Lucretius Today Podcast Episode 086 – Typhoons and Whirlwinds

Listen to “Episode 086 – Typhoons and Whirlwinds”

Welcome to Episode Eighty-Six 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 visit where you will find our goals and our ground rules. If you have any questions about those, please be sure to contact us at the forum for more information.

In this Episode 86 we will read approximately Latin lines 423 through 527 as we discuss typhoons and whirlwinds and continue further into Book Six. Now let’s join Don reading today’s text.

Browne 1743

[423] It is easy, from what has been observed, to apprehend the cause of those whirlwinds (which the Greeks, from the Nature of Things, justly call Presters) and how they descend from above and fall into the sea. They are sometimes seen to descend from the air into the water like a pillar, and the sea, raging about with violent blasts of wind, seems to boil, and is exceedingly tossed, and whatever ships are caught with the reach of the hurricane are in the utmost danger of being cast away.

[431] This happens when the force of the wind, impetuously whirling within the cloud, is not able to break it, but drives it on, so that it falls like a column let down into the sea. This descent is gradual, as if it was thrust by some hand or arm, and spread over the waters. When the cloud bursts, the fury of the wind breaks out among the waves, and violently whirling round takes fire, and raises a wonderful heat and fermentation in the waters; for a rolling whirlwind descends with the cloud, which being slow in its motion, it bears along with it through the air, and when it has thrust the heavy body of the cloud into the sea, it plunges furiously with it into the water, and with a dreadful noise sets all the element in a blaze.

[443] It sometimes happens that a whirlwind, as it passes through the air, will scrape off some seeds from the bodies of the clouds, and rolling itself within, will look like a prester descending from above into the sea. When this vortex of wind falls upon the earth, it bursts out without being kindled into flame, it whirls with mighty force, and raises a tempest and bears down everything before it. This sort of whirlwind is not common at land, for the high hills hinder its descent and breaks its force, bit it appears frequently in the wide sea and in the open air.

[451] Now for the origin of clouds: These are formed when certain rough and hooked seeds, as they fly about, at length unite in the higher region of the air that is above us, but are held together loosely, and not bout in any close and strict embrace. Of these the thin and small clouds are first produced, and many of them meeting together, and pressing close, make the large and heavy clouds, which the winds drive every way abroad till they break out into a raging storm.

[459] And then, the nearer the tops of mountains approach the sky, the higher they are, the more they smoke, and appear covered with the thick darkness of a yellow cloud, because the mists that arise are so thin and subtle that before they are discovered by the eye they are carried aloft by the winds to the tops of the highest hills. And since they unite there in larger bodies, and show thick and condensed, they seem to rise from the tops of these hills into the air, for when we ascend a high mountain, the thing itself and the sense demonstrate that the winds tend to the highest places and reign there.

[470] Besides, that nature raises many exhalations from the wide sea is plain, by observing that garments expanded upon the shore will soon be wet; and therefore, to form such vast bodies of clouds, many seeds are thrown off and arise from the motion of salt waters.

[476] And we see that mists and watery particles rise from all the rivers, and from the earth itself; which, like a vapour, are from thence squeezed out and carried upwards, and cover the whole heavens with darkness, and uniting together by degrees, are sufficient to produce the clouds. For the seeds that are continually descending from above in a confused manner, continually beat these mists upon the back, and by condensing and pressing them close, form them into clouds over all the sky.

[483] It may be, likewise, that seeds from without, from the immense space of the universe, may flow hither, and unite in the production of the flying clouds, for I have proved before that these seeds are without number, and that the void is infinite. I have shown how suddenly and with what celerity they pass through this boundless space. It is no wonder therefore that tempests and dark clouds are in so short a time frequently spread over the whole heavens, and cover the high mountains, the seas, and the earth, with so quick a motion; since, from every quarter, through all the passages of the air, through all the breathing-places, I may say, of the universe, the seeds can make their way hither and unite, or withdraw and fly away again.

[495] And now I shall explain in what manner the rain is formed within the clouds above, and falls down in showers upon the earth. I shall first show that many seeds of rain are raised from every thing, together with the clouds, and that they increase together, both the clouds and the rain contained within, in the same manner as the blood increases in proportion with our bodies, or as sweat or any other moisture diffused through the limbs. The clouds likewise, like hanging fleeces of wool, suck up many particles of salt water when the winds drive them over the open sea. And so by the same rule a quantity of moisture is raised into the clouds from all the rivers, and there these many seeds of waters meeting from all parts, and uniting variously together, the clouds being full, are obliged to discharge their load of moisture for two reasons: either the force of winds drives them close, or the number of them, raised one above another, presses them down from above with their own weight, and makes the showers to pour down. Besides, when the clouds are made rare and thin by the winds, or are dissolved by the heat of the sun striking upon them, they discharge their rainy moisture and drop, as wax dissolves and melts over a hot fire.

[517] But expect a violent storm of rain when these clouds, heaped up, are pressed, not only by their own weight, but driven close by the stroke of winds from without. The rains used to confine us long at home, and to last for some time, when there are seeds of moisture in abundance; when the dropping clouds are raised on heaps above, and are driven every way abroad, and when the earth, thoroughly soaked, sends back the vapors into the air.

[524] And when the sun, in a dark storm of rain, strikes with its beams directly upon an opposite cloud, full of moisture, then you see the colors of the rainbow drawn upon the black clouds.

[527] And all other appearances which are formed and increase in the upper regions of the air., and all the meteors that are raised in the clouds, the snow, the winds, the hail, and chilling frosts, and the strong ice that hardens the surface of the waters, and stops and binds up the current of rivers as they flow; it is easy to account for all these, and to apprehend their causes, and how they are produced, if you consider well the virtue and power of the seeds from whence they spring.

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