Of the Nature of Things, by Titus Lucretius Carus

Book VI


’Twas Athens first, the glorious in name,

That whilom gave to hapless sons of men

The sheaves of harvest, and re-ordered life,

And decreed laws; and she the first that gave

Life its sweet solaces, when she begat

A man of heart so wise, who whilom poured

All wisdom forth from his truth-speaking mouth;

The glory of whom, though dead, is yet to-day,

Because of those discoveries divine

Renowned of old, exalted to the sky.

For when saw he that well-nigh everything

Which needs of man most urgently require

Was ready to hand for mortals, and that life,

As far as might be, was established safe,

That men were lords in riches, honour, praise,

And eminent in goodly fame of sons,

And that they yet, O yet, within the home,

Still had the anxious heart which vexed life

Unpausingly with torments of the mind,

And raved perforce with angry plaints, then he,

Then he, the master, did perceive that ’twas

The vessel itself which worked the bane, and all,

However wholesome, which from here or there

Was gathered into it, was by that bane

Spoilt from within — in part, because he saw

The vessel so cracked and leaky that nowise

‘T could ever be filled to brim; in part because

He marked how it polluted with foul taste

Whate’er it got within itself. So he,

The master, then by his truth-speaking words,

Purged the breasts of men, and set the bounds

Of lust and terror, and exhibited

The supreme good whither we all endeavour,

And showed the path whereby we might arrive

Thereunto by a little cross-cut straight,

And what of ills in all affairs of mortals

Upsprang and flitted deviously about

(Whether by chance or force), since nature thus

Had destined; and from out what gates a man

Should sally to each combat. And he proved

That mostly vainly doth the human race

Roll in its bosom the grim waves of care.

For just as children tremble and fear all

In the viewless dark, so even we at times

Dread in the light so many things that be

No whit more fearsome than what children feign,

Shuddering, will be upon them in the dark.

This terror then, this darkness of the mind,

Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light,

Nor glittering arrows of morning can disperse,

But only nature’s aspect and her law.

Wherefore the more will I go on to weave

In verses this my undertaken task.

And since I’ve taught thee that the world’s great vaults

Are mortal and that sky is fashioned

Of frame e’en born in time, and whatsoe’er

Therein go on and must perforce go on

. . . . . .

The most I have unravelled; what remains

Do thou take in, besides; since once for all

To climb into that chariot’ renowned

. . . . . .

Of winds arise; and they appeased are

So that all things again . . .

. . . . . .

Which were, are changed now, with fury stilled;

All other movements through the earth and sky

Which mortals gaze upon (O anxious oft

In quaking thoughts!), and which abase their minds

With dread of deities and press them crushed

Down to the earth, because their ignorance

Of cosmic causes forces them to yield

All things unto the empery of gods

And to concede the kingly rule to them.

For even those men who have learned full well

That godheads lead a long life free of care,

If yet meanwhile they wonder by what plan

Things can go on (and chiefly yon high things

Observed o’erhead on the ethereal coasts),

Again are hurried back unto the fears

Of old religion and adopt again

Harsh masters, deemed almighty — wretched men,

Unwitting what can be and what cannot,

And by what law to each its scope prescribed,

Its boundary stone that clings so deep in Time.

Wherefore the more are they borne wandering on

By blindfold reason. And, Memmius, unless

From out thy mind thou spuest all of this

And casteth far from thee all thoughts which be

Unworthy gods and alien to their peace,

Then often will the holy majesties

Of the high gods be harmful unto thee,

As by thy thought degraded — not, indeed,

That essence supreme of gods could be by this

So outraged as in wrath to thirst to seek

Revenges keen; but even because thyself

Thou plaguest with the notion that the gods,

Even they, the Calm Ones in serene repose,

Do roll the mighty waves of wrath on wrath;

Nor wilt thou enter with a serene breast

Shrines of the gods; nor wilt thou able be

In tranquil peace of mind to take and know

Those images which from their holy bodies

Are carried into intellects of men,

As the announcers of their form divine.

What sort of life will follow after this

’Tis thine to see. But that afar from us

Veriest reason may drive such life away,

Much yet remains to be embellished yet

In polished verses, albeit hath issued forth

So much from me already; lo, there is

The law and aspect of the sky to be

By reason grasped; there are the tempest times

And the bright lightnings to be hymned now —

Even what they do and from what cause soe’er

They’re borne along — that thou mayst tremble not,

Marking off regions of prophetic skies

For auguries, O foolishly distraught

Even as to whence the flying flame hath come,

Or to which half of heaven it turns, or how

Through walled places it hath wound its way,

Or, after proving its dominion there,

How it hath speeded forth from thence amain —

Whereof nowise the causes do men know,

And think divinities are working there.

Do thou, Calliope, ingenious Muse,

Solace of mortals and delight of gods,

Point out the course before me, as I race

On to the white line of the utmost goal,

That I may get with signal praise the crown,

With thee my guide!

Great Meteorological Phenomena, Etc.

    And so in first place, then,

With thunder are shaken the blue deeps of heaven,

Because the ethereal clouds, scudding aloft,

Together clash, what time ‘gainst one another

The winds are battling. For never a sound there comes

From out the serene regions of the sky;

But wheresoever in a host more dense

The clouds foregather, thence more often comes

A crash with mighty rumbling. And, again,

Clouds cannot be of so condensed a frame

As stones and timbers, nor again so fine

As mists and flying smoke; for then perforce

They’d either fall, borne down by their brute weight,

Like stones, or, like the smoke, they’d powerless be

To keep their mass, or to retain within

Frore snows and storms of hail. And they give forth

O’er skiey levels of the spreading world

A sound on high, as linen-awning, stretched

O’er mighty theatres, gives forth at times

A cracking roar, when much ’tis beaten about

Betwixt the poles and cross-beams. Sometimes, too,

Asunder rent by wanton gusts, it raves

And imitates the tearing sound of sheets

Of paper — even this kind of noise thou mayst

In thunder hear — or sound as when winds whirl

With lashings and do buffet about in air

A hanging cloth and flying paper-sheets.

For sometimes, too, it chances that the clouds

Cannot together crash head-on, but rather

Move side-wise and with motions contrary

Graze each the other’s body without speed,

From whence that dry sound grateth on our ears,

So long drawn-out, until the clouds have passed

From out their close positions.

    And, again,

In following wise all things seem oft to quake

At shock of heavy thunder, and mightiest walls

Of the wide reaches of the upper world

There on the instant to have sprung apart,

Riven asunder, what time a gathered blast

Of the fierce hurricane hath all at once

Twisted its way into a mass of clouds,

And, there enclosed, ever more and more

Compelleth by its spinning whirl the cloud

To grow all hollow with a thickened crust

Surrounding; for thereafter, when the force

And the keen onset of the wind have weakened

That crust, lo, then the cloud, to-split in twain,

Gives forth a hideous crash with bang and boom.

No marvel this; since oft a bladder small,

Filled up with air, will, when of sudden burst,

Give forth a like large sound.

    There’s reason, too,

Why clouds make sounds, as through them blow the winds:

We see, borne down the sky, oft shapes of clouds

Rough-edged or branched many forky ways;

And ’tis the same, as when the sudden flaws

Of north-west wind through the dense forest blow,

Making the leaves to sough and limbs to crash.

It happens too at times that roused force

Of the fierce hurricane to-rends the cloud,

Breaking right through it by a front assault;

For what a blast of wind may do up there

Is manifest from facts when here on earth

A blast more gentle yet uptwists tall trees

And sucks them madly from their deepest roots.

Besides, among the clouds are waves, and these

Give, as they roughly break, a rumbling roar;

As when along deep streams or the great sea

Breaks the loud surf. It happens, too, whenever

Out from one cloud into another falls

The fiery energy of thunderbolt,

That straightaway the cloud, if full of wet,

Extinguishes the fire with mighty noise;

As iron, white from the hot furnaces,

Sizzles, when speedily we’ve plunged its glow

Down the cold water. Further, if a cloud

More dry receive the fire, ’twill suddenly

Kindle to flame and burn with monstrous sound,

As if a flame with whirl of winds should range

Along the laurel-tressed mountains far,

Upburning with its vast assault those trees;

Nor is there aught that in the crackling flame

Consumes with sound more terrible to man

Than Delphic laurel of Apollo lord.

Oft, too, the multitudinous crash of ice

And down-pour of swift hail gives forth a sound

Among the mighty clouds on high; for when

The wind hath packed them close, each mountain mass

Of rain-cloud, there congealed utterly

And mixed with hail-stones, breaks and booms . . .

. . . . . .

Likewise, it lightens, when the clouds have struck,

By their collision, forth the seeds of fire:

As if a stone should smite a stone or steel,

For light then too leaps forth and fire then scatters

The shining sparks. But with our ears we get

The thunder after eyes behold the flash,

Because forever things arrive the ears

More tardily than the eyes — as thou mayst see

From this example too: when markest thou

Some man far yonder felling a great tree

With double-edged ax, it comes to pass

Thine eye beholds the swinging stroke before

The blow gives forth a sound athrough thine ears:

Thus also we behold the flashing ere

We hear the thunder, which discharged is

At same time with the fire and by same cause,

Born of the same collision.

    In following wise

The clouds suffuse with leaping light the lands,

And the storm flashes with tremulous elan:

When the wind hath invaded a cloud, and, whirling there,

Hath wrought (as I have shown above) the cloud

Into a hollow with a thickened crust,

It becomes hot of own velocity:

Just as thou seest how motion will o’erheat

And set ablaze all objects — verily

A leaden ball, hurtling through length of space,

Even melts. Therefore, when this same wind a-fire

Hath split black cloud, it scatters the fire-seeds,

Which, so to say, have been pressed out by force

Of sudden from the cloud; — and these do make

The pulsing flashes of flame; thence followeth

The detonation which attacks our ears

More tardily than aught which comes along

Unto the sight of eyeballs. This takes place —

As know thou mayst — at times when clouds are dense

And one upon the other piled aloft

With wonderful upheavings — nor be thou

Deceived because we see how broad their base

From underneath, and not how high they tower.

For make thine observations at a time

When winds shall bear athwart the horizon’s blue

Clouds like to mountain-ranges moving on,

Or when about the sides of mighty peaks

Thou seest them one upon the other massed

And burdening downward, anchored in high repose,

With the winds sepulchred on all sides round:

Then canst thou know their mighty masses, then

Canst view their caverns, as if builded there

Of beetling crags; which, when the hurricanes

In gathered storm have filled utterly,

Then, prisoned in clouds, they rave around

With mighty roarings, and within those dens

Bluster like savage beasts, and now from here,

And now from there, send growlings through the clouds,

And seeking an outlet, whirl themselves about,

And roll from ‘mid the clouds the seeds of fire,

And heap them multitudinously there,

And in the hollow furnaces within

Wheel flame around, until from bursted cloud

In forky flashes they have gleamed forth.

Again, from following cause it comes to pass

That yon swift golden hue of liquid fire

Darts downward to the earth: because the clouds

Themselves must hold abundant seeds of fire;

For, when they be without all moisture, then

They be for most part of a flamy hue

And a resplendent. And, indeed, they must

Even from the light of sun unto themselves

Take multitudinous seeds, and so perforce

Redden and pour their bright fires all abroad.

And therefore, when the wind hath driven and thrust,

Hath forced and squeezed into one spot these clouds,

They pour abroad the seeds of fire pressed out,

Which make to flash these colours of the flame.

Likewise, it lightens also when the clouds

Grow rare and thin along the sky; for, when

The wind with gentle touch unravels them

And breaketh asunder as they move, those seeds

Which make the lightnings must by nature fall;

At such an hour the horizon lightens round

Without the hideous terror of dread noise

And skiey uproar.

    To proceed apace,

What sort of nature thunderbolts possess

Is by their strokes made manifest and by

The brand-marks of their searing heat on things,

And by the scorched scars exhaling round

The heavy fumes of sulphur. For all these

Are marks, O not of wind or rain, but fire.

Again, they often enkindle even the roofs

Of houses and inside the very rooms

With swift flame hold a fierce dominion.

Know thou that nature fashioned this fire

Subtler than fires all other, with minute

And dartling bodies — a fire ‘gainst which there’s naught

Can in the least hold out: the thunderbolt,

The mighty, passes through the hedging walls

Of houses, like to voices or a shout —

Through stones, through bronze it passes, and it melts

Upon the instant bronze and gold; and makes,

Likewise, the wines sudden to vanish forth,

The wine-jars intact — because, ye see,

Its heat arriving renders loose and porous

Readily all the wine — jar’s earthen sides,

And winding its way within, it scattereth

The elements primordial of the wine

With speedy dissolution — process which

Even in an age the fiery steam of sun

Could not accomplish, however puissant he

With his hot coruscations: so much more

Agile and overpowering is this force.

. . . . . .

Now in what manner engendered are these things,

How fashioned of such impetuous strength

As to cleave towers asunder, and houses all

To overtopple, and to wrench apart

Timbers and beams, and heroes’ monuments

To pile in ruins and upheave amain,

And to take breath forever out of men,

And to o’erthrow the cattle everywhere —

Yes, by what force the lightnings do all this,

All this and more, I will unfold to thee,

Nor longer keep thee in mere promises.

The bolts of thunder, then, must be conceived

As all begotten in those crasser clouds

Up-piled aloft; for, from the sky serene

And from the clouds of lighter density,

None are sent forth forever. That ’tis so

Beyond a doubt, fact plain to sense declares:

To wit, at such a time the densed clouds

So mass themselves through all the upper air

That we might think that round about all murk

Had parted forth from Acheron and filled

The mighty vaults of sky — so grievously,

As gathers thus the storm-clouds’ gruesome might,

Do faces of black horror hang on high —

When tempest begins its thunderbolts to forge.

Besides, full often also out at sea

A blackest thunderhead, like cataract

Of pitch hurled down from heaven, and far away

Bulging with murkiness, down on the waves

Falls with vast uproar, and draws on amain

The darkling tempests big with thunderbolts

And hurricanes, itself the while so crammed

Tremendously with fires and winds, that even

Back on the lands the people shudder round

And seek for cover. Therefore, as I said,

The storm must be conceived as o’er our head

Towering most high; for never would the clouds

O’erwhelm the lands with such a massy dark,

Unless up-builded heap on lofty heap,

To shut the round sun off. Nor could the clouds,

As on they come, engulf with rain so vast

As thus to make the rivers overflow

And fields to float, if ether were not thus

Furnished with lofty-piled clouds. Lo, then,

Here be all things fulfilled with winds and fires —

Hence the long lightnings and the thunders loud.

For, verily, I’ve taught thee even now

How cavernous clouds hold seeds innumerable

Of fiery exhalations, and they must

From off the sunbeams and the heat of these

Take many still. And so, when that same wind

(Which, haply, into one region of the sky

Collects those clouds) hath pressed from out the same

The many fiery seeds, and with that fire

Hath at the same time inter-mixed itself,

O then and there that wind, a whirlwind now,

Deep in the belly of the cloud spins round

In narrow confines, and sharpens there inside

In glowing furnaces the thunderbolt.

For in a two-fold manner is that wind

Enkindled all: it trembles into heat

Both by its own velocity and by

Repeated touch of fire. Thereafter, when

The energy of wind is heated through

And the fierce impulse of the fire hath sped

Deeply within, O then the thunderbolt,

Now ripened, so to say, doth suddenly

Splinter the cloud, and the aroused flash

Leaps onward, lumining with forky light

All places round. And followeth anon

A clap so heavy that the skiey vaults,

As if asunder burst, seem from on high

To engulf the earth. Then fearfully a quake

Pervades the lands, and ‘long the lofty skies

Run the far rumblings. For at such a time

Nigh the whole tempest quakes, shook through and through,

And roused are the roarings — from which shock

Comes such resounding and abounding rain,

That all the murky ether seems to turn

Now into rain, and, as it tumbles down,

To summon the fields back to primeval floods:

So big the rains that be sent down on men

By burst of cloud and by the hurricane,

What time the thunder-clap, from burning bolt

That cracks the cloud, flies forth along. At times

The force of wind, excited from without,

Smiteth into a cloud already hot

With a ripe thunderbolt. And when that wind

Hath splintered that cloud, then down there cleaves forthwith

Yon fiery coil of flame which still we call,

Even with our fathers’ word, a thunderbolt.

The same thing haps toward every other side

Whither that force hath swept. It happens, too,

That sometimes force of wind, though hurtled forth

Without all fire, yet in its voyage through space

Igniteth, whilst it comes along, along —

Losing some larger bodies which cannot

Pass, like the others, through the bulks of air —

And, scraping together out of air itself

Some smaller bodies, carries them along,

And these, commingling, by their flight make fire:

Much in the manner as oft a leaden ball

Grows hot upon its aery course, the while

It loseth many bodies of stark cold

And taketh into itself along the air

New particles of fire. It happens, too,

That force of blow itself arouses fire,

When force of wind, a-cold and hurtled forth

Without all fire, hath strook somewhere amain —

No marvel, because, when with terrific stroke

‘Thas smitten, the elements of fiery-stuff

Can stream together from out the very wind

And, simultaneously, from out that thing

Which then and there receives the stroke: as flies

The fire when with the steel we hack the stone;

Nor yet, because the force of steel’s a-cold,

Rush the less speedily together there

Under the stroke its seeds of radiance hot.

And therefore, thuswise must an object too

Be kindled by a thunderbolt, if haply

‘Thas been adapt and suited to the flames.

Yet force of wind must not be rashly deemed

As altogether and entirely cold —

That force which is discharged from on high

With such stupendous power; but if ’tis not

Upon its course already kindled with fire,

It yet arriveth warmed and mixed with heat.

And, now, the speed and stroke of thunderbolt

Is so tremendous, and with glide so swift

Those thunderbolts rush on and down, because

Their roused force itself collects itself

First always in the clouds, and then prepares

For the huge effort of their going-forth;

Next, when the cloud no longer can retain

The increment of their fierce impetus,

Their force is pressed out, and therefore flies

With impetus so wondrous, like to shots

Hurled from the powerful Roman catapults.

Note, too, this force consists of elements

Both small and smooth, nor is there aught that can

With ease resist such nature. For it darts

Between and enters through the pores of things;

And so it never falters in delay

Despite innumerable collisions, but

Flies shooting onward with a swift elan.

Next, since by nature always every weight

Bears downward, doubled is the swiftness then

And that elan is still more wild and dread,

When, verily, to weight are added blows,

So that more madly and more fiercely then

The thunderbolt shakes into shivers all

That blocks its path, following on its way.

Then, too, because it comes along, along

With one continuing elan, it must

Take on velocity anew, anew,

Which still increases as it goes, and ever

Augments the bolt’s vast powers and to the blow

Gives larger vigour; for it forces all,

All of the thunder’s seeds of fire, to sweep

In a straight line unto one place, as ’twere —

Casting them one by other, as they roll,

Into that onward course. Again, perchance,

In coming along, it pulls from out the air

Some certain bodies, which by their own blows

Enkindle its velocity. And, lo,

It comes through objects leaving them unharmed,

It goes through many things and leaves them whole,

Because the liquid fire flieth along

Athrough their pores. And much it does transfix,

When these primordial atoms of the bolt

Have fallen upon the atoms of these things

Precisely where the intertwined atoms

Are held together. And, further, easily

Brass it unbinds and quickly fuseth gold,

Because its force is so minutely made

Of tiny parts and elements so smooth

That easily they wind their way within,

And, when once in, quickly unbind all knots

And loosen all the bonds of union there.

And most in autumn is shaken the house of heaven,

The house so studded with the glittering stars,

And the whole earth around — most too in spring

When flowery times unfold themselves: for, lo,

In the cold season is there lack of fire,

And winds are scanty in the hot, and clouds

Have not so dense a bulk. But when, indeed,

The seasons of heaven are betwixt these twain,

The divers causes of the thunderbolt

Then all concur; for then both cold and heat

Are mixed in the cross-seas of the year,

So that a discord rises among things

And air in vast tumultuosity

Billows, infuriate with the fires and winds —

Of which the both are needed by the cloud

For fabrication of the thunderbolt.

For the first part of heat and last of cold

Is the time of spring; wherefore must things unlike

Do battle one with other, and, when mixed,

Tumultuously rage. And when rolls round

The latest heat mixed with the earliest chill —

The time which bears the name of autumn — then

Likewise fierce cold-spells wrestle with fierce heats.

On this account these seasons of the year

Are nominated “cross-seas.”— And no marvel

If in those times the thunderbolts prevail

And storms are roused turbulent in heaven,

Since then both sides in dubious warfare rage

Tumultuously, the one with flames, the other

With winds and with waters mixed with winds.

This, this it is, O Memmius, to see through

The very nature of fire-fraught thunderbolt;

O this it is to mark by what blind force

It maketh each effect, and not, O not

To unwind Etrurian scrolls oracular,

Inquiring tokens of occult will of gods,

Even as to whence the flying flame hath come,

Or to which half of heaven it turns, or how

Through walled places it hath wound its way,

Or, after proving its dominion there,

How it hath speeded forth from thence amain,

Or what the thunderstroke portends of ill

From out high heaven. But if Jupiter

And other gods shake those refulgent vaults

With dread reverberations and hurl fire

Whither it pleases each, why smite they not

Mortals of reckless and revolting crimes,

That such may pant from a transpierced breast

Forth flames of the red levin — unto men

A drastic lesson? — why is rather he —

O he self-conscious of no foul offence —

Involved in flames, though innocent, and clasped

Up-caught in skiey whirlwind and in fire?

Nay, why, then, aim they at eternal wastes,

And spend themselves in vain? — perchance, even so

To exercise their arms and strengthen shoulders?

Why suffer they the Father’s javelin

To be so blunted on the earth? And why

Doth he himself allow it, nor spare the same

Even for his enemies? O why most oft

Aims he at lofty places? Why behold we

Marks of his lightnings most on mountain tops?

Then for what reason shoots he at the sea? —

What sacrilege have waves and bulk of brine

And floating fields of foam been guilty of?

Besides, if ’tis his will that we beware

Against the lightning-stroke, why feareth he

To grant us power for to behold the shot?

And, contrariwise, if wills he to o’erwhelm us,

Quite off our guard, with fire, why thunders he

Off in yon quarter, so that we may shun?

Why rouseth he beforehand darkling air

And the far din and rumblings? And O how

Canst thou believe he shoots at one same time

Into diverse directions? Or darest thou

Contend that never hath it come to pass

That divers strokes have happened at one time?

But oft and often hath it come to pass,

And often still it must, that, even as showers

And rains o’er many regions fall, so too

Dart many thunderbolts at one same time.

Again, why never hurtles Jupiter

A bolt upon the lands nor pours abroad

Clap upon clap, when skies are cloudless all?

Or, say, doth he, so soon as ever the clouds

Have come thereunder, then into the same

Descend in person, that from thence he may

Near-by decide upon the stroke of shaft?

And, lastly, why, with devastating bolt

Shakes he asunder holy shrines of gods

And his own thrones of splendour, and to-breaks

The well-wrought idols of divinities,

And robs of glory his own images

By wound of violence?

    But to return apace,

Easy it is from these same facts to know

In just what wise those things (which from their sort

The Greeks have named “bellows”) do come down,

Discharged from on high, upon the seas.

For it haps that sometimes from the sky descends

Upon the seas a column, as if pushed,

Round which the surges seethe, tremendously

Aroused by puffing gusts; and whatso’er

Of ships are caught within that tumult then

Come into extreme peril, dashed along.

This haps when sometimes wind’s aroused force

Can’t burst the cloud it tries to, but down-weighs

That cloud, until ’tis like a column from sky

Upon the seas pushed downward — gradually,

As if a Somewhat from on high were shoved

By fist and nether thrust of arm, and lengthened

Far to the waves. And when the force of wind

Hath rived this cloud, from out the cloud it rushes

Down on the seas, and starts among the waves

A wondrous seething, for the eddying whirl

Descends and downward draws along with it

That cloud of ductile body. And soon as ever

‘Thas shoved unto the levels of the main

That laden cloud, the whirl suddenly then

Plunges its whole self into the waters there

And rouses all the sea with monstrous roar,

Constraining it to seethe. It happens too

That very vortex of the wind involves

Itself in clouds, scraping from out the air

The seeds of cloud, and counterfeits, as ’twere,

The “bellows” pushed from heaven. And when this shape

Hath dropped upon the lands and burst apart,

It belches forth immeasurable might

Of whirlwind and of blast. Yet since ’tis formed

At most but rarely, and on land the hills

Must block its way, ’tis seen more oft out there

On the broad prospect of the level main

Along the free horizons.

    Into being

The clouds condense, when in this upper space

Of the high heaven have gathered suddenly,

As round they flew, unnumbered particles —

World’s rougher ones, which can, though interlinked

With scanty couplings, yet be fastened firm,

The one on other caught. These particles

First cause small clouds to form; and, thereupon,

These catch the one on other and swarm in a flock

And grow by their conjoining, and by winds

Are borne along, along, until collects

The tempest fury. Happens, too, the nearer

The mountain summits neighbour to the sky,

The more unceasingly their far crags smoke

With the thick darkness of swart cloud, because

When first the mists do form, ere ever the eyes

Can there behold them (tenuous as they be),

The carrier-winds will drive them up and on

Unto the topmost summits of the mountain;

And then at last it happens, when they be

In vaster throng upgathered, that they can

By this very condensation lie revealed,

And that at same time they are seen to surge

From very vertex of the mountain up

Into far ether. For very fact and feeling,

As we up-climb high mountains, proveth clear

That windy are those upward regions free.

Besides, the clothes hung-out along the shore,

When in they take the clinging moisture, prove

That nature lifts from over all the sea

Unnumbered particles. Whereby the more

’Tis manifest that many particles

Even from the salt upheavings of the main

Can rise together to augment the bulk

Of massed clouds. For moistures in these twain

Are near akin. Besides, from out all rivers,

As well as from the land itself, we see

Up-rising mists and steam, which like a breath

Are forced out from them and borne aloft,

To curtain heaven with their murk, and make,

By slow foregathering, the skiey clouds.

For, in addition, lo, the heat on high

Of constellated ether burdens down

Upon them, and by sort of condensation

Weaveth beneath the azure firmament

The reek of darkling cloud. It happens, too,

That hither to the skies from the Beyond

Do come those particles which make the clouds

And flying thunderheads. For I have taught

That this their number is innumerable

And infinite the sum of the Abyss,

And I have shown with what stupendous speed

Those bodies fly and how they’re wont to pass

Amain through incommunicable space.

Therefore, ’tis not exceeding strange, if oft

In little time tempest and darkness cover

With bulking thunderheads hanging on high

The oceans and the lands, since everywhere

Through all the narrow tubes of yonder ether,

Yea, so to speak, through all the breathing-holes

Of the great upper-world encompassing,

There be for the primordial elements

Exits and entrances.

    Now come, and how

The rainy moisture thickens into being

In the lofty clouds, and how upon the lands

’Tis then discharged in down-pour of large showers,

I will unfold. And first triumphantly

Will I persuade thee that up-rise together,

With clouds themselves, full many seeds of water

From out all things, and that they both increase —

Both clouds and water which is in the clouds —

In like proportion, as our frames increase

In like proportion with our blood, as well

As sweat or any moisture in our members.

Besides, the clouds take in from time to time

Much moisture risen from the broad marine —

Whilst the winds bear them o’er the mighty sea,

Like hanging fleeces of white wool. Thuswise,

Even from all rivers is there lifted up

Moisture into the clouds. And when therein

The seeds of water so many in many ways

Have come together, augmented from all sides,

The close-jammed clouds then struggle to discharge

Their rain-storms for a two-fold reason: lo,

The wind’s force crowds them, and the very excess

Of storm-clouds (massed in a vaster throng)

Giveth an urge and pressure from above

And makes the rains out-pour. Besides when, too,

The clouds are winnowed by the winds, or scattered

Smitten on top by heat of sun, they send

Their rainy moisture, and distil their drops,

Even as the wax, by fiery warmth on top,

Wasteth and liquefies abundantly.

But comes the violence of the bigger rains

When violently the clouds are weighted down

Both by their cumulated mass and by

The onset of the wind. And rains are wont

To endure awhile and to abide for long,

When many seeds of waters are aroused,

And clouds on clouds and racks on racks outstream

In piled layers and are borne along

From every quarter, and when all the earth

Smoking exhales her moisture. At such a time

When sun with beams amid the tempest-murk

Hath shone against the showers of black rains,

Then in the swart clouds there emerges bright

The radiance of the bow.

    And as to things

Not mentioned here which of themselves do grow

Or of themselves are gendered, and all things

Which in the clouds condense to being — all,

Snow and the winds, hail and the hoar-frosts chill,

And freezing, mighty force — of lakes and pools

The mighty hardener, and mighty check

Which in the winter curbeth everywhere

The rivers as they go — ’tis easy still,

Soon to discover and with mind to see

How they all happen, whereby gendered,

When once thou well hast understood just what

Functions have been vouchsafed from of old

Unto the procreant atoms of the world.

Now come, and what the law of earthquakes is

Hearken, and first of all take care to know

That the under-earth, like to the earth around us,

Is full of windy caverns all about;

And many a pool and many a grim abyss

She bears within her bosom, ay, and cliffs

And jagged scarps; and many a river, hid

Beneath her chine, rolls rapidly along

Its billows and plunging boulders. For clear fact

Requires that earth must be in every part

Alike in constitution. Therefore, earth,

With these things underneath affixed and set,

Trembleth above, jarred by big down-tumblings,

When time hath undermined the huge caves,

The subterranean. Yea, whole mountains fall,

And instantly from spot of that big jar

There quiver the tremors far and wide abroad.

And with good reason: since houses on the street

Begin to quake throughout, when jarred by a cart

Of no large weight; and, too, the furniture

Within the house up-bounds, when a paving-block

Gives either iron rim of the wheels a jolt.

It happens, too, when some prodigious bulk

Of age-worn soil is rolled from mountain slopes

Into tremendous pools of water dark,

That the reeling land itself is rocked about

By the water’s undulations; as a basin

Sometimes won’t come to rest until the fluid

Within it ceases to be rocked about

In random undulations.

    And besides,

When subterranean winds, up-gathered there

In the hollow deeps, bulk forward from one spot,

And press with the big urge of mighty powers

Against the lofty grottos, then the earth

Bulks to that quarter whither push amain

The headlong winds. Then all the builded houses

Above ground — and the more, the higher up-reared

Unto the sky — lean ominously, careening

Into the same direction; and the beams,

Wrenched forward, over-hang, ready to go.

Yet dread men to believe that there awaits

The nature of the mighty world a time

Of doom and cataclysm, albeit they see

So great a bulk of lands to bulge and break!

And lest the winds blew back again, no force

Could rein things in nor hold from sure career

On to disaster. But now because those winds

Blow back and forth in alternation strong,

And, so to say, rallying charge again,

And then repulsed retreat, on this account

Earth oftener threatens than she brings to pass

Collapses dire. For to one side she leans,

Then back she sways; and after tottering

Forward, recovers then her seats of poise.

Thus, this is why whole houses rock, the roofs

More than the middle stories, middle more

Than lowest, and the lowest least of all.

Arises, too, this same great earth-quaking,

When wind and some prodigious force of air,

Collected from without or down within

The old telluric deeps, have hurled themselves

Amain into those caverns sub-terrene,

And there at first tumultuously chafe

Among the vasty grottos, borne about

In mad rotations, till their lashed force

Aroused out-bursts abroad, and then and there,

Riving the deep earth, makes a mighty chasm —

What once in Syrian Sidon did befall,

And once in Peloponnesian Aegium,

Twain cities which such out-break of wild air

And earth’s convulsion, following hard upon,

O’erthrew of old. And many a walled town,

Besides, hath fall’n by such omnipotent

Convulsions on the land, and in the sea

Engulfed hath sunken many a city down

With all its populace. But if, indeed,

They burst not forth, yet is the very rush

Of the wild air and fury-force of wind

Then dissipated, like an ague-fit,

Through the innumerable pores of earth,

To set her all a-shake — even as a chill,

When it hath gone into our marrow-bones,

Sets us convulsively, despite ourselves,

A-shivering and a-shaking. Therefore, men

With two-fold terror bustle in alarm

Through cities to and fro: they fear the roofs

Above the head; and underfoot they dread

The caverns, lest the nature of the earth

Suddenly rend them open, and she gape,

Herself asunder, with tremendous maw,

And, all confounded, seek to chock it full

With her own ruins. Let men, then, go on

Feigning at will that heaven and earth shall be

Inviolable, entrusted evermore

To an eternal weal: and yet at times

The very force of danger here at hand

Prods them on some side with this goad of fear —

This among others — that the earth, withdrawn

Abruptly from under their feet, be hurried down,

Down into the abyss, and the Sum-of-Things

Be following after, utterly fordone,

Till be but wrack and wreckage of a world.

. . . . . .

Extraordinary and Paradoxical Telluric Phenomena

In chief, men marvel nature renders not

Bigger and bigger the bulk of ocean, since

So vast the down-rush of the waters be,

And every river out of every realm

Cometh thereto; and add the random rains

And flying tempests, which spatter every sea

And every land bedew; add their own springs:

Yet all of these unto the ocean’s sum

Shall be but as the increase of a drop.

Wherefore ’tis less a marvel that the sea,

The mighty ocean, increaseth not. Besides,

Sun with his heat draws off a mighty part:

Yea, we behold that sun with burning beams

To dry our garments dripping all with wet;

And many a sea, and far out-spread beneath,

Do we behold. Therefore, however slight

The portion of wet that sun on any spot

Culls from the level main, he still will take

From off the waves in such a wide expanse

Abundantly. Then, further, also winds,

Sweeping the level waters, can bear off

A mighty part of wet, since we behold

Oft in a single night the highways dried

By winds, and soft mud crusted o’er at dawn.

Again, I’ve taught thee that the clouds bear off

Much moisture too, up-taken from the reaches

Of the mighty main, and sprinkle it about

O’er all the zones, when rain is on the lands

And winds convey the aery racks of vapour.

Lastly, since earth is porous through her frame,

And neighbours on the seas, girdling their shores,

The water’s wet must seep into the lands

From briny ocean, as from lands it comes

Into the seas. For brine is filtered off,

And then the liquid stuff seeps back again

And all re-poureth at the river-heads,

Whence in fresh-water currents it returns

Over the lands, adown the channels which

Were cleft erstwhile and erstwhile bore along

The liquid-footed floods.

    And now the cause

Whereby athrough the throat of Aetna’s Mount

Such vast tornado-fires out-breathe at times,

I will unfold: for with no middling might

Of devastation the flamy tempest rose

And held dominion in Sicilian fields:

Drawing upon itself the upturned faces

Of neighbouring clans, what time they saw afar

The skiey vaults a-fume and sparkling all,

And filled their bosoms with dread anxiety

Of what new thing nature were travailing at.

In these affairs it much behooveth thee

To look both wide and deep, and far abroad

To peer to every quarter, that thou mayst

Remember how boundless is the Sum-of-Things,

And mark how infinitely small a part

Of the whole Sum is this one sky of ours —

O not so large a part as is one man

Of the whole earth. And plainly if thou viewest

This cosmic fact, placing it square in front,

And plainly understandest, thou wilt leave

Wondering at many things. For who of us

Wondereth if some one gets into his joints

A fever, gathering head with fiery heat,

Or any other dolorous disease

Along his members? For anon the foot

Grows blue and bulbous; often the sharp twinge

Seizes the teeth, attacks the very eyes;

Out-breaks the sacred fire, and, crawling on

Over the body, burneth every part

It seizeth on, and works its hideous way

Along the frame. No marvel this, since, lo,

Of things innumerable be seeds enough,

And this our earth and sky do bring to us

Enough of bane from whence can grow the strength

Of maladies uncounted. Thuswise, then,

We must suppose to all the sky and earth

Are ever supplied from out the infinite

All things, O all in stores enough whereby

The shaken earth can of a sudden move,

And fierce typhoons can over sea and lands

Go tearing on, and Aetna’s fires o’erflow,

And heaven become a flame-burst. For that, too,

Happens at times, and the celestial vaults

Glow into fire, and rainy tempests rise

In heavier congregation, when, percase,

The seeds of water have foregathered thus

From out the infinite. “Aye, but passing huge

The fiery turmoil of that conflagration!”

So sayst thou; well, huge many a river seems

To him that erstwhile ne’er a larger saw;

Thus, huge seems tree or man; and everything

Which mortal sees the biggest of each class,

That he imagines to be “huge”; though yet

All these, with sky and land and sea to boot,

Are all as nothing to the sum entire

Of the all-Sum.

    But now I will unfold

At last how yonder suddenly angered flame

Out-blows abroad from vasty furnaces

Aetnaean. First, the mountain’s nature is

All under-hollow, propped about, about

With caverns of basaltic piers. And, lo,

In all its grottos be there wind and air —

For wind is made when air hath been uproused

By violent agitation. When this air

Is heated through and through, and, raging round,

Hath made the earth and all the rocks it touches

Horribly hot, and hath struck off from them

Fierce fire of swiftest flame, it lifts itself

And hurtles thus straight upwards through its throat

Into high heav’n, and thus bears on afar

Its burning blasts and scattereth afar

Its ashes, and rolls a smoke of pitchy murk

And heaveth the while boulders of wondrous weight —

Leaving no doubt in thee that ’tis the air’s

Tumultuous power. Besides, in mighty part,

The sea there at the roots of that same mount

Breaks its old billows and sucks back its surf.

And grottos from the sea pass in below

Even to the bottom of the mountain’s throat.

Herethrough thou must admit there go . . .

. . . . . .

And the conditions force [the water and air]

Deeply to penetrate from the open sea,

And to out-blow abroad, and to up-bear

Thereby the flame, and to up-cast from deeps

The boulders, and to rear the clouds of sand.

For at the top be “bowls,” as people there

Are wont to name what we at Rome do call

The throats and mouths.

    There be, besides, some thing

Of which ’tis not enough one only cause

To state — but rather several, whereof one

Will be the true: lo, if thou shouldst espy

Lying afar some fellow’s lifeless corse,

’Twere meet to name all causes of a death,

That cause of his death might thereby be named:

For prove thou mayst he perished not by steel,

By cold, nor even by poison nor disease,

Yet somewhat of this sort hath come to him

We know — And thus we have to say the same

In divers cases.

    Toward the summer, Nile

Waxeth and overfloweth the champaign,

Unique in all the landscape, river sole

Of the Aegyptians. In mid-season heats

Often and oft he waters Aegypt o’er,

Either because in summer against his mouths

Come those northwinds which at that time of year

Men name the Etesian blasts, and, blowing thus

Upstream, retard, and, forcing back his waves,

Fill him o’erfull and force his flow to stop.

For out of doubt these blasts which driven be

From icy constellations of the pole

Are borne straight up the river. Comes that river

From forth the sultry places down the south,

Rising far up in midmost realm of day,

Among black generations of strong men

With sun-baked skins. ’Tis possible, besides,

That a big bulk of piled sand may bar

His mouths against his onward waves, when sea,

Wild in the winds, tumbles the sand to inland;

Whereby the river’s outlet were less free,

Likewise less headlong his descending floods.

It may be, too, that in this season rains

Are more abundant at its fountain head,

Because the Etesian blasts of those northwinds

Then urge all clouds into those inland parts.

And, soothly, when they’re thus foregathered there,

Urged yonder into midmost realm of day,

Then, crowded against the lofty mountain sides,

They’re massed and powerfully pressed. Again,

Perchance, his waters wax, O far away,

Among the Aethiopians’ lofty mountains,

When the all-beholding sun with thawing beams

Drives the white snows to flow into the vales.

Now come; and unto thee I will unfold,

As to the Birdless spots and Birdless tarns,

What sort of nature they are furnished with.

First, as to name of “birdless,”— that derives

From very fact, because they noxious be

Unto all birds. For when above those spots

In horizontal flight the birds have come,

Forgetting to oar with wings, they furl their sails,

And, with down-drooping of their delicate necks,

Fall headlong into earth, if haply such

The nature of the spots, or into water,

If haply spreads thereunder Birdless tarn.

Such spot’s at Cumae, where the mountains smoke,

Charged with the pungent sulphur, and increased

With steaming springs. And such a spot there is

Within the walls of Athens, even there

On summit of Acropolis, beside

Fane of Tritonian Pallas bountiful,

Where never cawing crows can wing their course,

Not even when smoke the altars with good gifts —

But evermore they flee — yet not from wrath

Of Pallas, grieved at that espial old,

As poets of the Greeks have sung the tale;

But very nature of the place compels.

In Syria also — as men say — a spot

Is to be seen, where also four-foot kinds,

As soon as ever they’ve set their steps within,

Collapse, o’ercome by its essential power,

As if there slaughtered to the under-gods.

Lo, all these wonders work by natural law,

And from what causes they are brought to pass

The origin is manifest; so, haply,

Let none believe that in these regions stands

The gate of Orcus, nor us then suppose,

Haply, that thence the under-gods draw down

Souls to dark shores of Acheron — as stags,

The wing-footed, are thought to draw to light,

By sniffing nostrils, from their dusky lairs

The wriggling generations of wild snakes.

How far removed from true reason is this,

Perceive thou straight; for now I’ll try to say

Somewhat about the very fact.

    And, first,

This do I say, as oft I’ve said before:

In earth are atoms of things of every sort;

And know, these all thus rise from out the earth —

Many life-giving which be good for food,

And many which can generate disease

And hasten death, O many primal seeds

Of many things in many modes — since earth

Contains them mingled and gives forth discrete.

And we have shown before that certain things

Be unto certain creatures suited more

For ends of life, by virtue of a nature,

A texture, and primordial shapes, unlike

For kinds alike. Then too ’tis thine to see

How many things oppressive be and foul

To man, and to sensation most malign:

Many meander miserably through ears;

Many in-wind athrough the nostrils too,

Malign and harsh when mortal draws a breath;

Of not a few must one avoid the touch;

Of not a few must one escape the sight;

And some there be all loathsome to the taste;

And many, besides, relax the languid limbs

Along the frame, and undermine the soul

In its abodes within. To certain trees

There hath been given so dolorous a shade

That often they gender achings of the head,

If one but be beneath, outstretched on the sward.

There is, again, on Helicon’s high hills

A tree that’s wont to kill a man outright

By fetid odour of its very flower.

And when the pungent stench of the night-lamp,

Extinguished but a moment since, assails

The nostrils, then and there it puts to sleep

A man afflicted with the falling sickness

And foamings at the mouth. A woman, too,

At the heavy castor drowses back in chair,

And from her delicate fingers slips away

Her gaudy handiwork, if haply she

Hath got the whiff at menstruation-time.

Once more, if thou delayest in hot baths,

When thou art over-full, how readily

From stool in middle of the steaming water

Thou tumblest in a fit! How readily

The heavy fumes of charcoal wind their way

Into the brain, unless beforehand we

Of water ‘ve drunk. But when a burning fever,

O’ermastering man, hath seized upon his limbs,

Then odour of wine is like a hammer-blow.

And seest thou not how in the very earth

Sulphur is gendered and bitumen thickens

With noisome stench? — What direful stenches, too,

Scaptensula out-breathes from down below,

When men pursue the veins of silver and gold,

With pick-axe probing round the hidden realms

Deep in the earth? — Or what of deadly bane

The mines of gold exhale? O what a look,

And what a ghastly hue they give to men!

And seest thou not, or hearest, how they’re wont

In little time to perish, and how fail

The life-stores in those folk whom mighty power

Of grim necessity confineth there

In such a task? Thus, this telluric earth

Out-streams with all these dread effluvia

And breathes them out into the open world

And into the visible regions under heaven.

Thus, too, those Birdless places must up-send

An essence bearing death to winged things,

Which from the earth rises into the breezes

To poison part of skiey space, and when

Thither the winged is on pennons borne,

There, seized by the unseen poison, ’tis ensnared,

And from the horizontal of its flight

Drops to the spot whence sprang the effluvium.

And when ‘thas there collapsed, then the same power

Of that effluvium takes from all its limbs

The relics of its life. That power first strikes

The creatures with a wildering dizziness,

And then thereafter, when they’re once down-fallen

Into the poison’s very fountains, then

Life, too, they vomit out perforce, because

So thick the stores of bane around them fume.

Again, at times it happens that this power,

This exhalation of the Birdless places,

Dispels the air betwixt the ground and birds,

Leaving well-nigh a void. And thither when

In horizontal flight the birds have come,

Forthwith their buoyancy of pennons limps,

All useless, and each effort of both wings

Falls out in vain. Here, when without all power

To buoy themselves and on their wings to lean,

Lo, nature constrains them by their weight to slip

Down to the earth, and lying prostrate there

Along the well-nigh empty void, they spend

Their souls through all the openings of their frame.

. . . . . .

Further, the water of wells is colder then

At summer time, because the earth by heat

Is rarefied, and sends abroad in air

Whatever seeds it peradventure have

Of its own fiery exhalations.

The more, then, the telluric ground is drained

Of heat, the colder grows the water hid

Within the earth. Further, when all the earth

Is by the cold compressed, and thus contracts

And, so to say, concretes, it happens, lo,

That by contracting it expresses then

Into the wells what heat it bears itself.

’Tis said at Hammon’s fane a fountain is,

In daylight cold and hot in time of night.

This fountain men be-wonder over-much,

And think that suddenly it seethes in heat

By intense sun, the subterranean, when

Night with her terrible murk hath cloaked the lands —

What’s not true reasoning by a long remove:

I’ faith when sun o’erhead, touching with beams

An open body of water, had no power

To render it hot upon its upper side,

Though his high light possess such burning glare,

How, then, can he, when under the gross earth,

Make water boil and glut with fiery heat? —

And, specially, since scarcely potent he

Through hedging walls of houses to inject

His exhalations hot, with ardent rays.

What, then’s, the principle? Why, this, indeed:

The earth about that spring is porous more

Than elsewhere the telluric ground, and be

Many the seeds of fire hard by the water;

On this account, when night with dew-fraught shades

Hath whelmed the earth, anon the earth deep down

Grows chill, contracts; and thuswise squeezes out

Into the spring what seeds she holds of fire

(As one might squeeze with fist), which render hot

The touch and steam of the fluid. Next, when sun,

Up-risen, with his rays has split the soil

And rarefied the earth with waxing heat,

Again into their ancient abodes return

The seeds of fire, and all the Hot of water

Into the earth retires; and this is why

The fountain in the daylight gets so cold.

Besides, the water’s wet is beat upon

By rays of sun, and, with the dawn, becomes

Rarer in texture under his pulsing blaze;

And, therefore, whatso seeds it holds of fire

It renders up, even as it renders oft

The frost that it contains within itself

And thaws its ice and looseneth the knots.

There is, moreover, a fountain cold in kind

That makes a bit of tow (above it held)

Take fire forthwith and shoot a flame; so, too,

A pitch-pine torch will kindle and flare round

Along its waves, wherever ’tis impelled

Afloat before the breeze. No marvel, this:

Because full many seeds of heat there be

Within the water; and, from earth itself

Out of the deeps must particles of fire

Athrough the entire fountain surge aloft,

And speed in exhalations into air

Forth and abroad (yet not in numbers enow

As to make hot the fountain). And, moreo’er,

Some force constrains them, scattered through the water,

Forthwith to burst abroad, and to combine

In flame above. Even as a fountain far

There is at Aradus amid the sea,

Which bubbles out sweet water and disparts

From round itself the salt waves; and, behold,

In many another region the broad main

Yields to the thirsty mariners timely help,

Belching sweet waters forth amid salt waves.

Just so, then, can those seeds of fire burst forth

Athrough that other fount, and bubble out

Abroad against the bit of tow; and when

They there collect or cleave unto the torch,

Forthwith they readily flash aflame, because

The tow and torches, also, in themselves

Have many seeds of latent fire. Indeed,

And seest thou not, when near the nightly lamps

Thou bringest a flaxen wick, extinguished

A moment since, it catches fire before

‘Thas touched the flame, and in same wise a torch?

And many another object flashes aflame

When at a distance, touched by heat alone,

Before ’tis steeped in veritable fire.

This, then, we must suppose to come to pass

In that spring also.

    Now to other things!

And I’ll begin to treat by what decree

Of nature it came to pass that iron can be

By that stone drawn which Greeks the magnet call

After the country’s name (its origin

Being in country of Magnesian folk).

This stone men marvel at; and sure it oft

Maketh a chain of rings, depending, lo,

From off itself! Nay, thou mayest see at times

Five or yet more in order dangling down

And swaying in the delicate winds, whilst one

Depends from other, cleaving to under-side,

And ilk one feels the stone’s own power and bonds —

So over-masteringly its power flows down.

In things of this sort, much must be made sure

Ere thou account of the thing itself canst give,

And the approaches roundabout must be;

Wherefore the more do I exact of thee

A mind and ears attent.

    First, from all things

We see soever, evermore must flow,

Must be discharged and strewn about, about,

Bodies that strike the eyes, awaking sight.

From certain things flow odours evermore,

As cold from rivers, heat from sun, and spray

From waves of ocean, eater-out of walls

Along the coasts. Nor ever cease to seep

The varied echoings athrough the air.

Then, too, there comes into the mouth at times

The wet of a salt taste, when by the sea

We roam about; and so, whene’er we watch

The wormwood being mixed, its bitter stings.

To such degree from all things is each thing

Borne streamingly along, and sent about

To every region round; and nature grants

Nor rest nor respite of the onward flow,

Since ’tis incessantly we feeling have,

And all the time are suffered to descry

And smell all things at hand, and hear them sound.

Now will I seek again to bring to mind

How porous a body all things have — a fact

Made manifest in my first canto, too.

For, truly, though to know this doth import

For many things, yet for this very thing

On which straightway I’m going to discourse,

’Tis needful most of all to make it sure

That naught’s at hand but body mixed with void.

A first ensample: in grottos, rocks o’erhead

Sweat moisture and distil the oozy drops;

Likewise, from all our body seeps the sweat;

There grows the beard, and along our members all

And along our frame the hairs. Through all our veins

Disseminates the foods, and gives increase

And aliment down to the extreme parts,

Even to the tiniest finger-nails. Likewise,

Through solid bronze the cold and fiery heat

We feel to pass; likewise, we feel them pass

Through gold, through silver, when we clasp in hand

The brimming goblets. And, again, there flit

Voices through houses’ hedging walls of stone;

Odour seeps through, and cold, and heat of fire

That’s wont to penetrate even strength of iron.

Again, where corselet of the sky girds round

. . . . . .

And at same time, some Influence of bane,

When from Beyond ‘thas stolen into [our world].

And tempests, gathering from the earth and sky,

Back to the sky and earth absorbed retire —

With reason, since there’s naught that’s fashioned not

With body porous.

    Furthermore, not all

The particles which be from things thrown off

Are furnished with same qualities for sense,

Nor be for all things equally adapt.

A first ensample: the sun doth bake and parch

The earth; but ice he thaws, and with his beams

Compels the lofty snows, up-reared white

Upon the lofty hills, to waste away;

Then, wax, if set beneath the heat of him,

Melts to a liquid. And the fire, likewise,

Will melt the copper and will fuse the gold,

But hides and flesh it shrivels up and shrinks.

The water hardens the iron just off the fire,

But hides and flesh (made hard by heat) it softens.

The oleaster-tree as much delights

The bearded she-goats, verily as though

’Twere nectar-steeped and shed ambrosia;

Than which is naught that burgeons into leaf

More bitter food for man. A hog draws back

For marjoram oil, and every unguent fears

Fierce poison these unto the bristled hogs,

Yet unto us from time to time they seem,

As ’twere, to give new life. But, contrariwise,

Though unto us the mire be filth most foul,

To hogs that mire doth so delightsome seem

That they with wallowing from belly to back

Are never cloyed.

    A point remains, besides,

Which best it seems to tell of, ere I go

To telling of the fact at hand itself.

Since to the varied things assigned be

The many pores, those pores must be diverse

In nature one from other, and each have

Its very shape, its own direction fixed.

And so, indeed, in breathing creatures be

The several senses, of which each takes in

Unto itself, in its own fashion ever,

Its own peculiar object. For we mark

How sounds do into one place penetrate,

Into another flavours of all juice,

And savour of smell into a third. Moreover,

One sort through rocks we see to seep, and, lo,

One sort to pass through wood, another still

Through gold, and others to go out and off

Through silver and through glass. For we do see

Through some pores form-and-look of things to flow,

Through others heat to go, and some things still

To speedier pass than others through same pores.

Of verity, the nature of these same paths,

Varying in many modes (as aforesaid)

Because of unlike nature and warp and woof

Of cosmic things, constrains it so to be.

Wherefore, since all these matters now have been

Established and settled well for us

As premises prepared, for what remains

’Twill not be hard to render clear account

By means of these, and the whole cause reveal

Whereby the magnet lures the strength of iron.

First, stream there must from off the lode-stone seeds

Innumerable, a very tide, which smites

By blows that air asunder lying betwixt

The stone and iron. And when is emptied out

This space, and a large place between the two

Is made a void, forthwith the primal germs

Of iron, headlong slipping, fall conjoined

Into the vacuum, and the ring itself

By reason thereof doth follow after and go

Thuswise with all its body. And naught there is

That of its own primordial elements

More thoroughly knit or tighter linked coheres

Than nature and cold roughness of stout iron.

Wherefore, ’tis less a marvel what I said,

That from such elements no bodies can

From out the iron collect in larger throng

And be into the vacuum borne along,

Without the ring itself do follow after.

And this it does, and followeth on until

‘Thath reached the stone itself and cleaved to it

By links invisible. Moreover, likewise,

The motion’s assisted by a thing of aid

(Whereby the process easier becomes) —

Namely, by this: as soon as rarer grows

That air in front of the ring, and space between

Is emptied more and made a void, forthwith

It happens all the air that lies behind

Conveys it onward, pushing from the rear.

For ever doth the circumambient air

Drub things unmoved, but here it pushes forth

The iron, because upon one side the space

Lies void and thus receives the iron in.

This air, whereof I am reminding thee,

Winding athrough the iron’s abundant pores

So subtly into the tiny parts thereof,

Shoves it and pushes, as wind the ship and sails.

The same doth happen in all directions forth:

From whatso side a space is made a void,

Whether from crosswise or above, forthwith

The neighbour particles are borne along

Into the vacuum; for of verity,

They’re set a-going by poundings from elsewhere,

Nor by themselves of own accord can they

Rise upwards into the air. Again, all things

Must in their framework hold some air, because

They are of framework porous, and the air

Encompasses and borders on all things.

Thus, then, this air in iron so deeply stored

Is tossed evermore in vexed motion,

And therefore drubs upon the ring sans doubt

And shakes it up inside. . . .

. . . . . .

In sooth, that ring is thither borne along

To where ‘thas once plunged headlong — thither, lo,

Unto the void whereto it took its start.

It happens, too, at times that nature of iron

Shrinks from this stone away, accustomed

By turns to flee and follow. Yea, I’ve seen

Those Samothracian iron rings leap up,

And iron filings in the brazen bowls

Seethe furiously, when underneath was set

The magnet stone. So strongly iron seems

To crave to flee that rock. Such discord great

Is gendered by the interposed brass,

Because, forsooth, when first the tide of brass

Hath seized upon and held possession of

The iron’s open passage-ways, thereafter

Cometh the tide of the stone, and in that iron

Findeth all spaces full, nor now hath holes

To swim through, as before. ’Tis thus constrained

With its own current ‘gainst the iron’s fabric

To dash and beat; by means whereof it spues

Forth from itself — and through the brass stirs up —

The things which otherwise without the brass

It sucks into itself. In these affairs

Marvel thou not that from this stone the tide

Prevails not likewise other things to move

With its own blows: for some stand firm by weight,

As gold; and some cannot be moved forever,

Because so porous in their framework they

That there the tide streams through without a break,

Of which sort stuff of wood is seen to be.

Therefore, when iron (which lies between the two)

Hath taken in some atoms of the brass,

Then do the streams of that Magnesian rock

Move iron by their smitings.

    Yet these things

Are not so alien from others, that I

Of this same sort am ill prepared to name

Ensamples still of things exclusively

To one another adapt. Thou seest, first,

How lime alone cementeth stones: how wood

Only by glue-of-bull with wood is joined —

So firmly too that oftener the boards

Crack open along the weakness of the grain

Ere ever those taurine bonds will lax their hold.

The vine-born juices with the water-springs

Are bold to mix, though not the heavy pitch

With the light oil-of-olive. And purple dye

Of shell-fish so uniteth with the wool’s

Body alone that it cannot be ta’en

Away forever — nay, though thou gavest toil

To restore the same with the Neptunian flood,

Nay, though all ocean willed to wash it out

With all its waves. Again, gold unto gold

Doth not one substance bind, and only one?

And is not brass by tin joined unto brass?

And other ensamples how many might one find!

What then? Nor is there unto thee a need

Of such long ways and roundabout, nor boots it

For me much toil on this to spend. More fit

It is in few words briefly to embrace

Things many: things whose textures fall together

So mutually adapt, that cavities

To solids correspond, these cavities

Of this thing to the solid parts of that,

And those of that to solid parts of this —

Such joinings are the best. Again, some things

Can be the one with other coupled and held,

Linked by hooks and eyes, as ’twere; and this

Seems more the fact with iron and this stone.

Now, of diseases what the law, and whence

The Influence of bane upgathering can

Upon the race of man and herds of cattle

Kindle a devastation fraught with death,

I will unfold. And, first, I’ve taught above

That seeds there be of many things to us

Life-giving, and that, contrariwise, there must

Fly many round bringing disease and death.

When these have, haply, chanced to collect

And to derange the atmosphere of earth,

The air becometh baneful. And, lo, all

That Influence of bane, that pestilence,

Or from Beyond down through our atmosphere,

Like clouds and mists, descends, or else collects

From earth herself and rises, when, a-soak

And beat by rains unseasonable and suns,

Our earth hath then contracted stench and rot.

Seest thou not, also, that whoso arrive

In region far from fatherland and home

Are by the strangeness of the clime and waters

Distempered? — since conditions vary much.

For in what else may we suppose the clime

Among the Britons to differ from Aegypt’s own

(Where totters awry the axis of the world),

Or in what else to differ Pontic clime

From Gades’ and from climes adown the south,

On to black generations of strong men

With sun-baked skins? Even as we thus do see

Four climes diverse under the four main-winds

And under the four main-regions of the sky,

So, too, are seen the colour and face of men

Vastly to disagree, and fixed diseases

To seize the generations, kind by kind:

There is the elephant-disease which down

In midmost Aegypt, hard by streams of Nile,

Engendered is — and never otherwhere.

In Attica the feet are oft attacked,

And in Achaean lands the eyes. And so

The divers spots to divers parts and limbs

Are noxious; ’tis a variable air

That causes this. Thus when an atmosphere,

Alien by chance to us, begins to heave,

And noxious airs begin to crawl along,

They creep and wind like unto mist and cloud,

Slowly, and everything upon their way

They disarrange and force to change its state.

It happens, too, that when they’ve come at last

Into this atmosphere of ours, they taint

And make it like themselves and alien.

Therefore, asudden this devastation strange,

This pestilence, upon the waters falls,

Or settles on the very crops of grain

Or other meat of men and feed of flocks.

Or it remains a subtle force, suspense

In the atmosphere itself; and when therefrom

We draw our inhalations of mixed air,

Into our body equally its bane

Also we must suck in. In manner like,

Oft comes the pestilence upon the kine,

And sickness, too, upon the sluggish sheep.

Nor aught it matters whether journey we

To regions adverse to ourselves and change

The atmospheric cloak, or whether nature

Herself import a tainted atmosphere

To us or something strange to our own use

Which can attack us soon as ever it come.

The Plague Athens

’Twas such a manner of disease, ’twas such

Mortal miasma in Cecropian lands

Whilom reduced the plains to dead men’s bones,

Unpeopled the highways, drained of citizens

The Athenian town. For coming from afar,

Rising in lands of Aegypt, traversing

Reaches of air and floating fields of foam,

At last on all Pandion’s folk it swooped;

Whereat by troops unto disease and death

Were they o’er-given. At first, they’d bear about

A skull on fire with heat, and eyeballs twain

Red with suffusion of blank glare. Their throats,

Black on the inside, sweated oozy blood;

And the walled pathway of the voice of man

Was clogged with ulcers; and the very tongue,

The mind’s interpreter, would trickle gore,

Weakened by torments, tardy, rough to touch.

Next when that Influence of bane had chocked,

Down through the throat, the breast, and streamed had

E’en into sullen heart of those sick folk,

Then, verily, all the fences of man’s life

Began to topple. From the mouth the breath

Would roll a noisome stink, as stink to heaven

Rotting cadavers flung unburied out.

And, lo, thereafter, all the body’s strength

And every power of mind would languish, now

In very doorway of destruction.

And anxious anguish and ululation (mixed

With many a groan) companioned alway

The intolerable torments. Night and day,

Recurrent spasms of vomiting would rack

Alway their thews and members, breaking down

With sheer exhaustion men already spent.

And yet on no one’s body couldst thou mark

The skin with o’er-much heat to burn aglow,

But rather the body unto touch of hands

Would offer a warmish feeling, and thereby

Show red all over, with ulcers, so to say,

Inbranded, like the “sacred fires” o’erspread

Along the members. The inward parts of men,

In truth, would blaze unto the very bones;

A flame, like flame in furnaces, would blaze

Within the stomach. Nor couldst aught apply

Unto their members light enough and thin

For shift of aid — but coolness and a breeze

Ever and ever. Some would plunge those limbs

On fire with bane into the icy streams,

Hurling the body naked into the waves;

Many would headlong fling them deeply down

The water-pits, tumbling with eager mouth

Already agape. The insatiable thirst

That whelmed their parched bodies, lo, would make

A goodly shower seem like to scanty drops.

Respite of torment was there none. Their frames

Forspent lay prone. With silent lips of fear

Would Medicine mumble low, the while she saw

So many a time men roll their eyeballs round,

Staring wide-open, unvisited of sleep,

The heralds of old death. And in those months

Was given many another sign of death:

The intellect of mind by sorrow and dread

Deranged, the sad brow, the countenance

Fierce and delirious, the tormented ears

Beset with ringings, the breath quick and short

Or huge and intermittent, soaking sweat

A-glisten on neck, the spittle in fine gouts

Tainted with colour of crocus and so salt,

The cough scarce wheezing through the rattling throat.

Aye, and the sinews in the fingered hands

Were sure to contract, and sure the jointed frame

To shiver, and up from feet the cold to mount

Inch after inch: and toward the supreme hour

At last the pinched nostrils, nose’s tip

A very point, eyes sunken, temples hollow,

Skin cold and hard, the shuddering grimace,

The pulled and puffy flesh above the brows! —

O not long after would their frames lie prone

In rigid death. And by about the eighth

Resplendent light of sun, or at the most

On the ninth flaming of his flambeau, they

Would render up the life. If any then

Had ‘scaped the doom of that destruction, yet

Him there awaited in the after days

A wasting and a death from ulcers vile

And black discharges of the belly, or else

Through the clogged nostrils would there ooze along

Much fouled blood, oft with an aching head:

Hither would stream a man’s whole strength and flesh.

And whoso had survived that virulent flow

Of the vile blood, yet into thews of him

And into his joints and very genitals

Would pass the old disease. And some there were,

Dreading the doorways of destruction

So much, lived on, deprived by the knife

Of the male member; not a few, though lopped

Of hands and feet, would yet persist in life,

And some there were who lost their eyeballs: O

So fierce a fear of death had fallen on them!

And some, besides, were by oblivion

Of all things seized, that even themselves they knew

No longer. And though corpse on corpse lay piled

Unburied on ground, the race of birds and beasts

Would or spring back, scurrying to escape

The virulent stench, or, if they’d tasted there,

Would languish in approaching death. But yet

Hardly at all during those many suns

Appeared a fowl, nor from the woods went forth

The sullen generations of wild beasts —

They languished with disease and died and died.

In chief, the faithful dogs, in all the streets

Outstretched, would yield their breath distressfully

For so that Influence of bane would twist

Life from their members. Nor was found one sure

And universal principle of cure:

For what to one had given the power to take

The vital winds of air into his mouth,

And to gaze upward at the vaults of sky,

The same to others was their death and doom.

In those affairs, O awfullest of all,

O pitiable most was this, was this:

Whoso once saw himself in that disease

Entangled, ay, as damned unto death,

Would lie in wanhope, with a sullen heart,

Would, in fore-vision of his funeral,

Give up the ghost, O then and there. For, lo,

At no time did they cease one from another

To catch contagion of the greedy plague —

As though but woolly flocks and horned herds;

And this in chief would heap the dead on dead:

For who forbore to look to their own sick,

O these (too eager of life, of death afeard)

Would then, soon after, slaughtering Neglect

Visit with vengeance of evil death and base —

Themselves deserted and forlorn of help.

But who had stayed at hand would perish there

By that contagion and the toil which then

A sense of honour and the pleading voice

Of weary watchers, mixed with voice of wail

Of dying folk, forced them to undergo.

This kind of death each nobler soul would meet.

The funerals, uncompanioned, forsaken,

Like rivals contended to be hurried through.

. . . . . .

And men contending to ensepulchre

Pile upon pile the throng of their own dead:

And weary with woe and weeping wandered home;

And then the most would take to bed from grief.

Nor could be found not one, whom nor disease

Nor death, nor woe had not in those dread times


By now the shepherds and neatherds all,

Yea, even the sturdy guiders of curved ploughs,

Began to sicken, and their bodies would lie

Huddled within back-corners of their huts,

Delivered by squalor and disease to death.

O often and often couldst thou then have seen

On lifeless children lifeless parents prone,

Or offspring on their fathers’, mothers’ corpse

Yielding the life. And into the city poured

O not in least part from the countryside

That tribulation, which the peasantry

Sick, sick, brought thither, thronging from every quarter,

Plague-stricken mob. All places would they crowd,

All buildings too; whereby the more would death

Up-pile a-heap the folk so crammed in town.

Ah, many a body thirst had dragged and rolled

Along the highways there was lying strewn

Besides Silenus-headed water-fountains —

The life-breath choked from that too dear desire

Of pleasant waters. Ah, everywhere along

The open places of the populace,

And along the highways, O thou mightest see

Of many a half-dead body the sagged limbs,

Rough with squalor, wrapped around with rags,

Perish from very nastiness, with naught

But skin upon the bones, well-nigh already

Buried — in ulcers vile and obscene filth.

All holy temples, too, of deities

Had Death becrammed with the carcasses;

And stood each fane of the Celestial Ones

Laden with stark cadavers everywhere —

Places which warders of the shrines had crowded

With many a guest. For now no longer men

Did mightily esteem the old Divine,

The worship of the gods: the woe at hand

Did over-master. Nor in the city then

Remained those rites of sepulture, with which

That pious folk had evermore been wont

To buried be. For it was wildered all

In wild alarms, and each and every one

With sullen sorrow would bury his own dead,

As present shift allowed. And sudden stress

And poverty to many an awful act

Impelled; and with a monstrous screaming they

Would, on the frames of alien funeral pyres,

Place their own kin, and thrust the torch beneath

Oft brawling with much bloodshed round about

Rather than quit dead bodies loved in life.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57