Chegou-me ás mãos, há já alguns dias, a obra Wisdom of the Ancients, de Francis Bacon. Nela, o autor reconta, de uma forma extremamente sucinta, 31 mitos, que depois explica, à semelhança do que sucede em algumas das obras que já foram por cá mencionadas anteriormente. Estes relatos passam não só por mitos sobejamente conhecidos, como o de Dédalo, Prometeu ou Orfeu, mas também por outros menos conhecidos, como o mito de Endimião, Erictônio ou mesmo o de Aqueloo.
A título de exemplo, vejamos então a secção dedicada ao mito de Métis:
THE ancient poets relate that Jupiter took Metis to wife, whose name plainly denotes counsel, and that he, perceiving she was pregnant by him, would by no means wait the time of her delivery, but directly devoured her; whence himself also became pregnant, and was delivered in a wonderful manner; for he from his head or brain brought forth Pallas armed.
EXPLANATION. - This fable, which in its literal sense appears monstrously absurd, seems to contain a state secret, and shows with what art kings usually carry themselves towards their council, in order to preserve their own authority and majesty not only inviolate, but so as to have it magnified and heightened among the people. For kings commonly link themselves as it were in a nuptial bond to their council, and deliberate and communicate with them after a prudent and laudable custom upon matters of the greatest importance, at the same time justly conceiving this no diminution of their majesty; but when the matter once ripens to a decree or order, which is a kind of birth, the king then suffers the council to go on no further, lest the act should seem to depend upon their pleasure. Now, therefore, the king usually assumes to himself whatever was wrought, elaborated, or formed, as it were, in the womb of the council (unless it be a matter of an invidious nature, which he is sure to put from him), so that the decree and the execution shall seem to flow from himself. And as this decree or execution proceeds with prudence and power, so as to imply necessity, it is elegantly wrapt up under the figure of Pallas armed.
Nor are kings content to have this seem the effect of their own authority, free will, and uncontrollable choice, unless they also take the whole honour to themselves, and make the people imagine that, all good and wholesome decrees proceed entirely from their own head, that is, their own sole prudence and judgment.
(Citação da obra original. Quem quiser ter acesso a ela pode fazê-lo, por exemplo, neste link)
Como se pode então ver através deste exemplo, na obra o autor pega em diversos mitos e retira deles lições apropriadas para o tempo em que ele próprio vivia. Para tal, recorre não ao racionalismo, como alguns dos seus antecessores faziam, mas parece considerá-los como alegorias, conhecimento secreto escondido pelos autores originais.
Este exemplo permite também constatar um outro facto - os mitos apresentados pelo autor nem sempre estão completos. Neste caso específico, o autor não menciona sequer a razão pela qual Júpiter devorou Métis, e que conhecer o mito saberá certamente a importância real desse "pequeno" detalhe - Júpiter devorou-a para impedir que esta tivesse um filho superior ao pai.
Vejamos mais um exemplo:
MEDIOCRITY, or the holding a middle course, has been highly extolled in morality, but little in matters of science, though no less useful and proper here; whilst in politics it is held suspected, and ought to be employed with judgment. The ancients described mediocrity in manners by the course prescribed to Icarus; and in matters of the understanding by the steering betwixt Scylla and Charybdis, on account of the great difficulty and danger in passing those straits.
Icarus, being to fly across the sea, was ordered by his father neither to soar too high nor fly too low, for, as his wings were fastened together with wax, there was danger of its melting by the sun's heat in too high a flight, and of its becoming less tenacious by the moisture if he kept too near the vapour of the sea. But he, with a juvenile confidence, soared aloft, and fell down headlong.
EXPLANATION. - The fable is vulgar, and easily interpreted; for the path of virtue lies straight between excess on the one side, and defect on the other. And no wonder that excess should prove the bane of Icarus, exulting in juvenile strength and vigour; for excess is the natural vice of youth, as defect is that of old age; and if a man must perish by either, Icarus chose the better of the two; for all defects are justly esteemed more depraved than excesses. There is some magnanimity in excess, that, like a bird, claims kindred with the heavens; but defect is a reptile, that basely crawls upon the earth. It was excellently said by Heraclitus, "A dry light makes the best soul;" for if the soul contracts moisture from the earth, it perfectly degenerates and sinks. On the other hand, moderation must be observed, to prevent this fine light from burning, by its too great subtilty and dryness. But these observations are common.
In matters of the understanding, it requires great skill and a particular felicity to steer clear of Scylla and Charybdis. If the ship strikes upon Scylla; it is dashed in pieces against the rocks; if upon Charybdis, it is swallowed outright. This allegory is pregnant with matter; but we shall only observe the force of it lies here, that a mean be observed in every doctrine and science, and in the rules and axioms thereof, between the rocks of distinctions and the whirlpools of universalities; for these two are the bane and shipwreck of fine geniuses and arts.
Como se pode ver, mais uma vez o autor apresenta versões extremamente sucintas dos mitos (neste caso, os de Ícaro, Cila e Caríbdis), seguido por uma explicação dos mesmos. Não refere, por exemplo, a forma como os dois monstros aquáticos apareceram, ou o totalidade do mito de Ícaro, entre outros elementos importantes. Nesse sentido, a obra é relativamente pobre; quem não conhecer os mitos também pouco mais irá ficar a saber através dos resumos do autor. Assim, esta é uma obra cujo principal interesse é a possibilidade de nos permitir verificar como, após a Idade Média, os mitos gregos (ou, se quisermos ser mais precisos, gregos e latinos) eram vistos e interpretados.