on Title-Page of Bacon's 1641 Wisdom of the Ancients
The illustration depicts Pallas Athena (Minerva) seated on a small stage;the stage of the Mysteries, over which she and her male counterpart, Apollo, preside. In her right hand she holds her famous spear (her name means literally 'Spear Shaker' or 'Shake-Spear'), whilst her left hand rests on the top of her polished shield. She wears her aegis or breastplate and her plumed helmet, symbol of illumination. Manufactured for her by Pluto, god of the Underworld, it is this helmet which she bestows on all her heroes who attain the quest, who thereby become 'Knights of the Helmet'. Representing their illumination, it also signifies secrecy and invisibility. The name William, or Will-helm, is derived from this symbolism.
Inscribed on Athena's shield is a Latin motto, 'Obscuris vera involvens', meaning 'Truth is enveloped in obscurity', which explains the imagery on the shield the central sun representing truth and the surrounding clouds obscurity. Above Athena's head are three lamps, each burning with a lighted candle, signifying the Holy Trinity. The Latin motto associated with them, written on a scroll hovering directly over the goddess' head, reads 'Sic fulget in umbras', which translates as 'Thus it shines in the shadows';a hint that the light of truth shines in the shadows of the world in an obscured and veiled way. This way is shown here as associated with the stage, the theatre of the Mysteries, on which the allegorical dramas of life were enacted in classical times under the auspices of the goddess Pallas Athena, the archetypal 'Shake-speare'. This was the primary method of education, by means of which the Ancient Wisdom was taught.
-Richard de Bury, High Chancellor of England, A Vindication of [Epic or Dramatic] Poetry.
Bacon, a great admirer of the theatre for such purposes, who invariably put into practice whatever he thought was useful for the good of humanity, said he was going the way of the ancients. He was even referred to as Athena by his literary contemporaries.
If none but the worthy should mourn your death, O Bacon! none, trust me, none will there be. Lament now sincerely, O Clio! and sisters of Clio! Ah, the tenth Muse and glory of the choir has perished. Ah, never before has Apollo himself been truly unhappy!
Bacon.... a muse more rare than the nine Muses.
-Samuel Collins, Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 2.
© Peter Dawkins, FBRT, 1999
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