must intercede; and so charity may hope, that Roman Readers will construe many passages in Bolsech, Fayus, Schlusselberg and Cochlæus.17

7. Every ear is filled with the story of Frier Bacon,[18] that made a brazen head to speak these words, Time is. Which though there want not the like relations, is surely too literally received, and was but a mystical fable concerning the Philosophers great work, wherein he eminently laboured: implying no more by the copper head, then the vessel wherein it was wrought; and by the words it spake, then the opportunity to be watched, about the Tempus ortus, or birth of the mystical child, or Philosophical King of Lullius: the rising of the Terra foliata of Arnoldus, when the earth sufficiently impregnated with the water, ascendeth white and splendent. Which not observed, the work is irrecoverably lost; according to that of Petrus Bonus.19 Ibi est operis perfectio aut annihilatio; quoniam ipsa die, immo horâ, oriuntur elementa simplicia depurata, quæ egent statim compositione, antequam volent ab igne.

Now letting slip this critical opportunity, he missed the intended treasure. Which had he obtained, he might have made out the tradition of making a brazen wall about England. That is, the most powerfull defence, and strongest fortification, which Gold could have effected.

8. Who can but pity the vertuous Epicurus, who is commonly conceived to have placed his chief felicity in pleasure and sensual delights, and hath therefore left an infamous name behinde him? How true, let them determine who read that he lived seventy years, and wrote more books then any Philosopher but Chrysippus, and no less then three hundred, without borrowing from any Author. That he was contented with bread and water, and when he would dine with Jove, and pretend unto epulation, he desired no other addition then a piece of Cytheridian cheese. That shall consider the words of Seneca, Non dico, quod pleriq; nostrorum, sectam Epicuri flagitiorum magistram esse: sed illud dico, male audit, infamis est, & immerito. Or shall read his life, his Epistles, his Testament in Laertius; who plainly names them Calumnies, which are commonly said against them.

The ground hereof seems a mis-apprehension of his opinion, who placed his Felicity not in the pleasures of the body, but the minde, and tranquillity thereof, obtained by wisdom and vertue, as is clearly determined in his Epistle unto Menæceus. Now how this opinion was first traduced by the Stoicks, how it afterwards became a common belief, and so taken up by Authors of all ages, by Cicero, Plutarch, Clemens, Ambrose and others; the learned pen of Gassendus hath discovered.20


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}. Ross on the fluctus decumanus, Arcana Microcosmi II:15.3, says that Browne is troubling himself to no purpose, and then goes on to say pretty much what Browne says, at greater length; and he devotes an entire chapter to a discourse on the iniquities of Epicurus, II:16, which, however, as it consists largely of saying "He's wicked, and Seneca agrees" is perhaps not as helpful as it could be.

1 Ἀνέκδοτα, or Arcana historia. [The story of Belisarius's travails is in Book IV.]

2 [See the Legenda Aurea., Historia de Juda Ischariota, (the story is in the Caxton/Wynken de Worde translation, but doesn't make it into the bowdlerized 1900 edition, and hence isn't on line in English; it's part of the Story of St. Matthew). Wren notes: "Surely yf these had been true, St. John, who cals him a theef in plaine termes, [his is, by the way, the only Gospel that calls Judas a thief] would never have concealed such unparallel'd villanyes. They could not be don after his treason, the halter followed that so closely; and had they been don before, neither could he have escaped the laws of Judæa, most severe against such hideous crimes; nor would the Sonne of God have endured the scandal of such a knowne miscreant, much lesse have chosen him among the twelve apostles. Judas deserved as much detestation as his unparaleld and matchless crimes could any way deserve. But no cause of such detestation could be so just, as to produce such prodigious fictions in the writings of Christians: whome the recorded example of the Archangel Michael hath taught not to rayle against, much less to belye the Divel himselfe."]

3 Procop. bell. Persic. 1. Ἄρτον ἡ ὀβολὸν αἰτεῖσθαι.

4 [Jamais deux sans trois.]

5 [Ross, in Arcana, says "Such is the venom of some spiders that they will crack a Venice glass, as I have seen; and Scaliger doth witnesse the same — however the doctor denies it."]

6 [Odyssey X; see also Book II, chapter VI for more on moly.]

7 [Terra sigillata, or earth from Lemnos, renowned as a medicine.]

8 Terra Melitea. [Or Malta; see Acts 28.]

9 [Mithridates ate small doses of various poisons to inure himself to their effects. See Pliny xxv.6.]

10 [Wren: He that remembers how the Portuguez mixing with the women in the eastern islands founde such a hot overmatching complexion in them, that as the son puts out a candle, so it quentcht their hot luste with the cold gripes of deathe; may easilye conceive, without an instance, what a quick effect such venemous spirits make by a contagious transfusion. Nor is there the same danger in eatinge of a duck that feeds on a toade, as in the loathsome copulation with those bodyes, whose touch is formidable as the fome of a mad dog, the touch whereof has been found as deadly to some, as the wounde of his teeth to others.]

11 [On the other hand, numerous insects eat noxious plants that render them either poisonous or distasteful: the monarch butterfly is the best known of these. People may also be poisoned by fish that feed in water polluted with mercury or other chemical byproducts of so-called civilization, not to mention natural poisons.]

12 Hemlock.

13 [Wren: "As Ireland and Crete neither breed nor brooke any venemous creature, which was a providence of God, considering that no creature can be worse then the natives themselves."

To which Wilkin: "Is this remark perfectly in keeping with the character of a Christian minister?"

Browne in the previous chapter seems to cast doubt upon the effect for which he gives a possible cause here, and says for certain that he has seen spiders in Ireland.]

14 Vade, quid morais? Ego vado, tu autem morare donec venio.

15 [See the account in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which concludes with this paragraph:

"Döinger's explanation has met with more general approval ("Papstfabeln", Munich, 1863, 7–45). He recognizes the fable of Popess Joan as a survival of some local Roman folk-tale originally connected with certain ancient monuments and peculiar customs. An ancient statue discovered in the reign of Sixtus V, in a street near the Colosseum, which showed a figure with a child, was popularly considered to represent the popess. In the same street a monument was discovered with an inscription at the end of which occurred the well-known formula P.P.P. (proprie pecuniâ posuit) together with a prefixed name which read: Pap. (?Papirius) pater patrum. This could easily have given origin to the inscription mentioned by Jean de Mailly (see above). It was also observed that the pope did not pass along this street in solemn procession (perhaps on account of its narrowness). Further it was noticed that, on the occasion of his formal inauguration in front of the Lateran Basilica, the newly-elected pope always seated himself on a marble chair. This seat was an ancient bath-stool, of which there were many in Rome; it was merely made use of by the pope to rest himself. But the imagination of the vulgar took this to signify that the sex of the pope was thereby tested, in order to prevent any further instance of a woman attaining to the Chair of St. Peter. Erroneous explanations — such as were often excogitated in the Middle Ages in connection with ancient monuments — and popular imagination are originally responsible for the fable of "Popess Joan" that uncritical chroniclers, since the middle of the thirteenth century, dignified by consigning it to their pages."

"Pope Joan"'s final moments are commemorated in the (unlikely) Latin Papa, pater patrum, peperit Papissa papillum.]

16 Confutatio fabulæ de Ioanna Papissa cum Nihusio.

17 Of Luther, Calvin, Beza.

18 Rog. Bacon minorita Oxoniensis vir doctissimus. [According to some accounts, this story attaches rather to Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, scientist and scholar, whom Roger Bacon admired and praised in his works. For the classic version, see Historie of Frier Bacon.

19 Margarita pretiosa.

20 De vita et moribus Epicuri.

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