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Of Fish, and the Allegory of Angling.


Before I proceed to the examination of new matter, for I have other subtleties to propose, and I shall be obliged to adopt a particular jargon in expounding the sophisticated ideas which were embodied and expressed on vases, I will adduce something further on the subject of resuscitation. For this purpose I select

vase in the collection of D’Hancarville, vol. ii. plate xxvII. Upon this

appear the Dioscuri, who, having landed the female Bacchus in inferis, are in the act of heaving their anchor, and rowing back to the opposite shore of the Styx. The Libera seated on the bank, in the mystic attitude of the Harpocrates, awaits the return of the genius who may be charged with calling her into activity. This already appears in the upper part of the painting,

, where a water-fowl is on the wing towards her, bearing in its mouth a fish, which, in this instance, is evidently used for a symbol of resuscitation. From this allusion of fish to the principle of animation required by inert nature, angling became an appropriate device for any monumental stone. Upon one of this class in the Townley collection, a fisherman seated on a rock


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angles for fish ; and in the collection of Charles Blundell, Esq., at Ince, near Liverpool, a figure of an angler (in small life), seated on a rock with a basket of fish by his side, illustrates the same idea.

The reader, prepared by the foregoing observations, will probably feel himself at no loss if I introduce him to a fishing party composed of distinguished ancient personages, for an acquaintance with which I am indebted to the condescension of Thomas Hope, Esq., who has politely permitted an engraving to be taken from a Sicilian vase in his splendid collection, whereon this subject is preserved. The triad of grisly figures exhibited in the accompanying plate consists of Hercules, distinguishable by the lion's skin and quiver, kneeling on a rock in the centre, Neptune angling, and Hermes seated to the right, reaching forward the caduceus. The anxiety and attention of Hercules are well expressed by his attitude, and by the hand inverted, as if he were watching the expected bite. The sovereign of the waters, behind him, grasps a fish that he has just hooked, and Hermes, who could either consign to the deep, or resuscitate, with equal facility, by means of his caduceus, needs no better implement on the present occasion. Thus each pursues the sport with equal prospect of success. But who would expect from a subject so grotesquely detailed, that the painter had designed to express the triple power of the deity, drawing the principle of life from the primary abyss ? Such, however, I presume to be the sophisticated meaning of the painting: for the vine springing from the feet of Hercules identifies him with the creating Bacchus, who has assumed the lion's skin and quiver, as emblematical of power. The preserver is designated by Neptune, who presided over the waters, and he is here opposed to the destroyer and regenerator, Hermes. In confirmation of this exposition, let me observe, that winged genii denote the animating principle; and such is their meaning when Psyche angles for winged infants instead of fish, on a gem published by Bracci. *

The original cause for the acceptation of fish in this sense it were difficult to ascertain : probably it arose from the ready propagation of their species. But I have met with a curious reason assigned for it in Plutarch, which I will venture to adduce. The priests of Neptune at Megara, as the Syrians also, it seems, abstained from fish, because they were the symbol of humid nature, from which all things were created.

But the opinion of Anaximander is truly whimsical ; for he attempts to prove, (says Plutarch t, or Nestor for him,) not that fish and men are in their natures the same, but that men were originally generated in fish, and being bred up (as was the case with the first men,) until they were equal to providing for themselves, they were then cast out, and they caught hold of dry land. Those who do not fully assent to the system of Mr. Bryant will scarcely permit me to refer this tradition to the Deluge ; but the Indian Vishnu, the preserver, is fabled to have interfered, in the form of a fish, during the destruction of the world by water. Those Gentile divinities, which are reported to have been personated by figures ending in the form of a fish, were consequently representations of the deity, in his generating or preserving capacity, and we may plainly discover, that it was not merely from the exposition of the

* Bracci, Memorie degli antichi Incisori, vol. i. tab. xix. No. 1.

+ Αναξίμανδρος των ανθρώπων πατέρα και μητέρα κοινόν απoφήνας τον ιχθύν.PLUTARCH. Eumnos. apo6n. lib. viii. prob. 8. Δια τί μάλιστα οι Πυθαγορικοί εμψύχων τους Ιχθύς σαρητούντο. .

I See many ingenious arguments respecting the Ceto, indifferently considered as a fish or boat. Analysis of Ancient Mythology.

M 2

initial letters comprised in the word ixor*, that the title of the fish was given to Christ, as the saviour or preserver, by the early converts to his church, but it arose from a laudable zeal in his followers to reclaim the Pagans from their absurd worship, by speaking to them in a symbolical and sacred language, which they readily understood.

* Ιησούς, Χριστός, Θεου Υιος, Σωτήρ.

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