“The Sphinx” by Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

“The Sphinx” by Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

  • The Sphinx was a mythological creature – part woman, part bird, part griffin, living on a mountain near Thebes
    • She ambushed travelers forcing them to answer riddles she got from the muses
    • If they didn’t answer correctly, she’d rip them to pieces
    • If one did, he’d be king of Thebes
    • Oedipus was able to answer: what animal has 4 feet, then 2, then 3, then 4 again?
      • He answered: Man. 4 as a baby crawling, 2 as a man walking, 3 as an old man with a cane, 4 as a man on his deathbed
        • He became king & killed the Sphinx
  • Sphinx is a metaphor for science
    • Monstrous to the ignorant & unskilled, many-shaped
      • Woman – beautiful & capable of speech
      • Wings – able to fly around whenever
      • Claws – elegant with axioms & arguments to penetrate & hold onto the mind so it can’t escape
      • Living in the mountains – high lofty position, highly esteemed
      • Infests roads – every way to travel is plagued by it
      • Riddles – asks everyone hard questions we are free to ponder but need to act on
        • If unsolved, the result is cruel – tormenting the mind with worry – distract & lacerate the mind if unsolved
        • If solved, you will be master of your own dome
  • 2 types of riddles:
    • On nature of things – bodies, medicines, mechanics, infinity – to be master of physics & philosophy
    • On nature of man – to master dealing with people
  • The fable said once conquered, the body of the Sphinx was laid over the back of an ass.
    • Once thoroughly understood, could be understood & published that any dull wit can get it or carry once mastered by a genius

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