Front Page Titles (by Subject) Book VI: Explains from the Atomic Point of View a Variety of Occurrences, Partly Meteorological Phenomena, Partly Terrestrial Curiosities - On the Nature of Things
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Book VI: Explains from the Atomic Point of View a Variety of Occurrences, Partly Meteorological Phenomena, Partly Terrestrial Curiosities - Titus Lucretius Carus, On the Nature of Things 
Lucretius On the Nature of Things, trans. Cyril Bailey (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910).
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Explains from the Atomic Point of View a Variety of Occurrences, Partly Meteorological Phenomena, Partly Terrestrial Curiosities
Introduction. It is the glory of Athens to have produced Epicurus.In time gone by Athens, of glorious name, first spread among struggling mortals the fruits that bear corn, and fashioned life afresh, and enacted laws; she, too, first gave sweet solace for life, when she gave birth to the man gifted with the great mind, who once poured forth all wisdom from his truthful lips; yea, even when his light was quenched, thanks to his divine discoveries his glory, noised abroad of old, is now lifted to the sky.He saw that men, in spite of all outward advantages, were miserable, For when he saw that mortals had by now attained wellnigh all things which their needs crave for subsistence, and that, as far as they could, their life was established in safety, that men abounded in power through wealth and honours and renown, and were haughty in the good name of their children, and yet not one of them for all that had at home a heart less anguished, but with torture of mind lived a fretful life without any respite, and was constrained to rage with savage complaining,and realized that the fault lay in the heart. he then did understand that it was the vessel itself which wrought the disease, and that by its disease all things were corrupted within, whatsoever came into it gathered from without, yea even blessings; in part because he saw that it was leakingn and full of holes, so that by no means could it ever be filled; in part because he perceived that it tainted as with a foul savour all things within it, which it had taken in. And so with his discourse of truthful words he purged the heart and set a limit to its desire and fear,He purged the heart and taught it the path to the highest good, and the means of meeting the ills of life. and set forth what is the highest good, towards which we all strive, and pointed out the path, whereby along a narrow track we may strain on towards it in a straight course; he showed what there is of ill in the affairs of mortals everywhere, coming to being and flying abroad in diverse forms, be it by the chance or the force of nature,n because nature had so brought it to pass; he showed from what gates it is meet to sally out against each ill, and he proved that ’tis in vain for the most part that the race of men set tossing in their hearts the gloomy billows of care.The darkness of the mind must be dispelled by knowledge. For even as children tremble and fear everything in blinding darkness, so we sometimes dread in the light things that are no whit more to be feared than what children shudder at in the dark and imagine will come to pass. This terror then, this darkness of the mind, must needs be scattered not by the rays and the gleaming shafts of day, but by the outer view and the inner law of nature. Wherefore I will hasten the more to weave the thread of my task in my discourse.
I must now speak of the phenomena of the sky;And now that I have shown that the quarters of the firmament are mortal, and that the heaven is fashioned of a body that has birth, and have unravelled wellnigh all that happens therein, and must needs happen, listen still to what remains; forasmuch as once <I have made bold> to climb the glorious car NA1 <I will tell how the tempests> of the winds arise,2 and are appeased,which men falsely believe to be the work of gods, and all that once was raging is changed again, when its fury is appeased; and all else which mortals see coming to pass on earth and in the sky, when often they are in suspense with panic-stricken mind—things which bring their hearts low through dread of the gods, and bow them down grovelling to earth, because their ignorance of true causes constrains them to assign things to the ordinance of the gods, and to admit their domination. For those who have learnt aright that the gods lead a life free from care, yet if from time to time they wonder by what means all things can be carried on, above all among those things which are descried above our heads in the coasts of heaven, are borne back again into the old beliefs of religion, and adopt stern overlords, whom in their misery they believe have all power, knowing not what can be and what cannot, yea,through ignorance of nature’s laws. and in what way each thing has its power limited, and its deepset boundary-stone: wherefore all the more they stray, borne on by a blind reasoning. And unless you spew out all this from your mind and banish far away thoughts unworthy of the gods and alien to their peace,Such belief is a degradation to the gods and will destroy your own peace in religious worship. the holy powers of the gods, degraded by thy thought, will often do thee harm; not that the high majesty of the godsn can be polluted by thee, so that in wrath they should yearn to seek sharp retribution, but because you yourself will imagine that those tranquil beings in their placid peace set tossing the great billows of wrath, nor with quiet breast will you approach the shrines of the gods, nor have strength to drink in with tranquil peace of mind the images which are borne from their holy body to herald their divine form to the minds of men. And therefore what manner of life will follow, you may perceive. And in order that truest reasoning may drive this far from us, although much has already gone forth from me, yet much remains to be adorned with polished verse;We must find out the laws of storms and lightnings. we must grasp the outer view and inner law of the sky, we must sing of storms and flashing lightnings, of how they act and by what cause they are severally carried along; that you may not mark out the quarters of the sky, and ask in frenzied anxiety, whence came this winged flash, or to what quarter it departed hence, in what manner it won its way through walled places, and how after tyrant deeds it brought itself forth again: the causes of these workings they can by no means see, and think that a divine power brings them about. Do thou, as I speed towards the white line of the final goal, mark out the track before me, Calliope, muse of knowledge, thou who art rest to men and pleasure to the gods, that with thee to guide I may win the wreath with praise conspicuous.
A. Celestial phenomena. 1. Thunder may be caused (a) when clouds clash together face to face; (being of a texture neither close nor rare);First of all the blue of the sky is shaken by thunder because the clouds in high heaven, scudding aloft, clash together when the winds are fighting in combat. For the sound comes not from a clear quarter of the sky, but wherever the clouds are massed in denser host, from there more often comes the roar and its loud rumbling. Moreover, the clouds cannot be of so dense a body as are stocks and stones, nor yet so thin as are mists and flying smoke. For either they were bound to fall dragged down by their dead weight, as do stones, or like smoke they could not hold together or keep within them chill snow and showers of hail.(b) when they scrape along one another’s sides, and make a noise like wind in a flapping awning or paper; Again, they give forth a sound over the levels of the spreading firmament, as often an awning stretched over a great theatre gives a crack, as it tosses among the posts and beams; sometimes, too, it rages madly, rent by the boisterous breezes, and imitates the rending noise of sheets of paper—for that kind of sound too you may recognize in the thunder—or else a sound as when the winds buffet with their blows and beat through the air a hanging garment or flying papers. For indeed it also comes to pass at times that the clouds cannot so much clash together face to face, but rather pass along the flank, moving from diverse quarters, and slowly grazing body against body; and then the dry sound brushes upon the ears, and is drawn out long, until they have issued from their close quarters.
(c) when wind is caught in a cloud and suddenly bursts it;In this way, too, all things seem often to tremble with heavy thunder, and the great walls of the containing world to be torn apart suddenly and leap asunder, when all at once a gathered storm of mighty wind has twisted its way into the clouds, and, shut up there with its whirling eddy, constrains the cloud more and more on all sides to hollow itself out with body thickening all around; and then, when the force and fierce onslaught of the wind have weakened it, it splits and makes a rending crash with a frightful cracking sound. Nor is that strange, when a little bladder full of air often likewise gives forth a little noise, if suddenly burst.
(d) when wind blows through the clouds, like a forest;There is also another way, when winds blow through clouds, whereby they may make a noise. For often we see clouds borne along, branching in many ways, and rough-edged; even as, we may be sure, when the blasts of the north-west blow through a dense forest, the leaves give out a noise and the branches a rending crash.(e) when the wind bursts a cloud open; It comes to pass, too, sometimes, that the force of a mighty wind rushing on tears through the cloud and breaks it asunder with a front attack. For what the blast can do there is shown by things clear to see here on earth, where the wind is gentler and yet it tears out and sucks up tall trees from their lowest roots. There are, too,(f) when the rainwaves in the clouds break; (g) when lightning, falling from one cloud into another, hisses or waves moving through the clouds, which as it were make a heavy roar in breaking; just as it comes to pass in deep rivers and the great sea, when the tide breaks. This happens too, when the fiery force of the thunderbolt falls from cloud to cloud; if by chance the cloud has received the flame in deep moisture, it straightway slays it with a great noise; just as often iron white-hot from the fiery furnaces hisses, when we have plunged it quickly into cold water.(h) burns the cloud up; Or again, if a drier cloud receives the flame, it is at once fired, and burns with a vast noise; just as if among the laurel-leafed mountains flame were to roam abroad beneath the eddying of the winds, burning them up in its mighty onset; nor is there any other thing which is burnt up by the crackling flame with sound so terrible as the Delphic laurel of Phoebus.(i) when the ice and hail in the clouds crash. Again, often the great cracking of ice and the falling of hail makes a noise in the mighty clouds on high. For when the wind packs them tight, the mountains of storm-clouds, frozen close and mingled with hail, break up.
2. Lightning may be caused (a) when two clouds colliding strike fire. (We see it before we hear the thunder, because light travels faster than sound.)It lightens likewise, when the clouds at their clashing have struck out many seeds of fire; just as if stone should strike on stone or on iron; for then, too, a flash leaps out and scatters abroad bright sparks of fire. But it comes to pass that we receive the thunder in our ears after our eyes perceive the lightning, because things always move more slowlyn to the ears than things which stir the eyes. That you may learn from this too; if you see some one far off cutting down a giant tree with double-edged axe, it comes to pass that you see the stroke before the blow resounds in your ear; even so we see the lightning too before we hear the thunder, which is sent abroad at the same moment with the flash, from a like cause, yea, born indeed from the same collision.
In this manner, too, the clouds colour places with leaping light, and the storm lightens with quivering dart.(b) when wind shut in a cloud whirls itself round till it ignites. When wind has come within a cloud, and moving there has, as I have shown before, made the hollow cloud grow thick, it grows hot with its own swift movement; even as you see all things become hot and catch fire through motion, yea, even a ball of lead too, whirling in a long course, will melt. And so when this heated wind has torn through the black cloud, it scatters abroad seeds of fire, as though struck out all at once by force, and they make the pulsing flashes of flame; thereafter follows the sound, which reaches our ears more slowly than things which come to the light of our eyes. This, we must know,This happens in high-piled masses of clouds: comes to pass in thick clouds, which are also piled up high one on the other in wondrous slope; lest you be deceived because we below see how broad they are rather than to what a height they stand piled up. For do but look, when next the winds carry athwart the air clouds in the semblance of mountains, or when you see them heaped along a mighty mountain-range one above the other, pressing down from above, at rest in their appointed place, when the winds on all sides are in their graves. Then you will be able to mark their mighty mass, and to see their caverns built up, as it were, of hanging rocks: and when the storm has risen and the winds have filled them,the wind collects all the seeds of fire in one and then bursts through the cloud; with loud roar they chafe prisoned in the clouds, and threaten like wild beasts in cages; now from this side, now from that they send forth their roaring through the clouds, and seeking an outlet they move round and round, and roll together the seeds of fire from out the clouds, and so drive many into a mass and set the flame whirling within the hollow furnaces, until they have rent asunder the cloud and flashed blazing out.
(c) when the fire in the clouds themselves is driven out as they collide,For this cause, too, it comes to pass that this swift golden tinge of liquid fire flies down to earth, because it must needs be that the clouds have in themselves very many seeds of fire; for indeed when they are without any moisture, they have for the most part a bright and flaming colour. For verily it must needs be that they catch many such from the sun’s light, so that with reason they are red, and pour forth their fires. When then the wind as it drives them has pushed and packed and compelled them into one spot, they squeeze out and pour forth the seeds which make the colours of flame to flash. It lightens likewise,(d) or falls naturally as they break: this causes sheet lightning. also when the clouds of heaven grow thin. For when the wind lightly draws them asunder as they move, and breaks them up, it must needs be that those seeds, which make the flash, fall out unbidden. Then it lightens without hideous alarm, without noise, and with no uproar.
3. Thunderbolts are of fiery nature,For the rest, with what kind of nature the thunderbolts are endowed, is shown by the blows and the burned markings of their heat and the brands which breathe out noisome vapours of sulphur. For these are marks of fire, not of wind nor rain. Moreover, often too they set the roofs of dwellings on fire, and with swiftly-moving flame play the tyrant even within the houses.and formed of exceedingly subtle fire, as we may see from their effects. This fire, you must know, nature has fashioned most subtle of all subtle fires, of tiny swift-moving bodies—a flame to which nothing at all can be a barrier. For the strong thunderbolt can pass through the walls of houses, even as shouts and cries, can pass through rocks, through things of bronze, and in a moment of time can melt bronze and gold; likewise it causes wine in an instant to flee away, though the vessels be untouched, because, we may be sure, its heat as it comes easily loosens all around and makes rarefied the porcelain of the vessel, and finding its way right into the wine, with quick motion dissolves and scatters the first-beginnings of the wine. Yet this the heat of the sun is seen to be unable to bring about in a long age, though it has such exceeding strength in its flashing blaze. So much swifter and more masterful is this force of the thunderbolt.
We must explain their power and action.Now in what manner they are fashioned and made with such force that they can with their blow burst open towers, overthrow houses, pluck up beams and joists, and upset and <destroy>1 the monuments of men, take the life from men, lay low the flocks on every side; by what force they are able to do all other things of this sort, I will set forth, nor keep thee longer waiting on my promise.
They are created only when clouds are densely piled on high,We must suppose that thunderbolts are produced from thick clouds, piled up on high; for none are ever hurled abroad from the clear sky or from clouds of slight thickness. For without doubt clear-seen facts show that this comes to pass; at such times clouds grow into a mass throughout all the air, so that on all sides we might think that all darkness has left Acheron and filled the great vault of the sky; so terribly, when the noisome night of clouds has gathered together, do the shapes of black fear hang over us on high, when the storm begins to forge its thunderbolts. Moreover,as we see them sometimes over the sea. very often a black storm-cloud too, over the sea, like a stream of pitch shot from the sky, falls upon the waters, laden with darkness afar off, and draws on a black storm big with thunderbolts and hurricanes, itself more than all filled full with fires and winds in such wise that even on land men shudder and seek for shelter. Thus then above our head must we suppose the storm is raised high. For indeed they would not shroud the earth in such thick gloom, unless there were many clouds built up aloft on many others, shutting out all sunlight; nor when they come could they drown it in such heavy rain, as to make the rivers overflow and the fields swim, unless the ether were filled with clouds piled up on high.Such clouds are full of wind and fire. Here, then, all is full of winds and fires; for this cause all around come crashings and lightnings. For verily I have shown ere now that the hollow clouds possess very many seeds of heat, and many they must needs catch from the sun’s rays and their blaze.The wind with the fire forms an eddy, Therefore, when the same wind, which drives them together, as it chances, into some one place, has squeezed out many seeds of heat, and at the same time has mingled itself with this fire, an eddy finds its way in there and whirls round in a narrow space and sharpens the thunderbolt in the hot furnaces within. For it is kindled in two ways, both when it grows hot with its own swift motion, and from contact with the fire.which bursts the cloud and comes out as a thunderbolt, bringing with it thunder, lightning, storm, and rain. Next, when the force of the wind has grown exceeding hot, and the fierce onset of the fire has entered in, then the thunderbolt, full-forged, as it were, suddenly rends through the cloud, and shot out is borne on flooding all places with its blazing light. In its train follows a heavy crash, so that the quarters of the sky above seem to be burst asunder on a sudden and crush us. Then a trembling thrills violently through the earth, and rumblings race over the high heaven; for then all the storm is shaken into trembling and roarings move abroad. And from this shock follows rain, heavy and abundant, so that all the air seems to be turned into rain, and thus falling headlong to summon earth back to deluge: so great a shower is shot forth with the rending of the cloud and the hurricane of wind, when the thunderclap flies forth with its burning blow. At times,Sometimes the cloud is burst by an external wind. too, the rushing force of wind falls from without upon the cloud hot with its new-forged thunderbolt; and when it has rent the cloud, straightway there falls out that fiery eddy which we call by the name our fathers gave it, the thunderbolt. The same thing happens in other directions, wherever its force has carried it. It comes to pass, too,Sometimes the wind itself ignites in its course, sometimes that the force of the wind, starting without fire, yet catches fire on its course and its long wandering, as it loses in its journey, while it is approaching, certain large bodies, which cannot like the others make their way through the air; and gathering other small bodies from the air itself it carries them along, and they mingling with it make fire in their flight;like a flying ball of lead. in no other way than often a ball of lead grows hot in its course, when dropping many bodies of stiff cold it has taken in fire in the air.Or the blow of wind on cloud may create fire, It comes to pass, too, that the force of the very blow rouses fire, when the force of the wind, starting cold without fire, has struck its stroke; because, we may be sure, when it has hit with violent blow, particles of heat can stream together out of the wind itself, and at the same time from the thing which then receives the blow; just as,like iron striking on stone; when we strike a stone with iron, fire flies out, nor do the seeds of blazing heat rush together any more slowly at its blow, because the force of the iron is cold. Thus then a thing is bound to be kindled by the thunderbolt too, if by chance it is made fit and suitable for flame.for the wind itself is not wholly cold. Nor must we rashly think that the force of the wind can be wholly and utterly cold, when it has been discharged with such force on high; rather, if it is not beforehand on its journey kindled with fire, yet it arrives warmed and mingled with heat.
The velocity of the thunderbolt is caused (a) by the impulse with which it is shot from the cloud;But the great speed of the thunderbolt and its heavy blow comes to pass, yea, the thunderbolts always run their course with swift descent, because their force unaided is first of all set in motion in each case, and gathers itself within the clouds, and conceives a great effort for starting; and then, when the cloud has not been able to contain the growing strength of its onset, its force is squeezed out, and so flies with wondrous impulse even as the missiles which are borne on, when shot from engines of war. Remember,(b) because it is made of small smooth particles; too, that it is made of small and smooth particles, nor is it easy for anything to withstand such a nature: for it flies in between and pierces through the hollow passages, and so it is not clogged and delayed by many obstacles, and therefore it flies on falling with swift impulse.(c) because gravitation is augmented by a blow; Again, because all weights by nature always press downwards, but when a blow is given as well, their swiftness is doubled and the impulse grows stronger, so that the more violently and quickly does it scatter with its blows all that impedes it, and continues on its journey. Once again,(d) because in its long course it overcomes internal vibration. because it comes with long-lasting impulse,n it is bound to gather speed ever more and more, which grows as it moves, and increases its strong might and strengthens its stroke. For it brings it about that the seeds of the thunderbolt are one and all carried in a straight line, as it were towards one spot, driving them all as they fly into the same course.(e) perhaps because it is helped by particles gathered from the air. It can penetrate and dissolve things, because it impinges on them just where their atoms are joined. It may chance too that as it goes it picks up certain bodies even from the air, which kindle its swiftness by their blows. And it passes through things without harming them, and goes right through many things, and leaves them whole, because the liquid fire flies through the pores. And it pierces through many things, since the very bodies of the thunderbolt have fallen on the bodies of things just where they are interlaced and held together. Moreover, it easily melts bronze and in an instant makes gold to boil, because its force is fashioned delicately of tiny bodies and of smooth particles, which easily force a way within, and being there at once loose all the knots and slacken the bonds.Thunderbolts occur mostly in spring and autumn, because then the various elements needful for their composition most coincide. And most in autumn is the house of heaven, set with shining stars, shaken on all sides and all the earth, and again when the flowery season of spring spreads itself abroad. For in the cold fires are lacking, and in the heat winds fail, nor are clouds of so dense a body. And so when the seasons of heaven stand midway between the two, then all the diverse causes of the thunderbolt meet together. For the narrow channeln of the year of itself mingles cold and heat—of both of which the cloud has need for the forging of thunderbolts—so that there is a wrangling among things, and with great uproar the air rages and tosses with fires and winds. For the first part of the heat is the last of the stiff cold, that is the spring season: wherefore it must needs be that different elements, mingled with one another, make battle and turmoil. And again, when the last heat rolls on mingled with the first cold—the season which is called by the name of autumn—then, too, keen winters do battle with summers. For this cause these seasons must be called the narrow channels of the year, nor is it strange, if at that time thunderbolts come most often, and a turbulent tempest is gathered in the sky, since from either side is roused the turmoil of doubtful battle, on the one side with flames, on the other with mingled wind and wet.
The thunderbolt is no sign of divine wrath.This is the way to see into the true nature of the thunderbolt, and to perceive by what force it does each thing, and not by unrolling vainly the Tyrrhenian propheciesn and seeking out tokens of the hidden purpose of the gods, marking whence came the winged flash, or to what quarter it departed hence, in what manner it won its way through walled places, and how after tyrant deeds it brought itself forth again, or what harm the stroke of the thunderbolt from heaven can do.If so, why do the gods hit the innocent and leave the guilty? But if Jupitern and the other gods shake the shining quarters of heaven with awe-inspiring crash and hurl the fire to whatever point each may will, why do they not bring it about that those who have not guarded against some sin from which men hide their face, are struck and reek of the flames of lightning, with their breast pierced through, a sharp lesson to mortals? why rather is one conscious of no foul guilt wrapt and entangled, all innocent, in the flames, caught up in a moment in the fiery whirlwind of heaven?Why waste their strokes on deserts? why again do they aim at waste places and spend their strength for naught? are they then practising their arms and strengthening their muscles? and why do they suffer the father’s weapon to be blunted on the earth? why does he himself endure it and not spare it for his foes? Again,Why not hurl them from the clear sky? why does Jupiter never hurl his thunderbolt to earth and pour forth his thunders when the heaven is clear on all sides? Or, as soon as the clouds have come up, does he himself then come down into them, so that from them he may direct the blow of his weapon from close at hand?Why at the sea? Does Jupiter wish us to beware or not? Again, with what purpose does he throw into the sea? what charge has he against the waves, the mass of water and the floating fields? Moreover, if he wishes us to beware of the thunderbolt’s stroke, why is he reluctant to let us be able to see its cast? but if he wishes to overwhelm us with the fire when off our guard, why does he thunder from that quarter, so that we can shun it? why does he gather darkness beforehand and rumblings and roarings?How can he hurl many bolts at once? And how can you believe that he hurls his bolts at once to many sides? or would you dare to argue that this has never come to pass, that several strokes were made at one time? Nay, but very often has it happened and must needs happen, that as it rains and showers fall in many regions, so many thunderbolts are fashioned at one time. Lastly,Why destroy his own temples and images? why does he smite asunder the sacred shrines of the gods and his own glorious dwelling-places with hostile bolt? why does he destroy the fair-fashioned idols of the gods and take away their beauty from his images with his furious wound?or scar mountain peaks? And why does he aim mostly at lofty spots, so that we see most traces of his fire on mountain-tops?
4. Waterspouts are causedNext after this, it is easy to learn from these things in what way there come into the sea, shot from on high, what the Greeks from their nature have named fiery presters.n For it comes to pass sometimes that as it were a column let down descends from the sky into the sea, around which the surges boil, violently stirred by breathing blasts, and all ships that are then caught in that turmoil, are harried and come into great danger.when wind cannot break through a cloud but forces it down to meet the sea; This comes to pass sometimes when the force of the wind set in motion cannot burst the cloud it starts to burst, but presses it down, so that it is weighed down like a column from sky to sea, little by little, as though something were being thrust down and stretched out into the waves by a fist and the pushing of an arm above; and when it has rent this cloud asunder, the force of the wind bursts forth thence into the sea and brings to pass a wondrous seething in the waters. For a whirling eddy descends and brings down along with it that cloud of pliant body; and as soon as it has forced it down pregnant on to the levels of ocean, the eddy on a sudden plunges its whole self into the water, and stirs up all the sea with a great roar, constraining it to seethe.or else an eddy gathers clouds about it and drops to the earth. It comes to pass also that an eddy of wind by itself wraps itself in clouds, gathering together seeds of cloud from the air and, as it were, imitates the prester let down from the sky. When this eddy has let itself down to earth and broken up, it vomits forth a furious force of whirlwind and storm. But because this happens but rarely at all, and mountains must needs bar it on land, it is seen more often on a wide prospect of sea, and in an open stretch of sky.
5. Clouds are formed (a) as particles gather in the air in masses gradually growing larger;Clouds gather up, when many bodies as they fly in this upper expanse of heaven have all at once come together—bodies of rougher kind, such as can, though they be but intertwined with slight links, yet grasp and cling to one another. These first of all cause little clouds to form; then these grip hold of one another and flock together, and uniting they grow and are borne on by the winds, until at last a furious tempest has gathered together. It comes to pass,especially round mountain tops, whither they are driven by wind; too, that mountain-tops, the closer they are to the sky, the more at that height do they smoke continually with the thick darkness of a murky cloud, because, when first the clouds form, still thin, before the eyes can see them, the winds carry them and drive them together to the topmost peaks of the mountain. There it comes to pass at last that, gathered now in a greater throng and thickened, they can be seen, and at once they seem to rise into the open sky from the very summit of the mountain. For clear fact and our sense, when we climb high mountains, proclaim that windy regions stretch above. Moreover,(b) as particles of moisture rise from the sea that nature lifts up many such bodies all over the sea is shown by clothes hung out on the shore, when they take in a clinging moisture. Wherefore it is all the more seen that many bodies too can rise to swell the clouds from the salt tossing ocean; for in all their nature these two moistures are akin. Moreover,or from rivers, or even lands; we see clouds and vapour rising from all rivers, and likewise from the very earth which, like a breath, are forced out hence and carried upwards, and curtain the heaven with their darkness, and little by little, as they meet, build up the clouds on high. For the vapour of the starry ether above presses down on them too, and, as it were by thickening, weaves a web of storm-cloud beneath the blue. It happens, too,(c) as particles fly in from outside the world that there come into our sky those bodies from without which make clouds and flying storms. For I have shown that their number is innumerable, and the sum of the deep measureless, and I have set forth with what speed the bodies fly, and how in a moment they are wont to traverse through space that none can tell. So it is not strange if often in a short time storm and darkness cover up sea and land with such great storm-clouds,1 brooding above, inasmuch as on all sides through all the pores of the ether, and, as it were, through the breathing-holes of the great world all around there is furnished for the particles exit and entrance.
6. Rain is caused (a) because the clouds contain much moisture;Come now, in what manner the rainy moisture gathers together in the high clouds, and how the shower falls shot down upon the earth, I will unfold. First of all it will be granted me that already many seeds of water rise up with the clouds themselves from out of all things, and that both alike grow in this manner, both clouds and all water that is in the clouds, just as our body grows along with its blood, and likewise sweat and all the moisture too that is within the limbs.(b) because it rises into them from the sea and the rivers; Besides, they often take in also much moisture from the sea, just like hanging fleeces of wool, when the winds carry the clouds over the great sea. In like manner moisture from all streams is raised to the clouds.and is then squeezed out by the force of the wind and the mass of the clouds; And when many seeds of waters in many ways have duly come together there, increased from all quarters, the packed clouds are eager to shoot out the moisture for a double cause; for the force of the wind pushes it on and the very mass of the clouds, driven together in greater throng, presses on it and weighs it down from above, and makes the showers stream out.or again, when the clouds are thin, by the sun’s heat. Moreover, when the clouds, too, are thinned by the winds or broken up, smitten by the sun’s heat above, they send out the rainy moisture and drip, even as wax over a hot fire melts and flows in a thick stream.Rain is heavy when the pressure is violent, and long when there is much moisture. But a violent downpour comes to pass, when the clouds are violently pressed by either force, their own mass and the impulse of the wind. Yea, and the rains are wont to hold on long and make a great stay, when many seeds of water are gathered, and clouds piled upon clouds and streaming storms above them are borne on from every quarter, and when the whole earth smoking,The rainbow is caused by the sun shining on the rain. Similarly all meteorological phenomena may be explained. breathes out its moisture. When at such time the sun amid the dark tempest has shone out with its rays full against the spray of the storm-clouds, then among the black clouds stand out the hues of the rainbow.
All other things which grow above and are brought to being above, and which gather together in the clouds, all, yea all of them, snow, winds, hail, chill hoar-frosts, and the great force of ice, that great hardener of waters, the curb which everywhere reins in the eager streams, it is yet right easy to find these out, and to see in the mind in what manner they all come to be and in what way they are brought to being, when you have duly learned the powers that are vouchsafed to the elements.
B. Phenomena of earth.Come now and learn what is the law of earthquakes. And first of all let yourself suppose that the earth is below, just as above, full on all sides of windy caverns; and you must think it bears in its bosom many lakes and many pools and cliffs and sheer rocks;1. Earthquakes. The earth underneath has caverns and streams and rocks. and that many rivers hidden beneath the back of the earth roll on amain their waves and submerged stones. For clear fact demandsn that it should be in all parts like itself. When these things then are placed and linked together beneath it, the earth above trembles, shaken by great falling masses, when beneath time has caused huge caverns to fall in; nay, indeed, whole mountains fall,(a) When some cavern falls in, an earthquake is caused, and at the great sudden shock tremblings creep abroad thence far and wide. And with good reason, since whole houses by the roadside tremble when shaken by a wagon of no great weight, and rock none the less, whenever a stone in the road jolts on the iron circles of the wheels on either side.1 It comes to pass too,just as houses are rocked by passing wagons, or the land by an avalanche falling into a lake, like water rocking in a vessel. when a vast mass of soil, loosened by age from the earth, rolls down into huge wide pools of water, that the earth too tosses and sways beneath the wave of water; even as a vessel sometimes cannot stand still, unless the liquid within has ceased to toss with unsteady wave.
(b) An earthquake may be caused by a great subterranean wind blowing violently in one direction. And yet men will not believe in the ultimate destruction of the earth, when it is only the alteration of the wind which restores equilibrium.Moreover, when the wind gathering throughout the cavernous places of the earth blows strong from one point, and with all its weight presses on the lofty caves with mighty strength, the earth leans over to where the swooping force of the wind presses it. Then the houses that are built up upon the earth, yea, the more they are severally raised towards the sky, bend over in suspense, tottering towards the same quarter, and the timbers driven forward hang out ready to fall. And yet men fear to believe that a time of destruction and ruin awaits the nature of the great world, even when they see so great a mass of earth bowing to its fall. Why, unless the winds breathed in again, no force could put a curb on things or avail to pull them back from destruction as they fell. As it is, because turn by turn they breathe in and then grow violent, because, as it were, they rally and charge again and then are driven back and give ground, for this reason the earth more often threatens a fall than brings it to pass; for it leans over and then sways back again, and after falling forward recovers its position to a steady poise. In this way, then, the whole building rocks, the top more than the middle, the middle more than the bottom, the bottom but a very little.
(c) Sometimes the imprisoned air bursts forth, making a great chasm:There is this cause, too, of that same great shaking, when suddenly wind and some exceeding great force of air, gathering either from without or within the earth itself, have hurled themselves into the hollow places of the earth, and there first rage among the great caves in turmoil, and rise, carried on in a whirl; and when afterwards the moving force driven forth bursts out and at the same time cleaves the earth and causes a huge chasm. Even as it came to pass at Sidon in Syria, and as was the case at Aegium in Peloponnese, cities overthrown by this issue of air and the quaking of the earth which arose. And besides many walled towns have fallen through great movements on land, and many cities have sunk down deep into the sea, inhabitants and all.or remaining imprisoned, causes the earth to shudder. And even if it does not burst forth, yet the very impulse of the air and the fierce force of the wind are spread, like a fit of shivering, throughout the riddling passages of the earth, and thereby induce a trembling: even as cold, when it comes deep into our members, shakes them against their will and constrains them to tremble and to move. So men quiver with anxious terror throughout the cities, they fear the houses above, they dread the hollow places beneath, lest the nature of the earth should break them open all at once, and lest torn asunder she should open wide her maw, and, tumbled all together, desire to fill it with her own falling ruins.It is a lesson that the whole world may thus be destroyed. Let them then believe as they will that heaven and earth will be indestructible, entrusted to some everlasting protection; and yet from time to time the very present force of danger applies on some side or other this goad of fear, lest the earth, snatched away suddenly from beneath their feet be carried into the abyss, and the sum of things, left utterly without foundation, follow on, and there be a tumbling wreck of the whole world.
2. Why does not the sea increase?1 First of all they wonder that nature does not make the sea bigger, since there comes into it so great a downpour of water, yea, all the streams from every quarter. Add, if you will, the shifting showers and the scudding storms, which bespatter and drench all seas and lands; add too its own springs; yet compared to the sum of the sea all these things will scarce be equal to the increase of a single drop;(a) Because all that is added to it is but a drop in the ocean; (b) because much water is drawn off by sun, therefore it is the less strange that the great sea does not increase. Moreover, the sun draws off a great part by his heat. For verily we see the sun with its blazing rays dry clothes wringing with moisture; and yet we see many oceans spread wide beneath earth’s level. Therefore, although from each single place the sun sucks up but a small part of moisture from the level sea; yet in so great a space it will draw largely from the waves. Then again,by wind, the winds too can lift a great part of moisture as they sweep the level seas, since very often we see roads dried by the wind in a single night, and the soft mud harden into crusts.and by clouds; Moreover, I have shown that the clouds too lift up much moisture taken in from the great level of ocean, and scatter it broadcast over all the circle of lands, when it rains on the earth and the winds carry on the clouds.or (c) oozes into the earth. Lastly, since the earth is formed of porous body, and is continuous, surrounding on all sides the shores of the sea, it must needs be that, just as the moisture of water passes into the sea from the lands, it likewise filters through into the land from the salt sea levels; for the brine is strained through, and the substance of moisture oozes back and all streams together at the fountain-head of rivers, and thence comes back over the lands with freshened current, where the channel once cleft has brought down the waters in their liquid march.
3. The eruption of Etna.Now what is the reason that through the jaws of Mount Etna flames sometimes breathe forth in so great a hurricane, I will unfold. For indeed the flaming storm gathered with no moderate force of destruction and ruled tyrant through the fields of the Sicilians and turned to itself the gaze of neighbouring nations, when they saw all the quarters of the heavens smoke and sparkle, and filled their breasts with shuddering anxiety for what new change nature might be planning.
Remember the vastness of the universe.Herein you must look far and deep and take a wide view to every quarter, that you may remember that the sum of things is unfathomable, and see how small, how infinitely small a part of the whole sum is one single heaven—not so large a part, as is a single man of the whole earth. And if you have this duly before you and look clearly at it and see it clearly, you would cease to wonder at many things. For does any of us wonder,Just as many diseases may come to the body, if a man has caught in his limbs a fever gathering with burning heat, or any other painful disease in his members? For a foot will swell suddenly, often a sharp pain seizes on the teeth or makes its way right into the eyes; the holy firen breaks out and creeping about in the body burns any part which it has seized, and crawls through the limbs, because, as we may be sure, there are seeds of many things, and this earth and heaven has enough disease and malady, from which the force of measureless disease might avail to spread abroad.so the infinite can supply innumerable seeds of malady to heaven and earth. So then we must suppose that out of the infinite all things are supplied to the whole heaven and earth in number enough that on a sudden the earth might be shaken and moved, and a tearing hurricane course over sea and land, the fire of Etna well forth, and the heaven be aflame. For that too comes to pass, and the quarters of heaven blaze, and there are rainstorms gathering in heavier mass, when by chance the seeds of the waters have so arranged themselves.The eruption seems ‘gigantic’, but so always does the greatest thing of its kind which we have seen. ‘Nay, but the stormy blaze of this fire is exceeding gigantic.’ So, too, be sure, is the river which is the greatest seen by a man, who has never before seen any greater: so a tree or a man may seem gigantic, and in every kind of thing, the greatest that each man has seen, he always imagines gigantic, and yet all of them together, yea, with heaven and earth and sea besides, are nothing to the whole sum of the universal sum.
The eruption is caused because wind gathers in subterranean caverns,But now in what ways that flame is suddenly excited and breathes abroad from out the vast furnaces of Etna, I will unfold. First of all the nature of the whole mountain is hollow beneath, resting everywhere on caverns of basalt. Moreover, in all the caves there is wind and air. For air becomes wind, whenn it is set in motion and aroused. When it has grown hot,heats itself and all around it, and then bursts out. and as it rages has heated all the rocks and the earth around wherever it touches them, and has struck out from them a fire hot with swift flames, it rises up and so drives itself forth on high straight through the mountain’s jaws. And so it carries its heat far, and afar it scatters the ash and rolls on a smoke with thick murky darkness, and all the while hurls out rocks of marvellous weight; for you must not doubt that this is the stormy force of air.There are also passages from the neighbouring sea, by which blasts of wind enter in. Moreover, in great part the sea makes its waves break and sucks in its tide at the roots of that mountain. From this sea caves stretch underneath right to the deep jaws of the mountain. By this path we must admit that <water> passes in, and the fact compels us <to believe that wind is mingled with it>1 and pierces deep in from the open sea, and then breathes out, and so lifts up the flame and casts up rocks and raises clouds of dust. For on the topmost peak are craters, as the inhabitants name them; what we call jaws or mouths.
For some things we must mention several possible causes, one of which will be true in the given case.Some things there are, too, not a few, for which to tell one cause is not enough; we must give more, one of which is yet the actual cause; just as if you yourself were to see the lifeless body of a man lying before you, it would be right that you should name all causes of death, in order that the one cause of that man’s death might be told. For you could not prove that he had perished by the sword or of cold, or by disease or perchance by poison, but we know that it was something of this sort which was his fate. Likewise, we can say the same in many cases.
4. The rise of the Nile may be caused (a) by the north winds opposing its stream;The Nile, the river of all Egypt, alone in the world rises, as summer comes, and overflows the plains. It waters Egypt often amid the hot season, either because in summer the north winds, which at that time are said to be the etesian winds, are dead against its mouths; blowing against its stream they check it, and driving the waters upwards fill the channel and make it stop. For without doubt these blasts, which are started from the chill constellations of the pole are driven full against the stream. The river comes from the south out of the quarter where heat is born, rising among the black races of men of sunburnt colour far inland in the region of mid-day.(b) by a sand-barrier choking the stream; It may be too that a great heaping up of sand may choke up the mouths as a bar against the opposing waves, when the sea, troubled by the winds, drives the sand within; and in this manner it comes to pass that the river has less free issue, and the waves likewise a less easy downward flow. It may be, too,(c) by excessive rain in the interior; perhaps that rains occur more at its source at that season, because the etesian blasts of the north winds then drive all the clouds together into those quarters. And, we may suppose, when they have come together driven towards the region of mid-day, there at last the clouds, thrust together upon the high mountains,(d) by the melting of snow on the mountains. are massed and violently pressed. Perchance it swells from deep among the high mountains of the Ethiopians, where the sun, traversing all with his melting rays, forces the white snows to run down into the plains.
5. Avernian spots; so-called as they are fatal to birds.Come now, I will unfold to you with what nature are endowed all Avernian places and lakes. First of all, in that they are called by the name Avernian,n that is given them from the fact, because they are harmful to all birds, in that, when they have come right over those spots in their flight, forgetting the oarage of their wings, they slack their sails, and fall headlong, drooping with languid neck to earth, if by chance the nature of the spots so determines it, or into the water, if by chance the lake of Avernus spreads beneath them.Such as lake Avernus, That spot is by Cumae, where mountains smoke, choked with biting sulphur and enriched with hot springs. There is too a spot within the walls of Athens, on the very summit of the citadel, by the temple of Pallas Tritonis,a spot by the Parthenon, the life-giver, whither croaking crows never steer their bodies on the wing, not even when the altars smoke with offerings. So surely do they fly, not in truth from the fierce wrath of Pallas, because of their vigil,n as the poets of the Greeks have sung, but the nature of the spot of its own force accomplishes the task.and a place in Syria. In Syria, too, it is said that there is likewise a spot to be seen, where, as soon as even fourfooted beasts have set foot, its natural force constrains them to fall heavily, as though they were on a sudden slaughtered to the gods of the dead.All owe their power to natural causes, and are not gates of hell. Yet all these things are brought about by a natural law, and it is clearly seen from what causes to begin with they come to be; lest by chance1 the gateway of Orcus should be thought to be in these regions; and thereafter we should by chance believe that the gods of the dead lead the souls below from this spot to the shores of Acheron; even as stags of winged feet are often thought by their scent to drag from their lairs the races of crawling serpents. And how far removed this is from true reason, now learn; for now I will try to tell of the true fact.
Earth contains the elements of all things, both good and bad.First of all I say, what I have often said before as well, that in the earth there are shapes of things of every kind; many which are good for food, helpful to life, and many which can induce diseases and hasten death. And that for different animals different things are suited for the purpose of life, I have shown before, because their nature and texture and the shapes of their first-beginnings are unlike, the one to the other.And among them many things noxious to each of the senses. Many things which are harmful pass through the ears, many which are dangerous and rough to draw in2 find their way even through the nostrils, nor are there a few which should be avoided by the touch, yea, and shunned by the sight, or else are bitter to the taste.
Many such exhalations are poisonous to man. Trees.Next we may see how many things are for man of a sensation keenly harmful, and are nauseous and noxious; first, certain trees are endowed with a shade so exceeding noxious, that often they cause an aching of the head, if one has lain beneath them, stretched upon the grass. There is, too, a tree on the great mountains of Helicon, which is wont to kill a man with the noisome scent of its flower. We may be sure that these things all grow in this way from the earth, because the earth contains in itself many seeds of many things, mingled in many ways, and gives them forth singled out.An extinguished candle to an epileptic. Again, a light but newly extinguished at night, when it meets the nostrils with its pungent smell, at once puts to sleep a man who is wont through disease to fall down and foam at the mouth. And a woman will fall back asleep with the heavy scent of castor,Castor to a woman. and her gay-coloured work slips from her delicate hands, if she has smelt it at the time when she has her monthly discharge. And many other things too slacken the drooping members throughout the frame,A hot bath after a meal. and make the soul totter within its abode. Once again, if you dally in the hot bath when you are too full, how easily it comes to pass often that you fall down, as you sit on the stool in the middle of the boiling water.Charcoal. And how easily the noxious force and smell of charcoal finds its way into the brain, unless we have taken water beforehand.Wine to the feverish. And when the burning fever has seized and subdued the limbs,1 then the smell of wine is like a slaughtering blow. Do you not see, too, sulphur produced in the very earth and pitch harden into crusts of a noisome scent?Mines to those who work in them. and again, when men are following up the veins of gold and silver, probing with the pick deep into the hidden parts of earth, what stenches Scaptensulan breathes out underground? And what poison gold mines may exhale! how strange they make men’s faces, how they change their colour! Have you not seen or heard how they are wont to die in a short time and how the powers of life fail those, whom the strong force of necessity imprisons in such work? All these effluences then earth sends steaming forth, and breathes them out into the open and the clear spaces of heaven.
So these Avernian spots too must needs send up some fume deadly to the birds,Similarly these spots give out an exhalation, which first stops the birds, and then kills them when they fall. which rises from the earth into the air, so that it poisons the expanse of heaven in a certain quarter; and at the very moment when the bird is carried thither on its wings, it is checked there, seized by the secret poison, so that it tumbles straight down on the spot, where the effluence has its course. And when it has fallen into it, there the same force of the effluence takes away the remnant of life out of all its limbs. For verily first of all it causes a kind of dizzy seething in the birds: afterwards it comes to pass that, when they have fallen right into the sources of the poison, there they must needs vomit forth their life as well, because there is great store of poison all around them.
It may be that the effluence dispels the air, and so the birds fall in a vacuum.It may happen, too, sometimes that this force and effluence of Avernus dispels all the air that is situate between the birds and the ground, so that there is left here an almost empty space. And when the birds in their flight have come straight over this place, on a sudden the lifting force of their pinions is crippled and useless, and all the effort of their wings fails on either side. And then, when they cannot support themselves or rest upon their wings, of course nature constrains them to sink by their weight to the ground, and lying in death in what is now almost empty void, they scatter abroad their soul through all the pores of their body NA1 moreover,6. Wells are cold in summer, because earth gives out its heat into the air, and warm in winter, because it sends its heat into the wells. The fountain of Ammon grows cold in the day and warm at night for exactly similar reasons, the water in wells becomes colder in summer, because the earth grows porous with the heat, and if by chance it has any seeds of heat of its own, it sends them abroad into the air. The more then earth is exhausted of its heat, the colder too becomes the moisture which is hidden in the earth. Moreover, when all the earth is hard pressed with cold, and contracts and, as it were, congeals, of course it comes to pass that, as it contracts, it squeezes out into the wells any heat it bears in itself.
There is said to be near the shrine of Ammonn a fountain, cold in the daylight and warm in the night time. At this fountain men marvel overmuch, and think that it is made to boil in haste by the fierceness of the sun beneath the earth, when night has shrouded earth in dreadful darkness. But this is exceeding far removed from true reasoning. For verily, when the sun, touching the uncovered body of the water, could not make it warm on the upper side, though its light in the upper air enjoys heat so great, how could it beneath the earth with its body so dense boil the water and fill it with warm heat? and that when it can scarcely with its blazing rays make its hot effluence pierce through the walls of houses. What then is the reason? We may be sure, because the ground is rarer and warmer around the fountain than the rest of the earth, and there are many seeds of fire near the body of the water. Therefore, when night covers the earth with the shadows that bring the dew, straightway the earth grows cold deep within and contracts. By this means it comes to pass that, as though it were pressed by the hand, it squeezes out into the fountain all the seeds of fire it has, which make warm the touch and vapour of the water. Then when the rising sun has parted asunder the ground with his rays, and has made it rarer, as his warm heat grows stronger, the first-beginnings of fire pass back again into their old abode, and all the heat of the water retires into the earth. For this cause the fountain becomes cold in the light of day.also because the sun’s heat breaks up the waters and releases the heat in them. Moreover, the moisture of the water is buffeted by the sun’s rays, and in the light grows rarer through the throbbing heat; therefore it comes to pass that it loses all the seeds of fire that it has; just as often it gives out the frost that it contains in itself, and melts the ice and loosens its bindings.
The cold spring, over which torches catch fire, owes its power to seeds of fire, which shoot up separately through the water and unite in flame on the torch.There is also a cold spring, over which if tow be held, it often straightway catches fire and casts out a flame, and a torch in like manner is kindled and shines over the waters, wherever, as it floats, it is driven by the breezes. Because, we may be sure, there are in the water very many seeds of heat, and it must needs be that from the very earth at the bottom bodies of fire rise up through the whole spring, and at the same time are breathed forth and issue into the air, yet not so many of them that the spring can be made hot. Moreover, a force constrains them suddenly to burst forth through the water scattered singly, and then to enter into union up above.It is like springs of fresh water in the sea. Even as there is a spring within the sea at Aradus,n which bubbles up with fresh water and parts the salt waters asunder all around it; and in many other spots too the level sea affords a welcome help to thirsty sailors, because amid the salt it vomits forth fresh water. So then those seeds are able to burst out through that spring, and to bubble out into the tow; and when they gather together or cling to the body of the torch readily they blaze out all at once, because the tow and torches too have many seeds of hidden fire in themselves.Observe how the wick catches before it touches the flame. Do you not see too, when you move a wick just extinguished near a night-lamp, that it is kindled before it has touched the flame, and a torch in like manner? And many other things as well are touched first by the mere heat and blaze out at a distance, before the fire soaks them close at hand. This then we must suppose comes to pass in that spring too.
7. The magnet, and how it holds its chain of rings suspended.For what follows, I will essay to tell by what law of nature it comes to pass that iron can be attracted by the stone which the Greeks call the magnet, from the name of its native place, because it has its origin within the boundaries of its native country, the land of the Magnetes. At this stone men marvel; indeed, it often makes a chain of rings all hanging to itself. For sometimes you may see five or more in a hanging chain, and swaying in the light breezes, when one hangs on to the other, clinging to it beneath, and each from the next comes to feel the binding force of the stone: in such penetrating fashion does its force prevail.
Much must be premised.In things of this kind much must be made certain before you can give account of the thing itself, and you must approach by a circuit exceeding long: therefore all the more I ask for attentive ears and mind.
(a) From all things bodies are always streaming off, which arouse our senses.First of all from all things, whatsoever we can see, it must needs be that there stream off, shot out and scattered abroad, bodies such as to strike the eyes and awake our vision. And from certain things scents stream off unceasingly; even as cold streams from rivers, heat from the sun, spray from the waves of the sea, which gnaws away the walls by the seashore. Nor do diverse sounds cease to ooze through the air. Again, moisture of a salt savour often comes into our mouth, when we walk by the sea, and on the other hand, when we behold wormwood being diluted and mixed, a bitter taste touches it. So surely from all things each several thing is carried off in a stream, and is sent abroad to every quarter on all sides, nor is any delay or respite granted in this flux, since we perceive unceasingly, and we are suffered always to descry and smell all things, and to hear them sound.
(b) The bodies of all things are porous;Now I will tell over again of how rarefied a body all things are; which is clearly shown in the beginning of my poem too.n For verily, although it is of great matter to learn this for many things, it is above all necessary for this very thing, about which I am essaying to discourse, to make it sure that there is nothing perceptible except body mingled with void.e. g. rocks, First of all it comes to pass that in caves the upper rocks sweat with moisture and drip with trickling drops.the human body. Likewise sweat oozes out from all our body, the beard grows and hairs over all our limbs and members, food is spread abroad into all the veins, yea, it increases and nourishes even the extreme parts of the body, and the tiny nails.metals, We feel cold likewise pass through bronze and warm heat, we feel it likewise pass through gold and through silver, when we hold full cups in our hands.walls, Again voices fly through stone partitions in houses, smell penetrates and cold and the heat of fire, which is wont to pierce too through the strength of iron. Again, where the breastplate of the sky1n closes in the world all around <the bodies of clouds and the seeds of storms enter in>, and with them the force of disease,even the circumference of the world. when it finds its way in from without; and tempests, gathering from earth and heaven, hasten naturally to remote parts of heaven and earth; since there is nothing but has a rare texture of body.
(c) These effluences affect different things differently: e. g. sunlight may melt or harden.There is this besides, that not all bodies, which are thrown off severally from things, are endowed with the same effect of sense, nor suited in the same way to all things. First of all the sun bakes the ground and parches it, but ice it thaws and causes the snows piled high on the high mountains to melt beneath its rays. Again, wax becomes liquid when placed in the sun’s heat. Fire likewise makes bronze liquid and fuses gold, but skins and flesh it shrivels and draws all together. Moreover, the moisture of water hardens iron fresh from the fire, but skins and flesh it softens, when hardened in the heat. The wild olive as much delights the bearded she-goats,The wild olive is good to goats, loathsome to us. Pigs hate marjoram, and we loathe mud. as though it breathed out a flavour steeped in ambrosia and real nectar; and yet for a man there is no leafy plant more bitter than this for food. Again, the pig shuns marjoram, and fears every kind of ointment; for to bristling pigs it is deadly poison, though to us it sometimes seems almost to give new life. But on the other hand, though to us mud is the foulest filth, this very thing is seen to be pleasant to pigs, so that they wallow all over in it and never have enough.
(d) The pores and passages in things differ, and let different things pass through them.This too remains, which it is clear should be said, before I start to speak of the thing itself. Since many pores are assigned to diverse things, they must needs be endowed with a nature differing from one another, and have each their own nature and passages. For verily there are diverse senses in living creatures, each of which in its own way takes in its own object within itself. For we see that sounds pass into one place and the taste from savours into another, and to another the scent of smells. Moreover, one thing is seen to pierce through rocks, another through wood, and another to pass through gold, and yet another to make its way out from silver and glass. For through the one vision is seen to stream, though the other heat to travel, and one thing is seen to force its way along the same path quicker than others. We may know that the nature of the passages causes this to come to pass, since it varies in many ways, as we have shown a little before on account of the unlike nature and texture of things.
We can now turn to the magnet.Wherefore, when all these things have been surely established and settled for us, laid down in advance and ready for use, for what remains, from them we shall easily give account, and the whole cause will be laid bare, which attracts the force of iron.It sends off particles which beat aside the air in front and make a vacuum; into this the atoms of the iron rush, and because they are very closely linked together, they draw the whole ring with them. First of all it must needs ben that there stream off this stone very many seeds or an effluence, which, with its blows, parts asunder all the air which has its place between the stone and the iron. When this space is emptied and much room in the middle becomes void, straightway first-beginnings of the iron start forward and fall into the void, all joined together; it comes to pass that the ring itself follows and advances in this way, with its whole body. Nor is anything so closely interlaced in its first particles, all clinging linked together, as the nature of strong iron and its cold roughness. Therefore it is the less strange, since it is led on by its particles, that it is impossible for many bodies, springing together from the iron, to pass into the void, but that the ring itself follows; and this it does, and follows on, until it has now reached the very stone and clung to it with hidden fastenings. This same thing takes place in every direction;1This may happen in any direction. on whichever side room becomes void, whether athwart or above, the neighbouring bodies are carried at once into the void. For indeed they are set in motion by blows from the other side, nor can they themselves of their own accord rise upwards into the air.Further, the air behind the ring pushes it towards the vacuum, where there is no air to beat it back. To this there is added, that it may the more be able to come to pass, this further thing as an aid, yea, the motion is helped, because, as soon as the air in front of the ring is made rarer, and the place becomes more empty and void, it straightway comes to pass that all the air which has its place behind, drives, as it were, and pushes the ring forward. For the air which is set all around is for ever buffeting things; but it comes to pass that at times like this it pushes the iron forward, because on one side there is empty space, which receives the ring into itself. This air, of which I am telling you, finds its way in subtly through the countless pores of the iron right to its tiny parts, and thrusts and drives it on, as wind drives ship and sails.The air inside the iron also pushes in the same direction. Again, all things must have air in their body seeing that they are of rare body, and the air is placed round and set close against all things. This air then, which is hidden away deep within the iron, is ever tossed about with restless motion, and therefore without doubt it buffets the ring and stirs it within; the ring, we may be sure, is carried towards the same side to which it has once moved headlong, struggling hard towards the empty spot.
When brass is interposed, the magnet repels iron, because the effluence from the brass has already filled up the pores in the iron.It comes to pass, too, that the nature of iron retreats from this stone at times, and is wont to flee and follow turn by turn. Further, I have seen Samothracian iron rings even leap up, and at the same time iron filings move in a frenzy inside brass bowls, when this Magnesian stone was placed beneath: so eagerly is the iron seen to desire to flee from the stone. When the brass is placed between, so great a disturbance is brought about because, we may be sure, when the effluence of the brass has seized before-hand and occupied the open passages in the iron, afterwards comes the effluence of the stone, and finds all full in the iron, nor has it a path by which it may stream through as before. And so it is constrained to dash against it and beat with its wave upon the iron texture; and in this way it repels it from itself, and through the brass drives away that which without it it often sucks in.
The magnet cannot move other things because they are either too heavy or too rare in texture.Herein refrain from wondering that the effluence from this stone has not the power to drive other things in the same way. For in part they stand still by the force of their own weight, as for instance, gold; and partly, because they are of such rare body, that the effluence flies through untouched, they cannot be driven anywhere; among this kind is seen to be the substance of wood. The nature of iron then has its place between the two, and when it has taken in certain tiny bodies of brass, then it comes to pass that the Magnesian stones drive it on with their stream.
There are other cases of things with a peculiar affinity and binding power: stones and mortar, wood and glue, wine and water, dye and wool,And yet these powers are not so alien to other things that I have only a scanty store of things of this kind, of which I can tell—things fitted just for each other and for naught besides. First you see that stones are stuck together only by mortar. Wood is united only by bulls’ glue, so that the veins of boards more often gape than the bindings of the glue will loosen their hold. The juice born of the grape is willing to mingle with streams of water, though heavy pitch and light olive-oil refuse. And the purple tint of the shellfish is united only with the body of wool, yet so that it cannot be separated at all, no, not if you were to be at pains to restore it with Neptune’s wave, no, nor if the whole sea should strive to wash it out with all its waves. Again, is not there one thing only that binds gold to gold? is it not true that brass is joined to brass only by white lead?brass and white lead. How many other cases might we find! What then? You have no need at all of long rambling roads, nor is it fitting that I should spend so much pains on this, but ’tis best shortly in a few words to include many cases.Whenever shapes fit mutually, a strong joining results. Those things, whose textures fall so aptly one upon the other that hollows fit solids, each in the one and the other, make the best joining. Sometimes, too, they may be held linked with one another, as it were, fastened by rings and hooks; as is seen to be more the case with this stone and the iron.
8. Plague and disease.Now what is the law of plagues, and from what cause on a sudden the force of disease can arise and gather deadly destruction for the race of men and the herds of cattle, I will unfold. First I have shown before that there are seeds of many things which are helpful to our life,When the seeds of harmful things gather in the sky, they pollute it. They may come from outside the world or from the earth. and on the other hand it must needs be that many fly about which cause disease and death. And when by chance they have happened to gather and distemper the sky, then the air becomes full of disease. And all that force of disease and pestilence either comes from without the world through the sky above, as do clouds and mists, or else often it gathers and rises up from the earth itself, when, full of moisture, it has contracted foulness, smitten by unseasonable rains or suns.So travellers are affected by a strange climate, Do you not see, too, that those who journey far from their home and country are assailed by the strangeness of the climate and the water, just because things are far different? For what a difference may we suppose there is between the climate the Britons know and that which is in Egypt, where the axis of the world slants crippled;n what difference between the climate in Pontus and at Gades, and so right on to the black races of men with their sunburnt colour?and differences of climate cause differences of appearance in races, and produce special diseases. And as we see these four climates at the four winds and quarters of the sky thus diverse one from the other, so the colour and face of the men are seen to vary greatly, and diseases too to attack the diverse races each after their kind. There is the elephant disease, which arises along the streams of the Nile in mid Egypt, and in no other place. In Attica the feet are assailed, and the eyes in the Achaean country. And so each place is harmful to different parts and limbs: the varying air is the cause. Wherefore, when an atmosphere,If then a noxious atmosphere moves and comes to us. which chances to be noxious to us, sets itself in motion, and harmful air begins to creep forward, just as cloud and mist crawls on little by little and distempers all, wherever it advances, and brings about change, it comes to pass also, that when at last it comes to our sky, it corrupts it and makes it like itself, and noxious to us.pestilence results for man and beast. And so this strange destruction and pestilence suddenly falls upon the waters or settles even on the crops or on other food of men or fodder of the flocks; or else this force remains poised in the air itself, and, when we draw in these mingled airs as we breathe, it must needs be that we suck in these plagues with them into our body. In like manner the pestilence falls too often on the cattle, and sickness also on the lazy bleating sheep. Nor does it matter whether we pass into spots hostile to us and change the vesture of the sky, or whether nature attacking us brings a corrupt sky1 upon us, or something which we are not accustomed to feel, which can assail us by its first coming.
The Plague at Athens
Such was the plague at Athens, which came from Egypt.Such a cause of plague,n such a deadly influence, once in the country of Cecrops filled the fields with dead and emptied the streets, draining the city of its citizens. For it arose deep within the country of Egypt, and came, traversing much sky and floating fields, and brooded at last over all the people of Pandion.Symptoms and causes of the disease. Then troop by troop they were given over to disease and death. First of all they felt the head burning with heat, and both eyes red with a glare shot over them. The throat, too, blackened inside, would sweat with blood, and the path of the voice was blocked and choked with ulcers, and the tongue, the mind’s spokesman, would ooze with gore, weakened with pain, heavy in movement, rough to touch. Then, when through the throat the force of disease had filled the breast and had streamed on right into the pained heart of the sick, then indeed all the fastnesses of life were loosened. Their breath rolled out a noisome smell from the mouth, like the stench of rotting carcasses thrown out of doors. And straightway all the strength of the mind and the whole body grew faint, as though now on the very threshold of death. And aching anguish went ever in the train of their unbearable suffering, and lamentation, mingled with sobbing. And a constant retching, ever and again, by night and day, would constrain them continually to spasms in sinews and limbs, and would utterly break them down, wearing them out, full weary before. And yet in none could you see the topmost skin on the surface of the body burning with exceeding heat, but rather the body offered a lukewarm touch to the hands and at the same time all was red as though with the scar of ulcers, as it is when the holy fire spreads through the limbs. But the inward parts of the men were burning to the bones, a flame was burning within the stomach as in a furnace. There was nothing light or thin that you could apply to the limbs of any to do him good, but ever only wind and cold. Some would cast their limbs,Attempted remedies. burning with disease, into the icy streams, hurling their naked body into the waters. Many leapt headlong deep into the waters of wells, reaching the water with their very mouth agape: a parching thirst, that knew no slaking, soaking their bodies, made a great draught no better than a few drops. Nor was there any respite from suffering; their bodies lay there foredone. The healers’ art muttered low in silent fear, when indeed again and again they would turn on them their eyes burning with disease and reft of sleep.Accompanying symptoms of the mind, &c. And many more signs of death were afforded then: the understanding of the mind distraught with pain and panic, the gloomy brow, the fierce frenzied face, and the ears too plagued and beset with noises, the breath quickened or drawn rarely and very deep, and the wet sweat glistening dank over the neck, the spittle thin and tiny, tainted with a tinge of yellow and salt, scarcely brought up through the throat with a hoarse cough. Then in the hands the sinews ceased not to contract and the limbs to tremble, and cold to come up little by little from the feet. Likewise, even till the last moment, the nostrils were pinched, and the tip of the nose sharp and thin, the eyes hollowed, the temples sunk, the skin cold and hard, a grin on the set face, the forehead tense and swollen. And not long afterwards the limbs would lie stretched stiff in death.Length of disease. And usually on the eighth day of the shining sunlight, or else beneath his ninth torch,Subsequent fate of those who escaped. they would yield up their life. And if any of them even so had avoided the doom of death, yet afterwards wasting and death would await him with noisome ulcers, and a black flux from the bowels, or else often with aching head a flow of tainted blood would pour from his choked nostrils: into this would stream all the strength and the body of the man. Or again, when a man had escaped this fierce outpouring of corrupt blood, yet the disease would make its way into his sinews and limbs, and even into the very organs of his body. And some in heavy fear of the threshold of death would live on, bereft of these parts by the knife, and not a few lingered in life without hands or feet and some lost their eyes. So firmly had the sharp fear of death got hold on them. On some, too, forgetfulness of all things seized, so that they could not even know themselves.Unburied bodies avoided by bird and beast. And though bodies piled on bodies lay in numbers unburied on the ground, yet the race of birds and wild beasts either would range far away, to escape the bitter stench, or, when they had tasted, would fall drooping in quickcoming death. And indeed in those days hardly would any bird appear at all, nor would the gloomy race of wild beasts issue from the woods. Full many would droop in disease and die. More than all the faithful strength of dogs, fighting hard, would lay down their lives, strewn about every street; for the power of disease would wrest the life from their limbs. Funerals deserted, unattended, were hurried on almost in rivalry.Lack of remedies. Nor was any sure kind of remedy afforded for all alike; for that which had granted to one strength to breathe in his mouth the lifegiving breezes of air, and to gaze upon the quarters of the sky, was destruction to others, and made death ready for them.Despair. And herein was one thing pitiful and exceeding full of anguish, that as each man saw himself caught in the toils of the plague, so that he was condemned to death, losing courage he would lie with grieving heart; looking for death to come he would breathe out his spirit straightway. For indeed, at no time would the contagion of the greedy plague cease to lay hold on one after the other, as though they were woolly flocks or horned herds. And this above all heaped death on death.Fate of those who avoided the sick, For all who shunned to visit their own sick, over-greedy of life and fearful of death, were punished a while afterwards by slaughtering neglect with a death hard and shameful, abandoned and reft of help.and of those who tended them. But those who had stayed near at hand would die by contagion and the toil, which shame would then constrain them to undergo, and the appealing voice of the weary, mingled with the voice of complaining. And so all the nobler among them suffered this manner of death NA1 and one upon others,Burials. as they vied in burying the crowd of their dead: worn out with weeping and wailing they would return; and the greater part would take to their bed from grief. Nor could one man be found, whom at this awful season neither disease touched nor death nor mourning.
Moreover, by now the shepherd and every herdsman, and likewise the sturdy steersman of the curving plough,The plague in the country. would fall drooping, and their bodies would lie thrust together into the recess of a hut, given over to death by poverty and disease. On lifeless children you might often have seen the lifeless bodies of parents, and again, children breathing out their life upon mothers and fathers.The countrymen flock into the town and increase the disease. And in no small degree that affliction streamed from the fields into the city, brought by the drooping crowd of countrymen coming together diseased from every quarter. They would fill all places, all houses; and so all the more, packed in stifling heat, death piled them up in heaps. Many bodies, laid low by thirst and rolled forward through the streets, lay strewn at the fountains of water,Dead in the streets and public places, the breath of life shut off from them by the exceeding delight of the water, and many in full view throughout the public places and the streets you might have seen, their limbs drooping on their half-dead body, filthy with stench and covered with rags, dying through the foulness of their body, only skin on bones, wellnigh buried already in noisome ulcers and dirt.and temples. Again, death had filled all the sacred shrines of the gods with lifeless bodies, and all the temples of the heavenly ones remained everywhere cumbered with carcasses; for these places the guardians had filled with guests. For indeed by now the religion of the gods and their godhead was not counted for much: the grief of the moment overwhelmed it all. Nor did the old rites of burial continue in the city,Horrors of burial. with which aforetime this people had ever been wont to be buried; for the whole people was disordered and in panic, and every man sorrowing buried his dead, laid out as best he could. And to many things the sudden calamity and filthy poverty prompted men. For with great clamouring they would place their own kin on the high-piled pyres of others, and set the torches to them, often wrangling with much bloodshed, rather than abandon the bodies.
printed in great britain at the university press, oxford by charles batey, printer to the universityLambinus supplied the sense of a missing verse:et nervos alienigenis ex partibus esse.
[1 ] Two or more lines must here be lost.
[2 ] Read exsistant, placentur et omnia rursum quae furerent.
[1 ] The last word of the line is uncertain.
[1 ] Translating Lachmann’s nimbis for montis.
[1 ] The text is uncertain, but this seems to be the sense.
[1 ] Either this paragraph is a disconnected fragment, or more probably something has been lost before it, introducing a new section of the paradoxes of nature on earth.
[1 ] A line is lost, of which the words in brackets give the probable sense.
[1 ] Reading forte his for poteis with Munro.
[2 ] Reading tractu with Polle.
[1 ] The reading is extremely uncertain: Heinrichsen’s suggestion membra domans percepit fervida fabris may be right.
[1 ] A considerable passage is lost, in which the poet passed to a quite new subject.
[1 ] The MS. reading caeli lorica is probably quite right, and a line is lost, of which this, as Giussani suggests, was probably the sense.
[1 ] Place; after partes and, after superne.
[1 ] The MS. text involves an impossible false quantity, but this must be the sense: possibly, as Housman suggests, the order of the words is wrong.
[1 ] Some lines of connexion seem to be lost here.
1 ff. The introductory invocation to Venus has caused great trouble to the commentators, as it appears to be inconsistent with Lucretius’s belief (e. g. II. 646) that the gods live a blessed life apart, and have no concern with the government of the world or the affairs of men. But, though to some extent, no doubt, such an invocation is to be accepted as a poetical tradition, it is much more truly explained as having for Lucretius an esoteric meaning. Venus is to him the creative power of nature, the life-giving force, Lucretius’s reverence for which may fairly be regarded as his true religion. (See Martha, Le poème de Lucrèce, pp. 61 ff.)
41.in our country’s time of trouble. The poem was published after Lucretius’s death in 55 bc, and its unfinished state shows that he must have been working at it in the immediately preceding period. During that time Caesar was fighting in Gaul, but Lucretius is more probably thinking of the gathering storm of civil war.
42.Memmius’s noble son. C. Memmius, to whom the poem is addressed, was an aristocratic contemporary of Lucretius. He had taken some part in public life, and seen foreign service, but was better known as a prominent and somewhat dissolute figure in society, and a patron of letters. He was probably a professed Epicurean, whom Lucretius wished to arouse to a more real faith and a better understanding of Epicurus’s doctrines.
66.a man of Greece: of course Epicurus, whom Lucretius only once mentions by name (III. 1042). See Introduction, pp. 10 ff.
73.the fiery walls of the world. Lucretius conceived of our world as a sphere, of which the outer coat was a circling stream of fiery ether (V. 457-70). The expression here is then to be taken quite literally.
84.Even as at Aulis, &c.: for the story of the sacrifice of Iphigeneia at Aulis in order to procure favourable winds for the fleet starting against Troy, see Euripides’ play, from which Lucretius has borrowed several details, and even translated phrases in this passage.
86.the Virgin of the Cross-roads, i. e. Artemis.
95.seized by men’s hands, &c. Iphigeneia was brought to Aulis on the understanding that she was to be married to Achilles. Lucretius, therefore, here carefully selects phrases which would remind a Roman reader of the ceremonials of marriage.
117.our own Ennius. C. Ennius (died 169 bc), the first great genius in Latin poetry, who introduced the hexameter, and laid the foundation of nearly all the later branches of Roman poetry. He believed in Pythagoras’s theory of metempsychosis, and thought that he himself was possessed by the soul of Homer, whose appearance to him in a vision he described in one of his Saturae.
150.nothing is ever begotten of nothing. This first principle shows that the ultimate basis of the universe is a store of matter, to which no addition is ever made. Lucretius’s ‘proof’ has been much criticized on the ground that he argues against ‘spontaneous’ creation by a denial of ‘sporadic’ creation. But to his mind they were really the same: if things came into being without a ‘seed’ or cause, the effect would be that they would appear to spring from alien sources, man from the sea, &c. As this does not occur, we may be sure that things are never created without a ‘seed’, i. e. are never uncaused additions to matter. Notice that his proof also establishes the law of cause and effect, which was his strongest weapon of attack on religion.
216.nor does she destroy ought into nothing. The second principle is complementary to the first. As matter never receives any addition, so it never suffers any loss: the two together constitute the modern notion of the permanence of matter, and show its existence in the form of particles. Note again the proof: if nature could destroy anything, the whole universe would perish, because (as he explains more clearly in lines 556 ff.) the process of destruction is quicker than that of creation.
330.there is void in things. Having established the existence of matter in the form of particles, he proceeds to show that there must also be empty space. To Epicurus’s argument that without it motion is impossible, he adds two others derived from the nature of compound things.
370.which some vainly imagine, i. e. the Stoics. When Lucretius alludes to opponents vaguely, without mentioning their names, he nearly always has in view his natural rivals, the Stoics (e. g. I. 465, 1053). They held that void did not exist, but that motion was due to the mutual interchange of places between things—a view not unlike that which is now held in conjunction with the conception of ether. Lucretius replies that such interchange of place necessarily implies empty space.
391.But if by chance any one thinks. The argument here is rather obscure: ‘this comes to be’ is the filling up of the interval between the two bodies with air. Lucretius imagines a view of air as a kind of elastic fluid, which condenses, as the bodies meet, and then expands again when they separate. To it he objects that such condensation and expansion itself implies an admixture of empty space: a thing can only expand because there is more vacuum in it, or contract because there is less.
459.Even so time exists not by itself … Once more the argument is difficult. The Stoics, against whom Lucretius is, as usual, disputing, held that time was an existence in itself, and even went so far as to call it a ‘body’. Lucretius replies that it is only a sensation that we get from things, an ‘accident’ of things, just as much as their colour or scent or sound, or wealth or poverty.
464.Then again, when men say. . . The Stoics had apparently raised a special difficulty with regard to Epicurus’s theory of ‘accidents’ in the case of events in the past: the Trojan War, they said, is something of which we are conscious now, but all the persons, of whom you say it was ‘an accident’, are long since dead, and we are not conscious of them, much less could we be of their ‘accidents’. Lucretius’s reply is twofold: he says first, in a rather frivolous spirit: ‘Well, we can say that it is an “accident” of the place, or if you object that that too has changed, of that part of space.’ Secondly, he replies seriously: ‘of course it was an “accident” of the persons, for, if they had not existed, neither could the Trojan War and its events.’
551.Again, if nature had ordained … an argument which is more obscure than it looks at first sight. Let us suppose that the rate of destruction is twice as quick as that of creation, and that it takes, e. g. ten years for a horse to be conceived, born, and come to maturity, starting from particles the size of the Lucretian atom: it will then require five for him to grow old and die, and dissolve again into the particles. If at the end of the twentieth year, nature requires to make another horse, the Lucretian atom would, so to speak, be there ready, having lain dormant for five years. But if there is no limit to destruction, during those five years the process of destruction will have been going on at an equal rate, and it will now require not ten but twenty years to put the particles together into a horse: and the next generation would require forty, and so on, creation never keeping pace with destruction. But, as it is, we see that there are fixed periods in which things can be created and come to maturity: there must then be a limit to destruction; in other words, there are ‘atoms’ (ἄ-τομοι, indivisible things). (This explanation and illustration come from Giussani’s edition of Lucretius.)
599.since there are extreme points … Another difficult proof of the complete solidity (and therefore indestructibility) of the atom. Lucretius is arguing, as Epicurus had taught him to do, from the analogy of perceptible things. If we try, e. g. to fix our attention on the extreme point of a needle, we can see a point so small that, though it is perceptible itself, it is the minimum for sight: if we tried to see half of it, it would pass out of the range of vision altogether. The needle itself is composed of a countless number of such tiny points. In the same way then the atom is composed of a few minute parts, which can only exist as parts of the atom, and could not be separated from it; they are the minimum of material existence, and can have no existence apart from the atom which they compose. The atom then has extension, but not separable parts: in other words, is perfectly solid.
638.Heraclitus of Ephesus (about 510 bc) held that the primary substance of which the world was created was fire, which gave rise to other things by a perpetual flux; everything was either streaming upwards to form fuel for the fire, or downwards to the moisture which lay at the other end of the ‘path’. Lucretius takes him as typical of the class of early philosophers who believed that the world was made of one element, and introduces ideas which were not actually in Heraclitus’s theory: e. g. the notion of rarefaction and condensation really comes from Anaximenes, who believed air to be the primary material. Lucretius’s argument holds well enough for any such theory; if you select one element as the basis, then, if it changes into other things, it ceases to exist as itself; or if it continues to exist, then other things do not.
716.Empedocles of Agrigentum (about 440 bc) is selected as the type of the philosophers who held that the world was composed of more than one element; he himself believed that it was made of all four, earth, air, fire, and water, all eternal and indestructible, but capable by combination and separation of forming the perceptible world. Lucretius again embraces in his criticism two schools of thought, those who held that the elements retained their nature in combination (770 ff.), and those who held that they ‘changed’ into other things (763 ff.). But his general criticism is just: on the one hand, Empedocles is too much of a pluralist, for by his four, always heterogeneous, elements he destroys the fundamental unity of the world; on the other, he is not enough of a pluralist, for the four elements are not sufficient to account for the infinite variety of phenomena.
717.that island, i. e. Sicily.
733.scarce born of human stock. Empedocles, who practised magic, seems to have laid claim to divine powers.
830.the homoeomeria of Anaxagoras of Clazomenae (about 440 bc), who held a theory which was an advance on that of the earlier philosophers, whom Lucretius criticizes, and really paved the way for atomism, but Lucretius has not understood him. He held, in the first place, that things were composed of ‘seeds’, small particles like in substance to the whole. But, as Lucretius points out, this will not account for the phenomena of change, which it was, in fact, Anaxagoras’s chief aim to explain. For this purpose he said indeed that ‘there is a portion of everything in everything’, but explained that these ‘portions’ were not merely extremely minute, but ‘only perceptible by reason’, i. e. we know that they are there, but never could see them. He came, in fact, near to the modern conception of chemical change, and the crude criticism of Lucretius from line 875 onwards is therefore beside the mark.
968.Moreover, suppose now, &c. This proof by imaginary experiment of the infinity of the universe is a famous one. It is used in much the same form by Locke, Essays II. 13.
1052.Herein shrink far from believing, &c. This theory, held again by the Stoics, that all things tend to the centre of the world, came, as will be seen, very near the truth, and was an approach to the modern idea of gravitation. Lucretius could not, of course, adopt it, as it was a direct contradiction of the fundamental Epicurean theory that the natural motion of things was always downwards (II. 184 ff.).
40.the spaces of the Campus, i. e. the Campus Martius, just outside the walls of Rome, on which military reviews were held, and sometimes an army would be encamped. Munro notes that in 58 bc Caesar had his army there for three months before starting for Gaul, and this occasion may well be in Lucretius’s mind. Indeed, above, in lines 12 and 13, he seems to be thinking of the rivalry of Caesar and Pompey.
83.For since they wander through the void, &c. The account of the movement of the free atoms in the void is a little confused in this and the following passages. Lucretius really conceives of three causes of their movement: (1) the natural fall downwards due to their weight; (2) the occasional slight swerve sideways (216 ff.); (3) the movement due to the collisions originally brought about by this swerve. Here, rather illogically, he only mentions (1) and (3), as he is reserving his account of (2) owing to its special importance.
124.traces of a concept. See note on line 744.
127.such jostlings hint, &c. A very important passage for Lucretius’s theory of motion. All atoms are always moving at the full atomic speed (142 ff.), even in compound bodies, inside which, as they collide with one another, they accomplish tiny trajectories, each moving in the direction which the last blow gave it, until it collides with another atom, and is started in a new direction. This internal vibration in all directions will of course retard the motion of the whole, and we must imagine the atoms forming tiny molecules, and then slightly larger bodies, with ever lessening motion, until, when the bodies are large enough for us to perceive, such as the motes in the sunbeam, the motion is also sufficiently retarded to be visible to us. All this, though not clearly stated, is implied in these few lines.
153.Nor again do the several particles, &c. Here the idea of internal vibration and consequent retardation comes out very clearly; even the sun’s light is so impeded, as well as by the opposition of the air, through which it passes.
185.no bodily thing can of its own force, &c. This is again an important point: upward motion is always the result of external force. Even among the atoms it can only happen as the result of collisions, when e.g. one atom is squeezed between two others and thus shot up.
219.push a little from their path. The notion of the slight swerve of the atoms and its tremendous result in the free will of man is a supremely important point in the Epicurean philosophy, for it combats Democritus’s belief in complete determinism, which Epicurus regarded as a more dangerous enemy to morality than even religion. See Introduction, p. 17.
225.But if perchance any one believes. This paragraph contains one of Lucretius’s most acute pieces of reasoning, that in a vacuum all things fall at the same pace.
269.so that you see a start of movement, &c. The relation between the swerve of the atoms and man’s free-will is, of course, to Lucretius’s mind not a mere analogy: the former is the cause of the latter. The mind is composed of a subtle texture of fine atoms (III. 161 ff.), and it is the swerving of these atoms which gives rise to an act of will.
410.the barsh shuddering sound, &c. Sound, in Lucretius’s notion, is caused, just like sight or smell, by a body of particles given off by the object, and penetrating the ear (IV. 523 ff.).
485.For suppose the first bodies, &c. For this idea of the inseparable ‘least parts’ in the atom see I. 599 ff.
532.For because you see, &c. Here we meet a curious principle of Epicurus, which Lucretius nowhere states, but often acts on, of the ‘equal distribution’ (ἰσονομία) of things. If a certain class is rare in some parts of the world, or even in our world altogether, it will be found in plenty in other parts of the world or the universe: there is, on the whole, an equal number of things of the same kind. Compare 569 ff. for a similar idea.
598.the Great Mother of the gods. This was the title of the earth-goddess, Cybele, whose worship had been brought to Rome from Phrygia in 204 bc Lucretius in the next paragraph explains the ceremonial of the cult allegorically.
629.Then comes an armed band, &c. There was always in antiquity some confusion between the worship of Cybele in Phrygia and that of the Mother in Crete, which was heightened by the fact that in each place the scene of the worship was on Mount Ida. Modern investigation seems to show that the Phrygian worship was actually derived from the Cretan.
701.for you would see monsters, &c. Lucretius returns to this idea of the impossibility of the formation of monsters with parts derived from different races of animals, and supports it with rather different arguments in V. 878 ff.
740.that the mind cannot project itself into these bodies. A reference to a rather obscure idea in the psychology of Epicurus. The mind being an aggregation of soul-atoms, its thoughts are caused when these atoms are stirred by images coming from things outside or from its own stores (IV. 722 ff.). But the mind has a power of spontaneously ‘projecting itself upon’ the images (ἐπιβολὴ τη̑ς διανοίας), which results in attention, observation, selection, &c., or sometimes, when it so combines more than one image in its grasp, in the creation of a new conception. Here Lucretius imagines his reader as doubting whether it was possible for the mind by such an act of ‘projection’ to grasp the idea, i. e. to ‘visualize’, colourless atoms. He replies by the analogy of the blind, suggesting that we must think of the atoms as something which could be touched but not seen. Compare lines 1047 and 1080 of this book.
744.may become a clear concept. Another technical notion of Epicurus. The mind had ready in itself general notions or concepts of classes of things, to which it could refer, when any new instance of the class occurred; thus, we know, e. g. that ‘this is a horse’, because we have the general idea of ‘horse’ to which to refer (for this reason Epicurus gave the concepts the rather curious name of προλήψεις, ‘anticipations’). These general concepts were formed, in the case of perceptible objects, by the storing up in the mind of a series of single impressions, which formed a sort of ‘composite photograph’. But in the case of imperceptible things, such as the atoms, he probably conceived of their being formed by a combination of existing concepts by a ‘projection of the mind’. So here, by combining the concept of an atom with that of touch without sight, we get the ‘clear concept’ of a colourless atom. Easier cases of the application of the idea of ‘concepts’ will be found in II. 124, IV. 476, V. 124, 182, 1047.
865.It must needs be, &c. This proof, that things which themselves have sensation, are yet created of atoms that have not, is of course of immense importance for the next Book, in which Lucretius is going to prove that the soul is mortal.
902.Next, those who think, &c., a difficult and very tersely expressed argument. If there are sensible atoms, they must be like in substance to such sensible things as we know, veins, sinews, &c. If so, they are soft, and therefore not mortal, which is the very reverse of what Lucretius’s imaginary opponents would wish to prove.
908.still doubtless they must either have, &c. Again the argument is put very briefly and obscurely. He appeals once more to our experience. We only know two kinds of sensation, (1) the sensation of a complete sentient being, as when ‘I feel well’ or ‘happy’, (2) the sensation of a part of such a being, as when ‘my tooth aches’. If then the atoms, which compose sentient beings, have themselves sensation, it must be of one of these two kinds. But firstly, parts only have sensation as parts of a sentient whole: my tooth only feels as a part of me, and would not feel if it were taken out. In this case the individual atoms, apart from the whole compound, would have no sensation. Secondly, they may be each of them complete sentient beings; but then (a) like other sentient beings they must be mortal (see note on 902), (b) they could not by coming together produce one sentient being, but only a jumble of independent sentient beings, unless (c) in uniting they lose their own sense and combine to form the new sense of the compound being; in this case why attribute sense to them as individuals?
931.But if by chance any one shall say, &c. A slightly different position to that just dealt with. It may be admitted that the atoms are not sentient when separate, but they become sentient in the compound. No, replies Lucretius; by their union they form a sentient body, but the individual atoms always remain insentient.
975.whereof the race of men has its peculiar increment, i. e. the sensible atoms, which, according to the theory Lucretius is opposing, man has in addition to the non-sensible atoms which compose his body. This argument is of course not to be taken quite seriously: Lucretius is fond of finishing a series of serious proofs with a reductio ad absurdum. Compare III. 367, 776, and especially I. 918.
1011.what we see floating on the surface of things is the ‘secondary qualities’, and especially colour, as he has explained at great length: what we see at times coming to birth and … passing away is similarly sensation. This paragraph is a summing up of all he has said from line 730 onwards.
1047.the unfettered projection of our mind: see note on line 740. This is clearly a case where the mind, by its own free effort, puts concepts together to form a new conclusion.
1077.in the universe there is nothing single: for this argument see note on line 532.
1154.For it was no golden rope, &c. A reference to the famous passage in Homer, Iliad, 8. 19, where Zeus challenges the other gods to attach a golden rope to him and pull him down from heaven to earth. The Stoics had apparently interpreted the passage allegorically as referring to the creation of life on earth.
19.which neither the winds shake, &c. Again an allusion to a famous passage in Homer, Od. VI. 42 ff., which has passed on into English in Tennyson’s Morte d’Arthur.
43.that the soul’s nature is of blood, or else of wind. The theory that the soul was made of blood was that of Empedocles, of wind that of Critias.
94.First I say that the mind … All through this book we must distinguish carefully, as Lucretius does, between the mind (animus), which is an aggregate of pure ‘soul-atoms’ situated in the breast, and is the seat of thought and volition, and the soul or vital principle (anima), which is made of similar atoms, but scattered throughout the body and mixed with the body atoms, and is the cause of sensation in the body. Sometimes, however, when he is making statements which apply to both, he uses one or other of the terms in an inclusive sense.
100.which the Greeks call a harmony. Lucretius is thinking particularly of Aristoxenus, a pupil of Aristotle, who was a great theoretical musician, and applied his musical theory to the explanation of the human soul.
241.some fourth nature. This idea of the mysterious fourth nature, which is infinitely subtle, and is the ultimate cause of sensation and thought, has often been claimed as a practical admission by Lucretius of something supra-material or spiritual in the mind. But of course he conceives it as purely corporeal, just like any of the other component elements.
262.with the motions of first-beginnings. See II. 127 and the note on that passage; the idea of the internal vibrations of the atoms there illustrated is what Lucretius has in his mind here.
323.This nature then of the soul, &c. This notion of the very intimate union of soul and body, so that while the body protects the soul, the soul in return lends the body sensation is not very clearly expressed, but is of course of great importance for the subsequent discussion; neither soul nor body can continue to exist without the presence and help of the other.
367.if our eyes are as doors, &c. Another example of the reductio ad absurdum as the conclusion of a serious argument.
371.Democritus of Abdera (about 430bc), was, with Leucippus, the earliest exponent of the atomic theory. He is always regarded with great respect by Lucretius, who carefully notes this point, on which Epicurus differed from him (compare V. 621). See Introduction, p. 12.
417.the minds and the light souls … This is, of course, the main purpose of the book, to prove that the soul is mortal, and that therefore there is no reason to fear its punishment after death. There follows a rather bewildering series of twenty-eight proofs, which are not well classified or arranged by Lucretius, but we can distinguish three main lines of argument: (1) proofs from the previously described structure of soul and body; (2) proofs from death, disease, and cure, showing the close parallelism between soul and body; (3) arguments from the absurdity of the conception of the soul existing alone apart from body.
421.Be it yours, &c.: a warning that in this section he means to speak comprehensively of the mind and the soul, and that what is said of the one is applicable to the other. See note on line 94.
430.by images of smoke and cloud. A reference to the theory of ‘images’, or ‘idols’, as the cause of vision and thought which is expounded in Book IV.
548.And since the mind is one part of man. The mind, whose peculiar sensation, thought, is aroused, just like all other sensations, by touch, is here treated as practically another organ of sense.
597.the heart has had a shock, or the heart has failed: these are meant to be phrases of quite common parlance, and to translate them we must, I think, use ‘the heart’, though Lucretius uses his ordinary words for ‘mind’ and ‘soul’. Seeing that he placed the mind in the breast, the change is not so far wrong.
627.Nor in any other way can we picture to ourselves, &c.: notice that the test of truth is the possibility of ‘visualization’, as it must be for the Epicurean, to whom it was the only mode of thought.
679.Moreover, if when our body, &c. The argument of this paragraph is not so clear as it might be; it is really a dilemma. If an already formed soul enters our body at the moment of birth, (a) if it keeps its independent existence, it could never become so closely linked and connected with our body, as we see it is; (b) (line 698) if it is dispersed among the limbs, it does not maintain its existence, it perishes, and the soul in the body is a different soul to that which existed before.
741.Again, why does fiery passion, &c. An interesting argument in support of heredity as against the notion of the transmigration of souls.
772.Or why does it desire, &c. In this and the next paragraph we notice again the reductio ad absurdum towards the conclusion; it has already obtruded itself in lines 725 ff.
784.Again, a tree cannot exist in the sky, &c. A new line of argument, that everything in nature has its fixed place, and that of the soul is in the body. Lucretius applies the same argument again in almost the same words in V. 128 ff.
806.Moreover, if ever things abide for everlasting, &c. Another general principle, that there are certain fixed conditions for immortality, none of which the soul fulfils. Again Lucretius repeats the argument in Book V. 351 ff. to prove that our world is not immortal.
830.Death, then, is naught to us, &c. From here to the end of the book follows a kind of triumph-song over the mortality of the soul. ‘We need not fear death, for after it there is no part of us surviving to feel anything.’ It is really the climax of the poem.
876.he does not, I trow, grant, &c.: perhaps a little obscure. Such a man professes to grant that his soul does not survive his death on the grounds which Lucretius has just been discussing. But he does not in practice admit either the one or the other, as he half-consciously assumes that some part of him will survive to feel what happens to his body.
891.and to grow stiff with cold: this is not an alternative mode of burial, but goes closely with what has just preceded. After embalming, the Romans often left the corpse lying on a rock slab in the vault, or on the bier on which it was brought.
936.as though heaped in a vessel full of holes. Lucretius is thinking of the legend of the Danaids, to which he specially refers in lines 1008 ff.
971.to none for freehold, to all on lease. Lucretius is here using two technical terms of Roman law: mancipium was a full legal process of acquiring a possession, which gave the owner the most complete title to it, usus, the mere right of possession by custom, or ‘usufruct’. It seems best to accept parallel expressions in English, rather than to introduce their exact equivalents, which would have a very prosy effect, into the text.
1025.Ancus the good. Of course Ancus Martius, the legendary fourth king of Rome. Lucretius takes this line from the Annals of Ennius.
1029.he himself, who once … Xerxes.
1.I traverse the distant haunts, &c. These verses are repeated with a few slight changes, from I. 921 ff.
34.idols: it seems best to translate Lucretius’s word simulacra in this way, as it is itself a translation of Epicurus’s word εἴδωλον. The famous theory of vision is clearly explained here by Lucretius himself.
67.above all, since on the surface of things, &c.: a passage with more meaning than is at first apparent. When in the compound body all the atoms are moving at great speed in their tiny trajectories (see note on II. 527), it is obvious that those in the inner part are well hemmed in. But those on the surface have none outside to beat them back, and so are much more liable to break away from the object; it is these then that form the films, which produce vision.
193.first, because it is a tiny cause, &c. This is a very esoteric piece of Epicurean physics. We saw (see note on II. 127) that the speed of the unimpeded atom was much greater than that of any compound of atoms, however small, as the latter is checked by internal vibration. For the same reason the impact of the unimpeded atom is greatest, and it can therefore impart greater speed to any object which it hits. The films are sent on their way by the blows of other single atoms inside the compound, and the ‘tiny cause’ is therefore able to impart great speed to them.
199.Moreover, when particles of things, &c. Another rather abstruse piece of theory. Particles coming from deep within things are obstructed and jostled by the atoms, through which they have to make their way, and therefore have their speed diminished. But those which start from the surface, start, so to speak, without this initial handicap, and therefore attain a much greater rate of motion.
241.But because we can see them only … A very confused statement. Lucretius seems to be combining two points that he wished to state: (1) that these images are constantly hitting us in all parts of our body, but we can only see them with our eyes; (2) as the images are constantly streaming off bodies on all sides, wherever we turn our eyes, we see them.
246.For when it is given off, &c. Not a very satisfactory account. For (a) how can our eyes measure the length of this ‘draught’ from objects which passes through them; (b) even if they could, how can they know at what moment the ‘draught’ from any particular object, which they are going to see, begins?
256.Herein by no means must we deem, &c. An important point. We do not see the individual ‘idols’ of things, but their constant succession gives us a ‘cinematographic’ impression of the whole object.
311.flank-curved mirrors: probably a special name for concave horizontal mirrors.
315.or else because the image, &c.: a very ingenious but not very clear explanation. The idea is that with a flat mirror the whole surface of the image meets the mirror at once and is returned as it is, but with the curved mirror one corner of the image would touch it before the rest, and the result would be that the image would be given a twist and turned round so that it reached us again ‘right-handed’.
322.inasmuch as nature, &c.: as we say in modern scientific language, the angle of reflection is equal to the angle of incidence. These two lines ought possibly to be placed, as Giussani suggests, after line 307, where they would be more immediately in place. Here they give a general principle, which is the real cause of all the last four phenomena.
353.And when we see from afar off, &c. The problem of the square tower, which seems round at a distance, was one of the traditional difficulties of the Epicurean school. This explanation, however, tends to destroy our trust in the ‘idols’ as true evidence of things, and it is doubtful whether it was Epicurus’s own.
387.The ship, in which we journey, &c. There follows an interesting list of ‘optical illusions’, in all of which Lucretius holds that the mistake lies not in the sense-perception, but in the inferences made by the mind.
469.Again, if any one thinks, &c. This protest against scepticism and vindication of the veracity of the senses is the keystone of the whole Epicurean philosophy: every other part of it really depends on this.
476.the concept of the true and the false. The concept, as we have seen (see note on II. 744), must be produced by a series of individual experiences. If a man has never perceived anything true with the senses, how can he have the concept of truth?
483.Will reason, sprung from false sensation, &c. Reason is based on the senses, for its function is to distinguish and correlate the impressions given by the senses. If then the senses are false, much more must reason be: it cannot act as a criterion of the truth of sense-perceptions. The same idea is found in a famous passage of Democritus, quoted in the Introduction, p. 13.
493.all that goes along with colour is form in its various aspects of surface-outline, bulk, size, &c.
524.First of all, every kind of sound, &c. Sound is in Lucretius’s idea a corporeal emission, much like the ‘idols’ of vision, which strikes upon the ear.
615.Nor do the tongue and palate, &c. The case of taste is easy, because it can be accounted for directly by touch, and it is not necessary to assume the intervention of emissions.
673.Come now, I will tell, &c. In the case of smell Lucretius has again to assume the effluence or emission to act as a link between the nose and the object.
694.Firstly, because coming from deep within, &c. Compare the argument in lines 199 ff., and the note there.
710.Nay, indeed, ravening lions, &c. This curious fact is vouched for by Pliny and Plutarch.
722.Come now, let me tell you, &c. The mind being an aggregation of corporeal atoms, just like eye or ear, thought must be produced just like sight or hearing, by the stirring of the atoms of the mind by ‘idols’.
777.And in these matters, &c. Another obscurely expressed passage. The main idea is simple, if we bear in mind always the Lucretian conception of thought as ‘visualization’. The mind can think of whatever it will, because there are at all times present to it ‘idols’ of every sort, and it can turn its attention to any one of these it likes by a ‘projection’ (see note on II. 740).
823.Herein you must eagerly, &c. An argument against the teleological view of nature, which Lucretius of course dislikes because it might seem to support the theological idea that the gods made the world with a purpose. The eye, says Lucretius, was not made in order that we might see, but because it has been created we do see.
860.For verily I have shown, &c. Compare especially II. 1128 ff.
883.Then comes the will, &c.: this passage should be read in connexion with the theory of free-will, and its origin in the slight swerving of the atoms in II. 216 ff.
897.that the body, like a ship, is borne on by sails and wind. This is almost certainly the sense of this corrupt line, but the parallel does not work out very well. The sails should correspond to the act of will in the body, the wind to the external force, the air entering the pores. But the sails are of no use without the wind. It is possible, as has been suggested, that the ‘two things’ are the entering air and the parts of the body which it reaches. This would make the parallel more satisfactory, but does not seem likely to be what Lucretius meant, as the distinction would not be important enough.
916.First of all sleep comes to pass. Notice again the purely material explanation. Sleep is the absence of sensation, which is due to the soul. It must be then that the soul-atoms in sleep are either scattered about in the body, or driven out of it, or retreat far within below the surface. Even more strictly physical is the account in the next paragraph of how this comes to be.
1063.it is best to flee those images, &c. The attack on love was part of the traditional philosophy of Epicurus, who thought it destructive to a man’s peace of mind to be too dependent on others, but we cannot help remembering all through this passage the story that Lucretius himself was maddened by a love-philtre, and ultimately driven to commit suicide.
22.of Hercules: Lucretius deals at such special length with Hercules because he was adopted as their particular hero by the Stoics.
117.the giants, who attempted to assail heaven by piling Pelion on Ossa, and were punished by imprisonment beneath the earth, Enceladus being shut beneath Etna.
155.all which I will hereafter prove to you: but he never does. It has been thought, with much probability, that Lucretius’s intention was to close the whole poem, after the description of the plague of Athens, with a discussion and picture of the nature and life of the gods, clinching the whole argument of the poem with the proof that they could take no part in the government of the world. He does indeed return to the question of the origin of religion in this book (lines 1161 ff.), but that passage cannot be what he refers to here.
182.the concept of man. This is a very good instance of the technical idea of the ‘anticipation’ (see note on II. 744). If the gods had not in their minds a ‘concept’ of man, resulting from previous sense-perceptions, how could they have set about to make a man? One is tempted to reply ‘after their own image’.
195.But even if I knew not, &c. Lucretius’s rather crude contribution to the problem of the existence of evil.
235.First of all, &c.: the poet now returns, after the long digression about the gods and the theory of the divine creation of the world, to the point which he left at line 110, that the world had a birth and will be destroyed.
281.Likewise that bounteous source, &c. A rather subtle notion: that what appears to us as a continuous stream of light from the sun, or even from torches, &c., on earth, is really a constant succession of small particles of light, the foremost ever perishing, and their place being taken by fresh particles from behind.
320.as some tell: of course the Stoics as usual. This passage is interesting, as it is an adaptation by Lucretius of verses in which the tragic poet Pacuvius had expressed the Stoic doctrine.
351.Moreover, if ever things abide, &c. Compare III. 806 ff. and the note on that passage.
411.Moisture likewise, &c. The story of the flood of Deucalion and Pyrrha was of course familiar in antiquity. Compare e. g. Horace, Odes i. 2. 5 ff.
443.From this mass, &c. This idea of an original chaos, out of which a world was formed by the union of the like and the separation of the unlike, was, in its main outlines, traditional among the Greek physical philosophers, but Epicurus explained how it might be brought about without the gratuitous assumption of an unaccountable ‘whirl’ or an arbitrary ‘necessity’, such as previous thinkers had assumed.
510.if the great globe of the sky turns round, &c. The ideas of Lucretius’s astronomy are often curious and complicated, but we must always bear in mind that he conceives the world as a sphere, in the centre of the interior of which is suspended the earth; moon, sun, and stars move round it in orbits at ever-increasing distance, and above them, forming the ‘walls of the world’, comes the ether. The axis of the world he conceived to be inclined. In this passage he first considers the theory that the world as a whole moves round; we must then conceive it as held firm at each end of its axis by the pressure of air at each of the poles (P), and then caused to rotate by a current either flowing above (a, a) in the direction in which the heavenly bodies are seen to move, or below (b, b) in the opposite direction, as a water-mill is moved by the stream flowing beneath it. He then considers other ideas which may be advanced on the supposition that the world does not move round as a whole. He puts them forward as all worthy of consideration on Epicurus’s principle, that where our senses do not give us direct information, we ought to consider as possible all explanations which do not conflict with the evidence of the senses.
535.it is natural that its mass should, &c. A very curious idea: that the earth on the underside gradually ‘thins out’ and so forms a light ‘second nature’ beneath it, which makes a link to connect it with the air beneath it, and so acts as a kind of ‘spring-mattress’, by which it is continually supported, and does not press heavily on the air.
564.Nor can the sun’s blazing wheel, &c. This paragraph illustrates a principle of Epicurus complementary to that found in 510 ff.: that, where the senses do give us evidence, we must trust it absolutely. Our sight tells us that sun and moon are of a certain size: they must, then, be of that size. He supports the theory with the curious statements that even on earth fires and lights do not appear to diminish in bulk, so long as they send out light and heat, nor so long as their outline is clear and not blurred.
592.This, too, is not wonderful, &c. In this paragraph again, as in many others that follow, we see the principle that all explanations, not contradicted by the senses, are to be considered as possible.
596.For it may be that from this spot, &c.: the idea is that the sun is an opening, or breach in the ‘walls of the world’, through which myriads of particles of light from outside the world stream into it.
614.Nor is there any single account of the sun, &c. An obscure section, because Lucretius is guilty of confusion. The apparent path of the sun in the heavens has two notable features: (1) he appears to make a complete circuit of the heavens in the year, from west to east, just as the moon does in a month, and the planets in longer periods than the sun; (2) this circuit is not in the same plane as the equator: wherefore it seems that the sun goes up and down as well as round. Of the two explanations given by Lucretius, the first (621-36) would explain the former phenomenon, the second (637-45) the latter, but Lucretius has unfortunately represented them not as concurrent explanations of a complex phenomenon, but as alternative explanations of the whole.
(1) Democritus’s theory of the relative orbits of sun, moon, and planets may be explained by the accompanying diagram (Fig. 2). Suppose that in a given time the stars have actually moved on the outer rim of the world from a to α: the planets moving more slowly, as they are nearer the earth and thus less influenced by the ‘whirl’ of the heavens, will in the same time have moved from b to b1, the sun from c to c1, and the moon, slower still, from d to d1. But with reference to the stars, which seem fixed, the planets seem to have moved from β to b1, the sun from γ to c1, and the moon from δ to d1.
(2) But this orbit being set in a different plane to that of the equator, the effect is of the sun passing down towards the south in the autumn until in winter he reaches the tropic, or turning-point of Capricorn, and northwards in the spring until in summer he reaches the tropic of Cancer. This, it is suggested (637-49), was brought about by winds blowing ‘athwart his course’.
643.those stars which roll through … i. e. the planets.
651.either when after his long journey, &c.: this theory, that the sun was extinguished each night, and a new sun lit in the morning, was that of Heraclitus: the other is the normal idea of ancient astronomy.
656.Likewise at a fixed time, &c. The two following theories of the dawn correspond exactly to the two immediately preceding theories of the sun’s light; if he completes a circle under the earth, dawn is the advance light of his return; if a new sun is created each day, dawn is caused by the light gathering to form the sun.
Matuta was an ancient Roman deity of the dawn.
682.either because the same sun, &c. Another difficult section, though its general meaning is comparatively clear. The sun performs apparently both an annual orbit round the heavens, with which Lucretius has already dealt (614-49), and also a daily revolution. At most times of the year he divides the circle of the daily revolution unequally: in the winter he is for the greater part below the horizon, so that night is longer Fig. 4 (1); in the summer he is for the greater part above the horizon, so that day is longer (3); but at the equinoxes he divides his circle exactly into semi-circles, so that day and night are equal (2). This occurs twice in the year, at the equinoxes or ‘nodes’, the points at which the sun’s orbit cuts the equator (Fig. 5). The exact interpretation of lines 689-93 has been very much disputed, especially with regard to the precise meaning of the ‘turning-points’: are they a point in the annual orbit or in the daily revolution? I take the whole passage to depend on what Lucretius has already said about the annual orbit in lines 614-49: ‘the blast of the north wind and of the south’ refers to the theory that the sun was blown out of his natural course to the tropics: the ‘turning-points’ are, just as they were in line 617, the tropics. The passage means then, that mid-way in the sun’s course from north to south and south to north the sun holds his ‘turning-points’ at equal distances apart; i. e. he is on the equator. The effect of this, Lucretius implies but does not state, is that day is then exactly equal to night, for when the sun is on the equator he rises due east and sets due west—in other words, his daily revolution is exactly along the line of the equator, and is therefore performed, as may be seen from the figure, exactly half above and half below the horizon.
Fig. 5. T=the Earth; PP=the Poles; NESW=the Horizon; EQWR=the Equator; ΩCΓL=the Eliptic; ΩΓ=the Equinoxes or Nodes.
(A fuller description and explanation of Lucretius’s idea of the ‘heavenly globe’ may be found in the introduction to Mr. J. D. Duff’s edition of Book v, to which I am much indebted.)
696.Or else, because, &c.: this second explanation still rests on the assumption of ‘the same sun’ performing a daily journey under the earth, whereas the third (line 701) depends on the Heraclitean notion of a new sun being kindled every day (compare lines 651 ff. and 660 ff.).
705.The moon may shine, &c. Similarly in this paragraph the first three explanations regard the moon as passing below the earth and re-appearing, the fourth (line 731 ff.) assumes the creation of a new moon every day. Lines 729-730 are a very emphatic expression of the principle that we must accept all explanations equally, if they do not contradict phenomena.
727.the Babylonian teaching of the Chaldaeans, especially the theory of Berosus.
737.Spring goes on her way and Venus, &c. This description is probably based on some pantomimic representation of the Seasons, or on a picture. Modern readers naturally think of Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’, and indeed it is not at all unlikely that that picture was actually founded on this passage, as his ‘Mars and Venus’ almost certainly was on a passage of Politian in the Giostra, which was based on Lucretius’s description in Book I. 31-40.
751.Likewise also the eclipses of the sun, &c. None of these explanations present any difficulty with the exception of the first theory of the eclipse of the moon (762-4). This is, of course, the correct explanation: the earth, obstructing the rays of the sun, forms a shadow in the shape of a cone, and when the moon passes into it, it is eclipsed (Fig. 6). But it is, of course, quite inconsistent with the Epicurean theory that the sun and moon are the size we see them, i. e. both very greatly smaller than the earth, for in that case the shadow thrown will not take the form of a cone at all, and the eclipses of the moon would be of much more frequent occurrence and longer duration than they are (Fig. 7). This is the most important of several indications that Lucretius did not really understand his astronomy, and took much of it from the ordinary astronomical hand-books, without considering carefully how far it could be reconciled with Epicurean principles.
808.there grew up wombs: a curiously naïve device, by which Lucretius tries to account for the transition from vegetable to animal life. He seems to be a little conscious of its improbability, and is careful just afterwards (813) to supply an analogy for this apparently gratuitous act of kindness on the part of the earth.
837.And many monsters too earth, &c. In this idea of the early experiments of nature we get a glimmering of the modern notions of Evolution and Natural Selection, which become more prominent in the next paragraph. It is one of Lucretius’s most remarkable anticipations of modern scientific belief.
878.But neither were there Centaurs, &c. The impossibility of the formation of monsters of this sort, combined of parts belonging to different races of animals, has been dealt with already in II. 700 ff.
925.But the race of man, &c. Lucretius’s study of primitive man, again, has always been admired for its insight, and is all the more remarkable when one remembers the strong prevalence in antiquity of the notion of a Golden Age.
1020.not to burt or be barmed. Here we have the germs of the theory of the Social Compact as the origin of Society.
1028.But the diverse sounds of the tongue, &c. There was always a controversy in antiquity as to whether language was made by convention (θέσει) or grew up naturally (ϕύσει). Lucretius, consistently with the attitude taken up all through this book, decides for the latter view.
1047.the concept of their use. See note on II. 744.
1169.For indeed already the races of mortals, &c. It is a matter of great difficulty to decide exactly how Epicurus and Lucretius conceived the immortal nature of the gods, and the evidence is very insufficient. But it is certain that they supposed them to dwell in the ‘interspaces between the worlds’ (intermundia), and to become known to men by a constant succession of ‘idols’, which streamed off their bodies, preserving the ‘form unchanged’, and, being too subtle to be perceived by the senses, passed through the pores of the body into the mind, and there stirred the soul-atoms.
1198.with veiled head turning towards a stone, &c. Lucretius is here carefully recalling the ceremonial of Roman worship. The Roman always veiled his head (as opposed to the Greek), approached with the image of the god on his right hand, and in this position made his prayer. He then turned towards the image and prostrated himself on the ground.
1234.the glorious rods and relentless axes, the insignia of the Roman magistrates.
1294.the form of the bronze sickle, &c. Lucretius is probably thinking of its use for purposes of magic.
1302.the Lucanian kine, i. e. elephants, which were said to have been so called because they were first seen by the Romans in Lucania in the army of Pyrrhus.
1344.And you could more readily maintain, &c. For this curious argument that if this practice did not obtain on our earth, it probably did somewhere in the universe, compare what Lucretius says in 526 ff. about the motions of the stars.
20.in part because he saw that it was leaking, &c.: for this description of the human mind compare the explanation of the legend of the Danaids in III. 1003 ff.
31.be it by the chance or the force of nature. One of the few places where Lucretius in so many words implies that nature does act by chance, as well as by law. That there is the element of chance is probably due to the original swerving of the atoms; see Introduction, p. 18.
71.not that the high majesty of the gods, &c. A particularly interesting passage for the Epicurean conception of the relation of man and the gods. The superstitious beliefs of the old religion are an offence against the majesty of the gods, living their placid life untroubled by the world. Yet they will not lead to direct punishment at the hands of the gods, for that is impossible. But they will prevent those who hold them from approaching the gods with the proper tranquillity of spirit, and so deriving the greatest benefit from their worship. The passage shows clearly that the gods were to men a perfect example of the ideal life, and that their worship should be one of contemplation; it also explains how, when, as we are told, Epicurus himself and his immediate followers scrupulously attended the ceremonies of religious worship, they may have done so without inconsistency.
165.because things always move more slowly, &c.: another notable piece of Epicurean observation, that light travels more quickly than sound.
340.Once again, because it comes with long-lasting impulse, &c. This conception of the thunderbolt gathering speed as it goes, and the accompanying explanation, are based on the fundamental Epicurean notions of the movement of bodies (see note on II. 127.) In any compound body, even of so rare a texture as the thunderbolt, there is, of course, internal vibration, and though the whole body is moving in one direction the atoms which compose it will be moving in all directions and colliding with one another, and so retarding it. But there is always a tendency that the sideways and upward movement of the atoms resulting from blows should in time yield to their own natural tendency to fall owing to weight. In the case of a falling body this means that more and more atoms are always coming to move in the direction of the whole, and that therefore the speed of the whole body tends continually to increase. Lucretius has not expressed this very clearly, but considering the passage in the light of the general theory of motion, this must be its meaning.
364.the narrow channel is not to be thought of as something which separates lands, but rather as something which connects seas and mixes their waters (e. g. the Straits of the Bosphorus). So here, spring and autumn join the cold of winter with the warmth of summer.
381.the Tyrrhenian prophecies: it was generally supposed that the Romans obtained their system of auguries and omens from the Etruscans.
387.But if Jupiter, &c. Lucretius, in concluding this long section on the phenomena of thunder and lightning, comes back to his main purpose of attacking the traditional religion and its superstitious beliefs.
424.presters, i. e. fiery whirlwinds (πίμπρημι).
542.clear fact demands, &c. It is not obvious at first sight why this should be so. It may be that here we have another, and rather arbitrary, application of the curious principle of equilibrium (ἰσονομία). Compare II. 532 and the note there. But more probably he is thinking of his description in V. 492 ff. of the formation of the irregular surface of the upper earth, and argues on grounds of general probability that the same sort of process had taken place on the lower side.
660.the holy fire was the name given in antiquity to erysipelas; compare Virgil, Georg. iii. 566.
685.For air becomes wind, when, &c. This is not such a puerile comment as it looks at first sight, for to Lucretius ‘air’ and ‘wind’ were two distinct, though kindred, substances. (Compare the account of the composition of the soul, III. 231 ff.) The air, then, by being ‘set in motion’, would lose some of its own characteristic atoms, and acquire others, which would convert it into wind.
740.the name Avernian. Avernus in its Greek form Ἄορνος means ‘Birdless’.
754.because of their vigil. The story (told by Ovid, Metam. II. 542-565) was that the daughters of Cecrops, against the orders of Pallas, opened the chest containing the infant Erichthonius. The crow, who was on the watch, flew off and told Pallas, but she, in furious anger at what had been done, banished him for ever from the Acropolis.
810.Scaptensula: the Latin name for the famous mines of Σκαπτὴ Ὕλη in Thrace.
848.the shrine of Ammon: of course of Jupiter Ammon in the Libyan desert. As Giussani remarks, the possession of a thermometer in antiquity would have made considerable difference to these observations.
890.at Aradus: an island off the coast of Phoenicia, whose fresh-water spring was famous. The point of the comparison is of course simply that the seeds of fire well up through the water, just as the fresh water does through the salt at Aradus.
937.in the beginning of my poem too: he is thinking primarily, no doubt, of I. 329, &c., where he showed that ‘there is void in things’, but also of II. 95 ff., where he explained in what manner this occurred.
954.Again, where the breastplate of the sky, &c. This passage has been much discussed and very variously corrected and explained, but Giussani’s view seems much the most probable. As a crowning instance of the porosity of things, the poet takes the world itself: though it is surrounded with a breastplate (compare ‘the walls of the world’, I. 73, &c.), yet even through this there penetrate, as he has described in lines 483 ff., storms, tempest, and pestilence.
1002.First of all it must needs be, &c. Lucretius’s exposition in this paragraph is not quite so orderly or lucid as usual, but it all follows quite directly from his main principles. Ordinarily things are surrounded on all sides by countless moving atoms, which batter against them and are in part the cause of their holding together. The effluence streaming off from the magnet knocks away these particles and creates a void between itself and the iron ring. The atoms on that side of the ring are therefore impelled by the internal air and vibration, and the external air and battering particles on the other sides, to move towards that part, where there is now no opposition. This they proceed to do, but because the atoms of iron are so closely interlaced, they cannot disentangle themselves, but of necessity drag the whole ring along with them towards the magnet.
1107.where the axis of the world slants crippled. The ancients conceived that the axis of the earth (and consequently also of the world) was on a slant, rising towards Scythia and sinking towards Egypt. Just the same idea is found in Virgil, Georgic I. 240. The idea is characteristic of the atomic school, and is found in Leucippus (Aet. 12. 1, Diels, Leucippus, 27).
1138.Such a cause of plague, &c. Lucretius here describes the famous plague of Athens in 430 bc, and very closely follows the account given by Thucydides ii. 47-54.