Lucretius Today Podcast 073 – More on The Sun, Moon, and Related Astronomical Questions

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Welcome to Episode Seventy-Three of Lucretius Today. I am your host Cassius, and together with my panelists from the forum, we’ll walk you through the six books of Lucretius’ poem, and discuss how Epicurean philosophy can apply to you today. We encourage you to study Epicurus for yourself, and we suggest the best place to start is the book, “Epicurus and His Philosophy” by Canadian professor Norman DeWitt. For anyone who is not familiar with our podcast, please check back to Episode One for a discussion of our goals and our ground rules. If you have any questions about those, please be sure to contact us at for more information. In this Episode 73 we will read approximately Latin line 614-704 of Book Five. We will talk about the rising and setting of the sun and moon. Now let’s join Martin reading today’s text.

Browne 1743

Nor can one certain reason be assigned why the sun declines from its summer height and bends his winter course toward the tropic of Capricorn, and then returning, reaches the tropic of Cancer, and makes summer solstice; and that the moon in every month finishes the same course through the twelve signs, as the sun takes up a whole year in running through. I say, one certain reason cannot be assigned for these events, for perhaps the cause may be what the venerable opinion of that great man Democritus has laid down, that the nearer the stars are to the Earth, they are carried more slowly about by the general motion of the heavens. For the rapid force and celerity of the upper sky are much lessened before they reach the inferior orbs, and therefore the sun, with the lower signs that follow it, is in some measure left, because it is much lower than the high region of the stars. And the moon is much lower still, and the greater distance from the heavens she observes in her course, and the nearer she approaches the earth, the less is she capable of keeping pace with the motions of the signs, and the slower she is in her motion than the sun as she moves below him; and the signs may the more easily overtake her, and pass about and beyond her the oftener. And therefore the moon seems the sooner to run through all the signs when in reality the signs return to her. Or perhaps two several airs may at certain seasons blow from the opposite parts of the world by turns; the one may drive the sun down from the summer signs into his winter course, and the extremity of cold; the other may raise it from the cold winter signs into the summer solstice. And for the same reason the moon and the stars, which fulfill their periods and revolutions in their long courses, may be forced upwards and downwards in the heavens by two several streams of air likewise. Don’t you observe the clouds, driven by contrary winds, move different ways, the lower opposite to those above? What then should hinder that the stars should not be carried on by contrary blasts of air through the great circles of the sky?

And the night, we imagine, covers the earth with thick darkness, either because the sun in his long course has reached the extremity of the heavens, and being tired, has blown out his fire scattered by the swiftness of his motion, and decayed by the tract of air he passed through, or the same force that raised his orb, and drove it round above, compels him to change his course and roll beneath the earth. And Matuta, the goddess of the morning, at a fixed time leads Aurora blushing through the regions of the sky, and opens the day, either because the sun, returning from under the earth, attempts to enlighten the world with his rays, before he appears himself; or because the seeds of fire that were dispersed abroad in his journey the day before flow together in the eastern sky, and illustrate the Earth with a faint light, before they have kindled up anew the globe of the sun. This (they say) is easily discovered from the top of Mount Ida; where, upon the rising of the sun, we first discovery his scattered rays, which are afterward contracted into one orb and make up one ball of light. Nor are you to wonder that these seeds of fire should flow together constantly every day and repair the splendor of the sun; for we observe many things in nature that act regularly and at a fixed time. The trees look green at a certain season, and at a certain season cast their leaves. Children at a certain time shed their teeth, and the boy grows ripe at a certain time, and shows the soft down upon his cheeks. And lastly, the thunder, the snow, the rains, the clouds, the winds, are no less certain, and fall out in fixed seasons of the year, for the course which things observed from the beginning of the world they pursue the same, and continue still to act in the same certain order.

The days likewise increase, and the nights grow shorter, and the nights increase, and the days shorten, either because the sun, in his course above and below the earth, moves obliquely in unequal lines, and divides the heavens into unequal parts, and what he takes off from one part of the heavens he adds so much to the opposite part again, till he arrives at that sign in the heavens where he cuts the Aequinoctial line, and makes equal day and night, for this line is equally distant from the two tropics, which are the bounds of the sun’s motions toward the north and south; and this is owing to the obliquity of the zodiac through which the sun finishes his annual revolution, and shines upon the earth and the heavens with an oblique light, such is the opinion of those who have marked out all the regions of the heavens, and adorned them with twelve constellations. Or because, at certain seasons of the year, the seeds of light which repair the decayed splendor of the sun flow together sooner or later and so occasion his rising in different parts of the heavens.

The moon may shine with rays borrowed from the sun, and appear to us every day with greater light, as she retires further from the sun’s orb, till being directly opposite to him, she shines out with full beams, and climbing up the earth, views him from above setting in the west; and then goes backwards as it were, and hides her light gradually as she passes through the different signs in her nearer approaches to the sun. Thus they explain her phases who conclude her round like a ball, and that she moves below the sun, and they seem to be right in their opinion, and speak the truth. But the moon, possibly, may steer her course by her own light, and show different phases and forms of brightness, for another body may move below her, and attending to all her motions, may interpose and hinder her light from being seen; but this body, being thick and dark, cannot be discovered by the eye. And perhaps the moon may roll around her axis like a ball, whose one half only is bright. This ball, as it moves round its center, will express the different appearances of light, till it turns the whole bright side to us, and shines full upon the open eye, and then by degrees it turns backward, and takes away its bright side as it rolls, and we see no more of it. This was the doctrine of the Chaldeans, who followed the hypothesis of Berosus, and attempted to overthrow the vulgar astrology of the Greeks; as if the schemes of both could not be true, or you had less reason to embrace the one than the other.