Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK II. - The Morals, vol. 3
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BOOK II. - Plutarch, The Morals, vol. 3 
Plutarch’s Morals. Translated from the Greek by Several Hands. Corrected and Revised by William W. Goodwin, with an Introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 5 Volumes. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1878). Vol. 3.
Part of: Plutarch’s Morals, 5 vols.
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Having finished my dissertation concerning principles and elements and those things which chiefly appertain to them, I will turn my pen to discourse of those things which are produced by them, and will take my beginning from the world, which contains and encompasseth all beings.
OF THE WORLD.
Pythagoras was the first philosopher that gave the name of ϰόσμος to the world, from the order and beauty of it; for so that word signifies. Thales and his followers say the world is one. Democritus, Epicurus, and their scholar Metrodorus affirm that there are infinite worlds in an infinite space, for that infinite vacuum in its whole extent contains them. Empedocles, that the circle which the sun makes in its motion circumscribes the world, and that circle is the utmost bound of the world. Seleucus, that the world knows no limits. Diogenes, that the universe is infinite, but this world is finite. The Stoics make a difference between that which is called the universe, and that which is called the whole world; — the universe is the infinite space considered with the vacuum, the vacuity being removed gives the right conception of the world; so that the universe and the world are not the same thing.
OF THE FIGURE OF THE WORLD.
The Stoics say that the figure of the world is spherical, others that it is conical, others oval. Epicurus, that the figure of the world may be globular, or that it may admit of other shapes.
WHETHER THE WORLD BE AN ANIMAL.
Democritus, Epicurus, and those philosophers who introduced atoms and a vacuum, affirm that the world is not an animal, nor governed by any wise Providence, but that it is managed by a nature which is void of reason. All the other philosophers affirm that the world is informed with a soul, and governed by reason and Providence. Aristotle is excepted, who is somewhat different; he is of opinion, that the whole world is not acted by a soul in every part of it, nor hath it any sensitive, rational, or intellectual faculties, nor is it guided by reason and Providence in every part of it; of all which the heavenly bodies are made partakers, for the circumambient spheres are animated and are living beings; but those things which are about the earth are void of those endowments; and though those terrestrial bodies are of an orderly disposition, yet that is casual and not primogenial.
WHETHER THE WORLD IS ETERNAL AND INCORRUPTIBLE.
Pythagoras [and Plato], with the Stoics, affirm that the world was framed by God, and being corporeal is obvious to the senses, and in its own nature is obnoxious to destruction; but it shall never perish, it being preserved by the providence of God. Epicurus, that the world had a beginning, and so shall have an end, as plants and animals have. Xenophanes, that the world never had a beginning, is eternal and incorruptible. Aristotle, that the part of the world which is sublunary is obnoxious to change, and there terrestrial beings find a decay.
WHENCE DOES THE WORLD RECEIVE ITS NUTRIMENT?
Aristotle says that, if the world be nourished, it will likewise be dissolved; but it requires no aliment, and will therefore be eternal. Plato, that this very world prepares for itself a nutriment, by the alteration of those things which are corruptible in it. Philolaus believes that a destruction happens to the world in two ways; either by fire falling from heaven, or by the lunary water being poured down through the whirling of the air; and the exhalations proceeding from thence are the aliment of the world.
FROM WHAT ELEMENT GOD DID BEGIN TO RAISE THE FABRIC OF THE WORLD.
The natural philosophers pronounce that the forming of this world took its original from the earth, it being its centre, for the centre is the principal part of the globe. Pythagoras, from the fire and the fifth element. Empedocles determines, that the first and principal element separated from the rest was the ether, then fire, after that the earth, which earth being strongly compacted by the force of a violent revolution, water springs from it, the exhalations of which water produce the air; the heaven took its origin from the ether, and fire gave a being to the sun; those things that belong to the earth are condensed from the remainders. Plato, that the visible world was framed after the exemplar of the intellectual world; the soul of the visible world was first produced, then the corporeal figure, first that which came from fire and earth, afterwards that which came from air and water. Pythagoras, that the world was formed of five solid figures which are called mathematical; the earth was produced by the cube, the fire by the pyramid, the air by the octahedron, the water by the icosahedron, and the globe of the universe by the dodecahedron. In all these Plato hath the same sentiments with Pythagoras.
IN WHAT FORM AND ORDER THE WORLD WAS COMPOSED.
Parmenides believes that there are small coronets alternately twisted one within another, some made up of a thin, others of a condensed matter; and there are others between them mixed mutually together of light and of darkness, and about them all there is a solid substance, which like a firm wall surrounds these coronets. Leucippus and Democritus wrap the world round about, as with a garment and membrane. Epicurus says that that which bounds some worlds is thin, and that which limits others is gross and condensed; and of these worlds some are in motion, others are fixed. Plato, that fire takes the first place in the world, the second the ether, after that the air, under that the water; the last place the earth possesseth: sometimes he puts the ether and the fire in the same place. Aristotle gives the first place to the ether, as that which is impassible, it being a kind of fifth body; after which he placeth those that are passible, fire, air, and water, and last of all the earth. To those bodies that are accounted celestial he assigns a motion that is circular, but to those that are seated under them, if they be light bodies, an ascending, if heavy, a descending motion. Empedocles, that the places of the elements are not always fixed and determined, but they all succeed one another in their respective stations.
WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF THE WORLD’S INCLINATION.
Diogenes and Anaxagoras affirm that, after the world was composed and the earth had produced living creatures, the world out of its own propensity made an inclination towards the south. Perhaps this may be attributed to a wise Providence (they say), that thereby some parts of the world may be habitable, others uninhabitable, according as the various climates are affected with a rigorous cold, or a scorching heat, or a just temperament of cold and heat. Empedocles, that the air yielding to the impetuous force of the solar rays, the pole received an inclination; whereby the northern parts were exalted and the southern depressed, by which means the whole world received its inclination.
OF THAT THING WHICH IS BEYOND THE WORLD, AND WHETHER IT BE A VACUUM OR NOT.
Pythagoras and his followers say that beyond the world there is a vacuum, into which and out of which the world hath its respiration. The Stoics, that there is a vacuum into which the infinite world by a conflagration shall be dissolved. Posidonius, not an infinite vacuum, but as much as suffices for the dissolution of the world; and this he asserts in his first book concerning the Vacuum. Aristotle affirms, that there is no vacuum. Plato concludes that neither within nor without the world there is any vacuum.
WHAT PARTS OF THE WORLD ARE ON THE RIGHT HAND, AND WHAT PARTS ARE ON THE LEFT.
Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle say that the eastern parts of the world, from whence motion commences, are of the right, those of the western are of the left-hand of the world. Empedocles, that those that are of the right-hand are towards the summer solstice, those of the left towards the winter solstice.
OF HEAVEN, WHAT IS ITS NATURE AND ESSENCE.
Anaximenes declares that the circumference of heaven is the limit of the earth’s revolution. Empedocles, that the heaven is a solid substance, and hath the form and hardness of crystal, it being composed of the air compacted by fire, and that in both hemispheres it invests the elements of air and fire. Aristotle, that it is formed by the fifth body, and by the mixture of extreme heat and cold.
INTO HOW MANY CIRCLES IS THE HEAVEN DISTINGUISHED; OR, OF THE DIVISION OF HEAVEN.
Thales, Pythagoras, and the followers of Pythagoras do distribute the universal globe of heaven into five circles, which they denominate zones; one of which is called the arctic circle, which is always conspicuous to us, another is the summer tropic, another is the equinoctial, another is the winter tropic, another is the antarctic circle, which is always invisible. The circle called the zodiac is placed under the three that are in the midst, and lies obliquely, gently touching them all. Likewise, they are all cut in right angles by the meridian, which runs from pole to pole. It is supposed that Pythagoras made the first discovery of the obliquity of the zodiac, but one Oenopides of Chios challenges to himself the invention of it.
WHAT IS THE ESSENCE OF THE STARS, AND HOW THEY ARE COMPOSED.
Thales believes that they are globes of earth set on fire. Empedocles, that they are fiery bodies arising from that fire which the ether embraced within itself, and did shatter in pieces when the elements were first separated one from another. Anaxagoras, that the circumambient ether is of a fiery substance, which, by a vehement force in its whirling about, did tear stones from the earth, and by its own power set them on fire, and establish them as stars in the heavens. Diogenes thinks they resemble pumice stones, and that they are the breathings of the world; again he supposeth that there are some invisible stones, which sometimes fall from heaven upon the earth, and are there quenched; as it happened at Aegos-potami, where a stony star resembling fire did fall. Empedocles, that the fixed stars are fastened to the crystal, but the planets are loosened. Plato, that the stars for the most part are of a fiery nature, but they are made partakers of another element, with which they are mixed after the resemblance of glue. Xenophanes, that they are composed of inflamed clouds, which in the daytime are quenched, and in the night are kindled again. The like we see in coals; for the rising and setting of the stars is nothing else but the quenching and kindling of them. Heraclides and the Pythagoreans, that every star is a world in an infinite ether, and itself encompasseth air, earth, and ether; this opinion is current among the followers of Orpheus, for they suppose that each of the stars does make a world. Epicurus condemns none of these opinions, for he embraces any thing that is possible.
OF WHAT FIGURE THE STARS ARE.
The Stoics say that the stars are of a circular form, like the sun, the moon, and the world. Cleanthes, that they are of a conical figure. Anaximenes, that they are fastened as nails in the crystalline firmament; some others, that they are fiery plates of gold, resembling pictures.
OF THE ORDER AND PLACE OF THE STARS.
Xenocrates says that the stars are moved in one and the same superficies. The other Stoics say that they are moved in various superficies, some being superior, others inferior. Democritus, that the fixed stars are in the highest place; after those the planets; after which the sun, Venus, and the moon, in their order. Plato, that the first after the fixed stars that makes its appearance is Phaenon, the star of Saturn; the second Phaëton, the star of Jupiter; the third the fiery, which is the star of Mars; the fourth the morning star, which is the star of Venus; the fifth the shining star, and that is the star of Mercury; in the sixth place is the sun, in the seventh the moon. Plato and some of the mathematicians conspire in the same opinion; others place the sun as the centre of the planets. Anaximander, Metrodorus of Chios, and Crates assign to the sun the superior place, after him they place the moon, after them the fixed stars and planets.
OF THE MOTION AND CIRCULATION OF THE STARS.
Anaxagoras, Democritus, and Cleanthes say that all the stars have their motion from east to west. Alcmaeon and the mathematicians, that the planets have a contrary motion to the fixed stars, and in opposition to them are carried from the west to the east. Anaximander, that they are moved by those circles and spheres on which they are placed. Anaximenes, that they are turned under and about the earth. Plato and the mathematicians, that the sun, Venus, and Mercury have equal measures in their motions.
WHENCE DO THE STARS RECEIVE THEIR LIGHT?
Metrodorus says that all the fixed stars derive their light from the sun. Heraclitus and the Stoics, that earthly exhalations are those by which the stars are nourished. Aristotle, that the heavenly bodies require no nutriment, for they being eternal cannot be obnoxious to corruption. Plato and the Stoics, that the whole world and the stars are fed by the same things.
What are those stars which are called the dioscuri, the twins, or castor and pollux?
Xenophanes says that those which appear as stars in the tops of ships are little clouds shining by their peculiar motion. Metrodorus, that the eyes of frighted and astonished people emit those lights which are called the Twins.
HOW STARS PROGNOSTICATE, AND WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF WINTER AND SUMMER.
Plato says that the summer and winter indications proceed from the rising and setting of the stars, that is, from the rising and setting of the sun, the moon, and the fixed stars. Anaximenes, that the others in this are not at all concerned, but that it is wholly performed by the sun. Eudoxus and Aratus assign it in common to all the stars, for thus Aratus sings:
OF THE ESSENCE OF THE SUN.
Anaximander says, that the sun is a circle eight and twenty times bigger than the earth, and has a circumference which very much resembles that of a chariot-wheel, which is hollow and full of fire; the fire of which appears to us through its mouth, as by a hole in a pipe; and this is the sun. Xenophanes, that the sun is constituted of small bodies of fire compact together and raised from a moist exhalation, which collected together make the body of the sun; or that it is a cloud enfired. The Stoics, that it is an intelligent flame proceeding from the sea. Plato, that it is composed of abundance of fire. Anaxagoras, Democritus, and Metrodorus, that it is an enfired stone, or a burning mass. Aristotle, that it is a sphere formed out of the fifth body. Philolaus the Pythagorean, that the sun shines as crystal, which receives its splendor from the fire of the world and so reflecteth its light upon us; so that first, the body of fire which is celestial belongs to the sun; and secondly, the fiery reflection that proceeds from it, in the form of a mirror; and lastly, the light which is spread upon us by way of reflection from that mirror; and this last we call the sun, which is (as it were) an image of an image. Empedocles, that there are two suns; the one the prototype, which is a fire placed in the other hemisphere, which it totally fills, and is always ordered in a direct opposition to the reflection of its own light; and the sun which is visible to us, formed by the reflection of that splendor in the other hemisphere (which is filled with air mixed with heat), the light reflected from the circular sun in the opposite hemisphere falling upon the crystalline sun; and this reflection is carried round with the motion of the fiery sun. To give briefly the full sense, the sun is nothing else but the light and brightness of that fire which encompasseth the earth. Epicurus, that it is an earthy bulk well compacted, with hollow passages like a pumice-stone or a sponge, which is kindled by fire.
OF THE MAGNITUDE OF THE SUN.
Anaximander says, that the sun itself in greatness is equal to the earth, but that the circle from whence it receives its respiration and in which it is moved is seven and twenty times larger than the earth. Anaxagoras, that it is far greater than Peloponnesus. Heraclitus, that it is no broader than a man’s foot. Epicurus, that he equally embraceth all the foresaid opinions, — that the sun may be of magnitude as it appears, or it may be somewhat greater or somewhat less.
WHAT IS THE FIGURE OR SHAPE OF THE SUN.
Anaximenes affirms that in its dilatation it resembles a leaf. Heraclitus, that it hath the shape of a boat, and is somewhat crooked. The Stoics, that it is spherical, and it is of the same figure with the world and the stars. Epicurus, that the recited dogmas may be defended.
OF THE TURNING AND RETURNING OF THE SUN, OR THE SUMMER AND WINTER SOLSTICE.
Anaximenes thinks that the stars are forced by a condensed and resisting air. Anaxagoras, by the repelling force of the northern air, which is violently pushed on by the sun, and thus rendered more condensed and powerful. Empedocles, that the sun is hindered from a continual direct course by its spherical vehicle and by the two circular tropics. Diogenes, that the sun, when it comes to its utmost declination, is extinguished, a rigorous cold damping the heat. The Stoics, that the sun maintains its course only through that space in which its aliment is seated, let it be the ocean or the earth; by the exhalations proceeding from these it is nourished. Plato, Pythagoras, and Aristotle, that the sun receives a transverse motion from the obliquity of the zodiac, which is guarded by the tropics; all these the globe clearly manifests.
OF THE ECLIPSES OF THE SUN.
Thales was the first who affirmed that the eclipse of the sun was caused by the moon’s running in a perpendicular line between it and the earth; for the moon in its own nature is terrestrial. And by mirrors it is made perspicuous that, when the sun is eclipsed, the moon is in a direct line below it. Anaximander, that the sun is eclipsed when the fiery mouth of it is stopped and hindered from expiration. Heraclitus, that it is after the manner of the turning of a boat, when the concave appears uppermost to our sight, and the convex nethermost. Xenophanes, that the sun is eclipsed when it is extinguished; and that a new sun is created to rise in the east. He gives a farther account of an eclipse of the sun which remained for a whole month, and again of a total eclipse which changed the day into night. Some say that the cause of an eclipse is the invisible concourse of condensed clouds which cover the orb of the sun. Aristarchus placeth the sun amongst the fixed stars, and believeth that the earth [the moon?] is moved about the sun, and that by its inclination and vergency it intercepts its light and shadows its orb. Xenophanes, that there are many suns and many moons, according as the earth is distinguished by climates, circles, and zones. At some certain times the orb of the sun, falling upon some part of the world which is uninhabited, wanders in a vacuum and becomes eclipsed. The same person affirms that the sun, proceeding in its motion in the infinite space, appears to us to move orbicularly, receiving that representation from its infinite distance from us.
OF THE ESSENCE OF THE MOON.
Anaximander affirms that the circle of the moon is nineteen times bigger than the earth, and resembles the sun, its orb being full of fire; and it suffers an eclipse when the wheel turneth, — which he describes by the divers turnings of a chariot-wheel, in the midst of it there being a hollow replenished with fire, which hath but one way of expiration. Xenophanes, that it is a condensed cloud. The Stoics, that it is mixed of fire and air. Plato, that it is a body of the greatest part earthy. Anaxagoras and Democritus, that it is a solid, condensed, and fiery body, in which there are champaign countries, mountains, and valleys. Heraclitus, that it is an earth covered with a cloud. Pythagoras, that the body of the moon was of a nature like a mirror.
OF THE MAGNITUDE OF THE MOON.
The Stoics declare, that in magnitude it exceeds the earth, as the sun itself doth. Parmenides, that it is equal to the sun, from whom it receives its light.
OF THE FIGURE OF THE MOON.
The Stoics believe that it is of the same figure with the sun, spherical. Empedocles, that the figure of it resembles a quoit. Heraclitus, a boat. Others, a cylinder.
FROM WHENCE IS IT THAT THE MOON RECEIVES HER LIGHT?
Anaximander thinks that she gives light to herself, but it is very slender and faint. Antiphon, that the moon shines by its own proper light; but when it absconds itself, the solar beams darting on it obscure it. Thus it naturally happens, that a more vehement light puts out a weaker; the same is seen in other stars. Thales and his followers, that the moon borrows all her light of the sun. Heraclitus, that the sun and moon are after the same manner affected; in their configurations both are shaped like boats, and are made conspicuous to us, receiving their light from moist exhalations. The sun appears to us more refulgent, by reason it is moved in a clearer and purer air; the moon appears more duskish, it being carried in an air more troubled and gross.
OF THE ECLIPSE OF THE MOON.
Anaximenes believes that the mouth of the hollow wheel, about which the moon is turned, being stopped is the cause of an eclipse. Berosus, that it proceeds from the turning of the dark side of the lunar orb towards us. Heraclitus, that it is performed just after the manner of a boat turned upside downwards. Some of the Pythagoreans say, that the splendor arises from the earth, its obstruction from the Antichthon (or counter-earth). Some of the later philosophers, that there is such a distribution of the lunar flame, that it gradually and in a just order burns until it be full moon; in like manner, that this fire decays by degrees, until its conjunction with the sun totally extinguisheth it. Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and all the mathematicians agree in this, that the obscurity with which the moon is every month affected ariseth from a conjunction with the sun, by whose more resplendent beams she is darkened; and the moon is then eclipsed when she falls upon the shadow of the earth, the earth interposing between the sun and moon, or (to speak more properly) the earth intercepting the light of the moon.
OF THE PHASES OF THE MOON, OR THE LUNAR ASPECTS; OR HOW IT COMES TO PASS THAT THE MOON APPEARS TO US TERRESTRIAL.
The Pythagoreans say, that the moon appears to us terraneous, by reason it is inhabited as our earth is, and in it there are animals of a larger size and plants of a rarer beauty than our globe affords; that the animals in their virtue and energy are fifteen degrees superior to ours; that they emit nothing excrementitious; and that the days are fifteen times longer. Anaxagoras, that the reason of the inequality ariseth from the commixture of things earthy and cold; and that fiery and caliginous matter is jumbled together, whereby the moon is said to be a star of a counterfeit aspect. The Stoics, that by reason of the diversity of her substance the composition of her body is subject to corruption.
HOW FAR THE MOON IS REMOVED FROM THE SUN.
Empedocles affirms, that the distance of the moon from the sun is double her remoteness from the earth. The mathematicians, that her distance from the sun is eighteen times her distance from the earth. Eratosthenes, that the sun is remote from the earth seven hundred and eighty thousand furlongs.
OF THE YEAR, AND HOW MANY CIRCULATIONS MAKE UP THE GREAT YEAR OF EVERY PLANET.
The year of Saturn is completed when he has had his circulation in the space of thirty solar years; of Jupiter in twelve; of Mars in two, of the sun in twelve months; in so many Mercury and Venus, the spaces of their circulation being equal; of the moon in thirty days, in which time her course from her prime to her conjunction is finished. As to the great year, some make it to consist of eight years solar, some of nineteen, others of fifty-nine. Heraclitus, of eighteen thousand. Diogenes, of three hundred and sixty-five such years as Heraclitus assigns. Others there are who lengthen it to seven thousand seven hundred and seventy-seven years.