On The Nature of Things - Book 5
WHO can avail by might of mind to build a poem worthy to match the majesty of truth and these discoveries? Or who has such skill in speech, that he can fashion praises to match his deserts, who has left us such prizes, conceived and sought out by his own mind? There will be no one, I trow, born of mortal body. For if we must speak as befits the majesty of the truth now known to us, then he was a god, yea a god, noble Memmius, who first found out that principle of life, which now is called wisdom, and who by his skill saved our life from high seas and thick darkness, and enclosed it in calm waters and bright light. For set against this the heaven-sent discoveries of others in the days of old. Ceres is fabled to have taught to men the growing of corn, and Liber the liquid of the vine-born juice; and yet life could have gone on without these things, as tales tell us that some races live even now. But a good life could not be without a clean heart; wherefore more rightly is he counted a god by us, thanks to whom now sweet solaces for life soothe the mind, spread even far and wide among great peoples.
But if you think that the deeds of Hercules excel this, you will be carried still further adrift from true reasoning. For what harm to us now were the great gaping jaws of the old Nemean lion and the bristling boar of Arcadia? Or what could the bull of Crete do, or the curse of Lerna, the hydra with its pallisade of poisonous snakes? what the triple-breasted might of threefold Geryon? [How could those birds] have done us such great hurt, who dwelt in the Stymphalian [fen], or the horses of Diomede the Thracian, breathing fire from their nostrils near the coasts of the Bistones and Ismara? Or the guardian of the glowing golden apples of Hesperus’s daughters, the dragon, fierce, with fiery glance, with his vast body twined around the tree-trunk, yea, what harm could he have done beside the Atlantic shore and the grim tracts of ocean, where none of us draws near nor barbarian dares to venture? And all other monsters of this sort which were destroyed, had they not been vanquished, what hurt, pray, could they have done alive? Not a jot, I trow: the earth even now teems in such abundance with wild beasts, and is filled with trembling terrors throughout forests and mighty mountains and deep woods; but for the most part we have power to shun those spots. But unless the heart is cleansed, what battles and perils must we then enter into despite our will? What sharp pangs of passion then rend the troubled man, yea and what fears besides? what of pride, filthiness and wantonness? what havoc they work? what of luxury and sloth? He then who has subdued all these and driven them from the mind by speech, not arms, shall this man not rightly be found worthy to rank among the gods? Above all, since ’twas his wont to speak many sayings in good and godlike words about the immortal gods themselves, and in his discourse to reveal the whole nature of things.
In his footsteps I tread, and while I follow his reasonings and set out in my discourse, by what law all things are created, and how they must needs abide by it, nor can they break through the firm ordinances of their being, even as first of all the nature of the mind has been found to be formed and created above other things with a body that has birth, and to be unable to endure unharmed through the long ages, but it is images that are wont in sleep to deceive the mind, when we seem to behold one whom life has left; for what remains, the train of my reasoning has now brought me to this point, that I must give account how the world is made of mortal body and also came to birth; and in what ways that gathering of matter established earth, sky, sea, stars, sun, and the ball of the moon; then what living creatures sprang from the earth, and which have never been born at any time; and in what manner the race of men began to use ever-varying speech one to another by naming things; and in what ways that fear of the gods found its way into their breasts, which throughout the circle of the world keeps revered shrines, lakes, groves, altars, and images of the gods. Moreover, I will unfold by what power nature, the helmsman, steers the courses of the sun and the wanderings of the moon; lest by chance we should think that they of their own will ’twixt earth and sky fulfil their courses from year to year, with kindly favour to the increase of earth’s fruits and living creatures, or should suppose that they roll on by any forethought of the gods. For those who have learnt aright that the gods lead a life free from care, yet if from time to time they wonder by what means all things can be carried on, above all among those things which are descried above our heads in the coasts of heaven, are borne back again into the old beliefs of religion, and adopt stern overlords, whom in their misery they believe have all power, knowing not what can be and what cannot, yea and in what way each thing has its power limited, and its deep-set boundary-stone.
For the rest, that I may delay you no more with promises, first of all look upon seas, and lands, and sky; their threefold nature, their three bodies, Memmius, their three forms so diverse, their three textures so vast, one single day shall hurl to ruin; and the massive form and fabric of the world, held up for many years, shall fall headlong. Nor does it escape me in my mind, how strangely and wonderfully this strikes upon the understanding, the destruction of heaven and earth that is to be, and how hard it is for me to prove it surely in my discourse; even as it always happens, when you bring to men’s ears something unknown before, and yet you cannot place it before the sight of their eyes, nor lay hands upon it; for by this way the paved path of belief leads straightest into the heart of man and the quarters of his mind. Yet still I will speak out. Maybe that the very fact will give credence to my words, that earthquakes will arise and within a little while you will behold all things shaken in mighty shock. But may fortune at the helm steer this far away from us, and may reasoning rather than the very fact make us believe that all things can fall in with a hideous rending crash.
Yet before I essay on this point to declare destiny in more holy wise, and with reasoning far more sure than the Pythian priestess, who speaks out from the tripod and laurel of Phoebus, I will unfold many a solace for you in my learned discourse; lest by chance restrained by religion you should think that earth and sun, and sky, sea, stars, and moon must needs abide for everlasting, because of their divine body, and therefore should suppose it right that after the manner of the giants all should pay penalty for their monstrous crime, who by their reasoning shake the walls of the world, and would fain quench the glorious sun in heaven, branding things immortal with mortal names; yet these are things so far sundered from divine power, and are so unworthy to be reckoned among gods, that they are thought rather to be able to afford us the concept of what is far removed from vital motion and sense. For verily it cannot be that we should suppose that the nature of mind and understanding can be linked with every body: even as a tree cannot exist in the sky, nor clouds in the salt waters, nor can fishes live in the fields, nor blood be present in wood nor sap in stones. It is determined and ordained where each thing can grow and have its place. So the nature of mind cannot come to birth alone without body, nor exist far apart from sinews and blood. But if this could be, far sooner might the force of mind itself exist in head or shoulders, or right down in the heels, and be wont to be born in any part you will, but at least remain in the same man or the same vessel. But since even within our body it is determined and seen to be ordained where soul and mind can dwell apart and grow, all the more must we deny that outside the whole body and the living creature’s form, it could last on in the crumbling sods of earth or in the fire of the sun or in water or in the high coasts of heaven. They are not then created endowed with divine feeling, inasmuch as they cannot be quickened with the sense of life.
This, too, it cannot be that you should believe, that there are holy abodes of the gods in any parts of the world, For the fine nature of the gods, far sundered from our senses, is scarcely seen by the understanding of the mind; and since it lies far beneath all touch or blow from our hands, it cannot indeed touch anything which can be touched by us. For nothing can touch which may not itself be touched. Therefore even their abodes too must needs be unlike our abodes, fine even as are their bodies; all which I will hereafter prove to you with plenteous argument. Further, to say that for man’s sake they were willing to fashion the glorious nature of the world, and for that cause ’tis fitting to praise the work of the gods, which is worthy to be praised, and to believe that it will be everlasting and immortal, and that it is sin ever to stir from its seats by any force what was established for the races of men for all time by the ancient wisdom of the gods, or to assail it with argument, and to overthrow it from top to bottom; to imagine and to add all else of this sort, Memmius, is but foolishness. For what profit could our thanks bestow on the immortal and blessed ones, that they should essay to do anything for our sakes? Or what new thing could have enticed them so long after, when they were aforetime at rest, to desire to change their former life?
For it is clear that he must take joy in new things, to whom the old are painful; but for him, whom no sorrow has befallen in the time gone by, when he led a life of happiness, for such an one what could have kindled a passion for new things? Or what ill had it been to us never to have been made? Did our life, forsooth, lie wallowing in darkness and grief, until the first creation of things dawned upon us? For whosoever has been born must needs wish to abide in life, so long as enticing pleasure shall hold him. But for him, who has never tasted the love of life, and was never in the ranks of the living, what harm is it never to have been made? Further, how was there first implanted in the gods a pattern for the begetting of things, yea, and the concept of man, so that they might know and see in their mind what they wished to do, or in what way was the power of the first-beginnings ever learnt, or what they could do when they shifted their order one with the other, if nature did not herself give a model of creation? For so many first-beginnings of things in many ways, driven on by blows from time everlasting until now, and moved by their own weight, have been wont to be borne on, and to unite in every way, and essay everything that they might create, meeting one with another, that it is no wonder if they have fallen also into such arrangements, and have passed into such movements, as those whereby this present sum of things is carried on, ever and again replenished.
But even if I knew not what are the first-beginnings of things, yet this I would dare to affirm from the very workings of heaven, and to prove from many other things as well, that by no means has the nature of things been fashioned for us by divine grace: so great are the flaws with which it stands beset. First, of all that the huge expanse of heaven covers, half thereof mountains and forests of wild beasts have greedily seized; rocks possess it, and waste pools and the sea, which holds far apart the shores of the lands. Besides, two-thirds almost burning heat and the ceaseless fall of frost steal from mortals. Of all the field-land that remains, yet nature would by her force cover it up with thorns, were it not that the force of man resisted her, ever wont for his livelihood to groan over the strong mattock and to furrow the earth with the deep-pressed plough. But that by turning the fertile clods with the share, and subduing the soil of the earth we summon them to birth, of their own accord the crops could not spring up into the liquid air; and even now sometimes, when won by great toil things grow leafy throughout the land, and are all in flower, either the sun in heaven burns them with too much heat, or sudden rains destroy them and chill frosts, and the blasts of the winds harry them with headstrong hurricane. Moreover, why does nature foster and increase the awesome tribe of wild beasts to do harm to the race of man by land and sea? Why do the seasons of the year bring maladies? Why does death stalk abroad before her time? Then again, the child, like a sailor tossed ashore by the cruel waves, lies naked on the ground, dumb, lacking all help for life, when first nature has cast him forth by travail from his mother’s womb into the coasts of light, and he fills the place with woful wailing, as is but right for one for whom it remains in life to pass through so much trouble. But the diverse flocks and herds grow up and the wild beasts, nor have they need of rattles, nor must there be spoken to any of them the fond and broken prattle of the fostering nurse, nor do they seek diverse garments to suit the season of heaven, nay, and they have no need of weapons or lofty walls, whereby to protect their own, since for all of them the earth itself brings forth all things bounteously, and nature, the quaint artificer of things.
First of all, since the body of earth and moisture, and the light breath of the winds and burning heat, of which this sum of things is seen to be made up, are all created of a body that has birth and death, of such, too, must we think that the whole nature of the world is fashioned. For verily things whose parts and limbs we see to be of a body that has birth and of mortal shapes, themselves too we perceive always to have death and birth likewise. Wherefore, when we see the mighty members and parts of the world consumed away and brought to birth again, we may know that sky too likewise and earth had some time of first-beginning, and will suffer destruction.
Herein, lest you should think that I have snatched at this proof for myself, because I have assumed that earth and fire are mortal things, nor have hesitated to say that moisture and breezes perish, and have maintained that they too are born again and increase, first of all, some part of earth, when baked by ceaseless suns, trodden by the force of many feet, gives off a mist and flying clouds of dust, which stormy winds scatter through all the air. Part too of its sods is summoned back to swamp by the rains, and streams graze and gnaw their banks. Moreover, whatever the earth nourishes and increases, is, in its own proportion, restored; and since without doubt the parent of all is seen herself to be the universal tomb of things, therefore you may see that the earth is eaten away, and again increases and grows.
For the rest, that sea, streams, and springs are ever filling with new moisture, and that waters are ceaselessly oozing forth, there is no need of words to prove: the great downrush of waters on every side shows this forth. But the water which is foremost is ever taken away, and so it comes to pass that there is never overmuch moisture in the sum, partly because the strong winds as they sweep the seas, diminish them, and so does the sun in heaven, as he unravels their fabric with his rays, partly because it is sent hither and thither under every land. For the brine is strained through, and the substance of the moisture oozes back, and all streams together at the fountain-head of rivers, and thence comes back over the lands with freshened current, where the channel once cleft has brought down the waters in their liquid march.
Next then I will speak of air, which changes in its whole body in countless ways each single hour. For always, whatever flows off from things, is all carried into the great sea of air; and unless in turn it were to give back bodies to things, and replenish them as they flow away, all things would by now have been dissolved and turned into air. Air then ceases not to be created from things, and to pass back into things, since it is sure that all things are constantly flowing away.
Likewise that bounteous source of liquid light, the sun in heaven, ceaselessly floods the sky with fresh brightness, and at once supplies the place of light with new light. For that which is foremost of its brightness, ever perishes, on whatever spot it falls. That you may learn from this: that as soon as clouds have begun for an instant to pass beneath the sun, and, as it were, to break off the rays of light, straightway all the part of the rays beneath perishes, and the earth is overshadowed, wherever the clouds are carried; so that you may learn that things ever have need of fresh brilliance, and that the foremost shaft of light ever perishes, nor in any other way can things be seen in the sunlight, except that the very fountain-head of light gives supply for ever. Nay more, lights at night, which are on the earth, hanging lamps and oily torches, bright with their flashing fires and thick smoke, in like manner hasten by aid of their heat to supply new light; they are quick to flicker with their fires, yea quick, nor is the light, as it were, broken off, nor does it quit the spot. In such eager haste is its destruction hidden by the quick birth of flame from all the fires. So then we must think that sun, moon, and stars throw out their light from new supplies, rising again and again, and lose ever what is foremost of their flames; lest you should by chance believe that they are strong with a strength inviolable.
Again, do you not behold stones too vanquished by time, high towers falling in ruins, and rocks crumbling away, shrines and images of the gods growing weary and worn, while the sacred presence cannot prolong the boundaries of fate nor struggle against the laws of nature? Again, do we not see the monuments of men fallen to bits, and inquiring moreover whether you believe that they grow old? And stones torn up from high mountains rushing headlong, unable to brook or bear the stern strength of a limited time? For indeed they would not be suddenly torn up and fall headlong, if from time everlasting they had held out against all the siege of age without breaking.
Now once again gaze on this sky, which above and all around holds the whole earth in its embrace: if it begets all things out of itself, as some tell, and receives them again when they perish, it is made altogether of a body that has birth and death. For whatsoever increases and nourishes other things out of itself, must needs be lessened, and replenished when it receives things back.
Moreover, if there was no birth and beginning of the earth and sky, and they were always from everlasting, why beyond the Theban war and the doom of Troy have not other poets sung of other happenings as well? whither have so many deeds of men so often passed away? why are they nowhere enshrined in glory in the everlasting memorials of fame? But indeed, I trow, our whole world is in its youth, and quite new is the nature of the firmament, nor long ago did it receive its first-beginnings. Wherefore even now certain arts are being perfected, even now are growing; much now has been added to ships, but a while ago musicians gave birth to tuneful harmonies. Again, this nature of things, this philosophy, is but lately discovered, and I myself was found the very first of all who could turn it into the speech of my country. But if by chance you think that all these same things were aforetime, but that the generations of men perished in burning heat, or that cities have fallen in some great upheaval of the world, or that from ceaseless rains ravening rivers have issued over the lands and swallowed up cities, all the more must you be vanquished and confess that there will come to pass a perishing of earth and sky as well. For when things were assailed by such great maladies and dangers, then if a more fatal cause had pressed upon them, far and wide would they have spread their destruction and mighty ruin. Nor in any other way do we see one another to be mortal; except that we fall sick of the same diseases as those whom nature has sundered from life.
Moreover, if ever things abide for everlasting, it must needs be either that, because they are of solid body, they beat back assaults, nor suffer anything to come within them, which might unloose the close-locked parts within, such as are the bodies of matter, whose nature we have declared before; or that they are able to continue through all time, because they are exempt from blows, as is the void, which abides untouched nor suffers a whit from assault; or else because there is no supply of room all around, into which things might part asunder and be broken up—even as the sum of sums is eternal—nor is there any room without into which they may leap apart, nor are there bodies which might fall upon them and break them up with stout blow. But neither, as I have shown, is the nature of the world endowed with solid body, since there is void mingled in things; nor yet is it as the void, nor indeed are bodies lacking, which might by chance gather together out of infinite space and overwhelm this sum of things with headstrong hurricane, or bear down on it some other form of dangerous destruction; nor again is there nature of room or space in the deep wanting, into which the walls of the world might be scattered forth; or else they may be pounded and perish by any other force you will. The gate of death then is not shut on sky or sun or earth or the deep waters of the sea, but it stands open facing them with huge vast gaping maw. Wherefore, again, you must needs confess that these same things have a birth; for indeed, things that are of mortal body could not from limitless time up till now have been able to set at defiance the stern strength of immeasurable age.
Again, since the mighty members of the world so furiously fight one against the other, stirred up in most unhallowed warfare, do you not see that some end may be set to their long contest? Either when the sun and every kind of heat have drunk up all the moisture and won the day: which they are struggling to do, but as yet they have not accomplished their effort: so great a supply do the rivers bring and threaten to go beyond their bounds, and deluge all things from out the deep abyss of ocean; all in vain, since the winds as they sweep the seas, diminish them, and so does the sun in heaven, as he unravels their fabric with his rays, and they boast that they can dry up all things, ere moisture can reach the end of its task. So vast a war do they breathe out in equal contest, as they struggle and strive one with another for mighty issues; yet once in this fight fire gained the upper hand, and once, as the story goes, moisture reigned supreme on the plains. For fire won its way and burnt up many things, all-devouring, when the resistless might of the horses of the sun went astray and carried Phaethon amain through the whole heavens and over all lands. But, thereupon, the almighty father, thrilled with keen anger, with sudden stroke of his thunder dashed high-souled Phaethon from his chariot to earth, and the sun, meeting him as he fell, caught the everlasting lamp of the world, and tamed the scattered steeds, and yoked them trembling, and so guiding them along their own path, replenished all things; so forsooth sang the old poets of the Greeks: but it is exceeding far removed from true reasoning. For fire can only prevail when more bodies of its substance have risen up out of infinite space; and then its strength fails, vanquished in some way, or else things perish, burnt up by its fiery breath. Moisture likewise, once gathered together and began to prevail, as the story goes, when it overwhelmed living men with its waves. Thereafter, when its force was by some means turned aside and went its way, even all that had gathered together from infinite space, the rains ceased, and the strength of the rivers was brought low.
But by what means that gathering together of matter established earth and sky and the depths of ocean, and the courses of sun and moon, I will set forth, in order. For in very truth not by design did the first-beginnings of things place themselves each in their order with foreseeing mind, nor indeed did they make compact what movements each should start; but because many first-beginnings of things in many ways, driven on by blows from time everlasting until now, and moved by their own weight, have been wont to be borne on, and to unite in every way and essay everything that they might create, meeting one with another, therefore it comes to pass that scattered abroad through a great age, as they try meetings and motions of every kind, at last those come together, which, suddenly cast together, become often the beginnings of great things, of earth, sea and sky, and the race of living things.
Then, when things were so, neither could the sun’s orb be seen, flying on high with its bounteous light, nor the stars of the great world, nor sea nor sky, nay nor earth nor air, nor anything at all like to the things we know, but only a sort of fresh-formed storm, a mass gathered together of first-beginnings of every kind, whose discord was waging war and confounding interspaces, paths, inter-lacings, weights, blows, meetings, and motions, because owing to their unlike forms and diverse shapes, all things were unable to remain in union, as they do now, and to give and receive harmonious motions. From this mass parts began to fly off hither and thither, and like things to unite with like, and so to unfold a world, and to sunder its members and dispose its great parts, that is, to mark off the high heaven from the earth, and the sea by itself, so that it might spread out with its moisture kept apart, and likewise the fires of the sky by themselves, unmixed and kept apart.
Yea, verily, first of all the several bodies of earth, because they were heavy and interlaced, met together in the middle, and all took up the lowest places; and the more they met and interlaced, the more did they squeeze out those which were to make sea, stars, sun, and moon, and the walls of the great world. For all these are of smoother and rounder seeds, and of much smaller particles than earth. And so, bursting out from the quarter of the earth through its loose-knit openings, first of all the fiery ether rose up and, being so light, carried off with it many fires, in not far different wise than often we see now, when first the golden morning light of the radiant sun reddens over the grass bejewelled with dew, and the pools and ever-running streams give off a mist, yea, even as the earth from time to time is seen to steam: and when all these are gathered together as they move upwards, clouds with body now formed weave a web beneath the sky on high. Thus then at that time the light and spreading ether, with body now formed, was set all around and curved on every side, and spreading wide towards every part on all sides, thus fenced in all else in its greedy embrace.
There followed then the beginnings of sun and moon, whose spheres turn in air midway betwixt earth and ether; for neither earth nor the great ether claimed them for itself, because they were neither heavy enough to sink and settle down, nor light enough to be able to glide along the topmost coasts, yet they are so set between the two that they can move along their living bodies, and are parts of the whole world; even as in our bodies some limbs may abide in their place, while yet there are others moving. So when these things were withdrawn, at once the earth sank down, where now the vast blue belt of ocean stretches, and flooded the furrows with salt surge. And day by day, the more the tide of ether and the rays of the sun with constant blows along its outer edges constrained the earth into closer texture, so that thus smitten it condensed and drew together round its centre, the more did the salt sweat, squeezed out from its body, go to increase the sea and the swimming plains, as it trickled forth; yea, and the more did those many bodies of heat and air slip forth and fly abroad, and far away from earth condense the high glowing quarters of the sky. Plains sank down, lofty mountains grew in height; for indeed the rocks could not settle down, nor could all parts subside equally in the same degree.
So then the weight of earth, with body now formed, sank to its place, and, as it were, all the slime of the world slid heavily to the bottom, and sank right down like dregs; then the sea and then the air and then the fiery ether itself were all left unmixed with their liquid bodies; they are lighter each than the next beneath, and ether, most liquid and lightest of all, floats above the breezes of air, nor does it mingle its liquid body with the boisterous breezes of air; it suffers all our air below to be churned by headstrong hurricanes, it suffers it to brawl with shifting storms, but itself bears on its fires as it glides in changeless advance. For that the ether can follow on quietly and with one constant effort, the Pontos proves, the sea which flows on with changeless tide, preserving ever the one constant rhythm of its gliding.
Now let us sing what is the cause of the motions of the stars. First of all, if the great globe of the sky turns round, we must say that the air presses on the pole at either end, and holds it outside and closes it in at both ends; and that then another current of air flows above, straining on to the same goal, towards which the twinkling stars of the everlasting world roll on; or else that there is another current beneath, to drive up the sphere reversely, as we see streams moving round wheels with their scoops. It may be also that the whole sky can abide in its place, while yet the shining signs are carried on; either because swift currents of ether are shut within them, and seeking a way out are turned round and round, and so roll on the fires this way and that through the nightly quarters of the sky; or else an air streaming from some other quarter without turns and drives the fires; or else they can themselves creep on, whither its own food invites and summons each as they move on, feeding their flaming bodies everywhere throughout the sky. For it is hard to declare for certain which of these causes it is in this world; but what can happen and does happen through the universe in the diverse worlds, fashioned on diverse plans, that is what I teach, and go on to set forth many causes for the motions of the stars, which may exist throughout the universe; and of these it must needs be one which in our world too gives strength to the motions of the heavenly signs; but to affirm which of them it is, is in no wise the task of one treading forward step by step.
Now that the earth may rest quiet in the mid region of the world, it is natural that its mass should gradually thin out and grow less, and that it should have another nature underneath from the beginning of its being, linked and closely bound in one with those airy parts of the world amid which it has its place and life. For this cause it is no burden, nor does it weigh down the air; even as for every man his own limbs are no weight, nor is the head a burden to the neck, nay nor do we feel that the whole weight of the body is resting on the feet; but all weights which come from without and are laid upon us, hurt us, though often they are many times smaller. Of such great matter is it, what is the power of each thing. So then the earth is not suddenly brought in as some alien body, nor cast from elsewhere on alien air, but it has been begotten along with it from the first beginning of the world, a determined part of it, as our limbs are seen to be of us. Moreover, the earth, when shaken suddenly by violent thunder, shakes with its motion all that is above it; which it could not by any means do, were it not bound up with the airy parts of the world and with the sky. For they cling one to the other with common roots, linked and closely bound in one from the beginning of their being. Do you not see too how great is the weight of our body, which the force of the soul, though exceeding fine, supports, just because it is so nearly linked and closely bound in one with it? And again, what can lift the body in a nimble leap save the force of the soul, which steers the limbs? Do you not see now how great can be the power of a fine nature, when it is linked with a heavy body, even as the air is linked with earth, and the force of the mind with us?
Nor can the sun’s blazing wheel be much greater or less, than it is seen to be by our senses. For from whatsoever distances fires can throw us their light and breathe their warm heat upon our limbs, they lose nothing of the body of their flames because of the interspaces, their fire is no whit shrunken to the sight. Even so, since the heat of the sun and the light he sheds, arrive at our senses and cheer the spots on which they fall, the form and bulk of the sun as well must needs be seen truly from earth, so that you could alter it almost nothing to greater or less. The moon, too, whether she illumines places with a borrowed light as she moves along, or throws out her own rays from her own body, however that may be, moves on with a shape no whit greater than seems that shape, with which we perceive her with our eyes. For all things which we behold far sundered from us through much air, are seen to grow confused in shape, ere their outline is lessened. Wherefore it must needs be that the moon, inasmuch as she shows a clear-marked shape and an outline well defined, is seen by us from earth in the heights, just as she is, clear-cut all along her outer edges, and just the size she is. Lastly, all the fires of heaven that you see from earth; inasmuch as all fires that we see on earth, so long as their twinkling light is clear, so long as their blaze is perceived, are seen to change their size only in some very small degree from time to time to greater or less, the further they are away: so we may know that the heavenly fires can only be a very minute degree smaller or larger by a little tiny piece.
This, too, is not wonderful, how the sun, small as it is, can send out so great light, to fill seas and all lands and sky with its flood, and to bathe all things in its warm heat. For it may be that from this spot the one well of light for the whole world is opened up and teems with bounteous stream, and shoots out its rays, because the particles of heat from all the world gather together on every side, and their meeting mass flows together in such wise, that here from a single fountain-head their blazing light streams forth. Do you not see too how widely a tiny spring of water sometimes moistens the fields, and floods out over the plains? Or again, it may be that from the sun’s fire, though it be not great, blazing light seizes on the air with its burning heat, if by chance there is air ready to hand and rightly suited to be kindled when smitten by tiny rays of heat; even as sometimes we see crops or straw caught in widespread fire from one single spark. Perhaps, too, the sun, shining on high with its rosy torch, has at his command much fire with hidden heat all around him, fire which is never marked by any radiance, so that it is only laden with heat and increases the stroke of the sun’s rays.
Nor is there any single and straightforward account of the sun, to show how from the summer regions he draws near the winter turning-point of Capricorn, and how turning back thence, he betakes himself to the solstice-goal of Cancer; and how the moon is seen in single months to traverse that course, on which the sun spends the period of a year as he runs. There is not, I say, any single cause assigned for these things. For, first and foremost, it is clear that it may come to pass, as the judgement of the holy man, Democritus, sets before us, that the nearer the several stars are to earth, the less can they be borne on with the whirl of heaven. For its swift keen strength passes away and is lessened beneath, and so little by little the sun is left behind with the hindmost signs, because it is much lower than the burning signs. And even more the moon: the lower her course, the further it is from the sky and nearer to earth, the less can she strain on her course level with the signs. Moreover the weaker the whirl with which she is borne along, being lower than the sun, the more do all the signs catch her up all around and pass her. Therefore, it comes to pass that she seems to turn back more speedily to each several sign, because the signs come back to her. It may be too that from quarters of the world athwart his path two airs may stream alternately, each at a fixed season, one such as to push the sun away from the summer signs right to the winter turning-places and their icy frost, and the other to hurl him back from the icy shades of cold right to the heat-laden quarters and the burning signs. And in like manner must we think that the moon and those stars which roll through the great years in great orbits, can be moved by airs from the opposite quarters in turn. Do you not see how by contrary winds the lower clouds too are moved in directions contrary to those above? Why should those stars be less able to be borne on by currents contrary one to the other through the great orbits in the heaven?
But night shrouds the earth in thick darkness, either when after his long journey the sun has trodden the farthest parts of heaven, and fainting has breathed out his fires shaken by the journey and made weak by much air, or because the same force, which carried on his orb above the earth, constrains him to turn his course back beneath the earth. Likewise at a fixed time Matuta sends abroad the rosy dawn through the coasts of heaven, and spreads the light, either because the same sun, returning again beneath the earth, seizes the sky in advance with his rays, fain to kindle it, or because the fires come together and many seeds of heat are wont to stream together at a fixed time, which each day cause the light of a new sun to come to birth. Even so story tells that from the high mountains of Ida scattered fires are seen as the light rises, and then they gather as if into a single ball, and make up the orb. Nor again ought this to be cause of wonder herein, that these seeds of fire can stream together at so fixed a time and renew the brightness of the sun. For we see many events, which come to pass at a fixed time in all things. Trees blossom at a fixed time, and at a fixed time lose their flower. Even so at a fixed time age bids the teeth fall, and the hairless youth grow hairy with soft down and let a soft beard flow alike from either cheek. Lastly, thunder, snow, rains, clouds, winds come to pass at seasons of the year more or less fixed. For since the first-beginnings of causes were ever thus and things have so fallen out from the first outset of the world, one after the other they come round even now in fixed order.
And likewise it may be that days grow longer and nights wane, and again daylight grows less, when nights take increase; either because the same sun, as he fulfils his course in unequal arcs below the earth and above, parts the coasts of heaven, and divides his circuit into unequal portions; and whatever he has taken away from the one part, so much the more he replaces, as he goes round, in the part opposite it, until he arrives at that sign in the sky, where the node of the year makes the shades of night equal to the daylight. For in the mid-course of the blast of the north wind and of the south wind, the sky holds his turning-points apart at a distance then made equal, on account of the position of the whole starry orbit, in which the sun covers the space of a year in his winding course, as he lights earth and heaven with his slanting rays: as is shown by the plans of those who have marked out all the quarters of the sky, adorned with their signs in due order. Or else, because the air is thicker in certain regions, and therefore the trembling ray of his fire is delayed beneath the earth, nor can it easily pierce through and burst out to its rising. Therefore in winter time the long nights lag on, until the radiant ensign of day comes forth. Or else again, because in the same way in alternate parts of the year the fires, which cause the sun to rise from a fixed quarter, are wont to stream together now more slowly, now more quickly, therefore it is that those seem to speak the truth [who say that a new sun is born every day].
The moon may shine when struck by the sun’s rays, and day by day turn that light more straightly to our sight, the more she retires from the sun’s orb, until opposite him she has glowed with quite full light and, as she rises, towering on high, has seen his setting; then little by little she must needs retire back again, and, as it were, hide her light, the nearer she glides now to the sun’s fire from the opposite quarter through the orbit of the signs; as those have it, who picture that the moon is like a ball, and keeps to the path of her course below the sun. There is also a way by which she can roll on with her own light, and yet show changing phases of brightness. For there may be another body, which is borne on and glides together with her, in every way obstructing and obscuring her; yet it cannot be seen, because it is borne on without light. Or she may turn round, just like, if it so chance, the sphere of a ball, tinged over half its surface with gleaming light, and so by turning round the sphere produces changing phases, until she turns to our sight and open eyes that side, whichever it be, that is endowed with fires; and then little by little she twists back again and carries away from us the light-giving part of the round mass of the ball; as the Babylonian teaching of the Chaldaeans, denying the science of the astronomers, essays to prove in opposition; just as if what each of them fights for may not be the truth, or there were any cause why you should venture to adopt the one less than the other.
Or again, why a fresh moon could not be created every day with fixed succession of phases and fixed shapes, so that each several day the moon created would pass away, and another be supplied in its room and place, it is difficult to teach by reasoning or prove by words, since so many things can be created in fixed order. Spring goes on her way and Venus, and before them treads Venus’s winged harbinger; and following close on the steps of Zephyrus, mother Flora strews and fills all the way before them with glorious colours and scents. Next after follows parching heat, and as companion at her side dusty Ceres and the etesian blasts of the north winds. Then autumn advances, and step by step with her Euhius Euan. Then follow the other seasons and their winds, Volturnus, thundering on high, and the south wind, whose strength is the lightning. Last of all the year’s end brings snow, and winter renews numbing frost; it is followed by cold, with chattering teeth. Wherefore it is less wonderful if the moon is born at a fixed time, and again at a fixed time is blotted out, since so many things can come to pass at fixed times.
Likewise also the eclipses of the sun and the hidings of the moon, you must think may be brought about by several causes. For why should the moon be able to shut out the earth from the sun’s light, and thrust her head high before him in the line of earth, throwing her dark orb before his glorious rays; and at the same time it should not be thought that another body could do this, which glides on ever without light. And besides, why should not the sun be able at a fixed time to faint and lose his fires, and again renew his light, when, in his journey through the air, he has passed by places hostile to his flames, which cause his fires to be put out and perish? And why should the earth be able in turn to rob the moon of light, and herself on high to keep the sun hidden beneath, while the moon in her monthly journey glides through the sharp-drawn shadows of the cone; and at the same time another body be unable to run beneath the moon or glide above the sun’s orb, to break off his rays and streaming light? And indeed, if the moon shines with her own light, why should she not be able to grow faint in a certain region of the world, while she passes out through spots unfriendly to her own light?
For the rest, since I have unfolded in what manner each thing could take place throughout the blue vault of the great world, so that we might learn what force and what cause started the diverse courses of the sun, and the journeyings of the moon, and in what way they might go hiding with their light obscured, and shroud the unexpecting earth in darkness, when, as it were, they wink and once again open their eye and look upon all places shining with their clear rays; now I return to the youth of the world, and the soft fields of earth, and what first with new power of creation they resolved to raise into the coasts of light and entrust to the gusty winds.
First of all the earth gave birth to the tribes of herbage and bright verdure all around the hills and over all the plains, the flowering fields gleamed in their green hue, and thereafter the diverse trees were started with loose rein on their great race of growing through the air. Even as down and hair and bristles are first formed on the limbs of four-footed beasts and the body of fowls strong of wing, so then the newborn earth raised up herbage and shrubs first, and thereafter produced the races of mortal things, many races born in many ways by diverse means. For neither can living animals have fallen from the sky nor the beasts of earth have issued forth from the salt pools. It remains that rightly has the earth won the name of mother, since out of earth all things are produced. And even now many animals spring forth from the earth, formed by the rains and the warm heat of the sun; wherefore we may wonder the less, if then more animals and greater were born, reaching their full growth when earth and air were fresh. First of all the tribe of winged fowls and the diverse birds left their eggs, hatched out in the spring season, as now in the summer the grasshoppers of their own will leave their smooth shells, seeking life and livelihood. Then it was that the earth first gave birth to the race of mortal things. For much heat and moisture abounded then in the fields; thereby, wherever a suitable spot or place was afforded, there grew up wombs, clinging to the earth by their roots; and when in the fullness of time the age of the little ones, fleeing moisture and eager for air, had opened them, nature would turn to that place the pores in the earth and constrain them to give forth from their opened veins a sap, most like to milk; even as now every woman, when she has brought forth, is filled with sweet milk, because all the current of her nourishment is turned towards her paps. The earth furnished food for the young, the warmth raiment, the grass a couch rich in much soft down. But the youth of the world called not into being hard frosts nor exceeding heat nor winds of mighty violence: for all things grow and come to their strength in like degrees.
Wherefore, again and again, rightly has the earth won, rightly does she keep the name of mother, since she herself formed the race of men, and almost at a fixed time brought forth every animal which ranges madly everywhere on the mighty mountains, and with them the fowls of the air with their diverse forms. But because she must needs come to some end of child-bearing, she ceased, like a woman worn with the lapse of age. For time changes the nature of the whole world, and one state after another must needs overtake all things, nor does anything abide like itself: all things change their abode, nature alters all things and constrains them to turn. For one thing rots away and grows faint and feeble with age, thereon another grows up and issues from its place of scorn. So then time changes the nature of the whole world, and one state after another overtakes the earth, so that it cannot bear what it did, but can bear what it did not of old.
And many monsters too earth then essayed to create, born with strange faces and strange limbs, the man-woman, between the two, yet not either, sundered from both sexes, some things bereft of feet, or in turn robbed of hands, things too found dumb without mouths, or blind without eyes, or locked through the whole body by the clinging of the limbs, so that they could not do anything or move towards any side or avoid calamity or take what they needed. All other monsters and prodigies of this sort she would create; all in vain, since nature forbade their increase, nor could they reach the coveted bloom of age nor find food nor join in the work of Venus. For we see that many happenings must be united for things, that they may be able to beget and propagate their races; first that they may have food, and then a way whereby birth-giving seeds may pass through their frames, and issue from their slackened limbs; and that woman may be joined with man, they must needs each have means whereby they can interchange mutual joys.
And it must needs be that many races of living things then perished and could not beget and propagate their offspring. For whatever animals you see feeding on the breath of life, either their craft or bravery, aye or their swiftness has protected and preserved their kind from the beginning of their being. And many there are, which by their usefulness are commended to us, and so abide, trusted to our tutelage. First of all the fierce race of lions, that savage stock, their bravery has protected, foxes their cunning, and deer their fleet foot. But the lightly-sleeping minds of dogs with their loyal heart, and all the race which is born of the seed of beasts of burden, and withal the fleecy flocks and the horned herds, are all trusted to the tutelage of men, Memmius. For eagerly did they flee the wild beasts and ensue peace and bounteous fodder gained without toil of theirs, which we grant them as a reward because of their usefulness. But those to whom nature granted none of these things, neither that they might live on by themselves of their own might, nor do us any useful service, for which we might suffer their kind to feed and be kept safe under our defence, you may know that these fell a prey and spoil to others, all entangled in the fateful trammels of their own being, until nature brought their kind to destruction.
But neither were there Centaurs, nor at any time can there be animals of twofold nature and double body, put together of limbs of alien birth, so that the power and strength of each, derived from this parent and that, could be equal. That we may learn, however dull be our understanding, from this. First of all, when three years have come round, the horse is in the prime of vigour, but the child by no means so; for often even now in his sleep he will clutch for the milky paps of his mother’s breasts. Afterwards, when the stout strength and limbs of horses fail through old age and droop, as life flees from them, then at last youth sets in in the prime of boyish years, and clothes the cheeks with soft down; that you may not by chance believe that Centaurs can be created or exist, formed of a man and the load-laden breed of horses, or Scyllas either, with bodies half of sea-monsters, girt about with ravening dogs, or any other beasts of their kind, whose limbs we see cannot agree one with another; for they neither reach their prime together nor gain the full strength of their bodies nor let it fall away in old age, nor are they fired with a like love, nor do they agree in a single character, nor are the same things pleasant to them throughout their frame. Indeed, we may see the bearded goats often grow fat on hemlock, which to man is rank poison.
Since moreover flame is wont to scorch and burn the tawny bodies of lions just as much as every kind of flesh and blood that exists on the earth, how could it have come to pass that the Chimaera, one in her threefold body, in front a lion, in the rear a dragon, in the middle, as her name shows, a goat, should breathe out at her mouth fierce flame from her body? Wherefore again, he who feigns that when the earth was young and the sky new-born, such animals could have been begotten, trusting only in this one empty plea of the world’s youth, may blurt out many things in like manner from his lips; he may say that then streams of gold flowed everywhere over the lands, and that trees were wont to blossom with jewels, or that a man was born with such expanse of limbs, that he could plant his footsteps right across the deep seas, and with his hands twist the whole sky about him. For because there were in the earth many seeds of things at the time when first the land brought forth animals, yet that is no proof that beasts of mingled breed could have been born, or the limbs of living creatures put together in one; because the races of herbage and the crops and fruitful trees, which even now spring forth abundantly from the earth, yet cannot be created intertwined one with another, but each of these things comes forth after its own manner, and all preserve their separate marks by a fixed law of nature.
But the race of man was much hardier then in the fields, as was seemly for a race born of the hard earth: it was built up on larger and more solid bones within, fastened with strong sinews traversing the flesh; not easily to be harmed by heat or cold or strange food or any taint of the body. And during many lustres of the sun rolling through the sky they prolonged their lives after the roving manner of wild beasts. Nor was there any sturdy steerer of the bent plough, nor knew any one how to work the fields with iron, or to plant young shoots in the earth, or cut down the old branches off high trees with knives. What sun and rains had brought to birth, what earth had created unasked, such gift was enough to appease their hearts. Among oaks laden with acorns they would refresh their bodies for the most part; and the arbute-berries, which now you see ripening in wintertime with scarlet hue, the earth bore then in abundance, yea and larger. And besides these the flowering youth of the world then bare much other rough sustenance, enough and to spare for miserable mortals. But to slake their thirst streams and springs summoned them, even as now the downrush of water from the great mountains calls clear far and wide to the thirsting tribes of wild beasts. Or again they dwelt in the woodland haunts of the nymphs, which they had learnt in their wanderings, from which they knew that gliding streams of water washed the wet rocks with bounteous flood, yea washed the wet rocks, as they dripped down over the green moss, and here and there welled up and burst forth over the level plain.
Nor as yet did they know how to serve their purposes with fire, nor to use skins and clothe their body in the spoils of wild beasts, but dwelt in woods and the caves on mountains and forests, and amid brushwood would hide their rough limbs, when constrained to shun the shock of winds and the rain-showers. Nor could they look to the common weal, nor had they knowledge to make mutual use of any customs or laws. Whatever booty chance had offered to each, he bore it off; for each was taught at his own will to live and thrive for himself alone. And Venus would unite lovers in the woods; for each woman was wooed either by mutual passion, or by the man’s fierce force and reckless lust, or by a price, acorns and arbute-berries or choice pears. And trusting in their strange strength of hand and foot they would hunt the woodland tribes of wild beasts with stones to hurl or clubs of huge weight; many they would vanquish, a few they would avoid in hiding; and like bristly boars these woodland men would lay their limbs naked on the ground, when overtaken by night time, wrapping themselves up around with leaves and foliage. Nor did they look for daylight and the sun with loud wailing, wandering fearful through the fields in the darkness of night, but silent and buried in sleep waited mindful, until the sun with rosy torch should bring the light into the sky. For, because they had been wont ever from childhood to behold darkness and light begotten, turn by turn, it could not come to pass that they should ever wonder, or feel mistrust lest the light of the sun should be withdrawn for ever, and never-ending night possess the earth. But much greater was another care, inasmuch as the tribes of wild beasts often made rest dangerous for wretched men. Driven from their home they would flee from their rocky roof at the coming of a foaming boar or a mighty lion, and in the dead of night in terror they would yield their couches spread with leaves to their cruel guests.
Nor then much more than now would the races of men leave the sweet light of life with lamentation. For then more often would some one of them be caught and furnish living food to the wild beasts, devoured by their teeth, and would fill woods and mountains and forests with his groaning, as he looked on his living flesh being buried in a living tomb. And those whom flight had saved with mangled body, thereafter, holding trembling hands over their noisome sores, would summon Orcus with terrible cries, until savage griping pains had robbed them of life, all helpless and knowing not what wounds wanted. Yet never were many thousands of men led beneath the standards and done to death in a single day, nor did the stormy waters of ocean dash ships and men upon the rocks. Then rashly, idly, in vain would the sea often arise and rage, and lightly lay aside its empty threatenings, nor could the treacherous wiles of the windless waves lure any man to destruction with smiling waters; then the wanton art of sailing lay as yet unknown. Then, too, want of food would give over their drooping limbs to death, now on the other hand ’tis surfeit of good things brings them low. They all unwitting would often pour out poison for themselves, now with more skill they give it to others.
Then after they got themselves huts and skins and fire, and woman yoked with man retired to a single [home, and the laws of marriage] were learnt, and they saw children sprung from them, then first the race of man began to soften. For fire brought it about that their chilly limbs could not now so well bear cold under the roof of heaven, and Venus lessened their strength, and children, by their winning ways, easily broke down the haughty will of their parents. Then, too, neighbours began eagerly to form friendship one with another, not to hurt or be harmed, and they commended to mercy children and the race of women, when with cries and gestures they taught by broken words that ’tis right for all men to have pity on the weak. Yet not in all ways could unity be begotten, but a good part, the larger part, would keep their compacts loyally; or else the human race would even then have been all destroyed, nor could breeding have prolonged the generations until now.
But the diverse sounds of the tongue nature constrained men to utter, and use shaped the names of things, in a manner not far other than the very speechlessness of their tongue is seen to lead children on to gesture, when it makes them point out with the finger the things that are before their eyes. For every one feels to what purpose he can use his own powers. Before the horns of a calf appear and sprout from his forehead, he butts with them when angry, and pushes passionately. But the whelps of panthers and lion-cubs already fight with claws and feet and biting, when their teeth and claws are scarce yet formed. Further, we see all the tribe of winged fowls trusting to their wings, and seeking an unsteady aid from their pinions. Again, to think that any one then parcelled out names to things, and that from him men learnt their first words, is mere folly. For why should he be able to mark off all things by words, and to utter the diverse sounds of the tongue, and at the same time others be thought unable to do this? Moreover, if others too had not used words to one another, whence was implanted in him the concept of their use; whence was he given the first power to know and see in his mind what he wanted to do? Likewise one man could not avail to constrain many, and vanquish them to his will, that they should be willing to learn all his names for things; nor indeed is it easy in any way to teach and persuade the deaf what it is needful to do; for they would not endure it, nor in any way suffer the sounds of words unheard before to batter on their ears any more to no purpose.
Lastly, what is there so marvellous in this, if the human race, with strong voice and tongue, should mark off things with diverse sounds for diverse feelings? When the dumb cattle, yea and the races of wild beasts are wont to give forth diverse unlike sounds, when they are in fear or pain, or again when their joys grow strong. Yea verily, this we may learn from things clear to see. When the large loose lips of Molossian dogs start to snarl in anger, baring their hard teeth, thus drawn back in rage, they threaten with a noise far other than when they bark and fill all around with their clamour. Yet when they essay fondly to lick their cubs with their tongue, or when they toss them with their feet, and making for them with open mouth, feign gently to swallow them, checking their closing teeth, they fondle them with growling voice in a way far other than when left alone in the house they bay, or when whining they shrink from a beating with cringing body. Again, is not neighing seen to differ likewise, when a young stallion in the flower of his years rages among the mares, pricked by the spur of winged love, and from spreading nostrils snorts for the fray, and when, it may be, at other times he whinnies with trembling limbs? Lastly, the tribe of winged fowls and the diverse birds, hawks and ospreys and gulls amid the sea-waves, seeking in the salt waters for life and livelihood, utter at other times cries far other than when they are struggling for their food and fighting for their prey. And some of them change their harsh notes with the weather, as the long-lived tribes of crows and flocks of rooks, when they are said to cry for water and rains, and anon to summon the winds and breezes. And so, if diverse feelings constrain animals, though they are dumb, to utter diverse sounds, how much more likely is it that mortals should then have been able to mark off things unlike with one sound and another.
Herein, lest by chance you should ask a silent question, it was the lightning that first of all brought fire to earth for mortals, and from it all the heat of flames is spread abroad. For we see many things flare up, kindled with flames from heaven, when a stroke from the sky has brought the gift of heat. Yet again, when a branching tree is lashed by the winds and sways to and fro, reeling and pressing on the branches of another tree, fire is struck out by the strong force of the rubbing, anon the fiery heat of flame sparkles out, while branches and trunks rub each against the other. Either of these happenings may have given fire to mortals. And then the sun taught them to cook food and soften it by the heat of flame, since they saw many things among the fields grow mellow, vanquished by the lashing of his rays and by the heat.
And day by day those who excelled in understanding and were strong in mind showed them more and more how to change their former life and livelihood for new habits and for fire. Kings began to build cities and to found a citadel, to be for themselves a strong-hold and a refuge; and they parcelled out and gave flocks and fields to each man for his beauty or his strength or understanding; for beauty was then of much avail, and strength stood high. Thereafter property was invented and gold found, which easily robbed the strong and beautiful of honour; for, for the most part, however strong men are born, however beautiful their body, they follow the lead of the richer man. Yet if a man would steer his life by true reasoning, it is great riches to a man to live thriftily with calm mind; for never can he lack for a little. But men wished to be famous and powerful, that their fortune might rest on a sure foundation, and they might in wealth lead a peaceful life; all in vain, since struggling to rise to the heights of honour, they made the path of their journey beset with danger, and yet from the top, like lightning, envy smites them and casts them down anon in scorn to a noisome Hell; since by envy, as by lightning, the topmost heights are most often set ablaze, and all places that rise high above others; so that it is far better to obey in peace than to long to rule the world with kingly power and to sway kingdoms. Wherefore let them sweat out their life-blood, worn away to no purpose, battling their way along the narrow path of ambition; inasmuch as their wisdom is but from the lips of others, and they seek things rather through hearsay than from their own feelings, and that is of no more avail now nor shall be hereafter than it was of old.
And so the kings were put to death and the ancient majesty of thrones and proud sceptres was overthrown and lay in ruins, and the glorious emblem on the head of kings was stained with blood, and beneath the feet of the mob mourned the loss of its high honour; for once dreaded overmuch, eagerly now it is trampled. And so things would pass to the utmost dregs of disorder, when every man sought for himself the power and the headship. Then some of them taught men to appoint magistrates and establish laws that they might consent to obey ordinances. For the race of men, worn out with leading a life of violence, lay faint from its feuds; wherefore the more easily of its own will it gave in to ordinances and the close mesh of laws. For since each man set out to avenge himself more fiercely in his passion than is now suffered by equal laws, for this cause men were weary of leading a life of violence. Thence fear of punishment taints the prizes of life. For violence and hurt tangle every man in their toils, and for the most part fall on the head of him, from whom they had their rise, nor is it easy for one who by his act breaks the common pact of peace to lead a calm and quiet life. For though he be unnoticed of the race of gods and men, yet he must needs mistrust that his secret will be kept for ever; nay indeed, many by speaking in their sleep or raving in fever have often, so ’tis said, betrayed themselves, and brought to light misdeeds long hidden.
Next, what cause spread abroad the divine powers of the gods among great nations, and filled cities with altars, and taught men to undertake sacred rites at yearly festivals, rites which are honoured to-day in great empires and at great places; whence even now there is implanted in mortals a shuddering dread, which raises new shrines of the gods over all the world, and constrains men to throng them on the holy days; of all this it is not hard to give account in words. For indeed already the races of mortals used to perceive the glorious shapes of the gods with waking mind, and all the more in sleep with wondrous bulk of body. To these then they would assign sense because they were seen to move their limbs, and to utter haughty sounds befitting their noble mien and ample strength. And they gave them everlasting life because their images came in constant stream and the form remained unchanged, and indeed above all because they thought that those endowed with such strength could not readily be vanquished by any force. They thought that they far excelled in happiness, because the fear of death never harassed any of them, and at the same time because in sleep they saw them accomplish many marvels, yet themselves not undergo any toil. Moreover, they beheld the workings of the sky in due order, and the diverse seasons of the year come round, nor could they learn by what causes that was brought about. And so they made it their refuge to lay all to the charge of the gods, and to suppose that all was guided by their will. And they placed the abodes and quarters of the gods in the sky, because through the sky night and the moon are seen to roll on their way, moon, day and night, and the stern signs of night, and the torches of heaven that rove through the night, and the flying flames, clouds, sunlight, rain, snow, winds, lightning, hail, and the rapid roar and mighty murmurings of heaven’s threats.
Ah! unhappy race of men, when it has assigned such acts to the gods and joined therewith bitter anger! what groaning did they then beget for themselves, what sores for us, what tears for our children to come! Nor is it piety at all to be seen often with veiled head turning towards a stone, and to draw near to every altar, no, nor to lie prostrate on the ground with outstretched palms before the shrines of the gods, nor to sprinkle the altars with the streaming blood of beasts, nor to link vow to vow, but rather to be able to contemplate all things with a mind at rest. For indeed when we look up at the heavenly quarters of the great world, and the firm-set ether above the twinkling stars, and it comes to our mind to think of the journeyings of sun and moon, then into our hearts weighed down with other ills, this misgiving too begins to raise up its wakened head, that there may be perchance some immeasurable power of the gods over us, which whirls on the bright stars in their diverse motions. For lack of reasoning assails our mind with doubt, whether there was any creation and beginning of the world, and again whether there is an end, until which the walls of the world may be able to endure this weariness of restless motion, or whether gifted by the gods’ will with an everlasting being they may be able to glide on down the everlasting groove of time, and set at naught the mighty strength of measureless time.
Moreover, whose heart does not shrink with terror of the gods, whose limbs do not crouch in fear, when the parched earth trembles beneath the awful stroke of lightning and rumblings run across the great sky? Do not the peoples and nations’ tremble, and proud kings shrink in every limb, thrilled with the fear of the gods, lest for some foul crime or haughty word the heavy time of retribution be ripe? Or again, when the fiercest force of furious wind at sea sweeps the commander of a fleet over the waters with his strong legions and his elephants, all in like case, does he not seek with vows the peace of the gods, and fearfully crave in prayer a calm from wind and favouring breezes; all in vain, since often when caught in the headstrong hurricane he is borne for all his prayers to the shallow waters of death? So greatly does some secret force grind beneath its heel the greatness of men, and it is seen to tread down and make sport for itself of the glorious rods and relentless axes. Again, when the whole earth rocks beneath men’s feet, and cities are shaken to their fall or threaten doubtful of their doom, what wonder if the races of mortal men despise themselves and leave room in the world for the mighty power and marvellous strength of the gods, to guide all things?
For the rest, copper and gold and iron were discovered, and with them the weight of silver and the usefulness of lead, when a fire had burnt down vast forests with its heat on mighty mountains, either when heaven’s lightning was hurled upon it, or because waging a forest-war with one another men had carried fire among the foe to rouse panic, or else because allured by the richness of the land they desired to clear the fat fields, and make the countryside into pasture, or else to put the wild beasts to death, and enrich themselves with prey. For hunting with pit and fire arose first before fencing the grove with nets and scaring the beasts with dogs. However that may be, for whatever cause the flaming heat had eaten up the forests from their deep roots with terrible crackling, and had baked the earth with fire, the streams of silver and gold, and likewise of copper and lead, gathered together and trickled from the boiling veins into hollow places in the ground. And when they saw them afterwards hardened and shining on the ground with brilliant hue, they picked them up, charmed by their smooth bright beauty, and saw that they were shaped with outline like that of the several prints of the hollows.
Then it came home to them that these metals might be melted by heat, and would run into the form and figure of anything, and indeed might be hammered out and shaped into points and tips, however sharp and fine, so that they might fashion weapons for themselves, and be able to cut down forests and hew timber and plane beams smooth, yea, and to bore and punch and drill holes. And, first of all, they set forth to do this no less with silver and gold than with the resistless strength of stout copper; all in vain, since their power was vanquished and yielded, nor could they like the others endure the cruel strain. For copper was of more value, and gold was despised for its uselessness, so soon blunted with its dull edge. Now copper is despised, gold has risen to the height of honour. So rolling time changes the seasons of things. What was of value, becomes in turn of no worth; and then another thing rises up and leaves its place of scorn, and is sought more and more each day, and when found blossoms into fame, and is of wondrous honour among men.
Now, in what manner the nature of iron was found, it is easy for you to learn of yourself, Memmius. Their arms of old were hands, nails, and teeth, and stones, and likewise branches torn from the forests, and flame and fires, when once they were known. Thereafter the strength of iron and bronze was discovered. And the use of bronze was learnt before that of iron, inasmuch as its nature is more tractable, and it is found in greater stores. With bronze they would work the soil of the earth, and with bronze mingle in billowy warfare, and deal wasting wounds and seize upon flocks and fields. For all things naked and unarmed would readily give in to them equipped with arms. Then, little by little, the iron sword made its way, and the form of the bronze sickle was made a thing of scorn, and with iron they began to plough up the soil of earth; and the contests of war, now hovering in doubt, were made equal. It was their way to climb armed on to the flanks of a horse, to guide it with reins, and do doughty deeds with the right hand, before they learnt to essay the dangers of war in a two-horsed chariot. And the yoking of two horses came before yoking four, and climbing up armed into chariots set with scythes. Then it was the Poeni who taught the Lucanian kine, with towered body, grim beasts with snaky hands, to bear the wounds of warfare, and work havoc among the hosts of Mars. So did gloomy discord beget one thing after another, to bring panic into the races of men in warfare, and day by day gave increase to the terrors of war.
They tried bulls, too, in the service of war, and essayed to send savage boars against the foe. And some sent on before them mighty lions with armed trainers and cruel masters, who might be able to control them, and hold them in chains; all in vain, since in the heat of the mellay of slaughter they grew savage, and made havoc of the hosts, both sides alike, tossing everywhere the fearful manes upon their heads, nor could the horsemen soothe the hearts of their horses, alarmed at the roaring, and turn them with their bridles against the foe. The lionesses launched their furious bodies in a leap on every side, and made for the faces of those that came against them, or tore them down in the rear when off their guard, and twining round them hurled them to the ground foredone with the wound, fastening on them with their strong bite and crooked claws. The bulls tossed their own friends and trampled them with their feet, and with their horns gashed the flanks and bellies of the horses underneath, and ploughed up the ground with threatening purpose. And the boars gored their masters with their strong tusks, savagely splashing with their own blood the weapons broken in them, and threw to the ground horsemen and footmen in one heap. For the horses would swerve aside to avoid the fierce onset of a tusk, or rear and beat the air with their feet; all in vain, since you would see them tumble with tendons severed, and strew the ground in their heavy fall.
If ever they thought they had been tamed enough at home before the fight, they saw them burst into fury, when it came to conflict, maddened by the wounds, shouting, flying, panic, and confusion, nor could they rally any part of them; for all the diverse kinds of wild beasts would scatter hither and thither; even as now often the Lucanian kine cruelly mangled by the steel, scatter abroad, when they have dealt many deadly deeds to their own friends. [If indeed they ever acted thus. But scarce can I be brought to believe that, before this dire disaster befell both sides alike, they could not foresee and perceive in mind what would come to pass. And you could more readily maintain that this was done somewhere in the universe, in the diverse worlds fashioned in diverse fashion, than on any one determined earth.] But indeed they wished to do it not so much in the hope of victory, as to give the foemen cause to moan, resolved to perish themselves, since they mistrusted their numbers and lacked arms.
A garment tied together came before woven raiment. Woven fabric comes after iron, for by iron the loom is fashioned, nor in any other way can such smooth treadles be made, or spindles or shuttles and ringing rods. And nature constrained men to work wool before the race of women; for all the race of men far excels in skill and is much more cunning; until the sturdy husbandman made scorn of it, so that they were glad to leave it to women’s hands, and themselves share in enduring hard toil, and in hard work to harden limbs and hands.
But nature herself, creatress of things, was first a pattern for sowing and the beginning of grafting, since berries and acorns fallen from the trees in due time put forth swarms of shoots beneath; from nature, too, they learnt to insert grafts into branches, and to plant young saplings in the ground over the fields. Then one after another they essayed ways of tilling their smiling plot, and saw the earth tame wild fruits with tender care and fond tilling. And day by day they would constrain the woods more and more to retire up the mountains, and to give up the land beneath to tilth, that on hills and plains they might have meadows, pools, streams, crops, and glad vineyards, and the grey belt of olives might run between with its clear line, spreading over hillocks and hollows and plains; even as now you see all the land clear marked with diverse beauties, where men make it bright by planting it here and there with sweet fruit-trees, and fence it by planting it all round with fruitful shrubs.
But imitating with the mouth the liquid notes of birds came long before men were able to sing in melody right through smooth songs and please the ear. And the whistling of the zephyr through the hollows of reeds first taught the men of the countryside to breathe into hollowed hemlock-stalks. Then little by little they learned the sweet lament, which the pipe pours forth, stopped by the players’ fingers, the pipe invented amid the pathless woods and forests and glades, among the desolate haunts of shepherds, and the divine places of their rest. These tunes would soothe their minds and please them when sated with food; for then all things win the heart. And so often, lying in friendly groups on the soft grass near some stream of water under the branches of a tall tree, at no great cost they would give pleasure to their bodies, above all when the weather smiled and the season of the year painted the green grass with flowers. Then were there wont to be jests, and talk, and merry laughter. For then the rustic muse was at its best; then glad mirth would prompt to wreathe head and shoulders with garlands twined of flowers and foliage, and to dance all out of step, moving their limbs heavily, and with heavy foot to strike mother earth; whence arose smiles and merry laughter, for all these things then were strong in freshness and wonder.
And hence came to the wakeful a solace for lost sleep, to guide their voices through many notes, and follow the windings of a song, and to run over the reeds with curling lip; whence even now the watchmen preserve these traditions, and have learnt to keep to the rhythm of the song, nor yet for all that do they gain a whit greater enjoyment from the pleasure, than the woodland race of earthborn men of old. For what is here at hand, unless we have learnt anything sweeter before, pleases us above all, and is thought to excel, but for the most part the better thing found later on destroys or changes our feeling for all the old things. So hatred for their acorns set in, and the old couches strewn with grass and piled with leaves were deserted. Likewise the garment of wild beasts’ skin fell into contempt; yet I suppose that of old it was so envied when found, that he who first wore it was waylaid and put to death, though after all it was torn to pieces among them, and was spoiled with much blood, and could be turned to no profit. It was skins then in those days, and now gold and purple that vex men’s life with cares and weary them out with war; and for this, I think, the greater fault lies with us. For cold used to torture the earth-born, as they lay naked without skins; but it does us no hurt to go without our purple robes, set with gold and massy figures, if only there be some common garment to protect us. And so the race of men toils fruitlessly and in vain for ever, and wastes its life in idle cares, because, we may be sure, it has not learned what are the limits of possession, nor at all how far true pleasure can increase. And this, little by little, has advanced life to its high plane, and has stirred up from the lowest depths the great seething tide of war.
But sun and moon, like watchmen, traversing with their light all round the great turning vault of the world, taught men that the seasons of the year come round, and that the work goes on after a sure plan and a sure order.
Now fenced in with strong towers they would live their life, and the land was parcelled out and marked off: then the sea was gay with the flying sails of ships: now treaties were drawn up, and they had auxiliaries and allies, when poets first began to hand down men’s deeds in songs; yet not much before that were letters discovered. Therefore our age cannot look back to see what was done before, unless in any way reason points out traces.
Ships and the tilling of the land, walls, laws, weapons, roads, dress, and all things of this kind, all the prizes, and the luxuries of life, one and all, songs and pictures, and the polishing of quaintly-wrought statues, practice and therewith the experience of the eager mind taught them little by little, as they went forward step by step. So, little by little, time brings out each several thing into view, and reason raises it up into the coasts of light. For they saw one thing after another grow clear in their mind, until by their arts they reached the topmost pinnacle.