Translated by E. Webster.
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The first difficulty is raised by what is called the air. What are we to take its nature to be in the world surrounding the earth? And what is its position relatively to the other physical elements. (For there is no question as to the relation of the bulk of the earth to the size of the bodies which exist around it, since astronomical demonstrations have by this time proved to us that it is actually far smaller than some individual stars. As for the water, it is not observed to exist collectively and separately, nor can it do so apart from that volume of it which has its seat about the earth: the sea, that is, and rivers, which we can see, and any subterranean water that may be hidden from our observation.) The question is really about that which lies between the earth and the nearest stars. Are we to consider it to be one kind of body or more than one? And if more than one, how many are there and what are the bounds of their regions?
We have already described and characterized the first element, and explained that the whole world of the upper motions is full of that body.
This is an opinion we are not alone in holding: it appears to be an old assumption and one which men have held in the past, for the word ether has long been used to denote that element. Anaxagoras, it is true, seems to me to think that the word means the same as fire. For he thought that the upper regions were full of fire, and that men referred to those regions when they spoke of ether. In the latter point he was right, for men seem to have assumed that a body that was eternally in motion was also divine in nature; and, as such a body was different from any of the terrestrial elements, they determined to call it 'ether'.
For the um opinions appear in cycles among men not once nor twice, but infinitely often.
Now there are some who maintain that not only the bodies in motion but that which contains them is pure fire, and the interval between the earth and the stars air: but if they had considered what is now satisfactorily established by mathematics, they might have given up this puerile opinion. For it is altogether childish to suppose that the moving bodies are all of them of a small size, because they so to us, looking at them from the earth.
This a matter which we have already discussed in our treatment of the upper region, but we may return to the point now.
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