On The Nature of Things - Book 4
I traverse the distant haunts of the Pierides, never trodden before by the foot of man. ’Tis my joy to approach those untasted springs and drink my fill, ’tis my joy to pluck new flowers and gather a glorious coronal for my head from spots whence before the muses have never wreathed the forehead of any man. First because I teach about great things, and hasten to free the mind from the close bondage of religion, then because on a dark theme I trace verses so full of light, touching all with the muses’ charm. For that too is seen to be not without good reason; for even as healers, when they essay to give loathsome wormwood to children, first touch the rim all round the cup with the sweet golden moisture of honey, so that the unwitting age of children may be beguiled as far as the lips, and meanwhile may drink the bitter draught of wormwood, and though charmed may not be harmed, but rather by such means may be restored and come to health; so now, since this philosophy full often seems too bitter to those who have not tasted it, and the multitude shrinks back away from it, I have desired to set forth to you my reasoning in the sweet-tongued song of the muses, and as though to touch it with the pleasant honey of poetry, if perchance I might avail by such means to keep your mind set upon my verses, while you take in the whole nature of things, and are conscious of your profit.
But since I have taught of what manner are the beginnings of all things, and how, differing in their diverse forms, of their own accord they fly on, spurred by everlasting motion; and in what way each several thing can be created from them; and since I have taught what was the nature of the mind, and whereof composed it grew in due order with the body, and in what way rent asunder it passed back into its first-beginnings: now I will begin to tell you what exceeding nearly concerns this theme, that there are what we call idols of things; which, like films stripped from the outermost body of things, fly forward and backward through the air; and they too when they meet us in waking hours affright our minds, yea, and in sleep too, when we often gaze on wondrous shapes, and the idols of those who have lost the light of day, which in awful wise have often roused us, as we lay languid, from our sleep; lest by chance we should think that souls escape from Acheron, or that shades fly abroad among the living, or that something of us can be left after death, when body alike and the nature of mind have perished and parted asunder into their several first-beginnings.
I say then that likenesses of things and their shapes are given off by things from the outermost body of things, which may be called, as it were, films or even rind, because the image bears an appearance and form like to that, whatever it be, from whose body it appears to be shed, ere it wanders abroad. That we may learn from this, however dull be our wits. First of all, since among things clear to see many things give off bodies, in part scattered loosely abroad, even as wood gives off smoke and fires heat, and in part more closely knit and packed together, as when now and then the grasshoppers lay aside their smooth coats in summer, and when calves at their birth give off a caul from their outermost body, and likewise when the slippery serpent rubs off its vesture on the thorns; for often we see the brambles laden with these wind-blown spoils from snakes. And since these things come to pass, a thin image from things too must needs be given off from the outermost body of things. For why these films should fall and part from things any more than films that are thin, none can breathe a word to prove; above all, since on the surface of things there are many tiny bodies, which could be cast off in the same order wherein they stood, and could preserve the outline of their shape, yea, and be cast the more quickly, inasmuch as they can be less entangled, in that they are few, and placed in the forefront.
For verily we see many things cast off and give out bodies in abundance, not only from deep beneath, as we said before, but often too from the surface, such as their own colour. And commonly is this done by awnings, yellow and red and steely-blue, when stretched over great theatres they flap and flutter, spread everywhere on masts and beams. For there they tinge the assembly in the tiers beneath, and all the bravery of the stage and the gay-clad company of the elders, and constrain them to flutter in their colours. And the more closely are the hoardings of the theatre shut in all around, the more does all the scene within laugh, bathed in brightness, as the light of day is straitened. Since then the canvas gives out this hue from its outermost body, each several thing also must needs give out thin likenesses, since in either case they are throwing off from the surface. There are then sure traces of forms, which fly about everywhere, endowed with slender bulk, nor can they be seen apart one by one. Moreover, all smell, smoke, heat, and other like things stream forth from things, scattering loosely, because while they arise and come forth from deep within, they are torn in their winding course, nor are there straight outlets to their paths, whereby they may hasten to issue all in one mass. But, on the other hand, when the thin film of surface-colour is cast off, there is nothing which can avail to rend it, since it is ready at hand, and placed in the forefront. Lastly, whenever idols appear to us in mirrors, in water, and in every shining surface, it must needs be, seeing that they are endowed with an appearance like the things, that they are made of the images of things given off. There are then thin shapes of things and likenesses, which, although no one can see them one by one, yet thrown back with constant and ceaseless repulse, give back a picture from the surface of the mirrors, and it is seen that they cannot by any other means be so preserved that shapes so exceeding like each several thing may be given back.
Come now and learn of how thin a nature this image is formed. And to begin with, since the first-beginnings are so far beneath the ken of our senses, and so much smaller than the things which our eyes first begin to be unable to descry, yet now that I may assure you of this too, learn in a few words how fine in texture are the beginnings of all things. First of all there are living things sometimes so small that a third part of them could by no means be seen. Of what kind must we think any one of their entrails to be? What of the round ball of their heart or eye? what of their members? what of their limbs? how small are they? still more, what of the several first-beginnings whereof their soul and the nature of their mind must needs be formed? do you not see how fine and how tiny they are? Moreover, whatever things breathe out a pungent savour from their body, panacea, sickly wormwood, and strongly-smelling abrotanum, and bitter centaury; if by chance [you press] any one of these lightly between two [fingers, the scent will for long cling to your fingers, though never will you see anything at all: so that you may know how fine is the nature of the first-beginnings, whereof the scent is formed . . .] . . . and not rather learn that many idols of things wander abroad in many ways with no powers, unable to be perceived?
But that you may not by chance think that after all only those idols of things wander abroad, which come off from things, there are those too which are begotten of their own accord, and are formed of themselves in this sky which is called air; which moulded in many ways are borne along on high, and being fluid cease not to change their appearance, and to turn it into the outline of forms of every kind; even as from time to time we see clouds lightly gathering together in the deep sky, and staining the calm face of the firmament, caressing the air with their motion. For often the faces of giants are seen to fly along and to trail a shadow far and wide, and sometimes mighty mountains and rocks torn from the mountains are seen to go on ahead and to pass before the sun; and then a huge beast seems to draw on and lead forward the storm clouds.
Come now, in what swift and easy ways those idols are begotten, and flow unceasingly from things and fall off and part from them, [I will set forth . . .]. For ever the outermost surface is streaming away from things, that so they may cast it off. And when this reaches some things, it passes through them, as above all through glass: but when it reaches rough stones or the substance of wood, there at once it is torn, so that it cannot give back any idol. But when things that are formed bright and dense are set athwart its path, such as above all is the mirror, neither of these things comes to pass. For neither can they pass through, as through glass, nor yet be torn; for the smoothness is careful to ensure their safety. Wherefore it comes to pass that the idols stream back from it to us. And however suddenly, at any time you will, you place each several thing against the mirror, the image comes to view; so that you may know that from the outermost body there flow off unceasingly thin webs and thin shapes of things. Therefore many idols are begotten in a short moment, so that rightly is the creation of these things said to be swift.
And just as the sun must needs shoot out many rays of light in a short moment, so that the whole world may unceasingly be filled, so too in like manner from things it must needs be that many idols of things are borne off in an instant of time in many ways in all directions on every side; inasmuch as to whatever side we turn the mirror to meet the surface of things, things in the mirror answer back alike in form and colour. Moreover, even when the weather in the sky has but now been most clear, exceeding suddenly it becomes foully stormy, so that on all sides you might think that all darkness has left Acheron, and filled the great vault of the sky; so terribly, when the noisome night of clouds has gathered together, do the shapes of black fear hang over us on high; yet how small a part of these is an idol, there is no one who could say or give an account of this in words.
Come now, with what swift motion the idols are carried on, and what speed is given them as they swim through the air, so that a short hour is spent on a long course, towards whatever place they each strain on with diverse impulse, I will proclaim in verses of sweet discourse rather than in many; even as the brief song of a swan is better than the clamour of cranes, which spreads abroad among the clouds of the south high in heaven. First of all very often we may see that light things made of tiny bodies are swift. In this class there is the light of the sun and his heat, because they are made of tiny first-particles, which, as it were, are knocked forward, and do not pause in passing on through the space of air between, smitten by the blow from those that follow. For in hot haste the place of light is taken by light, and as though driven in a team, one flash is goaded by another flash. Wherefore in like manner it must needs be that the idols can course through space unthinkable in an instant of time, first because it is a tiny cause, far away behind which drives and carries them forward, and after that, in that they are borne on with so swift a lightness of bulk; and then because they are given off endowed with texture so rare that they can easily pass into anything you will, and as it were ooze through the intervening air.
Moreover, when particles of things are given out abroad from deep within, like the sun’s light and heat, these are seen to fall in a moment of time and spread themselves over the whole expanse of heaven, and to fly over sea and earth and flood the sky. What then of those things which are ready at once in the forefront? When they are cast off and nothing hinders their discharge, do you not see that they must needs move swifter and further, and course through many times the same expanse of space in the same time in which the rays of the sun crowd the sky? This, too, more than all seems to show forth truly in what swift motion the idols of things are borne on, that as soon as a bright surface of water is placed beneath the open sky, when the heaven is starry, in a moment the calm beaming stars of the firmament appear in answer in the water. Do you not then see now in how short an instant of time the image falls from the coasts of heaven to the coasts of earth? Wherefore more and more you must needs confess that bodies are sent off such as strike the eyes and awake our vision. And from certain things scents stream off unceasingly; just as cold streams off from rivers, heat from the sun, spray from the waves of the sea, which gnaws away walls all around the shores. Nor do diverse voices cease to fly abroad through the air. Again, often moisture of a salt savour comes into our mouth, when we walk by the sea, and on the other hand, when we watch wormwood being diluted and mixed, a bitter taste touches it. So surely from all things each several thing is carried off in a stream, and is sent abroad to every quarter on all sides, nor is any delay or respite granted in this flux, since we feel unceasingly, and we are suffered always to descry and smell all things, and to hear them sound.
Moreover, since a shape felt by the hands in the darkness is known to be in some way the same as is seen in the light and the clear brightness, it must needs be that touch and sight are stirred by a like cause. If then we handle a square thing, and it stirs our touch in the darkness, what square thing can fall upon our sight in the light, except its image? Wherefore it is clear that the cause of seeing lies in the images, nor without them can anything be seen.
Next those things which I call the idols of things are borne everywhere, and are cast off and meted out to every side. But because we can see them only with our eyes, for that cause it comes to pass that, to whatever side we turn our sight, all things there strike against it with their shape and hue. And how far each thing is away from us, the image causes us to see and provides that we distinguish. For when it is given off, straightway it pushes and drives before it all the air that has its place between it and the eyes, and thus it all glides through our eyeballs, and, as it were, brushes through the pupils, and so passes on. Therefore it comes to pass that we see how far away each thing is. And the more air is driven on in front, and the longer the breeze which brushes through our eyes, the further each thing is seen to be removed. But you must know that these things are brought to pass by means exceeding quick, so that we see what it is and at the same time how far it is away. Herein by no means must we deem there is cause to wonder why the idols which strike the eyes cannot be seen one by one, but the whole things are descried. For when wind too lashes us little by little, and when piercing cold streams on us, we are not wont to feel each separate particle of that wind and cold, but rather all at once, and then we perceive blows coming to pass on our body, just as if something were lashing us and giving us the feeling of its body without. Moreover, when we strike a stone with our finger, we touch the very outside of the rock and its colour on the surface, yet we do not feel the colour with our touch, but rather we feel the very hardness of the rock deep down beneath.
Come now and learn why the image is seen beyond the mirror; for indeed it seems removed far within. It is even as those things which in very truth are seen outside a door, when the door affords an unhindered sight through it, and lets many things out of doors be seen from the house. For that vision too is brought to pass by two twin airs. For first the air on our side of the jambs is seen in such a case, then follow the folding doors themselves on right and left, afterwards the light outside brushes through the eyes, and a second air, and then those things which in very truth are seen without the doors. So when first the image of the mirror has cast itself adrift, while it is coming to our pupils, it pushes and drives before it all the air which has its place between it and our eyes, and so makes us able to perceive all this air before the mirror. But when we have perceived the mirror itself too, straightway the image which is borne from us passes to the mirror, and being cast back returns to our eyes and drives on and rolls in front of it another air, and makes us see this before itself, and therefore seems to be just so much distant from the mirror.
Wherefore, again and again, it is not right at all that we should wonder [that this appearance comes to be both for those things which are really seen out of doors, and also] for those things which send back a vision from the level surface of the mirrors; since in either case it is brought about by the two airs. Next it comes to pass that the part of our limbs which is on the right is seen in mirrors on the left, because when the image comes to the plane of the mirror and strikes against it, it is not turned round unchanged, but is dashed back straight; just as if one were to dash a plaster mask, before it is dry, against a pillar or a beam, and it at once were to preserve its shape turned straight to meet us, and were to mould again its own features dashed back towards us. Thus it will come to pass that what was before the right eye, now in turn is the left, and the left in exchange is now the right. It comes to pass too that the image is handed on from mirror to mirror, so that even five or six idols are wont to be made. For even when things are hidden far back in an inner part of the room, yet, however far distant from the sight along a twisting path, it may be that they will all be brought out thence by winding passages, and, thanks to the several mirrors, be seen to be in the house. So surely does the image reflect from mirror to mirror, and when a left hand is presented, it comes to pass that it is changed to the right, and then once again it is changed about and returns to where it was before. Moreover, all flank-curved mirrors, endowed with a curve like to our flanks, send back to us right-handed idols, either because the image is borne across from one part of the mirror to another, and then flies towards us, twice dashed back, or else because the image is twisted around, when it has arrived, because the curved shape of the mirror teaches it to turn round towards us. Moreover, you would believe that idols walk step by step and place their feet as we do, and imitate our gait, just because, from whatever part of the mirror you retire, straightway the idols cannot be turned back from it, inasmuch as nature constrains all things to be carried back, and leap back from things, sent back at equal angles.
Bright things moreover the eyes avoid, and shun to look upon. The sun, too, blinds, if you try to raise your eyes to meet him, because his own power is great, and the idols from him are borne through the clear air, sinking heavily into the deep, and strike upon the eyes, disordering their texture. Moreover, any piercing brightness often burns the eyes for the reason that it contains many seeds of fire, which give birth to pain in the eyes, finding their way in. Moreover, whatever the jaundiced look upon becomes sickly-yellow, because many seeds of yellow stream off from their bodies to meet the idols of things, and many also are mixed in their eyes, which by their infection tinge all things with their pallor.
Now we see things that are in the light out of the darkness, because, when the black air of the gloom, which is nearer, first enters and seizes on the open eyes, there follows in hot haste a bright air full of light, which, as it were, cleanses the eyes and scatters abroad the dark shadows of the former air. For the latter is many times more nimble, many times finer and more potent. And as soon as it has filled the passages of the eyes with light, and opened up those which before the black air had beleaguered, straightway follow the idols of the things which are lying in the light, and excite our eyes so that we see. But, on the other hand, we cannot do this in the darkness out of the light, because the air of the gloom, which is denser, comes on afterwards, and fills all the channels and beleaguers the passages of the eyes, so that none of the idols of things can be cast upon them and stir them.
And when we see from afar off the square towers of a town, it comes to pass for this cause that they often look round, because every angle from a distance is seen flattened, or rather it is not seen at all, and the blow from it passes away, nor does its stroke come home to our eyes, because, while the idols are being borne on through much air, the air by its frequent collisions constrains it to become blunted. When for this cause every angle alike has escaped our sense, it comes to pass that the structures of stone are worn away as though turned on the lathe; yet they do not look like things which are really round to a near view, but a little resembling them as though in shadowy shape. Likewise our shadow seems to us to move in the sunshine, and to follow our footsteps and imitate our gait; if indeed you believe that air bereft of light can step forward, following the movements and gait of men. For that which we are wont to name a shadow can be nothing else but air devoid of light. But in very truth it is because in certain spots in due order the ground is bereft of the light of the sun wherever we, as we move on, cut it off, and likewise the part of it which we have left is filled again; for this cause it comes to pass that, what was but now the shadow of our body, seems always to follow unaltered straight along with us. For always new rays of light are pouring out, and the former perish, like wool drawn into a flame. Therefore readily is the ground robbed of light, and is likewise filled again and washes away its own black shadows.
And yet we do not grant that in this the eyes are a whit deceived. For it is theirs to see in what several spots there is light and shade: but whether it is the same light or not, whether it is the same shadow which was here, that now passes there, or whether that rather comes to pass which I said a little before, this the reasoning of the mind alone must needs determine, nor can the eyes know the nature of things. Do not then be prone to fasten on the eyes this fault in the mind. The ship, in which we journey, is borne along, when it seems to be standing still; another, which remains at anchor, is thought to be passing by. The hills and plains seem to be flying towards the stern, past which we are driving on our ship with skimming sail. All the stars, fast set in the vault of the firmament, seem to be still, and yet they are all in ceaseless motion, inasmuch as they rise and return again to their distant settings, when they have traversed the heaven with their bright body. And in like manner sun and moon seem to abide in their places, yet actual fact shows that they are borne on. And mountains rising up afar off from the middle of the waters, between which there is a free wide issue for ships, yet seem united to make a single island.
When children have ceased turning round themselves, so sure does it come to appear to them that the halls are turning about, and the pillars racing round, that scarcely now can they believe that the whole roof is not threatening to fall in upon them. And again, when nature begins to raise on high the sunbeam ruddy with twinkling fires, and to lift it above the mountains, those mountains above which the sun seems to you to stand, as he touches them with his own fire, all aglow close at hand, are scarce distant from us two thousand flights of an arrow, nay often scarce five hundred casts of a javelin: but between them and the sun lie the vast levels of ocean, strewn beneath the wide coasts of heaven, and many thousands of lands are set between, which diverse races inhabit, and tribes of wild beasts. And yet a pool of water not deeper than a single finger-breadth, which lies between the stones on the paved street, affords us a view beneath the earth to a depth as vast as the high gaping mouth of heaven stretches above the earth; so that you seem to descry the clouds and the heaven and bodies wise hidden beneath the earth—yet in a magic sky. Again, when our eager horse has stuck fast amid a river, and we look down into the hurrying waters of the stream, the force seems to be carrying on the body of the horse, though he stands still, athwart the current, and to be thrusting it in hot haste up the stream; and wherever we cast our eyes all things seem to be borne on and flowing forward, as we are ourselves.
Though a colonnade runs on straight-set lines all the way, and stands resting on equal columns from end to end, yet when its whole length is seen from the top end, little by little it contracts to the pointed head of a narrow cone, joining roof with floor, and all the right hand with the left, until it has brought all together into the point of a cone that passes out of sight. It happens to sailors on the sea that the sun seems to rise from the waves, and again to set in the waves, and hide its light; since verily they behold nothing else but water and sky; so that you must not lightly think that the senses waver at every point. But to those who know not the sea, ships in the harbour seem to press upon the water maimed, and with broken poop. For all the part of the oars which is raised up above the salt sea spray, is straight, and the rudders are straight above; but all that is sunk beneath the water, seems to be broken back and turned round, yes, and to turn upwards again and twist back so that it almost floats on the water’s surface. And when winds in the night season carry scattered clouds across the sky, then the shining signs seem to glide athwart the storm-clouds, and to be moving on high in a direction far different from their true course. Then if by chance a hand be placed beneath one eye and press it, it comes to pass by a new kind of perception that all things which we look at seem to become double as we look, double the lights of the lamps with their flowery flames, double the furniture throughout the whole house in twin sets, and double the faces of men, double their bodies. Again, when sleep has bound our limbs in sweet slumber, and all the body lies in complete rest, yet then we seem to ourselves to be awake and moving our limbs, and in the blind gloom of night we think to see the sun and the light of day, and, though in some walled room, we seem to pass to new sky, new sea, new streams, and mountains, and on foot to cross over plains, and to hear sounds, when the stern silence of night is set all about us, and to give answer, when we do not speak. Wondrously many other things of this sort we see, all of which would fain spoil our trust in the senses; all in vain, since the greatest part of these things deceives us on account of the opinions of the mind, which we add ourselves, so that things not seen by the senses are counted as seen. For nothing is harder than to distinguish things manifest from things uncertain, which the mind straightway adds of itself.
Again, if any one thinks that nothing is known, he knows not whether that can be known either, since he admits that he knows nothing. Against him then I will refrain from joining issue, who plants himself with his head in the place of his feet. And yet were I to grant that he knows this too, yet I would ask this one question; since he has never before seen any truth in things, whence does he know what is knowing, and not knowing each in turn, what thing has begotten the concept of the true and the false, what thing has proved that the doubtful differs from the certain? You will find that the concept of the true is begotten first from the senses, and that the senses cannot be gainsaid. For something must be found with a greater surety, which can of its own authority refute the false by the true. Next then, what must be held to be of greater surety than sense? Will reason, sprung from false sensation, avail to speak against the senses, when it is wholly sprung from the senses? For unless they are true, all reason too becomes false. Or will the ears be able to pass judgement on the eyes, or touch on the ears? or again will the taste in the mouth refute this touch; will the nostrils disprove it, or the eyes show it false? It is not so, I trow. For each sense has its faculty set apart, each its own power, and so it must needs be that we perceive in one way what is soft or cold or hot, and in another the diverse colours of things, and see all that goes along with colour. Likewise, the taste of the mouth has its power apart; in one way smells arise, in another sounds. And so it must needs be that one sense cannot prove another false. Nor again will they be able to pass judgement on themselves, since equal trust must at all times be placed in them.
Therefore, whatever they have perceived on each occasion, is true. And if reason is unable to unravel the cause, why those things which close at hand were square, are seen round from a distance, still it is better through lack of reasoning to be at fault in accounting for the causes of either shape, rather than to let things clear seen slip abroad from your grasp, and to assail the grounds of belief, and to pluck up the whole foundations on which life and existence rest. For not only would all reasoning fall away; life itself too would collapse straightway, unless you chose to trust the senses, and avoid headlong spots and all other things of this kind which must be shunned, and to make for what is opposite to these. Know, then, that all this is but an empty store of words, which has been drawn up and arrayed against the senses. Again, just as in a building, if the first ruler is awry, and if the square is wrong and out of the straight lines, if the level sags a whit in any place, it must needs be that the whole structure will be made faulty and crooked, all awry, bulging, leaning forwards or backwards, and out of harmony, so that some parts seem already to long to fall, or do fall, all betrayed by the first wrong measurements; even so then your reasoning of things must be awry and false, which all springs from false senses.
Now it is left to explain in what manner the other senses perceive each their own object—a path by no means stony to tread.
First of all, every kind of sound and voice is heard, when they have found their way into the ears and struck upon the sense with their body. For that voice too and sound are bodily you must grant, since they can strike on the senses. Moreover, the voice often scrapes the throat and shouting makes the windpipe over-rough as it issues forth; since, indeed, the first-beginnings of voices have risen up in greater throng through the narrow passage, and begun to pass forth: and then, in truth, when the passages are crammed, the door too is scraped. There is no doubt then that voices and words are composed of bodily elements, so that they can hurt. And likewise it does not escape you how much body is taken away and drawn off from men’s very sinews and strength by speech continued without pause from the glimmer of rising dawn to the shades of dark night, above all if it is poured out with loud shouting. And so the voice must needs be of bodily form, since one who speaks much loses a part from his body. Now roughness of voice comes from roughness in its first-beginnings, and likewise smoothness is begotten of their smoothness. Nor do the first-beginnings pierce the ears with like form, when the trumpet bellows deep with muffled tones, and when the barbarous Berecyntian pipe shrieks with shrill buzzing sound, and when the swans at night from the cold marches of Helicon lift with mournful voice their clear lament.
These voices then, when we force them forth from deep within our body, and shoot them abroad straight through our mouth, the pliant tongue, artificer of words, severs apart, and the shaping of the lips in its turn gives them form. Therefore, when it is no long distance from which each single utterance starts and reaches to us, it must needs be that the very words too are clearly heard and distinguished sound by sound. For each utterance preserves its shaping and preserves its form. But if the space set between be over great, passing through much air the words must needs be jostled together, and the utterance disordered, while it flies across the breezes. And so it comes to pass that you can perceive the sound, yet not distinguish what is the meaning of the words: so confounded and entangled does the utterance come to you. Again one single word often awakes the ears of all in an assembly, shot out from the crier’s mouth. Therefore one voice flies apart immediately into many voices, since it sunders itself into all the several ears, imprinting on the words a shape and a clear-cut sound.
But that part of the voices which falls not straight upon the ears, passes by and perishes scattered in vain through the air. Some beating upon solid spots are cast back, and give back the sound, and at times mock us with the echo of a word. And when you see this clearly, you could give account to yourself and others, in what manner among solitary places rocks give back the counterparts of words each in due order, when we seek our comrades wandering amid the dark hills, and with loud voice summon them scattered here and there. I have seen places give back even six or seven cries, when you sent forth but one: so surely did one hill beat back to another and repeat the words trained to come back again. Such places the dwellers around fancy to be the haunt of goat-footed satyrs and nymphs, and they say that there are fauns, by whose clamour spreading through the night and sportive revels they declare that the dumb silence is often broken; and that sounds of strings are awakened, and sweet sad melodies, which the pipe pours forth, stopped by the fingers of players; and that the race of country folk hears far and wide, when Pan, tossing the piny covering of his half-monstrous head, ofttimes with curling lip runs over the open reeds, so that the pipe ceases not to pour forth woodland music. All other marvels and prodigies of this kind they tell, lest by chance they be thought to live in lonely places, deserted even of the gods. Therefore they boast such wonders in discourse, or else are led on in some other way, even as the whole race of man is over greedy of prattling tales.
For the rest, we need not wonder by what means voices come and arouse the ears through places, though which the eyes cannot see things clear to view. Often too we see a talk carried on through closed doors, because, we may be sure, voice can pass unharmed through winding pores in things, but idols refuse to pass. For they are torn asunder, unless they stream through straight pores, as are those in glass, through which every image can fly. Moreover, a voice is severed in every direction, since voices are begotten one from another, when once one voice has issued forth and sprung apart into many, even as a spark of fire is often wont to scatter itself into its several fires. And so places hidden far from sight are filled with voices; they are in a ferment all around, alive with sound. But all idols press on in the direct line, as they have once been started; wherefore no one can see beyond the wall, but can perceive voices outside. And yet even this voice, while it passes through the walls of the house, is dulled, and enters the ear all confounded, and we seem to hear a sound rather than words.
Nor do the tongue and palate, whereby we perceive taste, need longer account or give more trouble. First of all we perceive taste in our mouth, when we press it out in chewing our food, just as if one by chance begins to squeeze with the hand and dry a sponge full of water. Then what we press out is all spread abroad through the pores of the palate, and through the winding passages of the loose-meshed tongue. Therefore, when the bodies of the oozing savour are smooth, they touch pleasantly, and pleasantly stroke all around the moist sweating vault above the tongue. But, on the other hand, the more each several thing is filled with roughness, the more does it prick the sense and tear it in its onslaught. Next pleasure comes from the savour within the limit of the palate; but when it has passed headlong down through the jaws, there is no pleasure while it is all being spread abroad into the limbs. Nor does it matter a whit with what diet the body is nourished, provided only you can digest what you take, and spread it abroad in the limbs, and keep an even moistness in the stomach.
Now how for different creatures there is different food and poison I will unfold, or for what cause, what to some is noisome and bitter, can yet seem to others most sweet to eat. And there is herein a difference and disagreement so great that what is food to one, is to others biting poison; even as there is a certain serpent, which, when touched by a man’s spittle, dies and puts an end to itself by gnawing its own body. Moreover, to us hellebore is biting poison, but it makes goats and quails grow fat. That you may be able to learn by what means this comes to be, first of all it is right that you remember what we have said ere now, that the seeds contained in things are mingled in many ways. Besides all living creatures which take food, just as they are unlike to outer view and a diverse outward contour of the limbs encloses them each after their kind, so also are they fashioned of seeds of varying shape. And further, since the seeds are unlike, so must the spaces and passages, which we call the openings, be different in all their limbs, and in the mouth and palate too.
Some of these then must needs be smaller, some greater, they must be three-cornered for some creatures, square for others, many again round, and some of many angles in many ways. For according as the arrangement of shapes and the motions demand, so the shapes of the openings must needs differ, and the passages vary according to the texture which shuts them in. Therefore, when what is sweet to some becomes bitter to others, for the man to whom it is sweet, the smoothest bodies must needs enter the pores of the palate caressingly, but, on the other hand, for those to whom the same thing is sour within, we can be sure it is the rough and hooked bodies which penetrate the passages. Now from these facts it is easy to learn of each case: thus when fever has attacked a man, and his bile rises high, or the violence of disease is aroused in some other way, then his whole body is disordered, and then all the positions of the first-beginnings are changed about; it comes to pass that the bodies which before suited his taste, suit it no longer, and others are better fitted, which can win their way in and beget a sour taste. For both kinds are mingled in the savour of honey; as I have often shown you above ere now.
Come now, I will tell in what manner the impact of smell touches the nostrils. First there must needs be many things whence the varying stream of scents flows and rolls on, and we must think that it is always streaming off and being cast and scattered everywhere abroad; but one smell is better fitted to some living things, another to others, on account of the unlike shapes of the elements. And so through the breezes bees are drawn on however far by the scent of honey, and vultures by corpses. Then the strength of dogs sent on before leads on the hunters whithersoever the cloven hoof of the wild beasts has turned its steps, and the white goose, saviour of the citadel of Romulus’s sons, scents far ahead the smell of man. So diverse scents assigned to diverse creatures lead on each to its own food, and constrain them to recoil from noisome poison, and in that way are preserved the races of wild beasts.
This very smell then, whenever it stirs the nostrils, may in one case be thrown further than in another. But yet no smell at all is carried as far as sound, as voice, I forebear to say as the bodies which strike the pupil of the eyes and stir the sight. For it strays abroad and comes but slowly, and dies away too soon, its frail nature scattered little by little among the breezes of air. Firstly, because coming from deep within it is not readily set loose from the thing: for that smells stream off and depart from things far beneath the surface is shown because all things seem to smell more when broken, when crushed, when melted in the fire. Again, one may see that it is fashioned of larger first-beginnings than voice, since it does not find a path through stone walls, where voice and sound commonly pass. Wherefore too you will see that it is not so easy to trace in what spot that which smells has its place. For the blow grows cool as it dallies through the air, nor do tidings of things rush hot to the sense. And so dogs often go astray, and have to look for the footprints.
Yet this does not happen only among smells and in the class of savours, but likewise the forms and colours of things are not all so well fitted to the senses of all, but that certain of them are too pungent to the sight of some creatures. Nay, indeed, ravening lions can by no means face and gaze upon the cock, whose wont it is with clapping wings to drive out the night, and with shrill cry to summon dawn; so surely do they at once bethink themselves of flight, because, we may be sure, there are in the body of cocks certain seeds, which, when they are cast into the eyes of lions, stab into the pupils, and cause sharp pain, so that they cannot bear up against them in fierce confidence; and yet these things cannot in any way hurt our eyes, either because they do not pierce them or because, although they do, a free outlet from the eyes is afforded them, so that they cannot by staying there hurt the eyes in any part.
Come now, let me tell you what things stir the mind, and learn in a few words whence come the things which come into the understanding. First of all I say this, that many idols of things wander about in many ways in all directions on every side, fine idols, which easily become linked with one another in the air, when they come across one another’s path, like spider’s web and gold leaf. For indeed these idols are far finer in their texture than those which fill the eyes and arouse sight, since these pierce through the pores of the body and awake the fine nature of the mind within, and arouse its sensation. And so we see Centaurs and the limbs of Scyllas, and the dog-faces of Cerberus and idols of those who have met death, and whose bones are held in the embrace of earth; since idols of every kind are borne everywhere, some which are created of their own accord even in the air, some which depart in each case from diverse things, and those again which are made and put together from the shapes of these. For in truth the image of the Centaur comes not from a living thing, since there never was the nature of such a living creature, but when by chance the images of man and horse have met, they cling together readily at once, as we have said ere now, because of their subtle nature and fine fabric. All other things of this kind are fashioned in the same way. And when they move nimbly with exceeding lightness, as I have shown ere now, any one such subtle image stirs their mind; for the mind is fine and of itself wondrous nimble.
That these things come to pass as I tell, you may easily learn from this. Inasmuch as the one is like the other, what we see with the mind, and what we see with the eyes, they must needs be created in like manner. Now, therefore, since I have shown that I see a lion maybe, by means of idols, which severally stir the eyes, we may know that the mind is moved in like manner, in that it sees a lion and all else neither more nor less than the eyes, except that it sees finer idols. And when sleep has relaxed the limbs, the understanding of the mind is for no other cause awake, but that these same idols stir our minds then, as when we are awake, insomuch that we seem surely to behold even one who has quitted life, and is holden by death and the earth. This nature constrains to come to pass just because all the senses of the body are checked and at rest throughout the limbs, nor can they refute the falsehood by true facts. Moreover, the memory lies at rest, and is torpid in slumber, nor does it argue against us that he, whom the understanding believes that it beholds alive, has long ago won to death and doom. For the rest, it is not wonderful that the idols should move and toss their arms and their other limbs in rhythmic time. For it comes to pass that the image in sleep seems to do this; inasmuch as when the first image passes away and then another comes to birth in a different posture, the former seems then to have changed its gesture. And indeed we must suppose that this comes to pass in quick process: so great is the speed, so great the store of things, so great, in any one instant that we can perceive, the abundance of the little parts of images, whereby the supply may be continued.
And in these matters many questions are asked, and there are many things we must make clear, if we wish to set forth the truth plainly. First of all it is asked why, whatever the whim may come to each of us to think of, straightway his mind thinks of that very thing. Do the idols keep watch on our will, and does the image rise up before us, as soon as we desire, whether it pleases us to think of sea or land or sky either? Gatherings of men, a procession, banquets, battles, does nature create all things at a word, and make them ready for us? And that when in the same place and spot the mind of others is thinking of things all far different. What, again, when in sleep we behold idols dancing forward in rhythmic measure, and moving their supple limbs, when alternately they shoot out swiftly their supple arms, and repeat to the eyes a gesture made by the feet in harmony? Idols in sooth are steeped in art and wander about trained to be able to tread their dance in the nighttime. Or will this be nearer truth? Because within a single time, which we perceive, that is, when a single word is uttered, many times lie unnoted, which reasoning discovers, therefore it comes to pass that in any time however small the several idols are there ready at hand in all the several spots. So great is the speed, so great the store of things.
Therefore when the first image passes away and then another comes to birth in a different posture, the former seems then to have changed its gesture. Again, because they are fine, the mind cannot discern them sharply, save those which it strains to see; therefore all that there are besides these pass away, save those for which it has made itself ready. Moreover, the mind makes itself ready, and hopes it will come to pass that it will see what follows upon each several thing; therefore it comes to be. Do you not see the eyes too, when they begin to perceive things which are fine, strain themselves and make themselves ready, and that without that it cannot come to pass that we see things sharply? And yet even in things plain to see you might notice that, if you do not turn your mind to them, it is just as if the thing were sundered from you all the time, and very far away. How then is it strange, if the mind loses all else, save only the things to which it is itself given up? Then too on small signs we base wide opinions, and involve ourselves in the snare of self-deceit.
It happens too that from time to time an image of different kind rises before us, and what was before a woman, seems now to have become a man before our very eyes, or else one face or age follows after another. But that we should not think this strange, sleep and its forgetfulness secure.
Herein you must eagerly desire to shun this fault, and with foresighted fear to avoid this error; do not think that the bright light of the eyes was created in order that we may be able to look before us, or that, in order that we may have power to plant long paces, therefore the tops of shanks and thighs, based upon the feet, are able to bend; or again, that the forearms are jointed to the strong upper arms and hands given us to serve us on either side, in order that we might be able to do what was needful for life. All other ideas of this sort, which men proclaim, by distorted reasoning set effect for cause, since nothing at all was born in the body that we might be able to use it, but what is born creates its own use. Nor did sight exist before the light of the eyes was born, nor pleading in words before the tongue was created, but rather the birth of the tongue came long before discourse, and the ears were created much before sound was heard, and in short all the limbs, I trow, existed before their use came about: they cannot then have grown for the purpose of using them.
But, on the other side, to join hands in the strife of battle, to mangle limbs and befoul the body with gore; these things were known long before gleaming darts flew abroad, and nature constrained men to avoid a wounding blow, before the left arm, trained by art, held up the defence of a shield. And of a surety to trust the tired body to rest was a habit far older than the soft-spread bed, and the slaking of the thirst was born before cups. These things, then, which are invented to suit the needs of life, might well be thought to have been discovered for the purpose of using them. But all those other things lie apart, which were first born themselves, and thereafter revealed the concept of their usefulness. In this class first of all we see the senses and the limbs; wherefore, again and again, it cannot be that you should believe that they could have been created for the purpose of useful service.
This, likewise, is no cause for wonder, that the nature of the body of every living thing of itself seeks food. For verily I have shown that many bodies ebb and pass away from things in many ways, but most are bound to pass from living creatures. For because they are sorely tried by motion and many bodies by sweating are squeezed and pass out from deep beneath, many are breathed out through their mouths, when they pant in weariness; by these means then the body grows rare, and all the nature is undermined; and on this follows pain. Therefore food is taken to support the limbs and renew strength when it passes within, and to muzzle the gaping desire for eating through all the limbs and veins. Likewise, moisture spreads into all the spots which demand moisture; and the many gathered bodies of heat, which furnish the fires to our stomach, are scattered by the incoming moisture, and quenched like a flame, that the dry heat may no longer be able to burn our body. Thus then the panting thirst is washed away from our body, thus the hungry yearning is satisfied.
Next, how it comes to pass that we are able to plant our steps forward, when we wish, how it is granted us to move our limbs in diverse ways, and what force is wont to thrust forward this great bulk of our body, I will tell: do you hearken to my words. I say that first of all idols of walking fall upon our mind, and strike the mind, as we have said before. Then comes the will; for indeed no one begins to do anything, ere the mind has seen beforehand what it will do, and inasmuch as it sees this beforehand, an image of the thing is formed. And so, when the mind stirs itself so that it wishes to start and step forward, it straightway strikes the force of soul which is spread abroad in the whole body throughout limbs and frame. And that is easy to do, since it is held in union with it. Then the soul goes on and strikes the body, and so little by little the whole mass is thrust forward and set in movement. Moreover, at such times the body too becomes rarefied, and air (as indeed it needs must do, since it is always quick to move), comes through the opened spaces, and pierces through the passages in abundance, and so it is scattered to all the tiny parts of the body. Here then it is brought about by two causes acting severally, that the body, like a ship, is borne on by sails and wind. Nor yet herein is this cause for wonder, that such tiny bodies can twist about a body so great, and turn round the whole mass of us. For in very truth the wind that is finely wrought of a subtle body drives and pushes on a great ship of great bulk, and a single hand steers it, with whatever speed it be moving, and twists a single helm whithersoever it will; and by means of pulleys and tread-wheels a crane can move many things of great weight, and lift them up with light poise.
Now in what ways this sleep floods repose over the limbs, and lets loose the cares of the mind from the breast, I will proclaim in verses of sweet discourse, rather than in many; even as the brief song of the swan is better than the clamour of cranes, which spreads abroad among the clouds of the south high in heaven. Do you lend me a fine ear and an eager mind, lest you should deny that what I say can be, and with a breast that utterly rejects the words of truth part company with me, when you are yourself in error and cannot discern. First of all sleep comes to pass when the strength of the soul is scattered about among the limbs, and in part has been cast out abroad and gone its way, and in part has been pushed back and passed inward deeper within the body. For then indeed the limbs are loosened and droop. For there is no doubt that this sense exists in us, thanks to the soul; and when sleep hinders it from being, then we must suppose that the soul is disturbed and cast out abroad: yet not all of it; for then the body would lie bathed in the eternal chill of death. For indeed, when no part of the soul stayed behind hidden in the limbs, as fire is hidden when choked beneath much ashes, whence could sense on a sudden be kindled again throughout the limbs, as flame can rise again from a secret fire?
But by what means this new state of things is brought about, and whence the soul can be disturbed and the body grow slack, I will unfold: be it your care that I do not scatter my words to the winds. First of all it must needs be that the body on the outer side, since it is touched close at hand by the breezes of air, is thumped and buffeted by its oft-repeated blows, and for this cause it is that wellnigh all things are covered either by a hide, or else by shells, or by a hard skin, or by bark. Further, as creatures breathe, the air at the same time smites on the inner side, when it is drawn in and breathed out again. Wherefore, since the body is buffeted on both sides alike, and since the blows pass on through the tiny pores to the first parts and first particles of our body, little by little there comes to be, as it were, a falling asunder throughout our limbs. For the positions of the first-beginnings of body and mind are disordered. Then it comes to pass that a portion of the soul is cast out abroad, and part retreats and hides within; part too, torn asunder through the limbs, cannot be united in itself, nor by motion act and react; for nature bars its meetings and chokes the ways; and so, when the motions are changed, sense withdraws deep within. And since there is nothing which can, as it were, support the limbs, the body grows feeble, and all the limbs are slackened; arms and eyelids droop, and the hams, even as you lie down, often give way, and relax their strength. Again, sleep follows after food, because food brings about just what air does, while it is being spread into all the veins, and the slumber which you take when full or weary, is much heavier because then more bodies than ever are disordered, bruised with the great effort. In the same manner the soul comes to be in part thrust deeper within; it is also more abundantly driven out abroad, and is more divided and torn asunder in itself within.
And for the most part to whatever pursuit each man clings and cleaves, or on whatever things we have before spent much time, so that the mind was more strained in the task than is its wont, in our sleep we seem mostly to traffic in the same things; lawyers think that they plead their cases and confront law with law, generals that they fight and engage in battles, sailors that they pass a life of conflict waged with winds, and we that we pursue our task and seek for the nature of things for ever, and set it forth, when it is found, in writings in our country’s tongue. Thus for the most part all other pursuits and arts seem to hold the minds of men in delusion during their sleep. And if ever men have for many days in succession given interest unflagging to the games, we see for the most part, that even when they have ceased to apprehend them with their senses, yet there remain open passages in their minds, whereby the same images of things may enter in. And so for many days the same sights pass before their eyes, so that even wide awake they think they see men dancing and moving their supple limbs, and drink in with their ears the clear-toned chant of the lyre, and its speaking strings, and behold the same assembly and at the same time the diverse glories of the stage all bright before them. So exceeding great is the import of zeal and pleasure, and the tasks wherein not only men are wont to spend their efforts, but even every living animal. In truth you will see strong horses, when their limbs are lain to rest, yet sweat in their sleep, and pant for ever, and strain every nerve as though for victory, or else as though the barriers were opened [struggle to start].
And hunters’ dogs often in their soft sleep yet suddenly toss their legs, and all at once give tongue, and again and again snuff the air with their nostrils, as if they had found and were following the tracks of wild beasts; yea, roused from slumber they often pursue empty images of stags, as though they saw them in eager flight, until they shake off the delusion and return to themselves. But the fawning brood of pups brought up in the house, in a moment shake their body and lift it from the ground, just as if they beheld unknown forms and faces. And the wilder any breed may be, the more must it needs rage in its sleep. But the diverse tribes of birds fly off, and on a sudden in the night time trouble the peace of the groves of the gods, if in their gentle sleep they have seen hawks, flying in pursuit, offer fight and battle. Moreover, the minds of men, which with mighty movement perform mighty tasks, often in sleep do and dare just the same; kings storm towns, are captured, join battle, raise a loud cry, as though being murdered—all without moving. Many men fight hard, and utter groans through their pain, and, as though they were bitten by the teeth of a panther or savage lion, fill all around them with their loud cries. Many in their sleep discourse of high affairs, and very often have been witness to their own guilt. Many meet death; many, as though they were falling headlong with all their body from high mountains to the earth, are beside themselves with fear, and, as though bereft of reason, scarcely recover themselves from sleep, quivering with the turmoil of their body. Likewise a man sits down thirsty beside a stream or a pleasant spring, and gulps almost the whole river down his throat. Innocent children often, if bound fast in slumber they think they are lifting their dress at a latrine or a roadside vessel, pour forth the filtered liquid from their whole body, and the Babylonian coverlets of rich beauty are soaked. Later on to those, into the seething waters of whose life the vital seed is passing for the first time, when the ripeness of time has created it in their limbs, there come from without idols from every body, heralding a glorious face or beautiful colouring, which stir and rouse their passion to bursting.
There is stirred in us that seed, whereof we spoke before, when first the age of manhood strengthens our limbs. For one cause moves and rouses one thing, a different cause another; from man only the influence of man stirs human seed. And as soon as it has been aroused, bursting forth it makes its way from out the whole body through the limbs and frame, coming together into fixed places, and straightway rouses at last the natural parts of the body; and there arises the desire to seek that body, by which the mind is smitten with love. For as a rule all men fall towards the wound, and the blood spirts out in that direction, whence we are struck by the blow, and, if it is near at hand, the red stream reaches our foe. Thus, then, he who receives a blow from the darts of Venus, whoso’er it be who wounds him, inclines to that whereby he is smitten; for an unspoken desire foretells the pleasure to come.
This pleasure is Venus for us; from it comes Cupid, our name for love, from it first of all that drop of Venus’s sweetness has trickled into our heart and chilly care has followed after. For if the object of your love is away, yet images of her are at hand, her loved name is present to your ears. But it is best to flee those images, and scare away from you what feeds your love, and to turn your mind some other way, and vent your passion on other objects, and not to keep it, set once for all on the love of one, and thereby store up for yourself care and certain pain. For the sore gains strength and festers by feeding, and day by day the madness grows, and the misery becomes heavier, unless you dissipate the first wounds by new blows, and heal them while still fresh, wandering after some wanton, or else can turn the movements of the mind elsewhere.
Nor is he who shuns love bereft of the fruits of Venus, but rather he chooses those joys which bring no pain. For surely the pleasure from these things is more untainted for the heart-whole than for the love-sick; for in the very moment of possession the passion of lovers ebbs and flows with undetermined current, nor are they sure what first to enjoy with eyes or hands. What they have grasped, they closely press and cause pain to the body, and often fasten their teeth in the lips, and dash mouth against mouth in kissing, because their pleasure is not unalloyed, and there are secret stings which spur them to hurt even the very thing, be it what it may, whence arise those germs of madness. But Venus lightly breaks the force of these pains in love, and fond pleasure mingled with them sets a curb upon their teeth. For therein there is hope that from the same body, whence comes the source of their flame, the fire may in turn be quenched. Yet nature protests that all this happens just the other way; and this is the one thing, whereof the more and more we have, the more does our heart burn with the cursed desire. For meat and drink are taken within the limbs; and since they are able to take up their abode in certain parts, thereby the desire for water and bread is easily sated. But from the face and beauteous bloom of man nothing passes into the body to be enjoyed save delicate images; and often this love-sick hope is scattered to the winds.
Just as when in a dream a thirsty man seeks to drink and no liquid is granted him, which could allay the fire in his limbs, but he seeks after images of water, and struggles in vain, and is still thirsty, though he drinks amid the torrent stream, even so in love Venus mocks the lovers with images, nor can the body sate them, though they gaze on it with all their eyes, nor can they with their hands tear off aught from the tender limbs, as they wander aimless over all the body. Even at last when the lovers embrace and taste the flower of their years, eagerly they clasp and kiss, and pressing lip on lip breathe deeply; yet all for naught, since they cannot tear off aught thence, nor enter in and pass away, merging the whole body in the other’s frame; for at times they seem to strive and struggle to do it. And at length when the gathering desire is sated, then for a while comes a little respite in their furious passion. Then the same madness returns, the old frenzy is back upon them, when they yearn to find out what in truth they desire to attain, nor can they discover what device may conquer their disease; in such deep doubt they waste beneath their secret wound.
Remember too that they waste their strength and are worn away with effort, remember that their life is passed beneath another’s sway. Meanwhile their substance slips away, and is turned to Babylonian coverlets, their duties grow slack, and their fair name totters and sickens: while on the mistress’s feet laugh . . . . . . and lovely Sicyonian slippers; yes, and huge emeralds with their green flash are set in gold, and the sea-dark dress is for ever being frayed, and roughly used it drinks in sweat. The well-gotten wealth of their fathers becomes hair-ribbons and diadems; sometimes it is turned to Greek robes and stuffs of Elis and Ceos. With gorgeous napery and viands feasts are set out, and games and countless cups, perfumes, and wreaths and garlands; all in vain, since from the heart of this fountain of delights wells up some bitter taste to choke them even amid the flowers—either when the conscience-stricken mind feels the bite of remorse that life is being spent in sloth, and is passing to ruin in wantonness, or because she has thrown out some idle word and left its sense in doubt, and it is planted deep in the passionate heart, and becomes alive like a flame, or because he thinks she casts her eyes around too freely, and looks upon some other, or sees in her face some trace of laughter.
And these ills are found in love that is true and fully prosperous; but when love is crossed and hopeless there are ills, which you might detect even with closed eyes, ills without number; so that it is better to be on the watch beforehand, even as I have taught you, and to beware that you be not entrapped. For to avoid being drawn into the meshes of love, is not so hard a task as when caught amid the toils to issue out and break through the strong bonds of Venus. And yet even when trammelled and fettered you might escape the snare, unless you still stand in your own way, and at the first o’erlook all the blemishes of mind and body in her, whom you seek and woo. For for the most part men act blinded by passion, and assign to women excellencies which are not truly theirs. And so we see those in many ways deformed and ugly dearly loved, yea, prospering in high favour.
And one man laughs at another, and urges him to appease Venus, since he is wallowing in a base passion, yet often, poor wretch, he cannot see his own ills, far greater than the rest. A black love is called ‘honey-dark’, the foul and filthy ‘unadorned’, the green-eyed ‘Athena’s image’, the wiry and wooden ‘a gazelle’, the squat and dwarfish ‘one of the graces’, ‘all pure delight’, the lumpy and ungainly ‘a wonder’, and ‘full of majesty’. She stammers and cannot speak, ‘she has a lisp’; the dumb is ‘modest’; the fiery, spiteful gossip is ‘a burning torch’. One becomes a ‘slender darling’, when she can scarce live from decline; another half dead with cough is ‘frail’. Then the fat and full-bosomed is ‘Ceres’ self with Bacchus at breast’; the snub-nosed is ‘sister to Silenus, or a Satyr’; the thick-lipped is ‘a living kiss’. More of this sort it were tedious for me to try to tell. But yet let her be fair of face as you will, and from her every limb let the power of Venus issue forth: yet surely there are others too: surely we have lived without her before, surely she does just the same in all things, and we know it, as the ugly, and of herself, poor wretch, reeks of noisome smells, and her maids flee far from her and giggle in secret. But the tearful lover, denied entry, often smothers the threshhold with flowers and garlands, and anoints the haughty door-posts with marjoram, and plants his kisses, poor wretch, upon the doors; yet if, admitted at last, one single breath should meet him as he comes, he would seek some honest pretext to be gone, and the deep-drawn lament long-planned would fall idle, and then and there he would curse his folly, because he sees that he has assigned more to her than it is right to grant to any mortal. Nor is this unknown to our queens of love; nay the more are they at pains to hide all behind the scenes from those whom they wish to keep fettered in love; all for naught, since you can even so by thought bring it all to light and seek the cause of all this laughter, and if she is of a fair mind, and not spiteful, o’erlook faults in your turn, and pardon human weaknesses.
Nor does the woman sigh always with feigned love, when clasping her lover she holds him fast, showering her kisses. For often she does it from the heart, and yearning for mutual joys she woos him to reach the goal of love. And in no other way would birds, cattle, wild beasts, the flocks, and mares be able to submit to the males, except because their nature too is afire, and is burning to overflow. Do you not see too how those whom mutual pleasure has bound, are often tortured in their common chains? Wherefore, again and again, as I say, the pleasure is common.
And often when in the mingling of sex the woman by sudden force has mastered the man’s might and seized on it with her own, then children are borne like the mother, thanks to the mother’s seed, just as the father’s seed may make them like the father. But those whom you see with the form of both, mingling side by side the features of both parents, spring alike from the father’s body and the mother’s blood. It comes to pass too sometimes that they can be created like their grandparents, and often recall the form of their grandparents’ parents, for the reason that many first-beginnings in many ways are often mingled and concealed in the body of their parents, which, starting from the stock of the race, father hands on to father; therefrom Venus unfolds forms with varying chance, and recalls the look, the voice, the hair of ancestors; since indeed these things are none the more created from a seed determined than are our faces and bodies and limbs. Again the female sex may spring from the father’s seed, and males come forth formed from the mother’s body. For every offspring is fashioned of the two seeds, and whichever of the two that which is created more resembles, of that parent it has more than an equal share; as you can yourself discern, whether it be a male offspring or a female birth.
Nor do powers divine deny to any man a fruitful sowing of seed, that he may never be called father by sweet children, but must live out his years in barren wedlock; as men believe for the most part, and sorrowing sprinkle the altars with streams of blood and fire the high places with their gifts, that they may make their wives pregnant with bounteous seed. Yet all in vain they weary the majesty of the gods and their sacred lots. For some of them are barren through seed overthick, and again overliquid and thin in turn. The thin seed, because it cannot fix its fastenings, suddenly trickles away and retracing its path departs abortively. Further since for others seed too thick is emitted, either it does not shoot forward with such far-reaching blow, or else it cannot equally penetrate to vital spots, or having penetrated it mingles ill with the woman's seed. For the couplings in wedlock are seen to be very diverse. And many women have been barren in several wedlocks before, yet at length have found a mate from whom they might conceive children, and grow rich with sweet offspring. And often even for those, for whom wives fruitful ere now in the house had been unable to bear, a well-matched nature has been found, so that they might fortify their old age with children. Of so great import is it that the one seed should be able to mingle with the other in a manner suited for generation, and that thick should unite with liquid and liquid with thick. And herein it is of import on what diet life is sustained; for on some food seeds swell within the limbs and on others they are thinned away and grow weak instead. And in what way even the enticing act of love is performed, that too is of great import; since for the most part it is thought that women conceive best after the fashion of beasts and in the manner of quadrupeds, because the seeds can thus take up their position when the breast is below and the loins are raised. Nor have wives any need at all for lascivious movements. For the woman prevents herself from conceiving and fights against it, if despite her joy she withdraws from the man's passion with her buttocks and receives the moist fluid with all her breast relaxed. For thus she drives the furrow of the plough from the true direction of the path, and turns aside the blow of seed from the vital parts. Such motions whores are wont to make for their own sake, that they be not filled with seed and lie pregnant, and also that the act of love may be more seductive to men. But nought of this is seen to be needful for our wives.
Sometimes ’tis by no divine act or through the shafts of Venus that a woman of form less fair is loved. For at times a woman may bring it about by her own doing, by her unselfish ways, and the neat adornment of her body, that she accustoms you easily to live your life with her. Nay more, habit alone can win love; for that which is struck ever and again by a blow, however light, is yet mastered in long lapse of time, and gives way. Do you not see too how drops of water falling upon rocks in long lapse of time drill through the rocks?