Isthmus of a Middle State:Man is a Mingled Creation Comprising the Poles Opposites




    "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,"

These lines form Pope’s Essay On Man (Epistle - II), his most didactic poem written in the antithetical mode, and presenting man’s position in the universal scheme of things, distils the essence of Pope’s belief that man is a mingled creation comprising the poles opposites.
Since Pope had declared in the informatory lines that man should study himself, lines that man should study himself, here he proceeds to do so. When one begins to examine man one realizes that man resembles the geographical and topographical concept of the isthmus. What Pope implies is that man is the connecting link, the vacuum between the lowest and highest forms of beings. He hovers between the opposite extremes, of divinity and bestiality, between lust-fulness and spirituality, between passion and reality.



 The entire poem is in effect a description of these opposite qualities which render man a paradoxical existence, liable to follies, vices and disasters. Although he possesses knowledge and even wisdom, as the adjective “darkly” points out, he is often beset with ignorance and folly. Although man possesses greatness and nobility, he often loses his humanity and behaves rudely acrimoniously and even violently. Although man possesses far too much knowledge for him to be a Skeptic, although he possesses knowledge about the origin of the universe and about Gods benevolence and mans latent goodness, he is often tempted to feel like a Skeptic.Skeptic is one who not only believes that man’s knowledge is necessarily incomplete and flawed, but also that God is merciless and man virtue less.
aisheetatai#09
Pope derives his metaphor of isthmus from the medieval concept of the great chin of being, linking every kind of creature, a concept which was very popular from the time of Shakespeare to the time of Pope. As described by A. O. Lovejoy in his classic history of ideas, The Great Chain of Being, the least possible degree, and that the existing species exhibit a hierarchy of status and so composed a great chain or ladder of being. This chain or ladder extends from the lowest condition of barest existence such as rock, up to god himself. Man occupies the middle position between the animal kind and the angels or purely spiritual beings in this chain.

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