Lucretius Today Podcast Episode 091 – More on Magnetism, and Preparation for Discussion of Diseases

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Welcome to Episode Ninety-One 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 91 we will read approximately Latin lines 1002 through 1125 and we will discuss the details of how magnets work, and then shift to preliminary comments on disease and plagues. And we’re happy to say that we have Joshua back with us this week, and Don has returned, so our panel is once again back to full strength. Now let’s join Don reading today’s text.

Browne 1743

[1002] And first, many seeds or effluvia are continually flying off from the stone, and by their blows disperse and drive away the air that liest between the magnet and the iron. This space being empty, and void made between, the corpuscles of the iron rush out suddenly in a train, all linked together, into this vacuum, so that the whole body of the iron ring, to which they are joined, immediately follows, for nothing is made up of seeds more entangled and connected together than the cold and tough substance of iron. And therefore (as we said before) it is the less to be wondered if the seeds cannot fly off from the iron into the void but those before must draw on those behind, and the whole ring follows at last; which it does, and continues to move, till it comes close to the stone and, fixed by secret bonds, sticks to it. And these effluvia of the iron that lie nearest the stone rush into the void every way, upwards or across, wherever the space is empty, for they are driven by the force of other seeds, nor have they any power to move upwards by their own natural motion.

[1022] You may add another reason to account for this experiment, which is that the iron is driven forward, and assisted in its motion from without, for the air before the steel being more rare, and the space between more empty and void than it was, hence it is that the air that is behind strikes upon the back of the ring, and drives and forces it on; for the air that surrounds all bodies beats upon them with continual blows; but then only it drives on the iron when the space is empty on that side, and fit to retrieve it. The air therefore, which I observe, entering into the many pores of the iron, and subtly conveying itself into the little passages, thrusts and forces it on, as a ship is driven by wind and sails. And then all things must contain within some parts of air, for all bodies are rare, and full of pores, and air surrounds and pierces through everything. This air therefore that lies concealed in the body of the iron is always tossed with violent motion, and beats upon the ring, and agitates it within, and so the iron is carried on toward the void to which it was moving, and whither all its force was first directed.

[1042] But sometimes the substance of the iron will fly from the magnet; it will withdraw sometimes as well as press towards it. For I have seen little Samothracian rings of iron, and filings of steel, put into a brazen pot; and the stone being applied to the bottom of the vessel, the iron will leap and dance upwards, so eager is it to be gone and avoid the stone. And this great aversion arises from the interposition of the brass, for when the particles of the brass have entered and filled up the open pores of the iron, then come the effluvia of the loadstone; and finding the passages of the iron full, and no more open for them to pierce through as before, they beat upon the bits of iron and drive them forward with all their force. And thus the particles of the stone, passing through the brass, throws the iron from it, which otherwise it would take to its embrace.

[1056] Do not be surprised to find that the effluvia of the stone do not drive away other bodies from it in the same manner, for some remain unmoved upon the account of their weight; gold is of this sort. Others because they are rare, and their pores are wide, so that the particles that fly off from the stone pass through without touching, and therefore can have no power to move them, of this kind is the texture of wood. The nature of iron is placed between these two, and when its pores are full of those brazen particles, then it is that the effluvia of the magnet beat upon it and drive it off. Nor is the friendship between the loadstone and the steel so singular a case.

[1065] I can produce instances of many things whose natures are peculiarly fit and suited to each other. And first, your observe that stones are cemented together only by lime, and boards are so joined together by glue made of the ears and genitals of bulls, that the solid wood of a table will sooner split than the strong joints of glue will start or fall asunder. Wine will mingle with spring water, when heavy pitch and smooth oil will not. The purple color of the Murex incorporates so into the body of wool that it can never be taken out; no, not if you strive to recover it to its native whiteness by all the waves of the sea, not if you wash it in all the water of the ocean. There is but one mineral that will solder gold and silver together, and brass is joined only by white lead. How many things of this nature might be produced? To what purpose? I would by no means lead you so far out of the way, nor give myself so much trouble in such inquiries. I have many things yet to explain, but I shall be as short as possible. Those things whose textures so mutually answer to one another that the cavities of this thing agree with the plenitudes of that, and the cavities of that with the plenitudes of this, may be conjoined most easily and in the strictest manner. And some things may be so joined to others as if they were fastened together by hooks and rings, and in this manner it is that the loadstone seems to be connected to the steel.

[1090] Now I shall teach from whence diseases spring, and whence arise the pestilential blasts that spread their deadly poison and destroy both man and beast. And first (as I have said) the seeds of many things are ever flying through the air; some are sound and vital to mankind, and others bring on disease and death: these when they arise and taint the sky, and air becomes infected. Now the morbid force of all diseases, every pestilence, comes either from without, as clouds and mists fall from the heavens above, or rises from the earth itself when, drenched by fierce and unseasonable showers, and pierced by the sun’s scorching beams, it sends unwholesome vapors through the air.

[1103] Have you not seen that those who search out foreign lands, and leave their country and their native homes, contract new pains from the strange water, and the air they breathe? The mighty difference of the air occasions this, for don’t you think the air of Britain is widely different from the air of Egypt, where he North Pole is never seen? Or that the air of Pontus differs from that of Gades and AEthiopia, where the black race of men are thoroughly sodden with the sun’s heat? The four quarters of the air, we may suppose, are different in their temper and their quality, because they are opposed to the four quarters of the earth, where men, we find, in every region widely disagree in face and complexion, and are tormented with diseases peculiar to the countries where they live. The leprosy was known first in Egypt, near the river Nile, and no where else. The Athenians are tortured with the gout, the Acheaens with sore eyes. So every country is an enemy to one part and member of the body or other, and this must be imputed to the air.

[1119] And when the morbid pestilential air of a country, remote from us, moves from its first abode, and the fatal vapor begins to advance, it creeps first by degrees like a cloud or mist, and disturbs and changes every thing as it goes. And when it comes to the climate where we live, it corrupts every thing, and makes it like itself, and therefore is deadly and destructive to us.

[1125] This wasting plague, these sad infectious blasts, fall either in the water or fix upon the fruits or other food of men, or on the provender of cattle, or they may hang suspended in the air above, that when we draw our breath we needs must suck this poison, mingled with it, into our bodies. In the same manner the pestilence seizes on the cattle, and the contagion infects the sheep. And the danger is the same whether we change our climate and travel into a country where the air is pernicious to us or whether Nature of her own accord brings the cruel infection from abroad, or introduces a disease we are not used to, which upon its first approach may prove hurtful to us.

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