This image is labelled The Symbolic Figure of the Course of Human History Described by Virgil. Damon (Blake Dictionary) states that it "represents the form of Empire shedding fruitless tears." Empires rise and fall. The golden head may represent Babylon, the silver arms and torso: Empire of Medes and Persians; the brass loins: Greece; the iron legs: Rome; and the feet of iron and clay: Europe.
Jerusalem, Plate 97, (E 256)
"Fourfold the Vision for bright beaming Urizen
Layd his hand on the South & took a breathing Bow of carved Gold
Luvah his hand stretch'd to the East & bore a Silver Bow bright shining
Tharmas Westward a Bow of Brass pure flaming richly wrought
Urthona Northward in thick storms a Bow of Iron terrible thundering."
Virgil speaking to Dante:
"Amid the sea there lies a wasted land,”
he told me thereupon, “whose name is Crete,
under whose king the world of old was pure.
There is a mountain there, which, happy once
with waters and green leaves, was Ida called;
’t is now abandoned like a thing outworn.
Whilom as trusty cradle for her son
Rhea selected it, and when he wept,
to hide him better, caused a shouting there.
Within that mountain stands a great Old Man,
who holds his shoulders toward Damiata turned,
and who, as at his mirror, looks at Rome.
His head is formed of finest gold, his arms
and breast are of the purest silver, then,
as far as to his loins, he ’s made of brass;
all chosen iron is he down from there,
save that baked clay his right foot is, and straighter
he stands on that, than on the other foot.
Each of these parts, except the golden one,
is broken by a cleft, whence trickle tears,
which, when collected, perforate that cave.
From rock to rock they course into this vale;
then Acheron with Styx and Phlegethon
they form, and through this narrow duct descend
as far as where one goes no further down;
they form Cocytus there; and what that pool
is like, thou ’lt see; hence here it is not told."
Blake has the Spectre speak words which may be apropos for a figure representing the course of human history. The metals, the clay and the tears enter into the written imagery of Dante and Blake, and the visual image which links them both.
Jerusalem, Plate 10, (E 153) "O that I could cease to be! Despair! I am Despair Created to be the great example of horror & agony: also my Prayer is vain I called for compassion: compassion mockd Mercy & pity threw the grave stone over me & with lead And iron, bound it over me for ever: Life lives on my Consuming: & the Almighty hath made me his Contrary To be all evil, all reversed & for ever dead: knowing And seeing life, yet living not; how can I then behold And not tremble; how can I be beheld & not abhorrd So spoke the Spectre shuddring, & dark tears ran down his shadowy face Which Los wiped off, but comfort none could give! or beam of hope Yet ceasd he not from labouring at the roarings of his Forge With iron & brass Building Golgonooza in great contendings Till his Sons & Daughters came forth from the Furnaces At the sublime Labours for Los. compelld the invisible Spectre PLATE 11 To labours mighty, with vast strength, with his mighty chains, In pulsations of time, & extensions of space, like Urns of Beulah With great labour upon his anvils, & in his ladles the Ore He lifted, pouring it into the clay ground prepar'd with art; Striving with Systems to deliver Individuals from those Systems; That whenever any Spectre began to devour the Dead, He might feel the pain as if a man gnawd his own tender nerves."