“Episode 087 – Earthquakes and The Water Cycle” is now available
Welcome to Episode Eighty-Seven of Lucretius Today. I am your host Cassius, and together with my panelists from the EpicureanFriends.com 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.
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In this Episode 87 we will read approximately Latin lines 527 – 700 as we discuss earthquakes and the water cycle explanation as to why the seas never fill up over time, as we continue further into Book Six.
Now let’s join Martin reading today’s text.
Browne 1743 Learn now the cause of earthquakes: And first, you are to suppose that the Earth is the same below as it is above, that it is every way full of winds and caverns, and that it holds within its bowels many lakes, and pools, and rocks, and broken stones. You must believe that many hidden rivers flow with rapid waves within, and roll the jagged rocks along their tide, for the laws of nature require that the Earth within and without should be the same.  This being premised and supposed: the Earth trembles and shakes above with dreadful ruin, when age has tumbled in these mighty caverns; for then whole mountains sink, and in a moment, with the horrid shock, spread frightful tremblings all abroad. And no wonder, since whole houses by the highway-side will quake as carts, with no great weight, pass through the streets, and so they start as chariots swiftly drive with mettled horses, they shake at every jumping of the wheel.  This happens likewise when great weights of earth, loosened by time, plunge down into these deep and mighty lakes, for then the waters rage, and the earth reels and staggers with the shock; as a vessel on the ground cannot stand firm unless the liquor ceases to ferment and toss within.  Besides, when winds, collected in the caverns of the earth, direct their force one way, and beat with fury on these hollow places, the earth inclines that way where the winds point their stroke; and our buildings raised above, nod that way too. The highest shake the most; the hanging beams start from the wall, and threaten to fly out. And yet men are afraid to think that Nature has fixed a fatal time when this great world shall be destroyed, and fall to ruin, although they see the heavy mass of earth leaning and tumbling to pieces. And did not the winds take time to breathe, nothing could check their fury, or keep them from destroying everything before them. But since they cease by turns, then rage again, and storm with double force, and are again repelled, hence it is that the earth oftener threatens us with ruin than actually effects it. It inclines only, and then falls back, and though moved aside, settles with all its weight again in its former place. For this reason all our houses tremble and reel; the highest shakes the most, the middle less, the lowest little or nothing.  The great tremblings of the earth may arise yet from another cause, when wind or violent blasts (raised either from without or within the earth itself) throw themselves furiously into these hollow caverns, and in these vast dens roar and toss themselves about, and when they have rolled within, and raged with all their might, they break abroad at last, and cleave the solid Earth, and make a hideous chasm. This happened at Sidon, a city of the Tyrians, and at Aegae in Peloponnesus. What cities has this eruption of the wind destroyed? What earthquakes has it produced? At land, the walls of many towns have tumbled down by these violent concussions; and many cities, with all its inhabitants, have sunk together into the sea.  But if the wind does not break through, yet the fury and raging force of its blasts are scattered through the many pores of the earth like a shivering cold, and cause a shuddering in its bowels; as the Cold, when it seizes upon our limbs, makes us shake against our will, and tremble all over. Then men stagger with doubtful fear in all the cities; they are in dread of their houses above them, and of the earth under their feet, lest Nature should instantly break to pieces the caverns below; lest the divided earth should open wide its jaws and fill them with the utter desolation of men and houses.  Even those who think the heavens and the earth are eternal, and will be preserved safe forever, yet the present dread of impending danger staggers them, and raises terrible apprehensions, lest the earth should instantly fall under their feet and sink into the great abyss; lest the dissolution of the universe, from the very foundation, should follow, and the fabric of the world should fall into ruin and confusion.  And now we are to account why the waters of the sea are never increased. And first, men wonder that nature does not enlarge the bounds of the sea, in proportion to the falls of water, and the streams of so many rivers that from all parts flow into it. Besides the wandering showers and flying storms that pour down and discharge themselves upon lands and seas, you may add the fountains and springs likewise. But all these, compared to the vastness of the sea, are hardly more than one drop of water, and therefore can contribute little to its increase. No wonder then that the wide sea rolls within the same bounds.  And then the Sun licks up a great part of its water with its heat, for we see the Sun dries a garment, dripping wet, with its burning rays. And the sea, we know, is widely spread, and exposed to the influence of his beams. And though the Sun draws up but a very little quantity of moisture from every part of the sea, yet, with so vast a circumference a great store of water must be drawn off.  The winds likewise, brushing over the surface of the sea, carry off a large part; for we observe the roads are frequently dried in one night, and the soft dirt grows hard.  Besides, I have shown that the clouds suck up a great deal of moisture from the wide sea, and then scatter it down over the whole earth, when the rain falls, and the winds drive the clouds through the sky.  Lastly, since the earth is of a rare contexture, and full of pores, and every way surrounds the body of the sea which joins to it, it follows that, as the waters flow from the earth into the sea, so they must return from thence into the earth again. In these subterraneous passages the saline particles are strained off, and the waters flow back, and unite together at the fountainheads, from whence they glide sweetly, with their collected strength, over the earth, through those channels where the streams first cut their liquid way.  Now learn the cause why fires break out with so much fury from the jaws of mount Aetna; for we are not to suppose such a tempest of fire rages over the pains of Sicily, and brings such destruction with it from the gods, as if it only raised the admiration of all the neighboring people, who seeing the whole heavens sparkling with fire, and full of smoke, trembled with anxious concern and wondered what new phenomenon nature was going to produce.  The reason of these events requires a deeper and wider search. You must enter further into all their parts, and then you will recollect that the universe of things is infinite, and observe how small a part (scarce one of a thousand) is one heaven, in comparison of the whole, and what a poor pittance of the whole earth is one man. If you consider this well, and observe closely, you will cease wondering at many things which now raise your admiration.  For where is the wonder with any of us if a man receives the burning heat of a fever within his veins, or feels the anguish of any other disease in his limbs? For our foot often swells of a sudden, a sharp pain frequently seizes upon our teeth, and attacks our eyes. There is such a thing as the Holy Fire, that spreads over the body, and burns the part it fixes upon, and creeps over the limbs. Nothing strange! For the seeds of things are in great abundance, and the earth and the heavens affords sufficient supplies of hurtful seeds from whence the sharpest diseases may be produced in us. And therefore you must think that large store of seeds may flow from the infinite space and supply the earth and the whole heavens. These may cause those sudden and violent tremblings of the earth, that rapid whirlwinds scour along the land and sea, and that there is abundant fuel for the flames of Aetna, and that the sky is all in a blaze. For this happens and the heavens are on fire, when the seeds of flame unite, as the storms of rain are the more violent when the seeds of water are collected and joined together.  But you will say the fire of Aetna is too great and impetuous. By the same rule a river, not very large, appears a mighty stream to one who never saw a greater, and so a man or a tree that seems prodigious, and all other bodies that we see, we imagine are extraordinary; when alas! all beings, with the heavens, the earth, and the sea together, are nothing to the vast universe of all.  And now I shall explain by what means the raging flame bursts suddenly abroad from the vast fiery entrails of this mountain. And first, Nature has formed the whole mountain hollow within, and supports these cavities by arches of stone. Now all caverns are filled with wind and air, for air, when it is violently moved, becomes wind. And this wind, when it is grown hot, and furiously whirling about, has inflamed the stones and the earth by beating upon them, and from them has struck out sparks of fire with rapid flame. Then it raises itself up, and throws itself violently out of the open jaws at the top into the air. Then it pours the fire abroad, and spreads the burning embers all about, and belches dusty clouds of rolling smoke, and shoots out rocks of wondrous weight. This, no doubt, is done by furious blasts of wind within.  Besides, the sea, for a great way, dashes its waves against the roots of this mountain, and then again sucks up its tide. The waters press into these caverns that lie directly under those open jaws above. This you must allow, and the flames yielding to the driving flood there force their passage out, and fly abroad, and cast the fire on high, and throw out rocks, and raise whole clouds of sand, for on the summit there are certain basins where wind is generated: the Greeks call them so; we call them mouths and jaws.