Lucretius Today Podcast Episode 072 – Alternative Explanations in Science, And The Size of the Sun

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Episode 72 of the Lucretius Today podcast is now available. This week, we discuss alternative explanations as to the placement of the earth in our “world,” and we discuss Epicurus’ views on the size of the sun. We hope you enjoy the episode, and as always invite you to leave comments or ask questions in the thread below.

Welcome to Episode Seventy-Two 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 72 we will read approximately Latin line 509-613 of Book Five. We will talk about the location of the Earth within our “world,” and well discuss Epicurus’ perspective on science for the sake of science and the size of the sun and moon. Now let’s join Don reading today’s text.

Browne 1743

And thus were produced the Sea, the Air, and the Sky (or the ether) spangled with stars. All the finer seeds went to the formation of these fluid bodies, but some were more light than others; and the most light and liquid ether mounted higher, and spread over the body of the air, but its liquid parts never mixed with the turbulent blasts of the air below it. The airy region is tormented by violent whirlwinds, and disturbed by uncertain storms, while the ether calmly glides and bears along its fires in a fixed course. And that the ether may flow thus gently, and in a regular motion, we have an instance in the Euxine Sea, that runs with one certain tide, and preserves one constant stream in the current of its waters.

Now let us show from what cause proceeds the motion of the stars. And first, if the whole orb of the heavens be moved, then we must allow that the air bounds and encloses the outward surface of the heavens, and both the poles. The upper part of this air presses above, and drives the skies down to the west, the course in which the stars (the great lights of the world) are to move; the under part flows below, and lifts up this orb from beneath, and makes it rise, as we see the wheels of a mill, or buckets, are turned about by a running stream.

Or perhaps the whole body of the heavens may remain fixed, and yet the stars may execute their motions, either because some rapid particles of the sky are shut up, and struggling to find a way into the empty space, are whirled about, and drag the stars along with them; or some external air, rushing in from some other place, may turn them about; or they may move severally forward of themselves through the sky, where proper nourishment invites them to feed and keep alive their fires. But it is hard to resolve for certain what is the particular cause of these motions in this world of ours. I rather propose reasons in general for what may be done through the universe, in the multitude of worlds contained in the great All, and formed after various manners, And I offer many causes that may account for the whole, yet one only can be the true one that produced these effects; but to pronounce which it is, no wary philosopher will take upon him to do.

But that the Earth should rest in the middle region of the world it is necessary that its weight should in some degree lessen and be laid aside, and for this end it was fit that another substance should be placed under it, to which from the very beginning it should be united closely by natural and congenial ties, and upon which it should be staid. This substance being the surrounding air, which is a part of the same whole, and as it were of a piece with the earth, the earth therefore hangs suspended in the middle, and is no weight or pressure to the air at all; and so the limbs are no load to the body of a man, nor is the head a burden to the neck, nor do we perceive the weight of the whole body to press heavy upon the feet; but whatever weight is laid upon us from without, and is no part of us, is a pain to us, though it be ever so small. Of so great concern it is to what every being is severally united. For the earth was not brought from any other place and then thrust into the strange embrace of a different air, but was formed together with it, and became a regular part of the world, as our limbs were produced with the body, and are essential parts of it.

Besides, the earth, when it is shaken of a sudden by a violent thunder, makes every thing that is upon it tremble, which it could by no means do unless it was closely joined to the airy parts of the world, and to the heavens above; for they all stick closely together by common bonds, and kindly unite from the very beginning. Don’t you observe how the most subtle power of the soul supports the body with all its weight, because it is so strictly connected and so closely joined to it? And what is it but the force of the soul which actuates the limbs that raises the body, and makes it leap nimbly from the ground? Don’t you perceive now what a substance of the most subtle nature is able to do, when united with such a heavy body; such as the air when it is joined to the Earth, and as the soul to this body of ours?

But further, the orb of the sun is not much larger, nor is its heat much greater, than what our senses discovery to us; for at whatever distance the fire can send out its rays of light, and warm us with its heat, that distance takes away nothing from the bigness of the flame, nor does the fire appear less contracted to the eye. And therefore since the heat of the sun, and his diffused light, do reach our senses, and shine upon the earth, you are to conclude that his form and magnitude are no greater nor less than they appear to be.

And the moon, whether she views the world with borrowed light, or whether she shoots out her beams from her own body, however it be, she is of no greater size than to our sense she appears. For all objects we look upon at a great distance, and through a long tract of air, show first irregular and confused, before we discover their utmost figure and proportion. And therefore since the moon at once presents to us the certain form and the complete appearance of the whole orb, she shows to us above as great as she really is.

Besides, since all our fires here below, when they are seen at great distance, so long as their light is clear, and their brightness shines out to us, do seem to change a little, and show more or less contracted, we may conclude that the stars we view either the heavens are very little either greater or less than they appear.

Nor are we to wonder how it comes to pass that so small a body as the sun is able to emit so much light as to spread over the seas the whole earth and the heavens, and to cherish all things with its kindly heat. For you may imagine that from the sun one large fountain of light breaks out, and flows abundantly, like a river, over the whole world, and that the seeds of fire from all parts of the universe meet in the body of the sun, and are there collected as into a spring, from whence the heat of the whole world is diffused abroad. Don’t you observe how widely a small fountain of water spreads its stream over the meadows and overflows the fields?

Or perhaps the heat flowing from the small body of the sun may inflame the adjacent air, if the air be properly tempered and disposed to catch the fire from the feeble strokes of heat, as we sometimes see the corn and the stubble to be set all in a blaze from one small spark falling upon it. Or it may be the sun, shining above with the rosy light, has many dark and unseen stores of fire about it, which, though distinguished by no outward brightness, may yet increase the heat of its rays and make their strokes more inflamed.