Henry Peacham (1638) The Valley of Varietie, Chapter X, pp. 86-96.

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The extreme Madnesse, and vaine Pride of some great Persons in former Ages.

Well knowne is that sentence of Plautus, Decent secundas fortunas superbiæ; Pride becommeth a prosperous Fortune. But many, the more mighty and potent they are, so much the more basely and folishly they abuse their greatnesse; whereof I will give you some examples; as Xerxes that most famous Monarch of the Persians, was in his time, the greatest Prince in the world; so for his ridiculous folly, hee surpassed, and bare away the Palme from all other. Of whom, thus writeth Herodotus:1 When he heard that the Hellespont from Asia, joyned it selfe to Europe, taking it in a high disdaine, hee commanded three hundred blowes to be given (by striking) to the Hellespont, and a paire of Fetters to be cast downe into the bottome of that Sea. And I have heard (saith Herodotus) that hee sent to brand, or burne the said Sea with a hot iron; but most true it is, hee caused it to be soundly box'd and beaten, uttering these barbarous and franticke words; Oh bitter Water, thy King and Lord inflicts this punishment upon thee, because thou hast wronged him who never deserved ill at thy hands: but K. Xerxes in despite of thee, will turne thee another way; thou seest no man sacrificeth unto thee, because thou art a deceitfull and bitter streame. Whereto agreeth2 Plutarch,saying, Xerxes branded the Sea, and extremely beat the same. Moreover, hee sent this Letter and Message to the great Mountaine Atho; Divine Atho, thou that touchest Heaven with thy top, see that thou yeeldest no huge and intractable stones to hinder my workes; if thou dost, I will dig thee up, and throw thee into the Sea.

The like madnesse among the Romanes, possessed Lucullus, who cast huge stones into the Sea, and by undermining Mountaines, let it into the maine Land: whereupon, very wittily, Pompey called him Xerxes togatus. C. Caligula grew very angry with Heaven, because it blew, and stormed upon certaine Stage-players (whom himselfe rather imitated, than beheld) and because at a Feast, hee was affrighted with Lightning, he challenged the field of Iupiter, to fight with him hand to hand, uttering aloud (beholding heaven) that verse of Homer, ἢ μ᾽ἀνάειρ᾽ ἠ εγὼ σὲ, that is, Take my life, or else I will have thine. Afterward, when hee saw hee could doe Iupiter no harme, hee would make himselfe Iupiter (as Dio and Suetonius write in his life) and imitated him in all his lustfull actions; for first hee committed Incest with his owne Sisters, as Iupiter did with Iuno, who being his Sister, he kept as his Wife: then hee followed him in all other his adulteries and whoredomes, imitating him onely in his vices, since hee could not in his vertues; so that truly it may be said of him, as Iuvenal (and I suppose of him) speaketh:3

—nihil est quod credere de se,
Non poßit, si conlubeat Dîs æqua potestas.

This same Monster of Nature also feigned, that he was crowned by the hands of Victorie her selfe; and that hee did court and kisse the Moone, imbracing her at his pleasure; and one day in the presence of Vitellius, hee affirmed that hee had carnall knowledge of her: withall asked Vitellius, if hee saw him not when hee committed the act? Vitellius wittily and pleasantly replied, No indeed Sir, you Gods doe all within your selves, without the knowledge of Mortals. This reporteth Xiphilinus; adding beside, That hee made artificiall engines to resemble Thunder, and to cast out fire, that hee might in all things resemble Iupiter. And this Historie following, Athenæus, lib. 12. recordeth out of Theopompus. Cotys, a certaine King of Thracia, who for a dissolute life, and Epicurisme, gave place to no man alive; one time he thought himselfe worthy, in marriage to match with Minerva, and was verily perswaded, that the Goddesse would yeeld unto his lustfull desire: there having made a most sumptuous Banquet, and prepared a most delicate bed in a goodly Chamber, richly furnished with whatsoever appertaining to State, being well gone in drinke, hee waited for the comming of Minerva; but having stayed long for her, and shee not appearing, hee sent one of his Guard to see whether she were come into the Chamber, or no: when hee told the King, shee was not yet come, the King shot him to death with Arrowes: then sent he another, who brought the same Message, and him hee slew in like manner: then a third went, who being terrified by the example of his fellowes, brought word the Goddesse was there, and expected him. Rhianus a Greek Poet, very ingeniously scoffed this his folly, translated since by Henricus Stephanus, that famous Scholler and Printer, into Latine, which were too long to recite.

Lopez de Gomara saith, that the Kings of Mexico, when they were consecrated, or crowned, used to take their Oath after this manner: I sweare that the Sunne, during my life, shall hold on his course, shall keepe his wonted glorie and brightnesse, that the Clouds shall send downe Raine, the Rivers shall run, and the Earth shall bring forth all manner of Fruit. These proud Princes should have done better, and wiser, if they had imitated the example of King Canutus, the Dane, sometime King of England, as it is reported by Henry of Huntingdon: who, tooke off a flattering Parasite (when he told him, all things through his Dominions, were at his becke and command) after this manner, Canutus causing a Chaire to be set upon the Sea shore, wherein being set, hee said to the Sea, flowing fast towards him, Thou belongest unto mee, and the Land, upon which I now sit, is mine owne; neither is there any whosoever that obeyes mee not, shall escape unpunished: I command thee therfore (thou Sea) that thou commest up no higher into my Land, nor that thou presumest once to wet thy Masters Legges or Garments. But the Sea, keeping his ordinarie course, without duty or reverence, washed both his Legges and Gowne. He then leaping backe, said, Let all the Inhabitants of the world know, that the power of Kings is frivolous and vaine; neither is there any mortall man worthie the name of a King, but he to whose becke, Heaven, Earth and Sea, by his lawes eternall, are obedient. Neither did Canutus, after this time, weare a crown.

Extreme was the madnesse of Attilas, King of the Goths, (as Olaus writes in his life) who, after hee had overcome Ætius and Thrasimundus his enemies, uttered this proud saying, That now the Starres were ready to fall before him; now the earth trembled, and that himselfe was the Maule, or Hammer of the whole World: and after hee grew to that arrogancie, that hee commanded The Scourge of God to be added to his Title, himselfe to be so called, and written in all his Letters and Proclamations whatsoever.


1. Herodot. lib. 7.[35; Peacham tells the story rather oddly, and very misleadingly.]

2. Libello de cohibenda ira. [This note is placed wrongly, opposite "K. Xerxes in despite of thee", in 1638 text. The passage in question, from Holland's translation, p. 121:

As for Xerxes, he stucke not to whip, to lash and scourge the sea, and to the mountaine Athos he sent his minatorie letters in this forme; Thou wretched and wicked Athos, that bearest up thy head aloft into the skie; see thou bring foorth no great craggie stones, I advise thee, for my works, and such as be hard to be cut and wrought: otherwise, if thou doe, I shall cut thee through and tumble thee into the maine sea. ]

3. Satyra 4. [70-71]

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