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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
Physis : World Creation  

Plato's TIMAEUS : The four elements

Timaeus 55d - 57d  * Greek Fonts


Page 2

We must imagine all these to be so small that no single particle of any of the four kinds is seen by us on account of their smallness: but when many of them are collected together their aggregates are seen. And the ratios of their numbers, motions, and other properties, everywhere God, as far as necessity allowed or gave consent, has exactly perfected, and harmonised in due proportion.

From all that we have just been saying about the elements or kinds, the most probable conclusion is as follows:-earth, when meeting with fire and dissolved by its sharpness, whether the dissolution take place in the fire itself or perhaps in some mass of air or water, is borne hither and thither, until its parts, meeting together and mutually harmonising, again become earth; for they can never take any other form. But water, when divided by fire or by air, on reforming, may become one part fire and two parts air; and a single volume of air divided becomes two of fire. Again, when a small body of fire is contained in a larger body of air or water or earth, and both are moving, and the fire struggling is overcome and broken up, then two volumes of fire form one volume of air; and when air is overcome and cut up into small pieces, two and a half parts of air are condensed into one part of water. Let us consider the matter in another way. When one of the other elements is fastened upon by fire, and is cut by the sharpness of its angles and sides, it coalesces with the fire, and then ceases to be cut by them any longer. For no element which is one and the same with itself can be changed by or change another of the same kind and in the same state. But so long as in the process of transition the weaker is fighting against the stronger, the dissolution continues.

πάντα οὖν δὴ ταῦτα δεῖ διανοεῖσθαι σμικρὰ οὕτως͵ [56c] ὡς καθ΄ ἓν ἕκαστον μὲν τοῦ γένους ἑκάστου διὰ σμικρότητα οὐδὲν ὁρώμενον ὑφ΄ ἡμῶν͵ συναθροισθέντων δὲ πολλῶν τοὺς ὄγκους αὐτῶν ὁρᾶσθαι· καὶ δὴ καὶ τὸ τῶν ἀναλογιῶν περί τε τὰ πλήθη καὶ τὰς κινήσεις καὶ τὰς ἄλλας δυνάμεις πανταχῇ τὸν θεόν͵ ὅπῃπερ ἡ τῆς ἀνάγκης ἑκοῦσα πεισθεῖσά τε φύσις ὑπεῖκεν͵ ταύτῃ πάντῃ δι΄ ἀκριβείας ἀποτελεσθεισῶν ὑπ΄ αὐτοῦ συνηρμόσθαι ταῦτα ἀνὰ λόγον.  

Ἐκ δὴ πάντων ὧνπερ τὰ γένη προειρήκαμεν ὧδ΄ ἂν κατὰ τὸ εἰκὸς μάλιστ΄ ἂν ἔχοι. [56d] γῆ μὲν συντυγχάνουσα πυρὶ διαλυθεῖσά τε ὑπὸ τῆς ὀξύτητος αὐτοῦ φέροιτ΄ ἄν͵ εἴτ΄ ἐν αὐτῷ πυρὶ λυθεῖσα εἴτ΄ ἐν ἀέρος εἴτ΄ ἐν ὕδατος ὄγκῳ τύχοι͵ μέχριπερ ἂν αὐτῆς πῃ συντυχόντα τὰ μέρη͵ πάλιν συναρμοσθέντα αὐτὰ αὑτοῖς͵ γῆ γένοιτο - οὐ γὰρ εἰς ἄλλο γε εἶδος ἔλθοι ποτ΄ ἄν - ὕδωρ δὲ ὑπὸ πυρὸς μερισθέν͵ εἴτε καὶ ὑπ΄ ἀέρος͵ ἐγχωρεῖ γίγνεσθαι συστάντα ἓν μὲν πυρὸς σῶμα͵ δύο δὲ ἀέρος· [56e] τὰ δὲ ἀέρος τμήματα ἐξ ἑνὸς μέρους διαλυθέντος δύ΄ ἂν γενοίσθην σώματα πυρός. καὶ πάλιν͵ ὅταν ἀέρι πῦρ ὕδασίν τε ἤ τινι γῇ περιλαμβανόμενον ἐν πολλοῖς ὀλίγον͵ κινούμενον ἐν φερομένοις͵ μαχόμενον καὶ νικηθὲν καταθραυσθῇ͵ δύο πυρὸς σώματα εἰς ἓν συνίστασθον εἶδος ἀέρος· καὶ κρατηθέντος ἀέρος κερματισθέντος τε ἐκ δυοῖν ὅλοιν καὶ ἡμίσεος ὕδατος εἶδος ἓν ὅλον ἔσται συμπαγές. ὧδε γὰρ δὴ λογισώμεθα αὐτὰ πάλιν͵ [57a] ὡς ὅταν ἐν πυρὶ λαμβανόμενον τῶν ἄλλων ὑπ΄ αὐτοῦ τι γένος τῇ τῶν γωνιῶν καὶ κατὰ τὰς πλευρὰς ὀξύτητι τέμνηται͵ συστὰν μὲν εἰς τὴν ἐκείνου φύσιν πέπαυται τεμνόμενον - τὸ γὰρ ὅμοιον καὶ ταὐτὸν αὑτῷ γένος ἕκαστον οὔτε τινὰ μεταβολὴν ἐμποιῆσαι δυνατὸν οὔτε τι παθεῖν ὑπὸ τοῦ κατὰ ταὐτὰ ὁμοίως τε ἔχοντος - ἕως δ΄ ἂν εἰς ἄλλο τι γιγνόμενον ἧττον ὂν κρείττονι μάχηται͵ λυόμενον οὐ παύεται.

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