Munro’s Lucretius Book I

MOTHER of the Aeneadae, darling of men and gods, increase-giving Venus, who beneath the gliding signs of heaven fillest with thy presence the ship-carrying sea, the corn-bearing lands, since through thee every kind of living things is conceived, rises up and beholds the light of the sun.

Before thee, goddess, flee the winds, the clouds of heaven, before thee and thy advent; for thee earth, manifold in works, puts forth sweet-smelling flowers; for thee the levels of the sea do laugh and heaven propitiated shines with outspread light.

For soon as the vernal aspect of day is disclosed, and the birth-favoring breeze of Favonius unbarred is blowing fresh, first the fowls of the air, O lady, show signs of thee and thy entering in, thoroughly smitten in heart by thy power.

Next the wild herds bound over the glad pastures and swim the rapid rivers: in such wise each made prisoner by thy charms follows thee with desire, whither thou goest to lead it on.

Yes, throughout seas and mountains and sweeping rivers and leafy homes of birds and grassy plains, striking fond love into the breasts of all thou constrainest them each after its kind to continue their races with desire.

Since thou then art sole mistress of the nature of things and without thee nothing rises up into the divine borders of light, nothing grows to be glad or lovely, fain would I have thee for a helpmate in writing the verses which I essay to pen on the nature of things for our own son of the Memmii, whom thou, goddess, hast willed to have no peer, rich as he ever is in every grace.

Wherefore all the more, O lady, lend my lays an everliving charm.

Cause meanwhile the savage works of war to be lulled to rest throughout all seas and lands; for thou alone canst bless mankind with calm peace, seeing that Mavors lord of battle controls the savage works of war, Mavors who often flings himself into thy lap quite vanquished by the never-healing wound of love; and then with upturned face and shapely neck thrown back feeds with love his greedy sight gazing, goddess, open-mouthed on thee; and as backward he reclines, his breath stays hanging on thy lips While then, lady, he is reposing on thy holy body, shed thyself about him and above, and pour from thy lips sweet discourse, asking, glorious dame, gentle peace for the Romans.

For neither can we in our country’s day of trouble with untroubled mind think only of our work, nor can the illustrious offset of Memmius in times like these be wanting to the general weal.

For what remains to tell, apply to true reason un-busied ears and a keen mind withdrawn from cares, lest my gifts set out for you with steadfast zeal you abandon with disdain, before they are understood.

For I will essay to discourse to you of the most high system of heaven and the gods and will open up the first beginnings of things, out of which nature gives birth to all things and increase and nourishment, and into which nature likewise dissolves them back after their destruction.

These we are accustomed in explaining their ‘reason to call matter and begetting bodies of things and to name seeds of things and also to tern first bodies, because from them as first elements all things are.

When human life to view lay foully prostrate upon earth crushed down under the weight of religion, who showed her head from the quarters of heaven with hideous aspect lowering upon mortals, a man of Greece ventured first to lift up his mortal eyes to her face and first to withstand her to her face.

Him neither story of gods nor thunderbolts nor heaven with threatening roar could quell: they only chafed the more the eager courage of his soul, filling him with desire to be the first to burst the fast bars of nature’s portals.

Therefore the living force of his soul gained the day: on he passed far beyond the flaming walls of the world and traversed throughout in mind and spirit the immeasurable universe; whence he returns a conqueror to tell us what can, what cannot come into being; in short on what principle each thing has its powers defined, its deep-set boundary mark.

Therefore religion is put underfoot and trampled upon in turn; us his victory brings level with heaven.

This is what I fear herein, lest haply you should fancy that you are entering on unholy grounds of reason and treading the path of sin; whereas on the contrary often and often that very religion has given birth to sinful and unholy deeds.

Thus in Aulis the chosen chieftains of the Danai, foremost of men, foully polluted with Iphianassa’s blood the altar of the Trivian maid.

Soon as the fillet encircling her maiden tresses shed itself in equal lengths down each cheek, and soon as she saw her father standing sorrowful before the altars and beside him the ministering priests hiding the knife and her countrymen at sight of her shedding tears, speechless in terror she dropped down on her knees and sank to the ground.

Nor aught in such a moment could it avail the luckless girl that she had first bestowed the name of father on the king.

For lifted up in the hands of the men she was carried shivering to the altars, not after due performance of the customary rites to be escorted by the clear-ringing bridal song, but in the very season of marriage, stainless maid mid the stain of blood, to fall a sad victim by the sacrificing stroke of a father, that thus a happy and prosperous departure might be granted to the fleet.

So great the evils to which religion could prompt! You yourself some time or other overcome by the terror-speaking tales of the seers will seek to fall away from us.

Ay indeed for how many dreams may they now imagine for you, enough to upset the calculations of life and trouble all your fortunes with fear! And with good cause; for if men saw that there was a fixed limit to their woes, they would be able in some way to withstand the religious scruples and threatenings of the seers.

As it is, there is noway, no means of resisting, since they must fear after death everlasting pains.

For they cannot tell what is the nature of the soul, whether it be born or on the contrary find its way into men at their birth, and whether it perish together with us when severed from us by death or visit the gloom of Orcus and wasteful pools or by divine decree find its way into brutes in our stead, as sang our Ennius who first brought down from delightful Helicon a crown of unfading leaf, destined to bright renown throughout Italian clans of men.

And yet with all this Ennius sets forth that there are Acherusian quarters, publishing it in immortal verses; though in our passage thither neither our souls nor bodies hold together, but only certain idols pale in wondrous wise.

From these places he tells us the ghost of everliving Homer uprose before him and began to shed salt tears and to unfold in words the nature of things.

Wherefore we must well grasp the principle of things above, the principle by which the courses of the sun and moon go on, the force by which every thing on earth proceeds, but above all we must find out by keen reason what the soul and the nature of the mind consist of, and what thing it is-which meets us when awake and frightens our minds, if we are under the influence of disease; meets and frightens us too when we are buried in sleep; so that we seem to ‘see and hear speaking to us face to face them who are dead, whose bones earth holds in its embrace.

Nor does my mind fail to perceive how hard it is to make clear in Latin verses the dark discoveries of the Greeks, especially as many points must be dealt with in new terms on account of the poverty of the language and the novelty of the questions.

But yet your worth and the looked-for pleasure of sweet friendship prompt me to undergo any labor and lead me on to watch the clear nights through, seeking by what words and in ,what verse I may be able in the end to shed on your mind so clear a light that you can thoroughly scan hidden things.

This terror then and darkness of mind must be dispelled not by the rays of the sun and glittering shafts of day, but by the aspect and the law of nature; the warp of whose design we shall begin with this first principle, nothing is ever gotten out of nothing by divine power.

Fear in sooth holds so in check all mortals, because they see many operations go on in earth and heaven, the causes of which they can in noway understand, believing them therefore to be done by power divine.

For these reasons when we shall have seen that nothing can be produced from nothing, we shall then more correctly ascertain that which we are seeking, both the elements out of which everything can be produced and the manner in which all things are done without the hand of the gods.

If things came from nothing, any kind might be born of any thing, nothing would require seed.

Men for instance might rise out of the sea, the scaly race out of the earth, and birds might burst out of the sky; horned and other herds, every kind of wild beasts would haunt with changing broad tilth and wilderness alike.

Nor would the same fruits keep constant to trees, but would change; any tree might bear any fruit.

For if there were not begetting bodies for each, how could things have a fixed unvarying mother?

But in fact because things are all produced from fixed seeds, each thing is born and goes forth into the borders of light out of that in which resides its matter and first bodies; and for this reason all things cannot be gotten out of all things, because in particular things resides a distinct power.

Again, why do we see the rose put forth in spring, corn in the season of heat, vines yielding at the call of autumn, if not because, when the fixed seeds of things have streamed together at the proper time, whatever is born discloses itself, while the due seasons are there and the quickened earth brings its weakly products in safety forth into the borders of light?

But if they came from nothing, they would rise up suddenly at uncertain periods and unsuitable times of year, inasmuch as there would be no first-beginnings to be kept from a begetting union by the unpropitious season.

No nor would time be required for the growth of things after the meeting of the seed, if they could increase out of nothing.

Little babies would at once grow into men and trees in a moment would rise and spring out of the ground.

But none of these events it is plain ever comes to pass, since all things grow step by step [at a fixed time], as is natural, [since they all grow] from a fixed seed and in growing preserve their kind; so that you may be sure that all things increase in size and are fed out of their own matter.

Furthermore without fixed seasons of rain the earth is unable to put forth its gladdening produce, nor again if kept from food could the nature of living things continue its kind and sustain life; so that you may hold with greater truth that many bodies are common to many things, as we see letters common to different words, than that anything could come into being without first-beginnings.

Again why could not nature have produced men of such a size and strength as to be able to wade on foot across the sea and rend great mountains with their hands and outlive many generations of living men, if not because an unchanging matter has been assigned for begetting things and what can arise out of this matter is fixed? We must admit therefore that nothing can come from nothing, since things ,require seed before they can severally be born and be brought out into the buxom fields of air.

Lastly, since we see that tilled grounds surpass untilled and yield a better produce by the labor of hands, we may infer that there are in the earth first-beginnings of things which by turning up the fruitful clods with the share and laboring the soil of the earth we stimulate to rise.

But if there were not such, you would see all things without any labor of ours spontaneously come forth in much greater perfection.

Moreover nature dissolves every thing back into its first bodies and does not annihilate things.

For if aught were mortal in all its parts alike, the thing in a moment would be snatched away to destruction from before our eyes; since no force would be needed to produce disruption among its parts and undo their fastenings.

Whereas in fact, as all things consist of an imperishable seed, nature suffers the destruction of nothing to be seen, until a force has encountered lit sufficient to dash things to pieces by a blow or to pierce through the void places within them and break them up.

Again if time, whenever it makes away with things through age, utterly destroys them eating up all their matter, out of what does Venus bring back into the light of life the race of living things each after its kind, or, when they are brought back, out of what does earth manifold in works give them nourishment and increase, furnishing them with food each after its kind? Out of what do its own native fountains and extraneous rivers from far and wide keep full the sea? Out of what does ether feed the stars? For infinite time gone by and lapse of days must have eaten up all things which are of mortal body.

Now if in that period of time gone by those things have existed, of which this sum of things is composed and recruited, they are possessed no doubt of an imperishable body, and cannot therefore any of them return to nothing.

Again the same force and cause would destroy all things without distinction, unless everlasting matter held them together, matter more or less closely linked in mutual entanglement: a touch in sooth would be sufficient cause of death, inasmuch as any amount of force must of course undo the texture of things in which no parts at all were of an everlasting body.

But in fact, because the fastenings of first-beginnings one with the other are unlike and matter is everlasting, things continue with body uninjured, until a force is found to encounter them strong enough to overpower the texture of each thing therefore never returns to nothing, but all things after disruption go back into the first bodies of matter.

Lastly, rains die, when father ether has tumbled them into the lap of mother earth; but then goodly crops spring up and boughs are green with leaves upon the trees, trees themselves grow and are laden with fruit; by them in turn our race and the race of wild beasts are fed, by them we see glad towns teem with children and the leafy forests ring on all sides with the song of new birds; through them cattle wearied with their load of fat lay their bodies down about the glad pastures and the white milky stream pours from the distended udders; through them a new brood with weakly limbs frisks and gambols over the soft grass, rapt in their young hearts with the pure new milk.

None of the things therefore which seem to be lost is utterly lost, since nature replenishes one thing out of another and does not suffer any thing to be begotten, before she has been recruited by the death of some other.

Now mark me: since I have taught that things cannot be born from nothing, cannot when begotten be brought back to nothing, that you may not haply yet begin in any shape to mistrust my words, because the first-beginnings of things cannot be seen by the eyes, take moreover this list of bodies which you must yourself admit are in the number of things and cannot be seen.

First of all the force of the wind when aroused beats on the harbors and whelms huge ships and scatters clouds; sometimes in swift whirling eddy it scours the plains and straws them with large trees and scourges the mountain summits with forest-rending blasts: so fiercely does the wind rave with a shrill howling and rage with threatening roar.

Winds therefore sure enough are unseen bodies which sweep the seas, the lands, ay and the clouds of heaven, tormenting them and catching them up in sudden whirls.

On they stream and spread destruction abroad in just the same way as the soft liquid nature of water, when all at once it is borne along in an overflowing stream, and a great downfall of water from the high hills augments it with copious rains, flinging together fragments of forests and entire ,trees; nor can the strong bridges sustain the sudden force of coming water: in such wise turbid with much rain the river dashes upon the piers with mighty force: makes havoc with loud noise and rolls under its eddies huge stones: wherever aught opposes its waves, down it dashes it.

In this way then must the blasts of wind as well move on, and when they like a mighty stream have borne down in any direction, they push things before them and throw them down with repeated assaults, sometimes catch them up in curling eddy and carry them away in swift-circling whirl.

Wherefore once and again I say winds are unseen bodies, since in their works and ways they are found to rival great rivers which are of a visible body.

Then again we perceive the different smells of things, \yet never see them coming to our nostrils; nor do we behold heats nor can we observe cold with the eyes nor are we used to see voices.

Yet all these things must consist of a bodily nature, since they are able to move the senses; for nothing but body can touch and be touched.

Again clothes hung up on a -‘shore which waves break upon become moist, and then get dry if spread out in the sun.

Yet it has not been seen in what way the moisture of water has sunk into them nor again in what way this has been dispelled by heat.

The moisture therefore is dispersed into small particles which the eyes are quite unable to see.

Again after the revolution of many of the sun’s years a ring on the finger is thinned on the under side by wearing, the dripping from the eaves hollows a stone, the bent plowshare of iron imperceptibly decreases in the fields, and we behold the stone-paved streets worn down by the feet of the multitude; the brass statues too at the gates show their right hands to be wasted by the touch of the numerous passers by who greet them.

These things then we see are lessened, since they have been thus worn down; but what bodies depart at any given time the nature of vision has jealously shut out our seeing.

Lastly the bodies which time and nature add to things by little and little, constraining them to grow in due measure, no exertion of the eyesight can behold; and so too wherever things grow old by age and decay, and when rocks hanging over the sea are eaten away by the gnawing salt spray, you cannot see what they lose at any given moment Nature therefore works by unseen bodies.

And yet all things are not on all sides jammed together and kept in by body: there is also void in things.

To have learned this will be good for you on many accounts; it will not suffer you to wander in doubt and be to seek in the sum of things and, distrustful of our words.

If there were not void, things could not move at all; for that which is the property of body, to let and hinder, would be present to all things at all times; nothing therefore could go on, since no other thing would be the first to give way.

But in fact throughout seas and lands and the heights of heaven we see before our eyes many things move in many ways for various reasons, which things, if there were no void, I need not say would lack and want restless motion: they never would have been begotten at all, since matter jammed on all sides would have been at rest Again however solid things are thought to be, you may yet learn from this that they are of rare body: in rocks and caverns the moisture of water oozes through and all things weep with abundant drops; food distributes itself through the whole body of living things; trees grow and yield fruit in season, because food is diffused through the whole from the very roots over the stem and all the boughs.

Voices pass through walls and fly through houses shut, stiffening frost pierces to the bones.

Now if there are no void parts, by what way can the bodies severally pass? You would see it to be quite impossible.

Once more, why do we see one thing surpass another in weight though not larger in size? For if there is just as much body in a ball of wool as there is in a lump of lead, it is natural it should weigh the same, since the property of body is to weigh all things downwards, while on the contrary the nature of void is ever without weight.

Therefore when a thing is just as large, yet is found to be void in it; while on the other hand that which is lighter, it proves sure enough that it has more of ‘heavier shows that there is in it more of body and that it contains within it much less of void.

Therefore that which we are seeking with keen reason exists sure enough, mixed up in things; and we call it void. And herein I am obliged to forestall this point which some raise, lest it draw you away from the truth.

The waters they say make way for the scaly creatures as they press on, and open liquid paths, because the fish leave room behind them, into which the yielding waters may stream; thus other things too may move and change place among themselves, although the whole sum be full.

This you are to know has been taken up on grounds wholly false.

For on what side I ask can the scaly creatures move forwards, unless the waters have first made room? Again on what side can the waters give place, so long as the fish are unable to go on? Therefore you must either strip all bodies of motion or admit that in things void is mixed up from which every thing gets its first start in moving.

Lastly if two broad bodies after contact quickly spring asunder, the air must surely fill all the void which is formed between the bodies.

Well however rapidly it stream together with swift-circling currents, yet the whole space will not be able to be filled up in one moment for it must occupy first one spot and then another, until the whole is taken up.

But if haply any one supposes that, when the bodies have started asunder, that result follows because the air condenses, he is mistaken; for a void is then formed which was not before, and a void also is filled which existed before; nor can the air condense in such a way, nor supposing it could, could it methinks without void draw into itself and bring its parts together.

Wherefore however long you hold out by urging many objections, you must needs in the end admit that there is a void in things.

And many more arguments I may state to you in order to accumulate proof on my words; but these slight footprints are enough for a keen-searching mind to enable you by yourself to find out all the rest.

For as dogs often discover by smell the lair of a mountain-ranging wild beast though covered over with leaves, when once they have got on the sure tracks, thus you in cases like this will be able by yourself alone to see one thing after another and find your way into all dark corners and draw forth the truth.

But if you lag or swerve a jot from the reality, this I can promise you, Memmius, without more ado: such plenteous draughts from abundant wellsprings my sweet tongue shall pour from my richly furnished breast, that I fear slow age will steal over our limbs and break open in us the fastnesses of life, ere the whole store of reasons on any one question has by my verses been dropped into your ears.

But now to resume the thread of the design which I am weaving in verse: all nature then, as it exists by itself, is founded on two things: there are bodies and there is void in which these bodies are placed and through which they move about.

For that body exists by itself the general feeling of man kind declares; and unless at the very first belief in this be firmly grounded, there will be nothing to which we can appeal on hidden things in order to prove anything by reasoning of mind.

Then again, if room and space which we call void did not exist, bodies could not be placed anywhere nor move about at all to any side; as we have demonstrated to you a little before.

Moreover there is nothing which you can affirm to be at once separate from all body and quite distinct from void, which would so to say count as the discovery of a third nature.

For whatever shall exist, this of itself must be something or other.

Now if it shall admit of touch in however slight and small a measure, it will, be it with a large or be it with a little addition, provided it do exist, increase the amount of body and join the sum.

But if it shall be intangible and unable to hinder any thing from passing through it on any side, this you are to know will be that which we call empty void.

Again whatever shall exist by itself, will either do something or will itself suffer by the action of other things, or will be of such a nature as things are able to exist and go on in.

But no thing can do and suffer without body, nor aught furnish room except void and vacancy.

Therefore beside void and bodies no third nature taken by itself can be left in the number of things, either such as to fall at any time under the ken of our senses or such as any one can grasp by the reason of his mind.

For whatever things are named, you will either find to be properties linked to these two things or you will see to be accidents of these things.

That is a property which can in no case be disjoined and separated without utter destruction accompanying the severance, such as the weight of a stone, the heat of fire, the fluidity of water.

Slavery on the other hand, poverty and riches, liberty war concord and all other things which may come and go while the nature of the thing remains unharmed, these we are wont, as it is right we should, to call accidents.

Time also exists not by itself, but simply from the things which happen the sense apprehends what has been done in time past, as well as what is present and what is to follow after.

And we must admit that no one feels time by itself abstracted from the motion and calm rest of things.

So when they say that the daughter of Tyndarus was ravished and the Trojan nations were subdued in war, we must mind that they do not force us to admit that these things are by themselves, since those generations of men, of whom these things were accidents, time now gone by has irrevocably swept away.

For whatever shall have been done may be termed an accident in one case of the Teucran people, in another of the countries simply.

Yes for if there had been no matter of things and no room and space in which things severally go on, never had the fire, kindled by love of the beauty of Tyndarus’ daughter, blazed beneath the Phrygian breast of Alexander and lighted up the famous struggles of cruel war, nor had the timber horse unknown to the Trojans wrapt Pergama in flames by its night-issuing brood of sons of the Greeks; so that you may clearly perceive that all actions from first to last exist not by themselves and are not by themselves in the way that body is, nor are terms of the same kind as void is, but are rather of such a kind that you may fairly call them accidents of body and of the room in which they severally go on.

Bodies again are partly first-beginnings of things, partly those which are formed of a union of first beginnings.

But those which are first-beginnings of things no force can quench: they are sure to have the better by their solid body.

Although it seems difficult to believe that aught can be found among things with a solid body.

For the lightning of heaven passes through the walls of houses, as well as noise and voices; iron grows red-hot in the fire and stones burn with fierce heat and burst asunder the hardness of gold is broken up and dissolved by heat; the ice of brass melts vanquished by the flame; warmth and piercing cold ooze through silver, since we have felt both, as we held cups with the hand indue fashion and the water was poured down into them.

So universally there is found to be nothing solid in things.

But yet because true reason and the nature of things constrains, attend until we make clear in a few verses that there are such things as consist of solid and everlasting body, which we teach are seeds of things and first-beginnings, out of which the whole sum of things which now exists has been produced.

First of all then since there has been found to exist a two-fold and widely dissimilar nature of two things, that is to say of body and of place in which things severally go on, each of the two must exist for and by itself and quite unmixed.

For wherever there is empty space which we call void, there body is not; wherever again body maintains itself, there empty void no wise exists.

First bodies therefore are solid and without void.

Again since there is void in things begotten, solid matter must exist about this void, and no thing can be proved by true reason to conceal in its body and have within it void, unless you choose to allow that that which holds it in is solid.

Again that can be nothing but a union of matter which can keep in the void of things.

Matter therefore, which consists of a solid body, may be everlasting, though all things else are dissolved.

Moreover, if there were no empty void, the universe would be solid; unless on the other hand there were certain bodies to fill up whatever places they occupied, the existing universe would be empty and void space.

Therefore sure enough body and void are marked off in alternate layers, since the universe is neither of a perfect fulness nor a perfect void.

There are therefore certain bodies which can vary void space with full.

These can neither be broken in pieces by the stroke of blows from without nor have their texture undone by aught piercing to their core nor give way before any other kind of assault; as we have proved to you a little before.

For without void nothing seems to admit of being crushed in or broken up or split in two by cutting, or of taking in wet or permeating cold or penetrating fire, by which all things are destroyed.

And the more anything contains within it of void, the more thoroughly it gives way to the assault of these things.

Therefore if first bodies are as I have shown solid and without void, they must be everlasting.

Again unless matter had been eternal, all things before this would have utterly returned to nothing and whatever things we see would have been born anew from nothing.

But since I have proved above that nothing can be produced from nothing, and that what is begotten cannot be called to nothing, first-beginnings must be of an imperishable body, into which all things can be dissolved at their last hour, that there may be a supply of matter for the reproduction of things.

Therefore first-beginnings are of solid singleness, and in no other way can they have been preserved through ages during infinite time past in order to reproduce things.

Again if nature had set no limit to the breaking of things, by this time the bodies of matter would have been so far reduced by the breaking of past "ages that nothing could within a fixed time be conceived out of them and reach its utmost growth of being.

For we see that anything is more quickly destroyed than again renewed; and therefore that which the long, the infinite duration of all bygone time had broken up demolished and destroyed, could never be reproduced in all remaining time.

But now sure enough a fixed limit to their breaking has been set, since we see each thing renewed, and at the same time definite periods fixed for things each after its kind to reach the flower of their age.

Moreover while the bodies of matter are most solid, it may yet be explained in what way all things which are formed soft, as air water earth fires, are so formed and by what force they severally go on, since once for all there is void mixed up in things.

But on the other hand if the first-beginnings of things be soft, it cannot be explained out of what enduring basalt and iron can be produced; for their whole nature will utterly lack a first foundation to begin with.

First-beginnings therefore are strong in solid singleness, and by a denser combination of these all things can be closely packed and exhibit enduring strength.

Again if no limit has been set to the breaking of bodies, nevertheless the several bodies which go to things must survive from eternity up to the present time, not yet assailed by any danger.

But since they are possessed of a frail nature, it is not consistent with this that they could have continued through eternity harassed through ages by countless blows.

Again too since a limit of growing and sustaining life has been assigned to things each after its kind, and since by the laws of nature it stands decreed what they can each do and what they cannot do, and since nothing is changed, but all things are so constant that the different birds all in succession exhibit in their body the distinctive marks of their kind, they must sure enough have a body of unchangeable matter also.

For if the first-beginnings of things could in any way be vanquished and changed, it would then be uncertain too what could and what could not rise into being, in short on what principle each thing has its powers defined, its deep-set boundary mark; nor could the generations reproduce so often each after its kind the nature habits, way of life and motions of the parents.

Then again since there is ever a bounding point [to bodies, which appears to us to be a least, there ought in the same way to be a bounding point the least conceivable to that first body] which already is beyond what our senses can perceive: that point sure enough is without parts and consists of a least nature and never has existed apart by itself and will not be able in future so to exist, since it is in itself a part of that other; and so a first and single part and then other and other similar parts in succession fill up in close serried mass the nature of the first body; and since these cannot exist by themselves, they must cleave to that from which they cannot in any way be torn.

First-beginnings therefore are of solid singleness, massed together and cohering closely by means of least parts, not compounded out of a union of those parts, but, rather, strong in everlasting singleness.

From them nature allows nothing to be torn, nothing further to be worn away, reserving them as seeds for things.

Again unless there shall be a least, the very smallest bodies will consist of infinite parts, inasmuch as the half of the half will always have a half and nothing will set bounds to the division.

Therefore between the sum of things and the least of things what difference will there be? There will be no distinction at all; for how absolutely infinite soever the whole sum is, yet the things which are smallest will equally consist of infinite parts.

Now since on this head true reason protests and denies that the mind can believe it, you must yield and admit that 1$ there exist such things as are possessed of no parts and are of a least nature.

And since these exist, those first bodies also you must admit to be solid and everlasting.

Once more, if nature, creatress of things, had been wont to compel all things to be broken up into least parts, then too she would be unable to reproduce anything out of those parts, because those things which are enriched with no parts cannot have the properties which begetting matter ought to have, I mean the various entanglements, weights, blows, clashings, motions, by means of which things severally go on.

For which reasons they who have held fire to be the matter of things and the sum to be formed out of fire alone, are seen to have strayed most widely from true reason.

At the head of whom enters Heraclitus to do battle, famous for obscurity more among the frivolous than the earnest Greeks who seek the truth.

For fools admire and like all things the more which they perceive to be concealed under involved language, and determine things to be true which can prettily tickle the ears and are varnished over with finely sounding phrase.

For I want to know how things can be so various, if they are formed out of fire one and unmixed: it would avail nothing for hot fire to be condensed or rarefied, if the same nature which the whole fire has belonged to the parts of fire as well.

The heat would be more intense by compression of parts, more faint by their severance and dispersion.

More than this you cannot think it in the power of such causes to effect, far less could so great a diversity of things come from mere density and rarity of fires.

Observe also, if they suppose void to be mixed up in things, fire may then be condensed and left rare; but because they see many things rise up in contradiction to them and shrink from leaving unmixed void in things, fearing the steep, they lose the true road, and do not perceive on the other hand that if void is taken from things, all things are condensed and, out of all things is formed one single body, which cannot briskly radiate anything from it, in the way heat-giving fire emits light and warmth, letting you see that it is not of closely compressed parts.

But if they haply think that in some other way fires maybe quenched in the union and change their body, you are to know that if they shall scruple on no side to do this, all heat sure enough will be utterly brought to nothing, and all things that are produced will be formed out of nothing.

For whenever a thing changes and quits its proper limits, at once this change of state is the death of that which was before.

Therefore something or other must needs be left to those fires of theirs undestroyed, that you may not have all things absolutely returning to nothing, and the whole store of things born anew and flourishing out of nothing.

Since then in fact there are some most unquestionable bodies which always preserve the same nature, on whose going or coming and change of order things change their nature and bodies are transformed, you are to know that these first bodies of things are not of fire.

For it would matter nothing that some should withdraw and go away and others should be added on and some should have their order changed, if one and all they yet retained the nature of heat; for whatever they produced would be altogether fire.

But thus methinks it is: there are certain bodies whose clashings, motions, order, position, and shapes produce fires, and which by a change of, order change the nature of the things and do not resemble fire nor anything else which has the power of sending bodies to our senses and touching by its contact our sense of touch.

Again to say that all things are fire and that no real thing except fire exists in the number of things, as this same man does, appears to be sheer dotage.

For he himself takes his stand on the side of the senses to fight against the senses and shakes their authority, on which rests all our belief, ay from which this fire as he calls it is known to himself; for he believes that the senses can truly perceive fire, he does not believe they can perceive all other things which are not a whit less clear.

Now this appears to me to be as false as it is foolish; for to what shall we appeal? What surer test can we have than the senses, whereby to note truth and falsehood? Again why should any one rather abolish all things and choose to leave the single nature of heat, than deny that fires exist, while he allows any thing else to be? It seems to be equal madness to affirm either this or that.

For these reasons they who have held that fire is the matter of things and that the sum can be formed out of fire, and they who have determined air to be the first-beginning in begetting things, and all who have held that water by itself alone forms things, or that earth produces all things and changes into all the different natures of things, appear to have strayed exceedingly wide of the truth; as well as they who make the first-beginnings of things twofold coupling air with fire and earth with water, and they who believe that all things grow out of four things, fire earth and air and water.

Chief of whom is Agrigentine Empedocles: him within the three-cornered shores of its lands that island bore, about which the Ionian sea flows in large crankings, and splashes up brine from its green waves.

Here the sea racing in its straitened froth divides by its waters the shores of Italia’s lands from the other’s coasts; here is wasteful Charybdis and here the rumblings of Aetna threaten anew to gather up such fury of flames, as again with force to belch forth the fires bursting from its throat and carry up to heaven once more the lightnings of flame.

Now though this great country is seen to deserve in many ways the wonder of mankind and is held to be well worth visiting, rich in all good things, guarded by large force of men, yet seems it to have held within it nothing more glorious than this man, nothing more holy marvelous and dear.

The verses too of his godlike genius cry with a loud voice and set forth in such wise his glorious discoveries that he hardly seems born of a mortal stock.

Yet he and those whom we have mentioned above immeasurably inferior and far beneath him, although the authors of many excellent and godlike discoveries, they have given responses from so to say their hearts’ holy of holies with more sanctity and on much more grounds than the Pythia who speaks out from the tripod and laurel of Phoebus, have yet gone to ruin in the first-beginnings of things: it is there they have fallen, and, great themselves, great and heavy has been that fall; first because they have banished void from things and yet assign to them motions, and allow things soft and rare, air sun fire earth, living things and corn, and yet mix not up void in their body; next because they suppose that there is no limit to the division of bodies and no stop set to their breaking and that there exists no least at all in things; though we see that that is the bounding point of any thing which seems to be least to our senses, so that from this you may infer that because the things which you do not see have a bounding point, there is a least in them.

Moreover since they assign soft first-beginnings of things, which we see to have birth and to be of a body altogether mortal, the sum of things must in that case revert to nothing and the store of things be born anew and flourish out of nothing: how wide now of the truth both these doctrines are you will already comprehend.

In the next place these bodies are in many ways mutually hostile and poisonous; and therefore they will either perish when they have met, or will fly asunder just as we see, when a storm has gathered, lightnings and rains and winds fly asunder.

Again if all things are produced from four things and all again broken up into those things, how can they be called first-beginnings of things any more than things be called their first-beginnings, the supposition being reversed? For they are begotten time about and interchange color and their whole nature without ceasing.

But if haply you suppose that the body of fire and of earth and air and the moisture of water meet in such a way that none of them in the union changes its nature, no thing I tell you can be then produced out of them, neither living thing northing with inanimate body, as a tree; in fact each thing amid the medley of this discordant mass will display its own nature and air will be seen to be mixed up with earth and heat to remain in union with moisture.

But first-beginnings ought in begetting things to bring with them a latent and unseen nature in order that no thing stand out, to be in the way and prevent whatever is produced from having its own proper being.

Moreover they go back to heaven and its fires fora beginning, and first suppose that fire changes into air, next that from air water is begotten and earth is produced out of water, and that all in reverse order come back from earth, water first, next air, then heat, and that these cease not to interchange, to pass from heaven to earth, from earth to the stars of ether.

All which first-beginnings must on no account do; since something unchangeable must needs remain over, that things may not utterly be brought back to nothing.

For whenever a thing changes and quits its proper limits, at once this change of state is the death of that which was before.

Wherefore since those things which we have mentioned a little before pass into a state of change, they must be formed out of others which cannot in any case be transformed, that you may not have things returning altogether to nothing.

Why not rather hold that there are certain bodies possessed of such a nature, that, if they have haply produced fire, the same may, after a few have been taken away and a few added on and the order and motion changed, produce air; and that all other things may in the same way interchange with one another? "But plain matter of fact clearly proves" you say "that all things grow up into the air and are fed out of the earth; and unless the season at the propitious period send such abundant showers that the trees reel beneath the soaking storms of rain, and unless the sun on its part foster them and supply heat, corn, trees and living things could not grow."

Quite true, and unless solid food and soft water should recruit us, our substance would waste away and life break wholly up out of all the sinews and bones; for we beyond doubt are recruited and fed by certain things, this and that other thing by certain other things.

Because many first-beginnings common to many things in many ways are mixed up in things, therefore sure enough different things are fed by different things.

And it often makes a great difference with what things and in what position the same first beginnings are held in union and what motions they mutually impart and receive; for the same make up heaven sea lands rivers sun, the same make up corn trees and living things; but they are mixed up with different things and in different ways as they move.

Nay you see throughout even in these verses of ours many elements common to many words, though you must needs admit that the lines and words differ one from the other both in meaning and in sound wherewith they sound.

So much can elements effect by a mere change of order; but those elements which are the first-beginnings of things can bring with them more combinations out of which different things can severally be produced.

Let us now also examine the homoeomeria of Anaxagoras as the Greeks term it, which the poverty of our native speech does not allow us to name in our own tongue; though it is easy enough to set forth in words the thing itself.

First of all then, when he speaks of the homoeomeria of things, you must know he supposes bones to be formed out of very small and minute bones and flesh of very small and minute fleshes and blood by the coming together of many drops of blood, and gold he thinks can be composed of grains of gold and earth be a concretion of small earths, and fires can come from fires and water from waters, and everything else he fancies and supposes to be produced on a like principle.

And yet at the same time he does not allow that void exists anywhere in things, or that there is a limit to the division of things.

Wherefore he appears to me on both these grounds to be as much mistaken as those whom we have already spoken of above.

Moreover, the first-beginnings which he supposes are too frail; if first-beginnings they be which are possessed of a nature like to the things themselves and are just as liable to suffering and death, and which nothing reins back from destruction.

For which of them will hold out, so as to escape death, beneath so strong a pressure within the very jaws of destruction? Fire or water or air? Which of these? Blood or bones?

Not one methinks, where everything will be just as essentially mortal as those things which we see with the senses’ perish before our eyes vanquished by some force.

But I appeal to facts demonstrated above for proof that things cannot fall away to nothing nor on the other hand grow from nothing.

Again since food gives increase and nourishment to the body, you are to know that our veins and blood and bones [and the like are formed of things foreign to them in kind]; or if they shall say that all foods are of a mixed body and contain in them small bodies of sinews and bones and veins as well and particles of blood, it will follow that all food, solid as well as liquid, must be held to be composed of things foreign to them in kind, of bones that is and sinews and matter and blood mixed up.

Again if all the bodies which grow out of the earth, are in the earths, the earth must be composed of things foreign to it in kind which grow out of these earths.

Apply again this reasoning to other things, and you may use just the same words.

If flame and smoke and ash are latent in woods, woods must necessarily be composed of things foreign to them in kind.

Again all those bodies, to which the earth gives food, it increases [out of things foreign to them in kind which rise out of the earth: thus too the bodies of flame which issue from the woods, are fed] out of things foreign to them in kind which rise out of these woods.

Here some slight opening is left for evasion, which Anaxagoras avails himself of, choosing to suppose that all things though latent are mixed up in things, and that is alone visible of which there are the largest number of bodies in the mixture and these more ready to hand and stationed in the first rank.

This however is far banished from true reason.

For then it were natural that corn too should often, when crushed by the formidable force of the stone, show some mark of blood or some other of the things which have their nourishment in our body.

For like reasons it were fitting that from grasses too, when we rub them between two stones, blood should ooze out; that waters should yield sweet drops, in flavor like to the udder of milk in sheep; yes and that often, when clods of earth have been crumbled, kinds of grasses and corn and leaves should be found to lurk distributed among the earth in minute quantities; and lastly that ash and smoke and minute fires should be found latent in woods, when they were broken off.

Now since plain matter of fact teaches that none of these results follows, you are to know that things are not so mixed up in things; but rather seeds common to many things must in many ways be mixed up and latent in things.

"But it often comes to pass on high mountains" you say "that contiguous tops of tall trees rub together, the strong south winds constraining them so to do, until the flower of flame has broken out and they have burst into a blaze."

Quite true, and yet fire is not innate in woods; but there are many seeds of heat, and when they by rubbing have streamed together, they produce conflagrations in the forests.

But if the flame was stored up ready made in the forests, the fire could not be concealed for any length of time, but would destroy forests, burn up trees indiscriminately.

Do you now see, as we said a little before, that it often makes a very great difference with what things and in what position the same first beginnings are held in union and what motions they mutually impart and receive, and that the same may, when a little changed in arrangement produce say fires and a fir?

Just as the words too consist of elements only a little changed in arrangement, though we denote firs and fires with two quite distinct names.

Once again, if you suppose that whatever you perceive among visible things cannot be produced without imagining bodies of matter possessed of a like nature, in this way you will find the first-beginnings of things are destroyed: it will come to this that they will be shaken by loud fits of convulsive laughter and will bedew with salt tears face and cheeks.

Now mark and learn what remains to be known and hear it more distinctly.

Nor does my mind fail to perceive how dark the things are; but the great hope of praise has smitten my heart with sharp thyrsus, and at the same time has struck into my breast sweet love of the muses, with which now inspired I traverse in blooming thought the pathless haunts of the Pierides never yet trodden by sole of man.

I love to approach the untasted springs and to quaff, I love to cull fresh flowers and gather for my head a distinguished crown from spots whence the muses have yet veiled the brows of none; first because I teach of great things and essay to release the mind from the fast bonds of religious scruples, and next because on a dark subject I pen such lucid verses overlaying all with the muses’ charm.

For that too would seem to be not without good grounds: just as physicians when they purpose to give nauseous wormwood to children, first smear the rim round the bowl with the sweet yellow juice of honey, that the unthinking age of children may be fooled as far as the lips, and meanwhile drink up the bitter draught of wormwood and though beguiled yet not be betrayed, but rather by such means recover health and strength; so I now, since this doctrine seems generally somewhat bitter to those by whom it has not been handled, and the multitude shrinks back from it in dismay, have resolved to set forth to you our doctrine in sweet-toned Pierian verse and overlay it as it were with the pleasant honey of the muses, if haply by such means I might engage your mind on my verses, till you clearly perceive the whole nature of things, its shape and frame.

But since I have taught that most solid bodies of matter fly about for ever unvanquished through all time, mark now, let us unfold whether there is or is not any limit to their sum; likewise let us clearly see whether that which has been found to be void, or room and space, in which things severally go on, is all of it altogether finite or stretches without limits and to an unfathomable depth.

Well then, the existing universe is bounded in none of its dimensions; for then it must have had an outside.

Again it is seen that there can be an outside of nothing, unless there be something beyond to bound it, so that that is seen, farther than which the nature of this our sense does not follow the thing.

Now since we must admit that there is nothing outside the sum, it has no outside, and therefore is without end and limit.

And it matters not in which of its regions you take your stand; so invariably, whatever position any one has taken up, he leaves the universe just as infinite as before in all directions.

Again if for the moment all existing space be held to be bounded, supposing a man runs forward to its outside borders, and stands on the utmost verge and then throws a winged javelin, do you choose that when hurled with vigorous force it shall advance to the point to which it has been sent and fly to a distance, or do you decide that something can get in its way and stop it?

For you must admit and adopt one of the two suppositions; either of which shuts you out from all escape and compels you to grant that the universe stretches without end.

For whether there is something to get in its way and prevent its coming whither it was sent and placing itself in the point intended, or whether it is carried forward, in either case it has not started from the end.

In this way I will go on and, wherever you have placed the outside borders, I will ask what then becomes of the javelin.

The result will be that an end can nowhere be fixed, and that the room given for flight will still prolong the power of flight.

Lastly one thing is seen by the eyes to end another thing; air bounds off hills, and mountains air, earth limits sea and sea again all lands; the universe however there is nothing outside to end.

Again if all the space of the whole sum were enclosed within fixed borders and were bounded, in that case the store of matter by its solid weights would have streamed together from all sides to the lowest point nor could anything have gone on under the canopy of heaven, no nor would there have been a heaven nor sunlight at all, inasmuch as all matter, settling down through infinite time past, would lie together in a heap.

But as it is, sure enough no rest is given to the bodies of the first-beginnings, because there is no lowest point at all, to which they might stream together as it were, and where they might take up their positions.

All things are ever going on in ceaseless motion on all sides and bodies of matter stirred to action are supplied from beneath out of infinite space.

Therefore the nature of room and the space of the unfathomable void are such as bright thunderbolts cannot race through in their course though gliding on through endless tract of time, no nor lessen one jot the journey that remains to go by all their travel: so huge a room is spread out on all sides for things without any bounds in all directions round.

Again nature keeps the sum of things from setting any limit to itself, since she compels body to be ended by void and void in turn by body, so that either she thus renders the universe infinite by this alternation of the two, or else the one of the two, incase the other does not bound it, with its single nature stretches nevertheless immeasurably.

[But void I have already proved to be infinite; therefor matter must be infinite: for if void were infinite, and matter finite] neither sea nor earth nor the glittering quarters of heaven nor mortal kind nor the holy bodies of the gods could hold their ground one brief passing hour; since forced asunder from its union the store of matter would be dissolved and borne along the mighty void, or rather I should say would never have combined to produce any thing, since scattered abroad it could never have been brought together.

For verily not by design did the first beginnings of things station themselves each in its right place guided by keen intelligence, nor did they bargain sooth to say what motions each should assume, but because many in number and shifting about in many ways throughout the universe they are driven and tormented by blows during infinite time past, after trying motions and unions of every kind at length they fall into arrangements such as those out of which this our sum of things has been formed, and by which too, it is preserved through many great years when once it has been thrown into the appropriate motions, and causes the streams to replenish the greedy sea with copious river waters and the earth, fostered by the heat of the sun, to renew its produce, and the race of living things to come up and flourish, and the gliding fires of ether to live: all which these several things could in nowise bring to pass, unless a store of matter could rise up from infinite space, out of which store they are wont to make up in due season whatever has been lost.

For as the nature of living things when robbed of food loses its substance and wastes away, thus all things must be broken up, as soon as matter has ceased to be supplied, diverted in any way from its proper course.

Nor can blows from without hold together all the sum which has been brought into union.

They can it is true frequently strike upon and stay a part, until others come and the sum can be completed.

At times however they are compelled to rebound and in so doing grant to the first beginnings of things room and time for flight, to enable them to get clear away from the mass in union.

Wherefore again and again I repeat many bodies must rise up; nay for the blows themselves not to fail, there is need of an infinite supply of matter on all sides.

And herein, Memmius, be far from believing this, that all things as they say press to the center of the sum, and that for this reason the nature of the world stands fast without any strokes from the outside and the uppermost and lowest parts cannot part asunder in any direction, because all things have been always pressing towards the center (if you can believe that anything can rest upon itself); or that the heavy bodies which are beneath the earth all press upwards and are at rest on the earth, turned topsy-turvy, just like the images of things we see before us in the waters.

In the same way they maintain that living things walk head downwards and cannot tumble out of earth into the parts of heaven lying below them any more than our bodies can spontaneously fly into the quarters of heaven; that when those see the sun, we behold the stars of night; and that they share with us time about the seasons of heaven and pass nights equal in length to our days.

But groundless [error has devised such dreams] for fools, because they have embraced [false principles of reason.]

For there can be no center [where the universe is] infinite; no nor, even if there were a center, could anything take up a position there [any more on that account] than for some quite different reason [be driven away.]

For all room and space, which we term void, must through center, through no-center alike give place to heavy bodies, in whatever directions their motions tend.

Nor is there any spot of such a sort that when bodies have reached it, they can lose their force of gravity and stand upon void; and that again which is void must not serve to support anything, but must, as its nature craves, continually give place.

Things cannot therefore in such a way be held in union, o’er-mastered by love of a center.

Again since they do not suppose that all bodies press to the center, but only those of earth, and those, of water, [both such as descend to the earth in rain] and those which are held in by the earth’s body, so to say, the fluid of the sea and great waters from the mountains; while on the other hand they teach that the subtle element of air and hot fires at the same time are carried away from the center and that for this reason the whole ether round bickers with signs and the sun’s flame is fed throughout the blue of heaven, because heat flying from the center all gathers together there, and that the topmost boughs of trees could not put forth leaves at all, unless from time to time [nature supplied] food from the earth to each [throughout both stem and boughs, their reasons are not only false, but they contradict each other.

Space I have already proved to be infinite; and space being infinite matter as I have said must also be infinite] lest after the winged fashion of flames the walls of the world should suddenly break up and fly abroad along the mighty void, and all other things follow for like reasons and the innermost quarters of heaven tumble in from above and the earth in an instant withdraw from beneath our feet and amid the commingled ruins of things in it and of heaven, ruins unloosing the first bodies, should wholly pass away along the unfathomable void, so that in a moment of time not a wrack should be left behind, nothing save untenanted space and viewless first-beginnings.

For on whatever side you shall first determine first bodies to be wanting, this side will be the gate of death for things, through this the whole crowd of matter will fling itself abroad.

If you will thoroughly con these things, then carried to the end with slight trouble [you will be able by yourself to understand all the rest.]

For one thing after another will grow clear and dark night will not rob you of the road and keep you from surveying the utmost ends of nature: in such wise things will light the torch for other things.

Munro Book I
/ Munro Book II / Munro Book III / Munro Book IV / Munro Book V / Munro Book VI