"That Unextinguishable Laugh In Heaven"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Thomas Browne was a very devout but curious physician and scientist of the seventeenth century. In this essay he collects for question and speculation from books and from observation all of the examples in nature or in human arts of objects arranged in the quincunx, or five-spot, relationship. His purpose is to determine if perhaps this figure does not represent some fundamental structural principle in nature or, indeed, in the universe. The second chapter is much concerned with classical antiquity, and at one point he digresses from a comparison of nets used by Roman gladiators and nets currently in use in England to speculate on a net associated with a famous anecdote from Greek mythology:

That the networks and nets of antiquity were little different in the form from ours at present, is confirmable from the nets in the hands of the retiarie gladiators, the proper combatants with the secutores. To omit the ancient conopeion or gnatnet of the Aegyptians, the inventors of that artifice: the rushey labyrinths of Theocritus; the nosegaynets, which hung from the head under the nostrils of Princes; and that uneasy metaphor of Reticulum Jecoris, which some expound the lobe, we the caule (above) the liver. As for that famous network of Vulcan, which inclosed Mars and Venus, and caused that unextinguishable laugh in heaven; since the gods themselves could not discern it, we shall not pry into it; Although why vulcan bound them, Neptune loosed them, and Apollo should first discover them, might afford no vulgar mythology. Heralds have not omitted this order or imitation thereof, whiles they symbolically adorn their scuchions with mascles fusils and saltyrs, and while they disposed the figures of ermines and varied coats in this quincuncial method.