OF THE NATURE AND STATE OF MAN
WITH RESPECT TO HIMSELF, AS AN INDIVIDUAL
KNOW then thyself, presume not God to scan,
The proper study of mankind is man.
Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a God, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confus’d;
Still by himself abus’d or disabus’d;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!
Know then thyself , presume not God to scan;
This is a case of Antithesis because both parts of the statement which appear in balanced form, reinforce the idea that the knowledge of man is to be achieved by the person himself by looking into himself .
This is also a case of Hyperbaton . The normal word order should have been 'don’t presume God to scan' rather than ‘presume not God to scan’ .
The proper study of mankind is Man .
This is a case of Epigram . At first glance it would appear that knowledge of entire mankind may be gleaned by observing a single man , But on thinking more deeply , we realize that the commonest and the deepest qualities of mankind --- such as emotion, ambition, revenge-fulness exist in every man.
‘Placed on this isthmus of a middle state’.
This is a case of Metaphor .The position has been compared to the Geographical narrow piece of land which joins two larger land masses. The comparison is not made explicit.
Born but to die, and reasoning but to err;
This is a case of Antithesis since the balanced structure reinforces same idea of man being subject to many weaknesses, Even though he takes birth he has to inevitable die and even if he tries to reason he is almost certain to make errors.
‘Created half to rise and half to fall’.
This is a case of Antithesis. The two balanced structures reinforce the same idea of man not achieving polar extremes.
He is middle kind of creature.He rises for the first half the first period of time, and fails during the second half of time.
‘Great lord of all things, yet a pray to all’
This is a case of Epigram. The statement should appear to be absurd because man who is the lord of nature can hardly be a ‘prey’ yet on thinking more deeply, we realize that although man may have subjugated some aspects of nature, he is still a victim of fortune as well as of other unpredictable aspects of nature such as floods and drought.
‘Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled’.
This is a case of Epigram. A judge of truth, especially it is he in the only judge of truth is unlikely to be full of errors. Therefore this statement would appear to be absurd. But on thinking more deeply we realize that the nature of man is such that his reasoning is often fallacious as even the philosopher David Hume is shown.
“The glory, jest and riddle of the world”
This is a case of Anti-climax, since there is a sudden fall from ‘glory’, ‘riddle’ and ‘jest’.