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Pliny, Natural History. Lesson 03

Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD)

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Lesson

Book II, Chapters 4.  Of the Elements and the Planets

I do not find that any one has doubted that there are four elements. The highest of these is supposed to be fire, and hence proceed the eyes of so many glittering stars. The next is that spirit, which both the Greeks and ourselves call by the same name, air. It is by the force of this vital principle, pervading all things and mingling with all, that the earth, together with the fourth element, water, is balanced in the middle of space. These are mutually bound together, the lighter being restrained by the heavier, so that they cannot fly off; while, on the contrary, from the lighter tending upwards, the heavier are so suspended, that they cannot fall down. Thus, by an equal tendency in an opposite direction, each of them remains in its appropriate place, bound together by the never-ceasing revolution of the world, which always turning on itself, the earth falls to the lowest part and is in the middle of the whole, while it remains suspended in the centre, and, as it were, balancing this centre, in which it is suspended. So that it alone remains immoveable, whilst all things revolve round it, being connected with every other part, whilst they all rest upon it.

Between this body and the heavens there are suspended, in this aërial spirit, seven stars (i.e., the planets), separated by determinate spaces, which, on account of their motion, we call “wandering”, although, in reality, none are less so. The sun is carried along in the midst of these, a body of great size and power, the ruler, not only of the seasons and of the different climates, but also of the stars themselves and of the heavens. When we consider his operations, we must regard him as the life, or rather the mind of the universe, the chief regulator and the god of nature; he also lends his light to the other stars. He is most illustrious and excellent, beholding all things and hearing all things, which, I perceive, is ascribed to him exclusively by the prince of poets, Homer.

Assessment

Pliny, Natural History, Reading Summary