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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
Physis : World Creation  

Plato's TIMAEUS : The four elements

Timaeus 55d - 57d  * Greek Fonts


Page 3

Again, when a few small particles, enclosed in many larger ones, are in process of decomposition and extinction, they only cease from their tendency to extinction when they consent to pass into the conquering nature, and fire becomes air and air water. But if bodies of another kind go and attack them [i.e. the small particles], the latter continue to be dissolved until, being completely forced back and dispersed, they make their escape to their own kindred, or else, being overcome and assimilated to the conquering power, they remain where they are and dwell with their victors, and from being many become one. And owing to these affections, all things are changing their place, for by the motion of the receiving vessel the bulk of each class is distributed into its proper place; but those things which become unlike themselves and like other things, are hurried by the shaking into the place of the things to which they grow like.

Now all unmixed and primary bodies are produced by such causes as these. As to the subordinate species which are included in the greater kinds, they are to be attributed to the varieties in the structure of the two original triangles. For either structure did not originally produce the triangle of one size only, but some larger and some smaller, and there are as many sizes as there are species of the four elements. Hence when they are mingled with themselves and with one another there is an endless variety of them, which those who would arrive at the probable truth of nature ought duly to consider.

τά τε αὖ σμικρότερα ὅταν ἐν τοῖς μείζοσιν πολλοῖς περιλαμβανόμενα ὀλίγα διαθραυόμενα κατασβεννύηται͵ συνίστασθαι μὲν ἐθέλοντα εἰς τὴν τοῦ κρατοῦντος ἰδέαν πέπαυται κατασβεννύμενα γίγνεταί τε ἐκ πυρὸς ἀήρ͵ ἐξ ἀέρος ὕδωρ· ἐὰν δ΄ εἰς ταὐτὰ ἴῃ καὶ τῶν ἄλλων τι συνιὸν γενῶν μάχηται͵ λυόμενα οὐ παύεται͵ πρὶν ἢ παντάπασιν ὠθούμενα καὶ διαλυθέντα ἐκφύγῃ πρὸς τὸ συγγενές͵ ἢ νικηθέντα͵ ἓν ἐκ πολλῶν ὅμοιον τῷ κρατήσαντι γενόμενον͵ αὐτοῦ σύνοικον μείνῃ. [57c] καὶ δὴ καὶ κατὰ ταῦτα τὰ παθήματα διαμείβεται τὰς χώρας ἅπαντα· διέστηκεν μὲν γὰρ τοῦ γένους ἑκάστου τὰ πλήθη κατὰ τόπον ἴδιον διὰ τὴν τῆς δεχομένης κίνησιν͵ τὰ δὲ ἀνομοιούμενα ἑκάστοτε ἑαυτοῖς͵ ἄλλοις δὲ ὁμοιούμενα͵ φέρεται διὰ τὸν σεισμὸν πρὸς τὸν ἐκείνων οἷς ἂν ὁμοιωθῇ τόπον.  

Ὅσα μὲν οὖν ἄκρατα καὶ πρῶτα σώματα διὰ τοιούτων αἰτιῶν γέγονεν· τὸ δ΄ ἐν τοῖς εἴδεσιν αὐτῶν ἕτερα ἐμπεφυκέναι γένη τὴν ἑκατέρου τῶν στοιχείων αἰτιατέον σύστασιν͵ [57d] μὴ μόνον ἓν ἑκατέραν μέγεθος ἔχον τὸ τρίγωνον φυτεῦσαι κατ΄ ἀρχάς͵ ἀλλ΄ ἐλάττω τε καὶ μείζω͵ τὸν ἀριθμὸν δὲ ἔχοντα τοσοῦτον ὅσαπερ ἂν ᾖ τἀν τοῖς εἴδεσι γένη. διὸ δὴ συμμειγνύμενα αὐτά τε πρὸς αὑτὰ καὶ πρὸς ἄλληλα τὴν ποικιλίαν ἐστὶν ἄπειρα· ἧς δὴ δεῖ θεωροὺς γίγνεσθαι τοὺς μέλλοντας περὶ φύσεως εἰκότι λόγῳ χρήσεσθαι.

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