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In the essay "Of Empire", Francis Bacon wrote:

All precepts concerning kings are in effect comprehended in those two remembrances: Memento quod es homo and Memento quod es Deus or vice Dei—the one bridleth their power, and the other their will.

Bacon chose the pronoun those rather than these. Is he referring to some well-known "remembrances" already stated by someone else, or are these original with Bacon?

  • I retagged your question, since the only tag it had was only found in this particular question and it was not very descriptive. Feel free to edit if you find better tags. I will go and write a tag wiki excerpt for the "bacon" tag before anyone gets the wrong idea about it... – Joonas Ilmavirta Oct 10 '16 at 20:30
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Francis Bacon is referencing previous "remembrances"

The beginning of the epilogue to The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology, by Ernst Kantorowicz, references this quotation from Bacon and includes an explanation of their probable sources:

Bacon's first "remembrance" should not be mistaken for the famous Camaldolite motto Memento mori which, especially in connection with its artistic symbol, the skull, had a singular appeal to the religious sentiment of the later Middle Ages. Memento quod es homo is not of monastic origin, but descended from classical Antiquity; and Francis Bacon could not have been ignorant of its proper Roman setting. When, on the day of his triumph, the victorious Roman imperator rolled on the chariot drawn by four white horses from the Campus Martius to the Capitol...the slave riding with him on the chariot and holding the golden wreath over his head, whispered to him: "Look behind thee. Remember thou art a man."

The actual wording, which we have from Tertullian (an early Christian apologist), is recognizable although slightly different:

hominem se esse in illo sublimissimo curru admonetur, suggeritur enim ei a tergo 'respice post te, hominem memento te.' (Tertull. Apolog. 33)

As for the second, it is likely a reference to a psalm verse, which is especially famous because it is quoted in the Gospels in Jn 10:34:

His other remembrance may have referred to Psalm 81:6, "Ye are gods," a versicle very much to the taste of political writers in the age of absolutism and most certainly to that of James I, who quoted it and gave his own interpretation of it in great detail.

Francis Bacon may have appropriated this thought and expressed it in a different way in order to achieve parallelism between the two.

  • Much gratitude! You have sent me to exactly the book that I need to read to address the topic that led me to this question. I'd seen it referenced in a couple places but I had no idea what a gold mine it is. – Ben Kovitz Jul 28 '16 at 2:05
  • Obiter hic est quæstio prosequens. – Ben Kovitz Aug 13 '16 at 15:18

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