De Rerum Natura: Book VI

Translated by Christopher Kelk

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Athens was first to spread abroad her grain

For sick mankind – she gave men life again,

Creating laws and giving consolation,

Spawning a man with crystal penetration,

A wise truth-teller who, though he is dead,

Has had his name for many aeons spread,

Because of his divine discoveries,

To the domain of all divinities.

For when he saw that mankind’s every need

Had now almost been met and that, indeed, 10

As far as possible they were risk-free

And saw men rolling in prosperity,

Honoured and famed, proud fathers, nonetheless,

At home, experiencing uneasiness

And bitterly lamenting, he then saw

That mankind’s vessel was itself the flaw:

For everything that came from the outside

Perverted and tainted what was inside,

However advantageous, partially

Because it leaked and he could clearly see 20

That it could not be filled in any way,

And partially because, as one may say,

With a foul smell it was contaminated,

And so with true words he regenerated

The heart and limited fear and desire

And showed that chief good to which we aspire

And pointed out the narrow path that we

Might take to reach that goal unswervingly

And all the sin that lingers everywhere

And lives among us, flying here and there 30

By chance or force, as nature had designed

And from what ports they might be met. Mankind

Did not have cause to irritate its breast

With waves of misery, he would attest.

For just as little children shake with fright

At all things in the darkness in the night,

So we sometimes quake in the light of day

At what should cause fear no more than what they

Feared in the dark. So this despondency,

This terror of the mind will have to be 40

Dispelled, not by the sun’s bright shafts of day

But nature’s law. So I’ll get under way

And weave the web of my discourse. Since I

Have shown the heavens are mortal and the sky

Has given birth, explaining principally

What has been done there and what needs to be

Accomplished still, to what remains give ear.

Since I am now the Muses’ charioteer,

How winds arise and then are pacified

I will explain and tell what men have spied 50

In earth and heaven and were frequently

Held in suspense with great trepidity,

Abused by fear of the gods, kept crushed below

Upon the earth because they did not know

The cause of things, thus pressured to assign

Events to those they thought of as divine.

If those who are well taught and therefore know

The gods have carefree lives, yet even so

Wonder how things occur, especially

Those things up in the sky that we can see, 60

They fall back on their ancient veneration

And take harsh masters their imagination

Accepts as absolute, since they have got

No knowledge of what can and what cannot

Be done, thus how the power of each thing

Is firmly fixed: so by blind reasoning

They’re led astray. Therefore, unless you spew

This from your mind and throw out far from you

Those thought unworthy of divinity,

Hostile to peace, their holy sanctity 70

Will often do you harm. The gods, however,

Cannot feel such dishonour as to ever

Thirst to inflict on you fierce punishment.

No, you believe that they, in their content

And peaceful lives, are threatening to throw

Waves of great rage that you may never show

Your piety at their shrines or ever be

Able to welcome with tranquillity

Their images. What will from that ensue

Is clear. By reasoning that’s wholly true 80

You must reject a life like that. A deal

Of words I’ve said, but much more I’ll reveal

In polished verse. We must see how the sky

Functions and know the law it’s governed by;

I must sing tempests and bright lightnings, too,

By what cause they are moved and what they do,

Lest you divide the heavens senselessly

In sixteen quarters, trembling to see

From which of them the fire makes its flight

And whether it turns to the left or right, 90

How it pierced walls and exercised its sway

Beyond and then moved out and on its way.

Show me the course, skillful Calliope,

Who give men pleasure and tranquillity,

As to my final goal I run my race,

For it’s marked out for me, and win first place

And gain the splendid crown of victory,

Spurred on by your support. Primarily,

The reason thunder shakes the azure sky

Is that clouds rush together way up high 100

As winds conflict. For where the sky is fair

There’s no sound to be heard, but anywhere

The clouds are dense, the thunder’s often loud.

Besides, there is less density in a cloud

Than in a stone or wood, but then again

More than in mist or flying smoke; for then,

Likes stones, they’d fall due to their gravity

Or else, like smoke, have no ability

To hold together or even contain

Within themselves cold snow or hail or rain. 110

They rumble, too, above us in the sky

As when in a great theatre one may spy

A canvas awning cracking in between

Its poles and beams, and sometimes it is seen,

When ripped, beneath strong winds to fly around,

As paper, when it’s torn, makes that same sound,

Or hung-up clothes or sheets of paper snap

Whenever breezes ruffle them and flap

Them through the air. And clouds on certain days

Can’t meet head-on but, side by side, will graze 120

Each other as they pass and make a din

That’s long and dry, an irritation in

The ears, until each one of them has gone

From its confined abode and carries on.

Thus all things seem to tremble at the sound

Of thunder and the massive walls around

The wide-spread firmament are torn asunder

And leap apart when people hear that thunder;

Strong winds twist through the clouds summarily

And whirl round in that same locality 130

And gradually hither and yon compel

The clouds to form a void with a crusty shell;

Then when the winds lose their ascendancy,

The clouds are torn and terrifyingly

Explode. A tiny vesicle supplied

 With air, when perforated on one side,

Can make a noise as loud, therefore no wonder!

There is another time when clouds may thunder –

When winds blow through them. For we often see

That clouds can act like branches variously 140

While looking violent as they sweep about;

Leaves rustle, branches creak, there is no doubt,

When blasts of North-West wind are blazing through

A teeming forest. It can happen, too,

That a fierce wind will rush unswervingly

Into a cloud and break it. We can see

Down here what it can do, for though it’s less

Of a tempestuous nature, nonetheless

It wrenches lofty trees out of the ground.

Among the clouds, as well, waves can be found, 150

Which, as they break, growl out a roaring sound,

Which happens in deep rivers and around

The ocean’s waves. Thunder, too, breaks out loud

When lightning’s burning fire falls from one cloud

To another cloud, which, if, whenever it takes

The fire in, is soaked with water, makes

A dreadful noise, meanwhile immediately

Destroying it, just as similarly

A furnace’s white-hot iron, when it’s downed

In ice-cold water, makes a hissing sound. 160

To take this further, if the cloud were drier

When it received the lightning-stroke, the fire

Will loudly kindle it immediately,

As if the laurelled peaks were mightily

Attacked by wind-blown flames; for it’s a fact

That nothing burns like laurel when it’s cracked

By flame on Phoebus’ altar in Delphi.

Again, a noise in huge clouds up on high

Is made by cracks of ice and hail; for when

The wind packs all of them together, then 170

The clouds are crushed together narrowly

And mixed with hail. Lightning, additionally,

Occurs when clouds clash and send seeds of flame

Abroad, for stones and steel will do the same

And strike out sparks of light. The reason why

The ear hears thunderclaps after the eye

Has seen the lightning is that things take longer

To reach the ear. To make your judgment stronger,

If you see someone cutting down a tree

Far off, before you hear the thud you see 180

The stroke; in the same way, before we hear

The thunder it’s the lightning that is clear

To sight, though both occurred concurrently.

Thus with their rapid light clouds comparably

Tinge places, and hailstorms with a quivering burst

Will flash and dazzle. When a wind has first

Entered a cloud and, moving more and more,

Congealed it, as I have explained before,

It becomes hotter by its very speed,

Like all things else – a bullet will indeed 190

Melt when it’s cast afar – and when it breaks

The black cloud, by its violent force it makes

Its seeds of fire squeeze out, the very same

That caused the winking flickerings of flame;

And then ensues the sound, which strikes the ears

Somewhat more tardily than what appears

Before the eyes. It is a proven fact

That this will take place when the clouds compact,

Piled one upon the other massively;

So do not be deceived because we see 200

From here how wide they are as they extend

Far upwards in the sky. So do but lend

Your eyes to how the clouds can be conveyed

Across the mountains where they are displayed

In heaps, pressed from above and lying still,

The winds wrapped all around them. Then you will

Behold that mass, able to recognize

The stone-built caves which, should a storm arise,

The winds fill up, complaining noisily

That by the clouds they’re kept in custody, 210

Menacing like wild animals. This way

And that they growl there, hoping that they may

Find a way out as through the clouds they churn

The many seeds of fire and finally burn

And shatter them. Another reason why

The golden flowing flame can swiftly fly

To earth is that the clouds have to possess

Many seeds of fire. Thus when they’re moistureless

Their colour mostly flames and shines. Indeed

From the sun’s light they must gain many a seed, 220

Thus blushing red. So when the wind apace

Drives them into a tightly confined space,

They squeeze out seeds and make the flames shine bright.

And also when the clouds grow thin, there’s light.

For when a wind that’s tranquil has broadcast

Them here and there as they go gliding past,

The seeds that make the lightning have to fall,

And then the lightning makes no noise at all

And does not terrify. A thunderbolt

Has marks of heat burnt in and strokes that jolt 230

And dents that breathe foul sulphur; these are all

The marks of fire, not breezes or rainfall.

And often houses’ roofs, additionally,

They set alight, assuming mastery

Over their rooms as well. This most refined

Of all the fires has nature so combined

With elements so rapid and so small

It can’t be blocked by anything at all.

The powerful thunderbolt can pass straight through

A house’s walls, as sounds and voices do, 240

And pierces stone and bronze and instantly

Melts bronze and gold, and by its energy

Wine will evaporate in a heartbeat

Yet keep the vessels safe, because the heat

With ease tempers the earthenware, and so

It makes it pervious and thus will flow

Into the jar itself, then far and near

Dissolves the wine’s first seeds. This, it’s quite clear,

The sun can’t do for ages, even though

Its quivering blaze is powerful: for so 250

Rapid and strong it is. I’ll tell you now

How thunderbolts have been produced and how

They have the energy to split and burn

Down towers with one stroke, to overturn

Houses, rip beams, topple to the ground

Monuments, kill men and animals all around,

And other things, and I will not delay

With promises. We must believe that they

Were first produced from thick clouds piled on high,

Since they were never issued when the sky 260

Is peaceful or when the clouds are lightly packed.

Indeed there is no doubt, for many a fact

Can prove it, since the clouds all mass together

When thunder happens, and we wonder whether

Hell’s empty of all darkness everywhere,

Which now has filled the caverns of the air.

To such a degree beneath the hideous night

Of cloud there hangs the face of horrid fright,

As the tempest starts to forge her bolts. Besides,

Often a black cloud will affect the tides – 270

A pitchy flood, with darkness stuffed on high,

Falls down upon the waters from the sky

And brings with it a jet-black squall which teems

With thunderbolts and storms and winds and streams

Of flame, thus making people here below

Shiver with fear and run for shelter. So

We must believe the tempests have to surge

High over us, for clouds could not submerge

The earth with so much black unless each one

Was piled on many others that the sun 280

Would be blocked out. Nor could cascades of rain

Oppress us so that every stream and plain

Would swim in flood unless the sky were packed

With clouds piled high above us. So, in fact,

In such a case winds blow and fires flare

With rumblings and lightnings everywhere.

I said just now that hollow clouds contain

Many seeds of heat and therefore they must gain

Warmth from rays of the sun. And therefore, when

The wind collects them in one place and then 290

Has pressed out many seeds of torridness

And with that fire begins to coalesce,

The whirlwind goes into that narrow place

And turns itself about inside the space

And hones the thunderbolt. The wind indeed

Is kindled in two ways, first by its speed

And then by contact. The wind’s energy

Heightens its heat and the intensity

Of the fire thrusts in, while the bolt, now fit

For action, as it were, will promptly split 300

The cloud, and then a rapid flame will fly

With flashing lights, and then, up in the sky,

A loud crash follows, and the firmament

Appears to overwhelm it as it’s rent

Apart, then tremors in the sky assail

The earth and in the sky murmurings trail

And almost all the tempest with the jolt

Quivers, and roars come from the thunderbolt.

Then heavy rain ensues, and everywhere

There seems to be but rain throughout the air. 310

The torrent from that cloudburst and the blast

Of wind that it discharges is so vast,

When sound and flames fly forth. Sometimes, also,

A force of wind is stirred up and will blow

And fall upon a cloud that is replete

With a full-formed thunderbolt, whole and complete,

And, once the wind has burst it, instantly

A fiery vortex falls, a thing that we

Call thunderbolt. It can occur elsewhere

According to the force employed. And there 320

Have been times when a wind has been conveyed

Sans fire but has ignited as it made

Its lengthy trek through space, and, as it flew,

Lost certain bodies too large to pass through

The air equally well, and from the air

Itself scraped tiny ones which mingled there

With it, producing fire in their flight;

In the same way a bullet will ignite

And cast off many cold bodies in its course.

Fire is created by the very force 330

Of the blow, when cold winds strike. How can this be?

Well, when the wind has smitten violently,

Then from the winds heat elements may flow

As well as from that which received the blow;

When stone is struck by iron, out fire flies,

Where seeds do not the less homogenize

Since iron’s cold. A thing, then, must be hit

And kindled by a thunderbolt if it

Is fit for flames. No wind may totally

Be cold if it’s been sped down forcefully 340

From heaven, but if it’s not first lit by flame

As it goes on its way, yet all the same

It must be warm and mixed with heat when it

Arrives. The swiftness and the heavy hit

Inflicted by the bolt (they usually

With such a fall move expeditiously)

Occurs because among the clouds a force

Is stirred up and embarks upon a course

Of rapid movement: when, subsequently,

The cloud can’t hold back the intensity, 350

The force is pressed out and is therefore flown

Remarkably, like missiles which are thrown

From catapults. The elements are small

And smooth, however, so it’s not at all

An easy task for something to impede

A thing with such a substance since with speed

It penetrates the narrow ways; and thus

It smoothly flies with rapid impetus

While rarely checked. All weights are naturally

Thrust downwards always; a velocity 360

Is added, though, when it inflicts a blow

As well and makes the first momentum grow

In weight, thus with more speed and violently

Disintegrating every entity

It meets that tries to bar it with delay.

And since it rushes from a long, long way,

It must keep getting faster as it grows

In strength by moving, stiffening the blows.

Its seeds are carried thus, as one may say,

Into one place as they roll on their way 370

And from the air itself it possibly

Draws bodies which provoke velocity

With blows. Nor does it cause any distress

To everything it meets in its progress,

Because the fire, being fluid, passes through

Their pores. And many it transfixes, too,

Because its very particles have lighted

Upon the points where everything’s united.

It melts both bronze and gold immediately

Because it’s made of bodies terribly 380

Minute and elements so smooth that they

Can very easily effect a way

Within and, once it’s found its way inside,

Loosen all bonds. It is at autumntide

When all the regions of the firmament,

Set with its shining stars, is usually rent

With shaking all around, as is the earth,

And when the springtime brings its flowers to birth.

For in the cold fires fail, and when it’s hot

The winds are lacking and the clouds are not 390

So dense. So when the temperature’s between

The two, all causes of the bolt are seen

To be combined. For the year’s choppy seas

Mingle together cold and heat – for these

Are both essential for a cloud to bring

A bolt to life – so that in everything

There’s discord, and the wildly billowing air

With fires and winds engages everywhere.

So springtime is when warmth must say adieu

To cold and so a battle must ensue 400

Between those unlike things as they compete

In wild confusion; then when the last heat

Mixed with the early cold has come around,

Which we call autumn time, conflict is found

And bitter winters come into a fight

With summers. That’s the reason why it’s right

That they’re called choppy seas. Thus it’s no wonder

That in that season there is so much thunder,

With turbulent tempests stirred up in the air

Since all’s confusion with well-matched warfare 410

On either side, as flames are coalesced

With winds and water. Thus you may digest

The nature of the thunderbolt and see

The role it plays through its intensity,

Not by unrolling scrolls to find a spell

And vainly search for signals that can tell

The gods’ intent, to learn how fire came

And into which quarter it turned its flame,

And how it has pierced walls and how got back

And what’s the harm inflicted by a crack 420

Of thunder. If the heavens are shaken by

The gods with dreadful noise up in the sky,

Who cast their fire at will, why don’t they see

That when an execrable felony

Has been committed that they ought to clout

The man who did it, making him breathe out

Sulphurous flames, his breast pierced through, to show

A lesson to mankind? Why rather, though,

Should guiltless men in a tornado’s flame

From heaven be burned? Why do they vainly aim 430

At deserts? Is it that they’re practising

For other punishments and strengthening

Their muscles? Why allow a powerful jolt

Against the earth from Jupiter’s thunderbolt?

And why does Jupiter himself not spare

That thunderbolt and cast it from the air

Upon his foes? Why does he never cast

His bolt on earth and sound his thunder-blast

From a clear sky? Does he instead descend

Into the clouds himself once they ascend 440

And only after that, when he’s close by,

Direct his thunderbolt and see it fly?

Why does he strike the sea? And what has he

Against the waves, the vast immensity

Of water and the swimming plains? What’s more,

If for us to be on the lookout for

His bolt is his desire, why does he not

Provide a way to see it when it’s shot?

But if his wish is unexpectedly

To crush us with his fire, why then does he 450

Strike from where we can see it, and thereby

Avoid it, and prepare up in the sky

The dark with rumblings and a dreadful din?

How is it you believe he can shoot in

Many directions at one time? Maybe

You’ll say it’s never done, but actually

It’s often done and must be done indeed

So that, as showers and rain pour down to feed

Many regions of the earth, many bolts will fall

All at the self-same time. Now, last of all, 460

Why does he smash shrines of divinities

And even his own illustrious territories?

Why crush many a fine-wrought effigy

And rob his statues of their majesty,

Inflicting dreadful wounds on them? And why

Is he wont to attack places on high?

Why is most of his fire seen upon

The mountain-tops? Well then, to carry on,

It’s easy from these thoughts to comprehend

How what the Greeks call presteres descend 470

Into the ocean. For occasionally

A kind of column drops into the sea,

Surrounding which the strong winds agitate

The waters, which begin to fulminate;

Ships caught in it were perilously cast

About. This happens when the furious blast

Of winds at times can’t burst the cloud it tries

To burst but thrusts it, giving it the guise

Of a column, to the billows of the sea

As though it were, degree by small degree, 480

Thrust by an arm and fist; and when the gust

Of wind tears it asunder, it is thrust

Out of the cloud and down into the sea,

And on the waves it bubbles wondrously.

The whirlwind twists and brings the cloud with it

And when the surface of the sea is hit

By that full cloud, the wind aggressively

Dives through the water, stirring up the sea,

And loudly makes it boil. Its vortex snakes

Into the clouds sometimes, where then it rakes 490

Their seeds together and then imitates

The Greek-named presteres as it rotates

Down from the sky. On landing, it’s dispersed

And violently vomits forth a burst

Of storm and whirlwind. But since it is rare

That this occurs, and also , here and there,

Mountains get in the way, more frequently

We see it on the wide and open sea

And there’s nothing above it but the sky.

The clouds amass together up on high 500

When many flying bodies suddenly

Meet up: they’re rougher and, to some degree,

Entangled yet can coalesce. These mould

Small clouds at first and yet they still can hold

Together and by combination grow

And then are borne upon the winds that blow

Until a savage tempest should arise.

The nearer are the mountains to the skies,

The more, through dusty clouds, will every peak

In that high place with dusky blackness reek 510

Since, when the clouds first form, before the eye

Sees them, so thin are they, they’re carried high

By winds up to the peaks. Now they’re amassed

In a much larger pack and can at last

Be seen, appearing simultaneously

To fly into the ether. We can see,

When we ascend a mountain, that the air

Abounds with windy breezes everywhere.

Besides, that many particles appear

Across the entire sea is made quite clear 520

When clothes are hung up on the shore and take

The sticky moisture in and therefore make

It likelier that many bodies may

Surge up together from the salty spray

And swell the clouds above, for we may see

That there exists a consanguinity

Between these moistures. We can see, as well,

From rivers and the earth itself a swell

Of clouds and steam arising, in this way

Exhaled like breath and bringing an array 530

Of darkness as they thus suffuse the sky,

Uniting as they gradually supply

The clouds; for heat drives through the firmament

And thus, packed close, a weave of clouds is blent.

The bodies that create this hullabaloo

Of clouds and flying storms enter the blue

From outside. For their number I have proved

Is infinite and shown how fast they’re moved

In flight and that they instantaneously

Can travel through a space that cannot be 540

Imagined. No surprise, then, if a squall

And murkiness can in no time at all

Cover the sea and land with clouds so great,

Since all the elements can navigate

Their way through all the passages of the air

And through the breathing-channels everywhere

Around us. Listen now as I explain

How in the clouds the moistures of the rain

Increase together and how showers fall,

Sent down upon the earth. So, first of all, 550

There rises from the earth full many a seed

Of water with the clouds, you will concede,

From many things, and they together grow

As blood, sweat and all moisture we must know

Grows with our bodies. Often clouds will pull

Much water from the sea, like strands of wool,

As by the winds they’re carried. In this way

From all the rivers water’s snatched away

Into the clouds. And when from here and there

The seeds and clouds unite, while everywhere 560

They grow, the clouds, now packed together, try

To oust the moisture in two ways: they fly

Together, aided by the breezes’ might,

And when a greater mass of clouds, packed tight,

Than usual is collected, from on high

They downwards press and make the showers fly

Abroad. And if these clouds are rarefied

By breezes or become somewhat untied,

Struck by the sun’s great heat, they then secrete

Their rainy moisture, just as wax will heat 570

And melt above a fire and attain

Liquid. There’s a fierce downpour of rain

When clouds are pressed together violently

Both by the wind and their own energy.

But when the seeds of water move, the rain

Is wont to be persistent and remain

For a long time, and storm-rack on storm-rack

And cloud on cloud from every region stack

While borne along and from above they stream

And everywhere the earth breathes back the steam. 580

When the sun shines amidst the gloomy squall

Against the clouds from which the showers fall,

A rainbow stands amid the murkiness.

There are some other things that coalesce

Inside the clouds and some which live and grow

Above us, winds and hail and frost and snow

And powerful ice which makes the waters freeze

And curb the eager rivers – how all these 

Are made and why is easy to find out

And see in your mind’s eye once you’ve no doubt 590

About all of the elements’ qualities.

The reason for earthquakes’ occurrences     

Now learn. And, in the first place, you must know

That, as the sky above, the earth below

Is full of windy caverns which possess

Many lakes and pools and a great wilderness

Of rocks and cliffs. And so we must surmise

Beneath the earth’s back many a river lies

Hidden that rolls its waters violently

And moves its rocks; for facts demand that she 600

Be everywhere herself. If this is so

And these things are attached to her below,

And each cavern with age deteriorates,

The upper earth trembles and oscillates

With some disaster; mountains start to fall,

And with the massive shock the tremblings crawl

Both far and wide at once – and well they may

Since buildings by the road tremble and sway

When lightweight wagons pass, which will also,

If a stone should jolt the wheels, as on they go, 610

Jump upwards. And sometimes when from the ground

After some time a giant mass is found

To roll into a lake, the earth also,

Jogged by the water’s waves, moves to and fro,

Just as a vessel sometimes can’t remain

Immobile if the water can’t refrain

From moving too. When winds beneath the ground

Desert one place and vehemently pound

Against the lofty caves, into that course

The headlong wind is making with great force 620

The earth will lean. The buildings, as they rise

In their construction up into the skies,

Incline, beams overhanging and prepared

To go. However, some people are scared

To think that for the great world’s population

A period of total desolation

Is waiting, though a looming mass they see

Over the earth. Yet if increasingly

The winds should blow, no force could hold the world

In limbo, keeping it from being hurled 630

Into perdition. But, because they wane

In turns, gain force, revive and blow again,

The earth makes idle threats more frequently

Than ever she effects calamity.

She makes a forward lean, then with a spring

Moves back again, meanwhile recovering

The equilibrium she had before.

And that’s how buildings totter, the top more

Than the foundation. When a blast of air

Or wind should blow – it doesn’t matter where, 640

Above the earth itself or underground –

And fly into the caves and whirl around

And loudly growl, the force it agitates

And drives it outwards as it lacerates

The earth and formulates a great crevasse.

At Syrian Sidon this once came to pass,

And Aegium, when an earthquake overthrew

Them with that force of air. Many others, too,

Have fallen thus, and many have sunk down

Into the ocean’s depths and caused to drown 650

The populace. But should it not break out,

The air and wind are scattered all about,

Plague-like, through all the openings that lie

Beneath the earth, and tremors start thereby,

Just as we shake with cold unwittingly.

And therefore a two-fold anxiety

Affects the citizens, because they dread

The lofty houses and the caverns spread

Beneath the earth lest nature suddenly

Tears all asunder and confusingly 660

Opens her gaping jaws and tries to fill

The earth with ruin and all kinds of ill.

So let them all think that the earth and sky

Can’t be corrupted and will never die;

Yet sometimes peril adds a goad of fear

That suddenly the earth will disappear

Beneath our feet. Men wonder why the sea

Is not increased in volume naturally,

For many waters flow into the tide

As many rivers run from every side. 670

Add wandering showers, too, and storms that fly

Onto all seas and lands out of the sky,

And all the ocean’s springs: yet if you weigh

The sea with all things else you’ll find that they

Amount to just one drop. Accordingly,

Don’t think it so surprising that the sea

Does not increase. Besides, the sun’s heat draws

A lot away from it – another cause

For doubt. Indeed we see wet garments dried

By the sun, and yet the seas spread far and wide 680

Beneath us, and yet even though the sun

Takes but a sip from it in any one

 Location, yet a superfluity

He’ll take away from that expanse of sea.

Much moisture’s swept away from the sea’s face

By winds, since we can often find no trace

Of wet in roads after one night and see

Soft mud massing in crusts. For recently

I’ve shown much moisture’s taken away as well

By clouds descending on the ocean’s swell: 690

Across the world they spray it everywhere

When it is raining and the breezes bear

The clouds along with them. Now finally,

The earth is porous, girdling the sea:

So, since into the sea the waters course,

The salt sea likewise must exude perforce

Onto the land. The pungency is strained,

And water oozes back till it’s attained

Each river’s source, whence in a moving mass

Over the earth once more it then may pass 700

Along its marked-out path. Now in what way

Mt. Etna breathes out fury I will say.

For it was no familiar devastation

Attending that fierce tempest’s domination

In Sicily’s fields, attracting all the eyes

Of neighbouring folk, who saw up in the skies

The regions of the heavens sparkling

And smoking as they stood there quivering

In panic that another tragedy

Was in the plans of nature. You must be 710

Diligent in these matters and survey

All quarters everywhere so that you may

Remember the profundity of all

We see and recognize how very small

A fraction of the world is just one sky –

Less than one man when he is measured by

The whole earth. If you keep this steadily

In mind, discerning it with clarity,

You’ll cease to wonder at a multitude

Of things. For which of us is in the mood 720

For wonder if a fever should assail

Our bodies with its heat or we should ail

With something else? A foot will suddenly

Swell up or we will feel some agony

In teeth or eyes or that accursed thing

Erysipelas, which burns us, slithering

Across our limbs, because assuredly

Seeds do exist in many an entity,

And foul diseases from the earth and air

Are in sufficient numbers that they flare 730

Immeasurably. Therefore there’s a supply

Of everything out of the earth and sky

From infinite space, we must believe, and so

The earth can quiver suddenly to and fro

And over land and sea can whirlwinds rush

And in abundance Etna’s fires can gush

And heavens burst in a blaze, and heavily

Tempests can pour, when incidentally

The waters’ seeds for that effect have massed.

“But much too huge is that tempestuous blast.” 740

Alright, but any river seems to be

The largest to a man who formerly

Has never seen a larger; it’s the same

With trees or men, and everyone may claim

That all things of all kinds that he may see

Are huge because they’re bigger yet than he

Has seen before, though sky and sea and land

Are but a modicum if they are scanned

With all there is. But now I’ll clarify

How Etna’s flames are rouse that they might fly 750

Out of the furnaces. Primarily

The mountain’s hollow, held up principally

By flinty caverns, where there’s wind, which air

Invigorates by flying everywhere.

And when the wind’s grown hot and savagely

Heated the rocks in its vicinity,

The earth as well, it darts without delay

Quick flames, rises and makes its fiery way

Into the mountain’s throat. The fires are,

Along with all their sparks, scattered afar 760

So that their thick, black smoke may emanate

As well as boulders of a wondrous weight.

You may be sure such is the energy

That air possesses. Furthermore, the sea

Around much of the mountain’s roots will break

Its waves and, with a sucking sound, will make

Its surf recede; caves from this sea, below

The earth, into the maw of the mountain go.

Wind mixed with water, then, we must admit,

Enters, the facts of the case compelling it 770

To pierce through from the ocean whence it came

And to extinguish and lift high the flame

And cast up rocks and raise out of the sea

Sand-clouds. Upon the very apogee

Are craters, as they’re called in Sicily

(We call them throats or mouths). Additionally,

There are a lot of things for which we name

Not one but many causes; all the same,

One of them is the true cause: for, let’s say,

You see a man’s corpse lying far away – 780

Perhaps you think you should enumerate

All causes of his death lest you don’t state

The actual one. You could not prove a blade,

The cold, poison or some disease had made

The final blow, but we will surely find

The cause of death was something of this kind.

In many other things like views we state.

The Nile’s the only river in full spate

Near summer. For it irrigates the land

Mid-season since the stream is forced to stand 790

By northerly winds which at the mouth appear

(They’re called Etesian at that time of year):

They blow against it, hold it and impel

The waters to the channel. It is well

Beyond a doubt that those sharp blasts are rolled

From all the polar stars of northern cold

And blow against the current. From that land

Of heat, the Nile flows south where there are tanned

Black tribes baked by the sun. Maybe, as well,

Great mounds of sand pile up against the swell 800

And block the mouth: the winds stir up the sea,

Which drive the sand inward; accordingly

The outlet of the river is more barred:

Thus the descending waters find it hard

To flow. There may be also at its head

More rain then when the Etesian winds have sped

To drive the clouds together there. You may

Be sure, when to the regions of noonday

They’re pushed, the clouds are violently compressed,

At last collected on a mountain crest. 810

Perhaps the river grows straight from the heart

Of Ethiopian peaks, whence clouds depart

Out to the plains through the intensity

Of the sun’s melting rays. Listen to me

As the Avernian regions and their lakes

I tell of. First of all, the region takes

Its name from the fact that it’s a dreadful threat

To birds which, flying over it, forget

How they should use their wings and, slackening

Their sails, fall through the ether, plummeting, 820

Their necks limp, into water or the ground,

As nature wills it. This region is found

Near Cumae, where the mountains up on high

Reek, with rank sulphur filled and shrouded by

Hot springs. In Athens there’s another place,

High on the citadel, where you may face

Tritonian Pallas’ shrine, the fostering

Athene, whither no crow will take wing,

Not even when an offering is there

Upon the altar. They take so much care 830

To flee, not, as the Grecian bards have sung,

Due to their vigil – no, its quality

Itself repels them. Also history

Says such a place in Syria is found –

As soon as beasts set foot upon the ground,

It makes them fall down heavily as though

 Slain sacrifices to the gods below.

But these are nature’s work – where they arose

And what produced them everybody knows.

And so the gates of Orcus cannot be 840

Within those regions and no deity

Of Hell can draw souls into the domain

Of Acheron, just as some folk maintain

Swift stags can draw a serpent from its lair

By breathing. Logic, you must be aware,

 Proves this is false. I strive to speak what’s true.

First, as I’ve frequently explained to you,

There are so many different entities

Upon the earth, and several of these 850

(Like food) aid life, but many strike us dead

With maladies. As I have also said,

Each animal has a very different need

From others for the life that it must lead,

For every one is structured differently.

A many a pernicious entity

Enters the ears and nose, rough to the touch

And noxious; many, too, are very much

Not to be touched, looked at or tasted. You

May see how many things harm humans, too. 860

First, there is cast a shade so threatening

From certain trees that they can often bring

On headaches should you lie there on the ground.

On Helicon’s mountain- peaks there can be found

A tree whose vile stench kills a fellow flat

If he should smell its flower. You must know that

The earth has many kinds of seeds which she

Keeps hold of and then mingles variously

And passes on. A new-extinguished light

Offends the nose and overpowers quite 870

At once a man who customarily

Foams at the mouth and falls. The heavily-

Scented castor makes a woman fall

Asleep again as she lets go of all

Her dainty work, if she has smelt it when

She had her monthly period. And then,

A lot of things loosen the limbs and shake

The spirit. Once again, if you should take

Too long a hot bath after a full meal

You may, while still immersed, easily keel 880

Over. The heavy fumes of charcoal easily

Can creep into the brain lest formerly

One drinks some water. Should a fever take

Possession of a man, wine’s smell will make

A corpse of him. Do you not see that Earth

Itself has to our sulphur given birth,

And with its filthy odour asphalt grows

In lumps together. Then again, when those

Who mine silver and gold, examining

The earth below us, o how everything 890

Reeks in Scaptensula! Those mines of gold –

What kinds of devilry do they all hold

And breathe out! And the men – what kind of hue

Do they take on! What do they look like! You

Must see and hear how soon their death will be,

Their forces spent, since of necessity

They must keep working. All the streams breathed out

From the earth go forth and wander all about

The open sky. Avernus thus must send

Its deadly power up in the sky to end 900

The lives of birds, contaminating part

Of heaven: thus when birds should chance to dart

Thither, they’re caught by poison they can’t see

And maybe fall straight down unswervingly

To where the breath flew up so that same breath

May make the coup de grâce and clinch their death.

It seems to cause a giddiness at first,

But afterwards, when they have surely burst

Into those poison springs, their life as well

Must be spewed forth, because within that Hell 910

Much evil lurks. Sometimes the power there

That drives that exhalation parts the air

Between the birds and earth so that a space

Is left there. So when they fly to that place,

Their wings lack power and halt immediately

And on both sides they waste their energy.

They can’t count on their wings and so descend

To earth and in near-empty space they send

Their souls to roam abroad through every pore

As there they lie. Well-water, furthermore, 920

Grows colder in the summer, since the ground

Is rarefied by heat and spreads around

Into the air what seeds it might possess.

The more the earth has lost some fieriness,

The colder grows the water that’s concealed

Within the earth. Then when the earth’s congealed

And pulverized by cold and coalesces,

Through that congealing into the walls it presses

What heat it has. There is a spring, they say,

Near Ammon’s shrine that’s cold during the day 930

And hot at night. This spring excessively

Men wonder at; some hold the theory

That the earth boils with the sun’s fieriness

When night with terrifying gloominess

Has spread the earth. But this opinion

Is far from sensible. For, when the sun

Can’t heat up water, though it blazes so,

How is it possible, when it’s below

Earth’s mass, that it can make the water boil,

Soaked with its heat, beneath that compressed soil, 940

Especially since its warmth can’t adequately

Pass through a wall? How, then? Assuredly

Because the ground’s more pervious right there

About the fountain than it is elsewhere.

A lot of seeds of fire are around

The water, so when night has quashed the ground   

With dewy waves, the earth will frigid grow

At heart, contracting. In this way, as though

Pressed by a hand, it sends into the spring

What seeds of fire it has, engendering 950

The water’s heat. When the earth is agitated

By the sun’s rays and thus attenuated,

The seeds return to their original source:

Thus through the earth the water’s warmth may course.

And that’s the reason why the spring is cold

In the light of day. Besides, the water’s rolled

About by the rays of the sun, and the tremulous

Heat in daylight makes it pervious,

And that’s the reason why it ousts each seed

Of fire in its store, just as indeed 960

Water sends out the cold that it possesses

From time to time so that it deliquesces

The ice. There is a cold spring which, when tow

Is held above it, frequently will throw

A flame which catches fire instantly;

A torch amid the waters similarly

Sparkles and shines wherever it’s impelled

By winds, since many seeds of fire are held

In water, and from down in the earth below

There must be bodies of fire which rise and go 970

All through the entire spring, into the air

Exhaled, though there are not sufficient there

To heat the spring. Besides, there is a force

That makes them break out suddenly and course

Along the water, later gathering

Above. This is exactly like the spring

Of Aradus in the sea, which splashes out

Sweet water but the brine that flows about

The spring they keep away. Again, the sea

In many others spots treats bounteously 980

Parched sailors, for among the brine they spew

Sweet water. Thus these seeds can burst out through

This spring; and when upon some tow they meet

Together, sticking to the torch’s heat,

They blaze up suddenly because the tow

And floating torches, all of them aglow,

Have seeds of fire, too. Is it not true

That when beside a burning night-light you

Have placed a wick that you have first snuffed out,

The wick is kindled once again without 990

Touching the flame? The torch reacts the same.

And many other things become a flame

Far from the heat, before the fire is there

And drenches them. This, therefore, we must dare

To think that this occurs in that spring, too.

To pass on, then, I will review for you

How there exists a stone that can attract

Iron, established by some natural act

(This stone the Greeks call ‘magnet’, since it came

From the Magnesian region), and its fame 1000

Awes men because a chain quite frequently

Has small rings hanging from it: one may see

Sometimes a few suspended in a string,

Some five or more of them all dangling

And swaying in the breeze, one from another

Hanging beneath, and each learns from its brother

The stone’s attracting force, which through and through

Discharges and prevails. But until you

Account for things of this sort, you must set

A deal of principles before you get 1010

Your answer, and you must in your pursuit

Be patient as you deeply delve to root

It out. Your heedful ears and mind, therefore,

I’m anxious to elicit all the more.

In the first place, from everything we see

There must be bodies flowing constantly,

Discharged and scattered, which assail our eyes,

Exciting vision. Constant odour flies

From things, rivers are cold, the sun has heat,

The sea-waves spray as chillingly they beat 1020

Upon the sea-walls. Through the ear a spate

Of noises ooze, which never will abate.

We have a salty taste when by the sea

We chance to take a walk; similarly

When wormwood and pure water coalesce

Before our eyes we feel a bitterness.

From all things certain qualities emanate

And then in all directions dissipate.

It’s constant, since we feel it constantly,

Since it is always given us to see 1030

All things and smell them, and to hear them, too.

How porous bodies are I’ll tell to you

Once more, which in my first book I made plain.

Although it is important to attain

Knowledge of many subjects, with none more

Important than the one I’ll now explore,

We must accept there’s nothing that we see

But bodies mixed with void. Primarily,

In caves the rocks above with sweat ooze out,

The moisture dripping down with many a gout; 1040

We sweat, too, and our beards grow, and the hair

Appears upon our bodies everywhere.

Food enter all our veins to boost and feed

Our frames, even the extreme parts indeed,

Like nails. Both cold and heat we feel to go

Through bronze: silver and gold we feel also

When we hold teeming cups. Voices flit through

Stone walls, where cold and odour trickle, too,

As well as fire’s heat, which, too, can pierce

Through iron, for its strength is very fierce. 1050

And when heaven’s corselet girds us all around,

The power of diseases has been found,

Which comes in from without; and naturally

Storms rise from earth and sky, subsequently

Withdrawing thither, since it’s very clear

That there is no non-porous texture here

On earth. Moreover, not all bodies hurled

From things have been donated in this world

The same force on the senses, nor are they

Germane to everything in the same way. 1060

Firstly, the sun bakes earth and makes it dry

But melts the ice, compelling up on high

The snow to thaw, and wax it liquefies

And with its burning heat it mollifies

Both bronze and gold, and yet contrarily

It shrivels hides and flesh. Additionally,

Water will harden iron when one takes

It from the fire, but yet again it makes

Soft hides and flesh, once hardened by the heat.

To nanny-goats the olive is as sweet 1070

As if it literally were drizzling

With nectar and ambrosia; and yet no thing

Has bitterer leaves for man. Again, pigs flee

From marjoram oil and each variety

Of unguent, for what they find poisonous

Sometimes appears to give new life to us.

Though mud is hateful to us, nonetheless

They find it pleasurable and obsess

In rolling in it. But there’s something yet

That I think best to say before I set 1080

About my proper theme. Since we can see

Many pores in different things, then they must be

Endowed with their own natures and, as well,

Their own directions, because, truth to tell,

All beasts have different senses - each discerns

The object proper to it, and one learns

That sound and taste and smell can penetrate

With different senses. One can infiltrate

Itself through stone, another one can pass

Through wood, another gold, another glass 1090

Or silver, since through glass images flow,

Through silver warmth, while one thing’s seen to go

More quickly than another, although they

Yet make their journey by the self-same way.

The nature of the paths assuredly

Produces this eventuality,

Because it’s modified in waves galore,

As I have shown a little while before,

Due to each nature and how they’re created.

So when these principles have been instated, 1100

Prepared for us and laid out thoroughly,

What’s left is simple, since we easily

Are able to deduce the explanation

And show the reason for this gravitation.

Firstly, there must be many seeds which flow

Out of this stone, or a current that must blow

And beat away the air which lies between

Iron and stone, and when this space has been

Made empty and there is an ample place

Inside, the iron’s seeds enter this space 1110

And fall together, whose result must be

That the ring pursues them, passing totally

Inside in the same way. There is no one thing

Whose seeds are more connected, gathering

Themselves, than iron which is chill and rough.

What I’ve revealed, therefore, is proof enough

That there are many bodies which exude

From iron which aren’t able to intrude

Into the void unless he ring goes, too:

It does indeed do this and follows through 1120

Until it’s reached the stone where it will cling,

Attached by hidden links. That very thing

Occurs in every part: where there’s a space,

Above or on the side, the bodies race

Into the void; by blows from everywhere

Are they impelled, and up into the air

They cannot rise at will. And, furthermore,

As soon as the air is rarefied before

The ring, it’s driven forward by that air

Behind, which buffets all things everywhere. 1130

It drives the iron then since on one side

There is a space wherein it may abide.

This air I speak of is insidious,

Piercing the iron’s many holes, and thus

Reaches the particles, and then it thrusts

It forward as a ship’s moved by the gusts

Of wind when lacking sails. All things have air

Since they are pervious, and everywhere

It hems and joins them all. The air, therefore,

Hidden inside the iron’s every pore, 1140

With restless movement ever agitated,

Then beats the ring which thus is animated:

It’s carried to where it before had thrown

Itself towards the void. From this same stone

It goes sometimes, because it’s wont to flee

But then to follow, too, alternately.

I’ve seen the Samothracian iron dance,

When all the iron filings madly prance

Within a bronze bowl where the stone was laid

Beneath: so keen the iron was to evade 1150

The stone. And when the bronze has come between,

There’s chaos, since its current’s surely seen

To go ahead and thoroughly obtain

Possession of the iron’s pores. Again,

The current comes and finds the iron replete

And now is quite unable to repeat

Its swim across it. Then accordingly

It must assail the iron: equally

It spews while through the bronze it sets about

Moving throughout the bronze that which without 1160

The bronze it often sucks back. Do not be

Surprised the flow has not the ability

To drive other things: some stand firm by their weight,

Like gold, some are so easy to permeate

That things flow through them unrestrainedly

And cannot be propelled – wood’s seen to be

A substance of that kind. So iron, then,

Stands in between the two of them, and when

Some tiny bodies of bronze should through it go,

The magnet stones propel it by their flow. 1170

These properties, though, are not so discrete

That there aren’t many more I can repeat

To you: for with each other they agree,

But nothing else. To start with, you may see

That only mortar can cement a stone

And wood is joined by glue of bull alone

So that the grain of boards will often gape

Before the glue loosens its hold. The grape

Mingles its juice with water from a spring,

And yet there cannot be such mingling 1180

With pitch or olive-oil. The sea-shell’s hue

Unites with wool and stays thus, even if you

Attempt to renovate it with the sea,

Even if it plies its waves entirely

To wash it out. Just one thing can cement

Two gold things; tin’s the only element

Uniting bronze to bronze. So many more

Examples can be found – and yet wherefore?

You must not use so long and devious

A method, and I myself should not discuss 1190

This theme laboriously. For to embrace

Many things but briefly is the perfect case:

When textures of all entities coincide

That empty places here become allied

With full ones there, and thus contrariwise,

That is the best approach. We may surmise

That certain parts are linked with couplings

As if they had been tied with hooks and rings,

Just like with iron and stone apparently.

Now I’ll explain the cause of malady, 1200

How it amasses and with sudden breath

Assails mankind and beasts and causes death.

First, many seeds, as I have shown before,

Support us, but there must be many more

That fly around and bring death and disease,

And if by chance or misadventure these

Amass and thus the heavens have been cast

Into unrest, the air receives a blast

Of sickness. These diseases bring their scourge

Either from without as down the sky they surge, 1210

Like clouds or mist, or gather frequently

From earth when through the damp it’s come to be

Putrescent, struck by an unseasonable blow

Of sun and rain. Do you not see, also,

That those who travel far from home will be

Affected by the weather’s novelty?

For what a difference must we understand

Between the climate of the British land

And that of Egypt, where the world’s pole’s bent

Somewhat? Cannot we see how different 1220

Is Pontus from Cadiz and from those places

Where tribes of people dwell with blackened faces?

And as we see four climates so diverse,

Four winds, four quarters of the universe,

We find folk vary in their looks and hue,

Subject to different diseases, too.

For instance there’s elephantiasis,

Found by the Nile in middle-Egypt – this

Is not found elsewhere. Attica is found

To have affliction of the feet, while round 1230

Achaea there’s infection of the eyes.

Hence various different maladies arise

In various parts: it’s the variety

Of airs that causes this. Accordingly,

Whenever a sky that’s alien to us all

Begins to move, a dangerous air will crawl

In snail-like fashion, like a cloud or mist,

And brings chaos wherever it may list,

Compelling change; and often, when our sky

It enters, it corrupts it and thereby 1240

It makes it like itself and therefore strange

To us. Thus when this pestilential change

Falls on the waters or upon the fields

Where corn is grown and other produce yields

The nourishment required by beasts and men

Or even hovers in the air, and when

We breathe the air mixed with it, likewise we

Must then absorb it, too. Similarly

The pestilence can give a fatal shock

To cattle and distemper to a flock 1250

Of sluggish sheep. No matter if we take

A trip to places which are apt to make

Us sick or choose a different atmosphere

Elsewhere or if a tainted sky’s brought here

By Nature or she gives us something we

Aren’t used to and has the ability

To harm us! Such a cause of maladies

Occurred once in the principalities

Of Cecrops, poisoning the countryside:

It made the roads a desert as men died 1260

In cities. Starting well within the land

Of Egypt, far across the air it spanned

The swimming plains, at length falling upon

All the inhabitants of Pandion,

Who then were visited by malady

With death assailing them extensively.

They first felt burning heat inside the head

And with that fire the eyes were flaming red.

The throat was black within and it would bleed

While ulcers clogged the passage to impede 1270

The voice; the tongue, interpreter of the head,

Was weak with pain and also freely bled,

Heavy and rough, then, having now possessed

The throat, this dreadful plague filled up the chest,

Flooding the mind, and all life’s bulwarks reeled

Indeed. The patient’s breathing, too, revealed

A foul stench, like the penetrating smell

Of corpses left unburied. Then, as well,

The mind grew faint, being about to go

Across death’s threshold. This oppressive woe 1280

Rubbed shoulders with piercing anxiety

Mingled with howls and grievous threnody.

Often the patient retched through day and night,

The limbs and muscles cramped, making him quite

Past weariness. And yet one could not see

Upon the frame any torridity,

But merely warmth, which showed a vivid red

As though with ulcers, as it may be said,

It burned, as erysipelas can glide

Across the limbs. And yet men blazed inside: 1290

A red-hot flame within the gut would burn,

And nothing light or slender could you turn

To use to help them, only wind and cold.

Some with this plague in cooling rivers rolled.

Many fell into wells, which they struck first

With gaping mouths, all drenched with parching thirst –

A water’s flood seemed but a modicum.

Fatigued, they could not find one thing to numb

The pain. Below her breath, in silent fright,

Medicine muttered, since within her sight 1300

They rolled their staring eyes repeatedly,

Sleepless and cursed by their infirmity.

Many other signs of death I’ll mention here:

A mind unsettled due to grief and fear,

A gloomy brow, a look that’s mad and wild,

Ears that are also troubled and beguiled

By droning, pants emitted frequently

And deep breaths uttered intermittently,

Dank sweat down from their features trickling

And thin, salt, yellow spittle issuing 1310

With effort from the throat. Relentlessly

The hands twitched and the limbs shook; gradually

A bitter cold would creep up from the toes,

The nostrils were compressed, the tip of the nose

Grew sharp, the eyes were sunken in the head,

The temples hollow and, as of one dead,

The hard skin cold, the forehead showing strain,

The mouth agape. Very soon in death’s domain

They lay. Upon the eighth day or, at most,

The ninth, those wretched folks gave up the ghost. 1320

If one of them had happened to evade

Destructive death, yet later they were made

To undergo foul ulcers and to bear

Black discharge from the bowels – waiting there

Was waste and death, or else corrupted blood

Would issue from choked nostrils in a flood

Which pained the head, and through this ran the store

Of human strength and substance. Furthermore,

He who evaded the foul flux of blood

Yet found this plague could cascade in a flood 1330

Into the limbs and sinews, even veer

Into the genitals. Some with a strong fear

Of death would go on living even though

They’d cut their penis off, and some would go

The rest of life without their hands and feet;

Some lost their eyes; their fear was so complete.

And there were some who lost their memory

And did not know their own identity.

Though piles of bodies lay upon the ground

Unburied, tribes of birds and beasts would bound 1340

Away to dodge the stench or, tasting, faint

And die a speedy death due to the taint.

Yet back then no-one hardly saw a bird

And from the forests scarcely came a herd

Of gloomy beasts. Most grew weak with disease

And died. Dogs were among the first of these,

Those faithful beasts, who, scattered all about

Upon the roads, reluctantly let out

Their final breath, their lives twisted away.

And there were struggles when a vast array 1350

Of funerals with no mourners went around

The streets. No solid remedy was found,

For what gave some the strength to breathe the air

And look up at the sky gave dark despair

To others. In predicaments like these,

The worst thing was when one found the disease

Had felled him, knowing death was looming, he

Would lie with saddened heart despondently

And give up his existence then and there.

No-one at any time or anywhere 1360

Cease to pass on this greed plague, as though

They were but sheep and hornèd herds; and so,

Chiefly, the dead were piled up in a heap:

For anyone who made attempts to keep

Watch on the sick, although they had a dread

Of death and love of life, would soon be dead,

Afflicted by a fatal carelessness,

Themselves deserted, plagued by helplessness.

But those who stayed at hand would perish there

From the disease and labour that they’d bear 1370

Through duty and the voice of those who’d plead

As wearily they watched, mingled indeed

With dying wails. It was this kind of death

That noble people at their final breath

Would meet. Now by this time the shepherds all,

The drovers, ploughmen, to, began to fall.

In the back-corners of their huts they’d lie,

Assailed by poverty and doomed to die.

One sometimes saw a total family

Lifeless, the mother, father, progeny. 1380

The countryside, though, had no less despair

Than Rome whither there came from everywhere

A mob of sickly farmers – they would press

In buildings and outside, where death’s distress

Pied up the corpses. Many a sick man went

Out to the highways, by his great thirst sent,

And by the fountains with Silenus’ head

They now, choked with their hankering, lay dead.

And all along those highways one might see

Many a half-dead body raggedly 1390

Abused with negligence, near buried quite

With vile and obscene filth – a dreadful sight!

Wrapped up in rags and well-nigh putrefied,

With nought but skin upon their bones, they died.

The holy temples of the deities

Had Death becrammed with all its carcasses,

Each altar filled with corpses everywhere,

The shrine of which the sacristans took care

And filled with guests. There was no admiration

For worship now, for all the tribulation 1400

Suppressed it. Burial rites, which evermore

Had been observed for many years before,

Was banished. Everyone was filled with dread

And, as he may, would bury his own dead.

For sudden urgency and poverty

Caused awful acts, as people piercingly

Shrieked out as on a stranger’s pyre they lay

Their kin: the torch once placed beneath it, they

Indulged in bloody brawls rather than leave

Their loved one, and then they would weep and grieve 1410

As they went home. A multiplicity

Would take themselves to bed in misery.

And there was nobody whom one would know

Untouched by death and malady and woe.

The end of De Rerum Natura: Book VII