This sweepingly metaphorical title page belongs to Francis Bacon’s (1561-1626) superb Instauratio Magna, printed in 1620. Bacon, the privileged and brilliant son of Nicolas Bacon, the Lord Keeper of the Seal of Elisabeth, entered Cambridge at the age of 12 and never looked back, becoming one of the leading thinkers of the English Renaissance.
The Instauratio contains his Novum Organum (The New Oganon [New Instrument], or true Directions Concerning the Interpretation of Nature) a monumental pronouncement and a new way of looking at scientific thought, looking to break away from the established Aristotlean methods that had been in place in England and Europe for centuries. The “new instrument” part directly relates to Aristotle’s own work called Organon, which in short was a work of inquiry and a treatise on logic and syllogism—Bacon would present his own new instrument of logic base upon a simpler process of reduction. (Bacon famously begins this work “Those who have taken upon them to lay down the law of nature as a thing already searched out and understood, whether they have spoken in simple assurance or professional affectation, have therein done philosophy and the sciences great injury. For as they have been successful in inducing belief, so they have been effective in quenching and stopping inquiry; and have done more harm by spoiling and putting an end to other men's efforts than good by their own.” He continues in this vein, getting to the real crux of the biscuit, and broadly states in the second paragraph “Now my method, though hard to practice, is easy to explain; and it is this. I propose to establish progressive stages of certainty. The evidence of the sense, helped and guarded by a certain process of correction, I retain. But the mental operation which follows the act of sense I for the most part reject; and instead of it I open and lay out a new and certain path for the mind to proceed in, starting directly from the simple sensuous perception…” And how!) This new approach to knowledge was foremost in the mind of the designer and artist who produced this title page, which is deeply indebted to the analogy between the (very deeply ingrained and mature) age of exploration and that of intellectual discovery.
The ship in this scene is passing through the Pillars of Hercules, exiting the relatively safe waters of the western Mediterranean and heading out to sea—-to accent this point we see two sea monsters at either side of the ship right at the beginning of this new-world trip, just feet beyond the established safe perimeter. The pillars had long since been recognized as the western end of the world, as recognized by Dante in the Inferno, observing the voyage of Ulysses past the pillars, endangering the lives of his sailors in the justifiable
search for knowledge of the unknown. The Pillars appear in the coat of arms of Spain, originating with Charles V (the Holy Roman Emperor and also the King of Spain), with motto plus ultra ("further, beyond") The plus
ultra part fits nicely with the Bacon, even though the words are not there in the image, they really should be, emblazoned across the stern of the ship of Bacon's imagination and intellectual enterprise.(The great voyage of discovery analogy and the great new discovery in thought is probably painfully clear already.)
The image is captioned and summarized with the Latin phrase "Multi pertransibunt et augebitur scientia”, wrenched from the triumphantly problematic and slightly insane Book of Daniel (chapter 12, verse 4). It is translated loosely as "many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased" or more elegantly "many will pass through and knowledge will be increased"—either way, whether by direct adventure and exploration or frenetic activity, the act of a new effort will be rewarded with a new knowledge.
The image below is from the Tabula Peutinger--basically a roman-era road map of the extent of Empire--and shows the location of the pillars. They were mountainous metaphors existing at Gibraltar and Morocco, but folks were only too happy to relieve them in marble.