© 2013 Diana

Gaius Plinius Secundus, Historia Naturalis (77)

Source: ia700302.us.archive.org/29/items/plinysnaturalhis00plinrich/plinysnaturalhis00plinrich.pdf

CHAPTER I. Whether the World be finite, and but one.

THE World 1 , and that which, by another Name. Men have thought Good to call Heaven (under the Compass of which all Things are covered), we ought to believe, in all Reason, to be a Divine Power, eternal, immense, without Beginning, and never to perish. What is beyond the Compas thereof, neither is it fit for Men to search, nor within Man’s Understanding to conceive. Sacred it is, everlasting, infinite, all in all, or rather itself all and absolute : limited, yet seeming infinite : in all Motions, certain ; though in Appearance uncertain : comprehending in itself all both without and within : Nature’s Work, and yet very Nature itself. It is Madness that some have thought in their Mind to measure it ; yea, and durst in Writing set down the Dimensions thereof: that others again, by Occasion hereupon taken, or on this founded, have taught, That there are Worlds innumerable : as if we are to believe so many Natures as there are Heavens : or if all were reduced to one, yet there should be so many Suns and Moons, with the Rest also of those immeasurable and innumerable Stars in that one : as though in this plurality of Worlds we should not always meet with the same Question still at every Turn of our Thought, for Want of some End to rest upon : or, if this infiniteness could possibly be assigned to Nature, the Work-mistress of all ; the same might not be understood more easily in that one Heaven which we see ; so great a Work as it is. Now surely it is more than Madness to quit this, and to keep seeking without, as if all Things within were well and clearly known already : as if any Man could take the Measure of another Thing, who knoweth not his own : or the Mind of Man might see those Things which the World itself may not receive.


CHAPTER II. Of the Figure of the World.

THAT the Form of the World is round 1 , in the Figure of a perfect Globe, its Name in the first Place, and the Consent of all Men agreeing to call it in Latin Orbis (a Globe), as also many natural Reasons, evidently shew. For not only because such a Figure every Way falleth and bendeth upon itself, is able to uphold itself, includeth and containeth itself, having need of no joints for this purpose, as finding in any Part thereof no End or Beginning : or because this Form agreeth best to that Motion, whereby continually it must turn about (as hereafter will appear) : but also because the Eyesight doth approve the same ; because, look which Way soever you will, it appeareth convex, and even on all sides; a Thing not incident to any other Figure.


CHAPTER III. The Motion of the World.

THAT the World thus framed, in a continued Circuit, with unspeakable Swiftness turneth round in the Space of four-and-twenty Hours, the ordinary Rising and Setting of the Sun leaves no Room to doubt. Whether it being in Height exceedingly great, and therefore the Sound of so huge a Frame, whilst it is whirled about unceasingly, cannot be heard with our Ears, I cannot easily imagine : no more, by Hercules ! than 1 may vouch the Ringing of the Stars that are driven round therewith, and roll their own Spheres : or determine, that as the Heaven movetb, it represents a pleasant and incredibly sweet Harmony : although to us within, by Day and Night, it seemeth to roll on in Silence. That there is imprinted on it the Figures of living Creatures, and of all Kinds of Things besides without Number, as also that the Body thereof is not all over smooth and slippery (as we see in Birds’ Eggs), which excellent Authors have termed Tenerum, is shewn by Arguments ; for by the Fall of natural Seeds of all Things from thence, and those for the most Part mixed one with another, there are produced in the World, and in the Sea especially, an immense Number of monstrous Shapes. Besides this, our Sight testifieth the same ; for in one Place there appeareth the Resemblance of a Chariot, in another of a Bear, or a Bull, and of a Letter (A), and principally the middle Circle over our Head, where it is more white than the Rest.


CHAPTER IV. Why the World is called Mundus.

FOR my own Part, I arn ruled by the general Consent of all Nations. For, the World, which the Greeks, by the Name of Ornament, called Ko<r/y,o$, we, for the perfect Neatness and absolute Elegance thereof, have termed Mundus. And we have named the Sky Calum, because it is engraven, according as M. Varro interpreteth it. Arid the Order of Things therein contributes to this, and especially the defined Circle called Signifer, or the Zodiac, divided by the Forms of Twelve living Creatures, through which is the Sun’s Track ; preserving the same Course for so many Ages.


CHAPTER V. Of the four Elements l.

I SEE no doubt regarding the Number of the Elements, that they are four. The highest, Fire : from whence are those bright Eyes of so many shining Stars. The next, Spirit, which the Greeks and our Countrymen by one Name called Air : this Element is vital, and it soon passeth through all, and is intrinsically mixed in the Whole : by the Power whereof, the Earth hangeth suspended in the midst, together with the fourth Element, of Water. Thus, by a mutual embracing of each other, divers Natures are linked together : and so the light Elements are restrained by the heavier, that they do not fly off: and, on the contrary, the massier are held up, that they fall not down, by means of the lighter, which seek to mount aloft. So, through an equal Endeavour to the Contrary, each of them holds its own, bound as it were by the restless Circuit of the World itself: which, running evermore upon itself, the Earth falleth to be lowest, and in the Middle of the Whole : and the same hanging steadily by the Pole of the Universe, poiseth those Elements by which it hangeth. Thus it alone resteth unmovable, whilst the whole Frame of the World turneth about it : and as it is united by all, so all of them rest upon the same.


CHAPTER VI. Of the seven Planets.

BETWEEN the Earth and Sky, there hang in the Air above named, seven Stars, divided one from another at distinct Distances ; and these, on account of their variable Motion, we call Wandering Planets ; whereas, indeed, none wander less than they. In the midst of them the Sun taketh his Course, as being the greatest and most powerful of all : the very Ruler, not of Times and Seasons only, and of the Earth, but also of the Stars and Sky itself. We ought to believe this Sun 1 to be the very Life and (to speak more plainly) the Soul of the whole World, and the principal Governance of Nature; and, considering his Operations, nothing less than a divine Power. He it is that giveth Light to all Things, and scatters their Darkness : he hideth the other Stars ; he ordereth the Seasons in their alternative Course ; he tempereth the Year, which ariseth ever fresh again for the Good of the World. He disperseth the Sadness of the Sky, and cleareth the Cloudiness of the Mind of Man ; to other Stars, likewise, he lendeth his own Light. Most excellent and glorious he is, as seeing all, and hearing all ; as, I see, is the Opinion of Homer2 (the Prince of Learning) regarding him alone.



I SUPPOSE, therefore, that to seek after any Shape of God 1 , and to assign a Form and Image to him, is a Proof of Man’s Folly. For God, whosoever he be (if haply there be any other, but the World itself), and in what Part soever resident, all Sense He is, all Sight, all Hearing : He is the whole of the Life and of the Soul, all of Himself. And to believe that there be Gods innumerable, and those according to Men’s Virtues and Vices, as Chastity, Concord, Understanding, Hope, Honour, Clemency, Faith ; or (as Democritus was of Opinion) that there are two Gods only, that is, Punishment and Benefit : these Conceits render Men’s idle Negligence the greater. But frail and wearisome mortal Men, remembering their own Infirmity, have digested these Things apart, to the End that each one might from thence choose to worship that whereof he stood most in need. And hence it is, that in different Nations we find the Gods named diversely : and in the same Region there are innumerable Gods. The infernal Powers, likewise, and Diseases, yea, and many Plagues, have been ranged in Divisions, and reckoned for Gods ; which, with trembling Fear, we have desired to pacify. This Superstition hath caused a Fane to be dedicated to Fever, in the Palatine Mount, by Order of the State ; and likewise an Altar to Orbona, near the Temple of the Lares: besides another erected to Bad Fortune on the Esquiline. By this it may be conceived that there are a greater Number of Gods in Heaven than of Men upon Earth, since every one makes as many Gods as he pleases, fitting himself with Junoes and Genii for his Patrons. There are certain Nations that account Beasts, and even some filthy Things, for Gods ; yea, and many other Matters more shameful to be spoken : swearing by stinking Meats, by Garlic, and such-like. But, surely, to believe that Gods have contracted Marriage, and that in so long a Time no Children should be born to them : also that some are aged, and ever grey-headed : others, again, young and always Children : that they be black of Complexion, winged, lame, hatched of Eggs, living and dying on each alternate Day ; are mere childish Fooleries. But it exceedeth all Impudency to imagine Adulteries among them : and presently, also, scolding, and Malice; and more than that, how there be Gods that are Patrons of Theft and Wickedness. He is a God to a Man that helpeth Him : and this is the true Way to everlasting Glory. In this Way went the Romans in old Time : and in this Track, at this Day, goeth, with heavenly Pace, Vespasian Augustus, with his Children ; the most mighty Ruler of the whole World : relieving the afflicted State of the Empire. And this is the most ancient Manner of Requital to such Benefactors, that they should be enrolled with the Gods. And hereof came the Names as well of all other Gods, as of the Stars (which I have mentioned before), in Recognisance of Men’s good Deserts. As for Jupiter and Mercury, and others ranged among the Gods, who doubteth that they were called otherwise among themselves ? and who confesseth not how these be celestial Denominations, to express and interpret their Nature ?

To suppose that the sovereign Power, whatsoever it is, should exercise Care over Mankind, is ridiculous. For can we choose but believe that the Godhead must be polluted with so base and manifold a Ministry ? And hardly can it be judged, whether it be better for Mankind to believe that the Gods have Regard of us, or that they have none ; considering that some Men have no Respect and Reverence for the Gods, and others so much that their Superstition is a Shame to them. These are devoted to them by foreign Ceremonies .- they wear their Gods upon their Fingers in Rings, yea, they worship Monsters : they forbid some Meats ; and yet they devise others. They impose upon them hard Charges, riot suffering them to rest and sleep in quiet. They choose neither Marriages, nor Children, nor any one Thing else, but by the Allowance of sacred Rites. Others are so godless, that in the very Capitol they use Deceit, and forswear themselves even by the Thunder of Jupiter. And as some speed well with their Irreligion, so others suffer from their own holy Ceremonies.

Between these Opinions, Men have found out a Medium of Divine Power, to the End that there should be a still more uncertain Conjecture regarding God. For throughout the whole World, in every Place, at all Times, and in all Men’s Mouths, Fortune alone is called upon : she only is named ; she alone is blamed and accused. None but she is thought upon ; she only is praised, she only is rebuked ; yea, and worshipped with railing : and even when she is taken to be mutable : and of the most sort supposed also to be blind : roving, inconstant, uncertain, variable, and favouring the Unworthy : whatever is spent and lost, whatever is gotten : A and in all Men’s Accounts she makes up the Book. Even the very Chance of Lots is taken for a God, by which God himself is shewn to be uncertain.

There is another Sort that reject Fortune, but attribute Events to their Stars, and the ascendant of their Nativity : affirming that the same shall ever happen which once hath been decreed by God : so that he for ever after may remain at Rest. And this Opinion now takes deep Root, insomuch as both the learned and the ignorant Multitude agree to it.

From hence proceed the Admonitions of Lightnings, the Foreknowledge by Oracles, the Predictions of Aruspices, yea, and other contemptible Things, as Auguries of Sneezing, and stumbling with the Foot. Divus Augustus Cesar hath recorded that his left-foot Shoe was untowardly put on before the right, on that very Day when he had like to have suffered in a Mutiny among his Soldiers. Thus all these Things entangle silly Mortals, so that this only point remaineth certain that Nothing is certain : neither is there any Thing more wretched and proud than Man. For all living Creatures beside take Care only for their Food : wherein Nature’s Goodness of itself is sufficient : which one Point is to be preferred before all good Things whatsoever, inasmuch as they never think of Glory, Riches, Ambition, nor, beyond all the rest, of Death. However, the Belief that in these Matters the Gods have care of Men’s Estate, is profitable to the Course of Life : as also that the Punishment of Malefactors will come, though late (whilst God is busily occupied in so huge a Frame of the World), but that it never misseth in the End : and that Man was not made so near in Degree unto God, for this, that he should be almost as base as the brute Beasts. Moreover, the chief Comfort that Man hath, for his Imperfections in Nature, is this, that even God himself cannot do all Things. For neither is He able to work his own Death, if even He desired it, as He hath given to Man as his best Gift when he is weary of the Miseries of his Life ; nor endow Mortals with everlasting Life ; nor recall the Dead to Life again ; nor bring to pass that one who lived did not live ; nor he that bore honourable Offices, has not borne them. Nay, He hath no Power over Things past, save only Oblivion : no more than He is able to effect (to come with Arguments to prove our Fellowship therein with God) that twice ten should not make twenty : and many similar Things. Whereby is evidently proved the Power of Nature, and how it is she only which we call God. I thought it not impertinent thus to digress to these Points, by Reason of ordinary Questions regarding the Essence of God.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>