Front Page Titles (by Subject) CONCERNING THE FIRST PRINCIPLE OF COLD. - The Morals, vol. 5
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CONCERNING THE FIRST PRINCIPLE OF COLD. - Plutarch, The Morals, vol. 5 
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. 5.
Part of: Plutarch’s Morals, 5 vols.
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CONCERNING THE FIRST PRINCIPLE OF COLD.
1.Is there then, Favorinus, any first or principal power or existence of cold, as fire is the principle of heat, by the presence and imparting of which all other things of the same nature become cold? Or rather is not cold the privation of heat, as they say darkness is the privation of light, and rest the privation of motion? In regard that cold seems to be firm and stable, and heat always in motion; and for that the refrigeration of hot things is not caused by the presence of any active power, but by the departure of the heat. For we find the heat go off in great quantity, and then that which remains grows cold. Thus the vapor which boiling water sends forth ceases also when the heat is gone. Therefore refrigeration, expelling the heat, diminishes the quantity, while nothing supplies the place of it.
2. First, we might question this way of arguing, as being that which would abolish several manifest faculties, as being neither qualities nor habits, but the privations of habits and qualities; so as to make ponderosity the privation of levity, hardness the privation of softness, black of white, bitter of sweet, and so with other things which are naturally opposed to each other in their power and not as a privation to a habit. Or else for this reason, because all privation is a thing altogether sluggish and without action, as blindness, deafness, silence, and death; for they are the departure of forms, and the utter defacings of substances, not being natures nor substances of themselves; but cold, wherever it resides, causes no less affections and alterations in bodies than heat. For many things are congealed by cold, many things thereby condensed. So that whatever is solid in it and difficult to be moved cannot be said to be sluggish and void of action, but firm and ponderous, as being supported by its own strength, which is endued with a power to preserve it in its proper station. Wherefore privation is the deficiency and departure of the opposite power, but many things are subject to be cold, though abounding with heat within themselves. And there are some things which cold the more condenses and consolidates the hotter they are, as iron quenched in water. The Stoics also affirm, that the spirit which is in the bodies of infants is quickened by refrigeration, and changing its Nature, turns to a soul. But this is a thing much to be disputed. Neither is it rational to believe that cold, which is the productive agent in many other things, can be a privation.
3. Besides, no privation is capable of more and less. Neither can any man say, that one among those that cannot see is more blind than another, or that one among those that cannot speak is more silent than another, or that any thing is more dead than another among those things that never had life. But in cold things there is more and less, and excess and diminution to several degrees; in a word, there is both intensity and remission as well as in hot things; because the matter suffers in some things more violently, in others more languidly, and therefore some things are hotter, some things colder than others, according to the nature of the matter. For there is no mixture of habit with privation. Neither does any power admit of privation opposite to it, nor associate with it in the same subject, but it withstands it altogether. Hot things allow themselves to be mixed with cold things to a certain degree, as black with white, heavy with light, and sour with sweet, — this community and harmony of colors, sounds, medicaments, and sauces generating several tastes and pleasures grateful to the senses. But the opposition of privation and habit is an antipathy never to be reconciled; the being of the one enforcing the destruction of the other. Which destruction, if it fall out seasonably, according to the opposition of contrary powers, the arts make great use of, but chiefly Nature, not only in her other creations, but especially in the alterations of the air, and in all other things of which the Deity being the adorner and dispenser obtains the attribute of harmonical and musical. Not that those attributes are given him for the disposal of deep and shrill, black and white, so as to make them agree together; but for his governing in the world the sympathies and antipathies of cold and heat in such a manner that they may unite and separate again, and for reducing both to a decent order, by taking that which we called “the overmuch” from both.
4. Then again, we find that there is the same sense and feeling of cold as of heat; but privation is neither to be seen, heard, or felt, neither is it known to any of the other senses. For the object of sense is substance; but where no substance appears, there we understand privation to be, — which is a negation of substance, as blindness of sight, silence of voice, and vacuity of corporeal substance. For there is no sense or perception of vacuity by feeling; but where there is no body to be felt, there a vacuity is implied. Neither do we hear silence; but where we do not hear any thing at all, there we imply silence. In like manner we have no perception of blindness, nakedness, or being unarmed; but we know them from the negation of our sense. Therefore if cold were a privation of heat, there would be no being sensible of cold; but only where heat ceased to be, there cold would be implied. But if, as heat is perceptible by the warmth and laxative softness of the flesh, so cold is no less perceptible by the contraction and condensation of it, it is from thence apparent, that there is some peculiar original and fountain of cold as well as heat.
5. Further then, privation of every kind is something single and simply particular; but in substances there are several differences and efficacies. For silence is a thing but of one sort; but of sounds there are great variety, sometimes molesting, sometimes delightful to the sense. There are also the same differences in colors and figures, which vary as they occur to the senses. But that which is not to be felt, which is without color and void of quality, can never be distinguished, but is always like itself.
6. Is cold therefore to be numbered among those privations that are not distinguished in their action? Rather the contrary, in regard that pleasures very great and beneficial to our bodies arise from cold things; as no less terrible mischiefs, pains, and stupefaction on the other side; which the heat does not always avoid and give way to, but many times enclosed within the body, withstands and opposes. Which contention of theirs is called quivering and shaking, at what time, if the cold overcome the heat, thence proceed numbness and stiffness of the limbs; but if the cold be vanquished by the heat, there follow a pleasing warmth and opening of the skin, which Homer expresses by the word ἰαίνεσϑαι. These things are past dispute; and chiefly by these passive qualities it is, that we find cold to be opposite to heat, as substance to substance, or passive quality to passive quality, not as negation or privation; neither is it the destruction or abolishing of hot, but a kind of nature and power tending to its destruction. Otherwise we should exempt the winter out of the seasons, and the north winds out of the number of the winds, as being privations of the warmer seasons and the southern gales, and not having any proper original.
7. Now in regard there are four first bodies in the universe, which, by reason of their number, their being uncompounded, and their efficacy, are allowed for the most part to be the principles and beginnings of all other, — that is to say, fire and water, air and earth, — is there not the same necessity that there should be as many first and uncompounded qualities? And what are they but heat and cold, drought and moisture, by virtue of which it comes to pass that all the principles act and suffer? Thus, as there are in grammar lengthenings and shortenings of sounds, in music, deep and acute sounds, though not one of them is the privation of the other; we must leave the dry opposed to the moist principles, and the hot to the cold, if we intend to have the effects answerable to reason and what is visible in Nature. Unless, as it was the opinion of the ancient Anaximenes, we will not allow either cold or hot to be in substance, but only to be common passive qualities accompanying the alterations of the matter. For he affirms the contraction and condensation of the matter to be cold; but the rarefication and laxation of it (for by that word he calls it) to be hot. Whence it may not be improperly said, that a man breathes hot and cold at once. For the breath grows cold being compressed and thickened by the lips, but coming out of the open mouth it is hot, as being rarefied by that emission. But for this, Aristotle convinces the same person of ignorance; for that when we blow with the mouth open, we blow hot from our own bodies; but when we blow with compressed lips, we do not breathe forth the air from ourselves, but the air that is before our mouths, being cold, is thrust forward, and lights upon what is next it.
8. But if we must grant that both heat and cold are substances, let us proceed a little farther in our discourse, and enquire what sort of substance is cold, and what is its first principle and nature.
They then who affirm that there are certain irregular triangular figures in our body, and tell us also that shuddering, trembling, and quivering, and whatever else we suffer of the same nature, proceed from the roughness of those figures, if they mistake in the parts, nevertheless derive the beginning from whence they ought. For we ought to begin the question — as it were from Vesta — from the substance of all things. By which it chiefly appears wherein a philosopher differs from a physician, a husbandman, or a piper. For it is sufficient for these to contemplate the last causes. For if the consideration of the nearest causes of the affection go no farther than to find that the cause of a fever is intenseness of heat, or the lighting of some humor where it ought not to be, that the cause of blasting is the scorching heat of the sun after rain, and that the cause why pipes give a bass sound is the inclination of the pipes or the bringing them near one to another; this is enough for the artist to know in reference to his business. But when a philosopher for contemplation’s sake scrutinizes into the truth, the knowledge of remote causes is not the end but the beginning of his proceeding in search of the first and ultimate causes. Wherefore Plato and Democritus, enquiring after the cause of heat and gravity, did not stop at the consideration of earth and fire, but bringing things perceptible to sense to beginnings intelligible only by the mind, they went on even to the smallest, as it were the seeds of what they sought for.
9. But it is much the better way for us in the first place to move forward upon those things which are perceptible to sense, wherein Empedocles, Strato, and the Stoics placed the substances of active qualities; the Stoics ascribing primitive cold to the air, Empedocles and Strato to the water; and perhaps there might be somebody else who might affirm the earth to be the substance of cold. But first let us consider the opinions of those already named.
Seeing then that fire is both hot and bright, therefore there must be something opposite to fire which is cold and dark. For as dark is opposite to light, so is cold to hot. Besides, as dark confounds the sight, so cold confounds the feeling. But heat diffuses the sense of feeling, as light diffuses the sense of seeing. Therefore that which is first dark in nature is first cold. Now that the air is first dark, was not unknown to the poets; for that they call the air darkness:
They also call the air, when it is without light ϰνεφας, as being as it were ϰενὸν φάους (void of light.) The air collected and condensed into a cloud is called νέφος, from its negation of light (νή-φάος). The words also ἀχλύς and ὁμίχλη (mist), and whatever else restrains the perception of light from the sense, are but distinctions of the air; insomuch that the same part of it which is invisible and without color (ἀειδές and ἀχϱωστον) is called Hades and Acheron. So that, as the air grows dark when the splendor of it fails, in like manner when heat fails, that which is left is no more than cold air, which by reason of its coldness is called Tartarus. And this Hesiod makes manifest, when he calls it Τάϱταϱον ἠεϱόεντα (or cloudy Tartarus); and when a man quakes and shivers for cold, he is said to tartarize. And so much for this.
10. But in regard corruption is the alteration of those things that are corrupted into that which is contrary to every one of them, let us consider whether it be a true saying, “The death of fire is the generation of air.” For fire dies like a living creature, being quenched by force or going out of its own accord. Now quenching makes the alteration of it into air more conspicuous. For smoke is a sort of air, or, according to Pindar, a fuliginous vapor and exhalation, “lashing the air with steaming smoke.”* On the other side, when fire goes out for want of fuel, as in candles, you shall observe a thick and cloudy air ascending from the top of them. Moreover, the vapor steaming from our bodies upon the pouring of cold water after hot bathing or sweating sufficiently declares the alteration of extinguished heat into air, as being naturally opposite to air; whence it follows that the air was at first dark and cold.
11. Then again, congelation, which is the most forcible and violent of all things that befall our bodies by reason of cold, is the affection of water, but the action of air. For water of itself is easily diffused, loose in its parts, and not readily congealed together; but it is thickened and compressed by the air, by reason of the coldness of it. Which is the reason of the proverb:
For the southern wind preparing the moisture as matter, presently the north wind receives and congeals it. And this is manifest from the consideration of snow; for ere it falls, you shall observe a thin and sharp cold air breathing before it. Aristotle also tells us, that whetstones of lead [?] will melt and run in the winter through excess of freezing cold, merely upon the setting of the water near them. For it is probable that the air compresses and gripes the bodies so close together, that at length it breaks and crumbles them in pieces.
12. And therefore water drawn from a fountain soonest congeals; for the more of cold in the air overcomes the less of cold in the water. Thus if a man takes cold water out of a well and puts it into a vessel, and then lets the vessel down again into the well, so that it may not touch the water but hang for some time in the air, the water will be much colder. Whence it is apparent, that the coldness of the water is not the first cause of coldness, but the coldness of the air. For you do not find that any of your great rivers are ever thoroughly frozen, by reason of their depth. For the air doth not pierce through the whole; only so much as it can seize and embrace with its cold quality generally freezes, and no more. Therefore the barbarians never cross over frozen rivers till they have sent a fox before to try the depth of the ice. For if the ice be not very thick, but only superficial, the fox, perceiving it by the noise of the water floating underneath, returns. And some there are that melt the ice with hot water to make way for their lines, when they go to catch fish in winter. So that nothing suffers from cold in the depth of the water. Nevertheless, so great has been the alteration of the upper parts of the water by congelation, that several vessels riding in the stream have been bruised and broken by the forcible compressure and griping of the congelation; as we have heard from them who lately had their winter quarters with Caesar upon the Danube. And indeed, what happens to ourselves is sufficient to demonstrate the truth of this. For after hot bathings and sweatings, we are most sensible of cold, at what time, our bodies being open and the skin relaxed, we give a freer entrance to the cold together with the ambient air. And after the very same manner the water itself suffers. For it sooner freezes if it be first heated, as being thereby rendered more easy for the air to work upon. And therefore they who lade out scalding water, and let it fall again from a good height in the air, do it to no other purpose than to mix it with a great deal of air. And therefore, Favorinus, the arguments that attribute the first power of cold to the air are grounded upon these probabilities.
13. Those that allow it to water lean upon principles of the same nature. And this was intimated by Empedocles, where he says:
And thus opposing cold to heat, and dark to bright, he gives us to understand that black and cold are both of the same substance, as also are bright and hot. Now that black is proper to the water and not to the air, sense itself bears witness, nothing being darkened by the air, all things being clouded and blackened by water. So that if you throw the whitest wool that is, or a white garment into the water, it comes out black, and so remains, till the moisture be dried up again by the heat, or squeezed forth by presses or weights. Also when the ground is watered, the places that receive the drops grow black, the rest retaining their former color. And therefore the deepest waters, by reason of their quantity, always appear blackest, but the parts which are next the air afford a lovely and smiling brightness. But of all liquids, oil is the most transparent, because of the great quantity of air that is in it. And of this, the lightness of it is an unquestionable proof; the reason why it swims above all things, as carried upward by the air. Being poured forth upon the waves, it will cause calmness upon the sea, not because it is so slippery that the winds can have no power over it, as Aristotle thought, but because the waves will fall and sink when smitten by any moist body. And this is also peculiar to oil, that it shines and causes a transparency at the bottom of the water, while the watery humors are dispersed by the air. For being spurted out of the mouth into the sea, not only by those that sail in the night, but also by those that dive for sponges to the bottom of the sea, it will cast a light in the water. Water therefore has more of blackness than the air, but less of cold. Oil therefore, partaking more of air than most liquid things, is least cold, nor will it easily or suddenly freeze; for the air which is mixed with it will not suffer the congelation to grow hard. And therefore, as for needles, steel buckles, and such sort of small iron and steel wares, they never quench them in water but in oil, fearing lest the over-coldness of the water should make them too brittle. And indeed the truth is more truly enquired into from the consideration of these experiments, than those of colors. For hail, snow, and ice, as they are most transparent, so are most cold; and pitch, as it is hotter, so it is blacker and darker than honey.
14. This makes me admire at those who affirm the air to be cold because it is dark and obscure, unless it be because they find others affirming it to be hot because it is light. For dark is not so proper and familiar to cold, as heavy and stable; for many things that are void of heat partake of splendor and light, but there is nothing cold that is light, nimble, or apt to ascend upward. Even the clouds themselves, while they preserve the nature of air, tower aloft in the sky; but changing into moisture, they presently fall down, and having admitted coldness, they lose their lightness as well as their heat. And so on the other side, having regained their heat, they again return to motion, their substance being carried upward as soon as it is changed into air.
Neither is the argument produced from corruption true. For nothing that perishes is corrupted into what is opposite, but by what is opposite to it; as fire extinguished by water changes into air. And therefore Aeschylus spake not merely like a tragedian but like a philosopher, when he said,
The water curb, that punishment of fire.
In like manner Homer opposed in battle Vulcan to the river, and Apollo to Neptune, more like a philosopher than a poet or mythologist. And Archilochus spoke not amiss of a woman whose thoughts were contrary to her words, when he said,
Among the Persians there were several customs of supplication, of which the chiefest, and that which would admit of no refusal, was when the suppliant, taking fire in his hand and entering into a river, threatened, if his supplications were denied, to throw the fire into the water. But though his suit were granted him, yet he was punished for threatening, as being against the law and contrary to Nature. And this is a vulgar proverb in everybody’s mouth, to mix fire with water, spoken of those that would attempt impossibilities; to show that water is an enemy to fire, and being extinguished thereby, is destroyed and punished by it, — not by the air, which, upon the change and destruction of it, receives and entertains the substance of it. For if that into which the thing destroyed is changed be contrary to it, why does fire seem contrary to air more than water? For air changes into water by condensation, but into fire by dissipation; as, on the other side, water is turned into air by separation, into earth by condensation. Which, in my opinion, happens by reason of the propriety and near affinity between both, not from any thing of contrariety and hostility one to another. Others there are, that, which way soever they maintain it, spoil the argument. For it is most irrational to say that water is congealed by the air, when they never saw the air congealed in their lives. For clouds, fogs, and mists are no congelations, but thickenings and condensations of the air moist and full of vapors; but a dry air void of moisture never undergoes refrigeration to such a degree. For there are some mountains that never admit of a cloud, nor dew, nor mist, their tops being so high as to reach into an air that is pure and void of moisture. Whence it is manifest that it is the condensation and consistency below, which contributes that cold and moisture to the air which is mixed with it.
15. Now that great rivers never freeze downwards is but consentaneous to reason. For those parts which are frozen above transmit no exhalation outward; for this, being penned up within and forced downward, affords heat to the moisture at the bottom. A clear demonstration of which is this, that when the ice is dissolved, you may observe a steam arising out of the water upwards in a very great quantity. And therefore the bodies of living creatures are warmest within in the winter, for that the heat is driven inward by the ambient cold. Now those upward exhalations and ascensions of the vapors deprive the waters not only of their heat but of their coolness. And therefore they that vehemently desire their drink to be cold never move the snow nor the moisture that is pressed out of it; for motion would deprive them both of the virtue which is required from them.
Now that this virtue is not the virtue of air, but of water, a man may collect by reasoning thus from the beginning. First, it is not probable that the air, which is next the sky, and touching the fiery substance is also touched by it, should be endued with a contrary virtue; for otherwise it is not possible that the extremities of the one should touch and be contiguous to the extremities of the other. Nor is it agreeable to reason that Nature should constitute that which is corrupted next in order to that which corrupts, as if she were not the author of community and harmony but of combat and contention. For she makes use of contrary things in sustaining the universe; but she does not use them pure and unmixed, nor so that they will be in hostility; but she uses such as have alternately a certain position and order which is not destructive, but which inclines them to communicate and co-operate one with another, and to effect a harmony between the opposing qualities. And this is the nature of the air, being expanded under the fire above the water, contingent and adhering to both, neither hot in itself nor cold, but containing an intermixture and communion of hot and cold, harmlessly intermixed in herself; and lightly cherishing the contrary extremities.
16. Therefore the air is of an equal temper in all places, but winter is not in all places alike non equally cold; but some parts of the habitable world are cold and moist, others hot and dry, not by chance, but because there is but one substance of heat and dryness. For the greatest part of Africa is hot and without water. But they that have travelled Scythia, Thrace, and the Pontic regions report them to be full of vast lakes, and large and deep rivers. And as for those regions lying between, those parts that join upon lakes and marshes are most cold by reason of the exhalations from the water. Posidonius therefore, affirming the freshness and moistness of the air of marshes to be the cause of its cold, has no way disturbed the probability of our argument, but rather added to the strength of it; for the air would not always be the colder the fresher it is, unless cold has its original from moisture. And therefore Homer much more truly shows us the fountain of cold, when he says,
Then again it many times happens that our sense deceives us. So that when we feel cold garments or cold wool, we believe we feel them to be moist, by reason of the substance which is common to both, and of their natures which are coherent and familiar one with another. But in climates where the cold is extreme, it oftentimes breaks and cracks both pots and vessels, whether made of earth or brass, — none empty, but all full, the cold giving force and might to the liquor within, — which made Theophrastus say, that the air breaks those vessels, making use of the cold as of a hammer; whether more eloquently or more truly spoken, I leave you to judge. For then vessels full of pitch or milk should be more subject to be broken by the air.
But water seems to be cold of itself, and that primitively too; for in respect of the coldness of it, it is opposite to the heat of the fire; as to drought in respect of its moisture, and to ponderosity in regard of its lightness. Lastly, fire is altogether of a dissipating and dividing nature; water, of a nature to fasten and contain, holding and joining together by virtue of its moisture. Which was the reason why Empedocles called fire “a pernicious contention,” but water a “tenacious friendship.” For the nourishment of fire is that which changes into fire, and it changes that which is as it were of kin and familiar to it. What is contrary to it, as water, cannot be changed by it, or at least only with great difficulty. True it is, that as for itself, as I may so say, it cannot be burned; but as for green wood and wet straw, it overcomes them with much struggling, while the heat and cold contending together, by reason of their moisture and their natural antipathy, produce only a dull flame, clouded with smoke, that makes little progress upon the materials.
17. Compare these arguments with theirs, and consider them well. But Chrysippus, believing the air to be the primitive cold, because it is dark, makes mention only of those that say the water lies at farther distance from the sky than the air. And being desirous to give some answer to them, “If so,” says he, “we may as well affirm the earth to be primitively cold, because it is the farthest distant from the sky;” rejecting that, as altogether improbable and absurd. But for my part, I am of opinion that there might be many probable and rational arguments brought for the earth; beginning with that which Chrysippus chiefly makes use of for the air. What is this? First, that it is dark. For if he, assuming these two contrarieties of faculties, believes that the one follows the other of necessity, then there might be produced a thousand oppositions and repugnances of the earth in respect of the sky, which would of necessity follow upon this which we have mentioned. For it is not to be opposed only as heavy to light, or as that which tends downward to that which moves upward, or as slow and stable to swift and full of motion; but as that which is heaviest to that which is most thin, or lastly, as that which is immovable of itself to that which moves spontaneously, and as possessing the middle space to that which is in a perpetual circular motion. Would it not be absurd to aver that the opposition of heat to cold is accompanied with so many and such remarkable contrarieties? But fire is bright, the earth is dark, nay, the very darkest and most void of light of all things. The air first of all participates of light, is soonest altered, and being replenished with radiancy, diffuses the splendor of it far and near, and shows itself a vast body of light. For the sun rising, as one of the dithyrambic authors writes,
From thence the descending air disposes a part of her brightness to the sea and lakes, and the hidden depths of profound rivers laugh and smile so far as the air penetrates into them. Only the earth of all bodies remains without light, and impenetrable to the beams of the sun and moon. But it is cherished and comforted by them, and suffers a small part of it to be warmed and softened by entrance of the heat. But the solidness of it will not admit the brightness of light, only the surface of it is enlightened; but the innermost parts of it are called by the names of Darkness, Chaos, and Hades; and Erebus is nothing else but that same perpetual darkness and horror in the body of the earth. Besides, the mythologists tell us that Night was the daughter of the Earth; and the mathematicians show that it is the shadow of the earth eclipsing the body of the sun. For the air is filled with darkness by the earth, as with light by the sun; and that part of the air which is void of all light is that same length of the night which is caused by the shadow of the earth. And therefore both men and many beasts make use of the exterior air, and ramble in the dark, guided only by some footsteps of light and certain effluxes of a dim twinkling that are scattered through it; but he that keeps house and shuts himself up in his chamber, as being encompassed by the earth, remains altogether blind and without light. Also the hides and horns of beasts will not admit of light by reason of their solidness; but being burnished and shaved, they become transparent, the air being intermixed with them. Moreover, I am of opinion that the earth is everywhere by the poets said to be black, by reason of the darkness of it and want of light. So that the antithesis of light and darkness is much more remarkable in reference to the earth, than in respect of the air.
18. But this is nothing to the question. For we have shown that there are many cold things which are bright and transparent, and many hot things which are obscure and dark. But ponderosity, stability, density, and immutability are qualities more properly belonging to cold, of none of which the air partakes, but of all of which the earth has a far greater share than the water. And yet in all these things cold, by the judgment of sense itself, appears to be hard, to cause hardness, and to make resistance. For Theophrastus tells us of fish that have been frozen by extremity of cold, when they have chanced to bounce ashore, that their bodies have been broken and crumbled to pieces like a vessel of glass or potter’s clay. You yourself have heard at Delphi, how that certain persons ascending to the top of Parnassus to succor the Thyades that were overtaken with a violent storm of wind and hail, their coats were frozen so hard and into a substance so like wood, that being spread upon the ground they broke and crumbled to pieces. It also stiffens the nerves and deprives the tongue of motion, congealing the moist and softer parts of the body.
19. This being obvious to sight, let us consider the effect. Every faculty, wherever it prevails, changes into itself whatever it overcomes. Thus whatever is overcome by heat is set on fire; that which is vanquished by wind is changed into air. That which falls into water becomes well moistened, unless quickly saved. Of necessity, therefore, those things which are violently affected by cold must be changed into the primitive cold. For freezing is an excess of refrigeration; which congelation ends in alteration and petrifaction, when the cold, prevailing every way, congeals the liquid substance and presses forth the heat; so that the bottom of the earth is, as it were, a kind of congelation, and altogether ice. For there the cold inhabits simple and unmixed, and removed hard and rigid at the greatest distance from the sky. But as for those things which are conspicuous, as rocks and precipices, Empedocles believes them to be thrust forth and supported by the fire that burns in the bottom of the earth. Which appears the more, in regard that, wherever the heat is pressed forth and vanishes away, all those things are congealed or stiffened by the cold; and therefore congelations are called πάγοι (stiffened). And the extremities of many things where heat fails, growing black, make them look like brands when the fire is out. For cold congeals some things more, some things less; more especially such things wherein it is primitively existent. For as, if it be the nature of hot to render light, that which is hottest is lightest; if of moist to soften, that which is moistest is softest; so if it be the nature of cold to congeal, of necessity that which is coldest must be most congealed, — that is to say the earth, — and that which is most cold must be that which is by nature and primitively cold, which is no more than what is apparent to sense. For mud is colder than water, and earth being thrown upon fire puts it out. Your smiths also, when their iron is melted and red hot, strew upon it the dust of marble to cool it and stop the running of it too fluidly. Dust also cools the bodies of the wrestlers, and dries up their sweat.
20. To go no farther, what means our own yearly practice to alter our lodgings and habitations, while we remove in the winter so far as we can into the upper parts of our buildings, but in the summer descend again and seek convenient refuge in the lower edifices, sometimes enjoying ourselves under ground in the very arms of the earth? Do we not do it, as being guided by our senses for coolness’s sake to the earth, and thereby acknowledging that to be the seat of primitive cold? And certainly our coveting to live near the sea in winter may be thought to be a kind of flight from the earth, since we seem to forsake it, as far as we can, by reason of the nipping frosts, and run to encircle themselves with the air of the sea for warmth’s sake; and then again in the summer, by reason of the scorching heat, we desire the earth-born upland air, not because it is cold of itself, but because it had its original and blossomed from the primitive natural cold, and is imbued with that power which is in the earth, as iron is imbued with the virtue of the water wherein it is quenched. Then again, of river waters we find those are the coldest that flow upon gravel and stones and fall down from mountains; and of well-waters, those which are in the deepest wells. For with these the exterior air is no longer mixed, by reason of the depth of the wells, and the other arise out of the pure and unmixed earth; like the river that falls from the mountain Taenarum, which they call the water of Styx, rising out of a rock with a parsimonious spring, but so cold that no other vessel except the hoof of an ass will hold it; for all other sorts of vessels it breaks and cracks to pieces.
21. The physicians also tell us that the nature of all sorts of earth is binding and restrictive; and they number up several sorts of metals which are made use of in physic by reason of their styptic and binding qualities. For the element of earth is fit neither to cut nor to move, neither has it any points, neither is it subject to be softened or melted, but is firm and stable like a cube; and therefore it has both ponderosity and coldness, and the faculty to thicken and condense moist things; and it causes tremblings and quiverings in bodies by reason of its inequality; and if it get the better by the utter expulsion and extinguishing of the heat, it occasions a frozen and deadly habit of body. Therefore earth either does not consume by burning, or else burns with a very slow and difficult progress. But the air many times darts forth flame from itself; and being once set on fire, it grows fluid and flashes out in lightning. Heat also feeds upon moisture; for it is not the solid part of the wood, but the moist and oily part, that is combustible; which being consumed, the solid and dry is left behind in the ashes. Neither do they arrive at their mark, who, pretending to burn the ashes also, sprinkle them with oil and grease; for when the liquid is consumed, the earthy part remains, do what they can. Therefore, because the earth is not only of a nature not to be moved from its station, but also unalterable in its substance and always abiding in the habitation of the Gods, the ancients well called it Hestia or Vesta (from standing), by reason of its immobility and concretion; of which cold is the bond or ligament, as Archelaus the philosopher termed it, which nothing is able to unloosen or soften, as not being capable of heat and warmth.
As for those who say they have been sensible of the cold of air and water, but never felt the earth so cold, they consider only the surface of the earth, which is a mixture of air, water, sun, and heat. They are no better than people who deny the aether to be naturally and primitively hot, but believe it to be either scalding water or red hot iron, because they feel and handle the one, but are not sensible of the pure and celestial fire. In like manner, neither do they see the earth which lies concealed at the bottom, though that be what is chiefly to be taken for the earth, separated from all other things. We may see some token of this lower earth in these rocks here about us, which from their depths send forth a cold vapor so sharp and vehement that it is hard to be endured. They also that desire cool drink throw small flint stones into water. For it becomes denser and quicker to the taste, through the cold which is carried upward fresh and unmixed from the stones.
22. Therefore it was the opinion of the ancient philosophers and learned men, that terrestrial and celestial things were not to be mixed together, not so much out of a local consideration of uppermost and lowermost, in respect of place, but with a respect to the difference of faculties, attributing hot and splendent, swift and light to the immortal and sempiternal Nature, but believing dark and cold and slow to be the unhappy portion of the dead under the shackles of corruption. Since the body of a living creature, while it breathes and flourishes (as the poets say), enjoys both heat and life; but being deprived of these, and only the terrestrial parts remaining, presently cold and stiffness take place, as if heat were naturally existent in every thing else but only the earth.
23. These things, dear Favorinus, compare with what has been said by others; and if they neither come too short of probability nor too much exceed it, bid all their opinions farewell, as believing it much more becoming a philosopher to pause in dubious matters, rather than over hastily to side with any one particular party.
[* ]Odyss. IX. 144.
[† ]Il. XVI. 649.
[* ]Pind. Isthm. IV. 112.
[* ]Odyss. V. 469.