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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
Physis : World Creation // Download  

Plato's TIMAEUS : The four elements

Timaeus 55d - 57d  * Greek Fonts


UT, leaving this enquiry, let us proceed to distribute the elementary forms, which have now been created in idea, among the four elements. To earth, then, let us assign the cubical form; for earth is the most immoveable of the four and the most plastic of all bodies, and that which has the most stable bases must of necessity be of such a nature. Now, of the triangles which we assumed at first, that which has two equal sides is by nature more firmly based than that which has unequal sides; and of the compound figures which are formed out of either, the plane equilateral quadrangle has necessarily, a more stable basis than the equilateral triangle, both in the whole and in the parts. Wherefore, in assigning this figure to earth, we adhere to probability; and to water we assign that one of the remaining forms which is the least moveable; and the most moveable of them to fire; and to air that which is intermediate. Also we assign the smallest body to fire, and the greatest to water, and the intermediate in size to air; and, again, the acutest body to fire, and the next in acuteness to, air, and the third to water. Of all these elements, that which has the fewest bases must necessarily be the most moveable, for it must be the acutest and most penetrating in every way, and also the lightest as being composed of the smallest number of similar particles: and the second body has similar properties in a second degree, and the third body in the third degree. Let it be agreed, then, both according to strict reason and according to probability, that the pyramid is the solid which is the original element and seed of fire; and let us assign the element which was next in the order of generation to air, and the third to water.

τὰ τέσσαρα γένη

καὶ τοῦτον μὲν μεθετέον͵ τὰ δὲ γεγονότα νῦν τῷ λόγῳ γένη διανείμωμεν εἰς πῦρ καὶ γῆν καὶ ὕδωρ καὶ ἀέρα. γῇ μὲν δὴ τὸ κυβικὸν εἶδος δῶμεν· [55e] ἀκινητοτάτη γὰρ τῶν τεττάρων γενῶν γῆ καὶ τῶν σωμάτων πλαστικωτάτη͵ μάλιστα δὲ ἀνάγκη γεγονέναι τοιοῦτον τὸ τὰς βάσεις ἀσφαλεστάτας ἔχον· βάσις δὲ ἥ τε τῶν κατ΄ ἀρχὰς τριγώνων ὑποτεθέντων ἀσφαλεστέρα κατὰ φύσιν ἡ τῶν ἴσων πλευρῶν τῆς τῶν ἀνίσων͵ τό τε ἐξ ἑκατέρου συντεθὲν ἐπίπεδον ἰσόπλευρον ἰσοπλεύρου τετράγωνον τριγώνου κατά τε μέρη καὶ καθ΄ ὅλον στασιμωτέρως ἐξ ἀνάγκης βέβηκεν. [56a] διὸ γῇ μὲν τοῦτο ἀπονέμοντες τὸν εἰκότα λόγον διασῴζομεν͵ ὕδατι δ΄ αὖτῶν λοιπῶν τὸ δυσκινητότατον εἶδος͵ τὸ δ΄ εὐκινητότατον πυρί͵ τὸ δὲ μέσον ἀέρι· καὶ τὸ μὲν σμικρότατον σῶμα πυρί͵ τὸ δ΄ αὖ μέγιστον ὕδατι͵ τὸ δὲ μέσον ἀέρι· καὶ τὸ μὲν ὀξύτατον αὖ πυρί͵ τὸ δὲ δεύτερον ἀέρι͵ τὸ δὲ τρίτον ὕδατι. ταῦτ΄ οὖν δὴ πάντα͵ τὸ μὲν ἔχον ὀλιγίστας βάσεις εὐκινητότατον ἀνάγκη πεφυκέναι͵ [56b] τμητικώτατόν τε καὶ ὀξύτατον ὂν πάντῃ πάντων͵ ἔτι τε ἐλαφρότατον͵ ἐξ ὀλιγίστων συνεστὸς τῶν αὐτῶν μερῶν· τὸ δὲ δεύτερον δευτέρως τὰ αὐτὰ ταῦτ΄ ἔχειν͵ τρίτως δὲ τὸ τρίτον. ἔστω δὴ κατὰ τὸν ὀρθὸν λόγον καὶ κατὰ τὸν εἰκότα τὸ μὲν τῆς πυραμίδος στερεὸν γεγονὸς εἶδος πυρὸς στοιχεῖον καὶ σπέρμα· τὸ δὲ δεύτερον κατὰ γένεσιν εἴπωμεν ἀέρος͵ τὸ δὲ τρίτον ὕδατος.

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