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This webpage reproduces the essay
On the Principle of Cold

by
Plutarch

as published in Vol. XII
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1957

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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(Vol. XII) Plutarch, Moralia

Copyright

The work appears in pp225‑285 of Vol. XII of the Loeb Classical Library's edition of the Moralia, first published in 1957. It is now in the public domain pursuant to the 1978 revision of the U. S. Copyright Code, since the copyright expired in 1985 and was not renewed at the appropriate time, which would have been that year or the year before. (Details here on the copyright law involved.)

p227 Loeb Edition Introduction

This little essay, or open letter to Favorinus, is not written in a controversial spirit, though a few sharp comments are made from time to time. Having established (chapters 5‑7) that an element of Cold really exists, Plutarch proceeds to consider what that element may be. Since fire is obviously excluded, can it be air, as the Stoics believe (8‑12), or water, as Empedocles, and an early Peripatetic, Strato, hold (13‑16)? Or, indeed, may it be earth itself (17‑22)? This latter opinion is apparently put forward by Plutarch as an original contribution to theoretical physics and there is no reason to believe it is not his. The essay closes, however, with a recommendation to skepticism,1 so that our author may not have regarded his attempted proof as cogent, as indeed it is not.

The work was probably written in Delphi (cf.  953C‑D and E) after A.D. 107 (949E, note) and addressed to the young philosopher Favorinus,2 the great lover of Aristotle (Mor. 734F), who is also a speaker in Symposiacs, VIII.10. Though Favorinus was in all p228likelihood some twenty years younger than Plutarch, the two men dedicated several works to each other.3 In the present essay it is, perhaps, odd that of the three quotations from Aristotle one is a rebuke (950B), one is apparently a partial mistranslation (948A, note), while the third is of no importance. No doubt it is in virtue of Favorinus' youth that his idol is treated so lightly, and that the sceptical note is sounded so firmly at the end. The young Peripatetic was also quoted by Plutarch (for partial refutation) in Mor. 271C; but Plutarch (if Tarn4 and others are right) became much more favourable to Peripatetics later in his life (e.g. in the Life of Alexander).

Bernardakis's text of this work is one of his most unsatisfactory; even for an editio minor it is careless and confused to a deplorable extent. Nor are the means of correcting and supplementing it at hand, the fifth Teubner volume being still, one fears, in the remote future. Then, too, the only photographs available were those of E and B, which are not likely to add much to our knowledge.5 Consequently the only course that seemed prudent was to return to p229Wyttenbach wherever there was a reasonable doubt. Bernardakis has been tacitly corrected (or altered, whichever it may be) in a good many places. This has been consistently when both E and B agree with Wyttenbach's and Hutten's silence; Bernardakis's silence, unfortunately, appears to have no significance.

The work is no. 90 in the catalogue of Lamprias.

p231 (945F) 1 1   [link to original Greek text] Is there, then, Favorinus,6 an active principle or substance of Cold (as fire is of Heat) through the presence of which and through participation in which everything else becomes cold? Or is coldness rather a negation of warmth, as they say darkness is of light and rest of motion? 946Cold, indeed, seems to have the quality of being stationary, as heat has that of motion; while the cooling off of hot things is not caused by the presence of any force,7 but merely by the displacement of heat, for it can be seen to depart completely at the same time as the remainder cools off. The steam, for example, which boiling water emits, is expelled in company with the departing heat; that is why the amount becomes less by cooling off; for this removes the heat and nothing else takes place.

2 1   [link to original Greek text] First of all, must we not be wary of one point in this argument? It eliminates many obvious forces by considering them not to be qualities or properties, but merely the negation of qualities or properties, weight being the negation of lightness and hardness that of softness, black that of white, and bitter that of sweet, Band so in any other case where there is a natural opposition of forces rather than a relation of positive and negative. Another point is that all negation is inert and unproductive: blindness, for p233example, and deafness, silence or death. Here you have the defection of a definite form and the annihilation of a reality, not something that is in itself a part of nature or reality. It is the nature of coldness, however, to produce affectsº and alterations in bodies that it enters no less than those caused by heat. Many objects can be frozen solid, or become condensed or made viscous, by cold.8 Moreover, the property whereby coldness promotes rest and resists most is not inert, Cbut acts by pressure and resistance, being constrictive and preservative because of its strength. This explains how, though negation is a disappearance and departure of the contrary force, many things may yet become9 cold while all the time containing within themselves considerable warmth. There are even some objects which cold solidifies and consolidates the more readily the hotter they are: steel, for example, plunged in water. The Stoics10 also affirm that in the bodies of infant children the breath is tempered by cooling and, from being a physical substance, becomes a soul. This, however, is debatable; yet since there are many other effects which may be seen to be produced through the agency of cold, we are not justified in regarding it as a negation.

3 1   [link to original Greek text] DBesides, a negation does not permit degrees of less or more. Surely nobody will affirm that one blind man is blinder than another, or one dumb man more silent than another, or one corpse deader than its fellow; but among cold things there is a wide range of deviation from much to little, from very cold to not very, and, generally speaking, in degrees of intensity p235and remission, just as there is in hot things. This occurs because the matter involved is in different cases acted upon by the opposing forces with more or less intensity; it thus exhibits degrees of one or the other, and so of hot and cold. There is, in fact, no such thing as a blending of positive qualities with negative ones, Enor may any positive force accept the assault of the negation that corresponds to it or take it into partnership; instead it gives place to it. Now hot things do admit a blending with cold up to a point, just as do black with white, high notes with low, sweet tastes with sour; and this harmonious association of colours and sounds, drugs and sauces, produces many combinations that are pleasant and grateful to the senses.

For the opposition of a negation to a positive quality is an irreconcilable hostility, since the existence of the one is the annihilation of the other. The other opposition, however, of positive forces, if it occurs in due measure, Fis often operative in the arts, and very often indeed in various phenomena of nature, especially in connexion with the weather and the seasons and those matters from which the god derives his title of harmonizer and musician, because he organizes and regulates them. He does not receive these names merely for bringing sounds of high and low pitch, or black and white colours, into harmonious fellowship, but because he has authority over the association and disunion of heat and cold in the universe, to see that they observe due measure in their combination and separation, and because, by eliminating the excess of either, he brings both into proper order.

4 1   [link to original Greek text] 947Furthermore, we find that cold can be perceived p237as well as heat; but mere negation cannot be seen or heard or touched or recognized by the other senses. Perception, in fact, must be of something existent; but where nothing existent is observed, privation may be inferred, being the negation of existence, as blindness is of sight, silence of sound, void and emptiness of matter. We cannot perceive a void by touch; but where no matter can be touched, void is inferred. Nor can we hear silence; yet, even though we hear nothing, we infer silence. Nor, in the same way, is sense active when things are unseen or bare;11 there is, rather, inference from the negation of perception. BIf, therefore, cold were a privation of warmth, we ought not to be able to feel it, but only to infer it from the deficiency in warmth; but if cold is perceived by the contraction and condensation of our flesh (just as heat is by the warming and loosening of it), clearly there is some special first principle and source of coldness, just as there is of heat.

5 1   [link to original Greek text] And yet another point: privation of any sort is something simple and uncomplicated, whereas substances have many differences and powers. Silence, for example, is of only one kind, while sound varies, sometimes annoying, at other times delighting, the perception. CBoth colours and figures show the same variation, for they produce different effects on different occasions when they meet the eye; but that which cannot be touched and is without colour or any quality whatever, admits no difference, but is always the same.

6 1   [link to original Greek text] Is cold, then, so like this sort of privation that p239it produces no effects that differ? Or is the contrary true: Do not great and useful pleasures accrue to our bodies from the presence of cold, as well as mighty detriments and pains and depressions, before which the heat does not always depart and quit the field? Often, rather, though cut off within, it makes a stand and gives battle. This struggle of hot and cold is called shivering or shaking; and if heat is overcome, freezing and torpor set in; Dbut if cold is defeated, there is diffused through the body a relaxed and pleasantly warm sensation which Homer12 calls "to be aglow." Surely these facts are obvious to everyone; and it is chiefly by these effects that cold is shown to be in opposition to heat, not as a negation or privation, but as one substance or one state13 to another: it is not a mere destruction or abolition of heat, but a positive substance or force. Otherwise we might just as well exclude winter from the list of seasons or the northerly blasts from that of winds, on the pretext that they are only a deficiency of hot weather or southerly gales Eand have no proper origin of their own.

7 1   [link to original Greek text] Furthermore, given four primary bodies in the universe14 which, because of their quantity, simplicity, and potentiality, most judges regard as being the elements or first principles of everything else — I mean fire, water, air, and earth — the number of primary, simple qualities must be the same. And what should these be but warmth and cold, dryness p241and moisture, which by their very nature cause all the elements to act and be acted upon?15 Just as in grammar we have elements long and short and in music elements high and low in pitch — Fand in neither case is one element merely a negation of the other — so also in physical bodies we must assume an elementary opposition of wet to dry and cold to hot, and in this way we shall be faithful both to logic and to experience. Or are we, as old Anaximenes16 maintained, to leave neither hot nor cold in the realm of being, but to treat them as states belonging equally to any matter and occurring as a result of changes within it? He affirms, in fact, that anything which undergoes contraction and condensation of matter is cold, while anything that suffers rarefaction and distention — this comes close to his phrasing — is hot. So there is no contradiction in the remark that the man blew both hot and cold,17 for breath grows cold when it is compressed and condensed by the lips; 948but when it is expelled from the mouth left slack, it becomes hot through rarefaction. Aristotle,18 however, holds that in this Anaximenes were mistaken: when the mouth is slack, what is exhaled is warm air from our own bodies; but when we compress the lips and blow, it is not air from ourselves, but the cold air in front of the mouth that is propelled forward and makes contact.

p243 8 1   [link to original Greek text] Perhaps we should now leave the question whether heat and cold are substances; if so, let us advance the argument to the next point and inquire what sort of substance coldness has, and what is its first principle and nature. BNow those who affirm that there are certain uneven, triangular formations in our bodies19 and that shivering and trembling, shuddering and the like manifestations, proceed from this rough irregularity, even if they are wrong in the particulars, at least derive the first principle from the proper place; for the investigation should begin as it were from the very hearth,20 from the substance of all things. This is, it would seem, the great difference between a philosopher and a physician or a farmer or a flute-player; for the latter are content to examine the causes most remote from the first cause, since as soon as the most immediate cause of an effect is grasped — that fever is brought about by exertion or an overflow of blood, Cthat rusting of grain is caused by days of blazing sun after a rain, that a low note is produced by the angle and construction of the pipes — that is enough to enable a technician to do his proper job. But when the natural philosopher sets out to find the truth as a matter of speculative knowledge, the discovery of immediate causes is not the end, but the beginning of his journey to the first and highest causes. This is the reason why Plato and Democritus,21 when they were inquiring into the causes of heat and heaviness, were right not to stop their investigation with earth and fire, but p245to go on carrying back sensible phenomena to rational origins until they reached, as it were, the minimum number of seeds.

9 1   [link to original Greek text] Nevertheless it is better for us first to attack things perceptible to the senses, in which Empedocles22 Dand Strato23 and the Stoics24 locate the substances that underlie the qualities, the Stoics ascribing the primordially cold to the air, Empedocles and Strato to water; and someone else may, perhaps, be found to affirm that earth is the original substance of coldness.25 But let us examine Stoic doctrine before the others.

Since fire is not only warm but bright, the opposite natural entity (they say) must be both cold and dark: as gloomy is the opposite of bright, so is cold of hot. Besides, as darkness confounds the sight, so cold confuses the sense of touch. Heat, on the other hand, transmits the sensation of touching, as brightness does that of seeing. EIt follows, then, that in nature the primordially dark is also the primordially cold; and that it is air which is primordially dark does not, in fact, escape the notice of the poets since they use the term "air" for "darkness":

Thick air lay all about the ships, nor could

The moon shine forth from heaven.26

and another instance:

So clad in air they visit all the earth.27

p247 And another:

The air at once he scattered and dispelled the mist;

The sun shone forth and all the battle came in view.28

They also call the lightless air knephas, being as it were, kenon phaous "void of light"; and collected and condensed air has been termed nephos "cloud" because it is a negation of light.29 FFlecks in the sky and mist and fog and anything else that does not provide a transparent medium for light to reach our senses are merely variations of air; and its invisible and colourless part is called Hades and Acheron.30 In the same way, then, as air is dark when light is gone, so when heat departs the residue is cold air and nothing else. And this is the reason why it has been termed Tartarus because of its coldness. Hesiod31 makes this obvious when he writes "murky Tartarus"; and to shake and shiver with cold is to "tartarize."32 Such, then, is the reason for these names.

10 1   [link to original Greek text] 949Since corruption, in each case, is a change of the things that are corrupted into their opposites, let us see whether the saying holds good that "the death of fire is the birth of air."33 Fire, indeed, perishes like a living creature,34 being either extinguished by main force or dying out of itself. Now if it is extinguished, that makes the change of fire p249into air more conspicuous. Smoke, in fact, is a form of air, as is reek and exhalation, which, to quote Pindar,35

Stabs at the air with unctuous smoke.

Nevertheless, even when fire goes out for lack of nourishment, one may see, as for instance in the case of lamps, the apex of the flame passing off into murky, dusky air. Moreover, the vapour ascending from our bodies when, after a bath or sweat, cold water is poured on them, sufficiently illustrates the change of heat, as it were, into the air; and this implies that it is the natural opposite of fire. BFrom this the Stoics drew the conclusion that air was primordially dark and cold.

11 [link to original Greek text] Moreover, freezing, which is the most extreme and violent effect of cold in bodies, is a condition of water, but a function of air. For water of itself is fluid, uncongealed and not cohesive; but when it is compressed by air because of its cold state, it becomes taut and compact. This is the reason for the saying36

If Southwind challenges North, instantly snow will appear.

For after the Southwind has collected the moisture as raw material, the Boreal air takes over and congeals it. CThis is particularly evident in snowfields: when they have discharged a preliminary exhalation of air that is thin and cold, they melt.37 Aristotle38 also declares that whetstones of lead will melt and become fluid in the wintertime through excess of cold p251when no water is anywhere near them; it seems probable that the air with its coldness forces the bodies together until it crushes and breaks them.39

12 1   [link to original Greek text] Furthermore, portions of water will freeze sooner than the spring from which they are drawn, for the air more readily masters the smaller amount. If you will draw from a cold well cold water in a jar40 and let it down again into the well in such a way that the jar does not touch the water, but is suspended in the air, Dand if you wait a short time, you will find that the water has become colder.41 This is very good evidence that the First Cause of coldness is not water but air. Certainly, none of the great rivers freezes through its entire depth; for the air does not penetrate down into the whole, but merely renders stationary as much as, by contact and proximity, it includes within the range of its coldness. And this is the reason why barbarians42 do not cross frozen rivers until they have tried them out with foxes: if the ice is not thick, but merely superficial, the foxes perceive this by the sound of the current running underneath and return to the bank. Some even catch fish by weakening and softening the ice with hot water — Eenough of the ice, at least, to admit their lines; so the cold has no effect at a depth. Yet the water near the surface undergoes so great a change through freezing that ships are crushed by it when it is forced in on itself and squeezed tight, as those relate who recently passed the winter p253with Caesar43 on the Danube. Nevertheless, what happens in our own case is ample testimony: after warm baths and sweats we are cooler, since our bodies are relaxed and porous, so that we take in a good deal of cold along with the air.44a FThe same thing happens to water, too: it freezes faster when it has first been heated, thus becoming more susceptible to air; and those who draw off boiling water and suspend it in the air do this, surely, only to secure the admixture of great quantities of air.44b So now, Favorinus, the argument that attributes the primal force of cold to the air depends on such plausibilities as these.

13 1   [link to original Greek text] But the argument which attributes it to water finds in the same way facts to support it; Empedocles45 says something like this:

Behold the sun, everywhere bright and warm;

And then the rain, to all men dark and cold.

By thus setting cold against hot, as he does dark against bright, he has given us to understand that dark and cold belong to the same substance, as do also bright and hot. 950And our senses bear witness that darkness is an attribute of water, not of air, since nothing, to put it simply, is blackened by air and everything is by water.46 For if you throw the whitest wool or the whitest garment into the water, it will come p255out black and it will remain black until the moisture is evaporated by heat or is squeezed out by some sort of wringing or pressure. When a patch of ground is sprinkled, the pots which are covered by the drops turn black, but the rest remains as it was. In fact, of water itself the deepest looks the darkest Bbecause there is so much of it, while those parts that lie near the air flash and sparkle;47 and of the other liquids oil is the most transparent, as containing the most air. A proof of this is its lightness, by reason of which it maintains itself on the surface of all other things, buoyed up by the air.48 If it is sprinkled upon the waves, it will calm the sea, not because it is so smooth that the winds slip off it, as Aristotle49 affirmed; but because the waves are dissipated when they are struck by any moist substance. But it is peculiar to oil that it provides light and sight at the bottom since the moist elements are interspersed with air; it is, in fact, not only on the surface that it provides light for those who pass the night at sea; Cit does so also for sponge-divers50 below the surface when it is blown out of their mouths. Air, therefore, has no greater proportion of darkness than water has, and it has less cold. Certainly oil, which has more air than any other moist substance, is least cold; and when it freezes, it forms a soft jelly: the air that is intermixed does not permit it to freeze hard. They dip needles, iron clasps, and all delicate artifacts in oil rather than in water, fearing that the water's excessive frigidity p257may distort them. It is, in fact, fairer to judge the argument by this evidence than by that of colour, since snow and hail and ice are at their brightest when they are coldest. DMoreover, pitch is both hotter and darker than honey.

14 1   [link to original Greek text] I am surprised, nevertheless, when those who maintain that the air is cold because it is dark do not perceive that others think it must be hot because it is light. For darkness is not so closely connected and akin to cold as heaviness and stability are; many things, in fact, which have no heat are bright, but nothing cold is buoyant, light, and soaring. Why, the very clouds, as long as they are akin to the substance of air, float aloft; Ebut as soon as they change to moisture, they fall at once and lose their lightness no less than their warmth as coldness grows within them. Contrariwise, when heat supervenes, they reverse the movement again, for their substance begins to soar as soon as it has changed to air.

Nor is the argument from destruction true either; for when anything is destroyed, it does not perish by becoming its opposite, though it does perish by the action of its opposite, as fire, for instance, is changed by water into air. For of water Aeschylus51 speaks in tragic style, but accurately, as

The riot-quelling justicer of fire.

And when Homer52 matched Hephaestus against the river and Apollo against Poseidon in the battle, he did it rather as a philosopher than as a poet. FAnd p259Archilochus53 expressed himself well on a woman who was of two minds:

With guileful thoughts she bore

In one hand water, in the other fire.

Among the Persians it was the most compelling plea to gain an end, one which would admit no refusal, if the suppliant took fire, stood in a river, and threatened that if he lost his suit, he would drop the fire into the water. Now he got how he asked, but though he did so, he was punished for the threat, on the ground that it was contrary to law and against nature. Again, the familiar proverb that is on everyone's lips,54 "to mix fire with water," as an example of the impossible, seems to bear witness that water is hostile to fire, which is destroyed by it and so is punished by being extinguished;55 951it is not so affected by air, which, on the contrary, supports fire and welcomes it in its changed form. For if anything into which the thing destroyed changes is its opposite, why will fire, any more than water, seem opposite to air? For air changes into water by condensation, and into fire by rarefaction just as, on the other hand, water vanishes into air by rarefaction, but into earth by condensation. Now these processes take place, in my opinion, not because these elements are contrary or hostile to one another, but because they are in close affinity and relationship. But my opponents,56 whichever way they state their case, ruin their proof. BCertainly it is perfectly p261absurd for them to say that water is frozen by air when they have never seen air itself freezing. For clouds, mists, and flecks in the sky are not congelations, but condensations and thickenings of air that is moist and vaporous. But waterless, dry air never admits loss of heat to the point where such a change might occur. There are, in fact, mountains which do not know clouds or dew or mist because their peaks reach a region of pure air that has no humidity at all. From this fact it is especially obvious that it is the condensation and density below that contribute to air the cold, moist element that is found in combination with it.

15 1   [link to original Greek text] It is reasonable that the lower portion of large rivers should not freeze; for the upper portion, being frozen, does not transmit the exhalation which is, accordingly, shut in and turned back, Cand so provides heat for the deep waters. A demonstration of this is the fact that when the ice melts again a great quantity of vapour rises from the waters. This is also the reason why the bodies of animals are warmer in the winter, because the heat is driven inwards by the cold from without and they keep it within them.

Now drawing off water and suspending it in the air57 not only takes away its warmth, but its coldness also; those, therefore, who want a very cold drink take care not to disturb the snowpacks58 or the wet matter that is formed from them by compression, for movement expels both heat and cold.

That such a function of cold belongs not to air, but to water, may be demonstrated as follows from a fresh p263start. In the first place, it is improbable that air, Dwhich lies adjacent to the aether59 and touches and is touched by the revolving fiery substance, should have a force that is contrary to that of aether. For one thing, it is impossible for two substances whose boundaries touch and are contiguous not to be acted upon by each other — and if acted upon, for the weaker not to be contaminated by the force that resides in the stronger. Nor is it reasonable to suppose that Nature has placed side by side destroyer and victim, as though she were the author of strife and dissension, not of union and harmony. She does, indeed, make use of opposites to constitute the universe; yet she does not employ them without a tempering element, or where they will collide. She disposes them rather so that a space is skipped and an inserted strip duly assigned whereby they will not destroy one another, but may enjoy communication and co-operation. And this strip is occupied by air, suffused as it is through a space under the fire60 between it and water. It makes distribution both ways and receives contributions from both, Ebeing itself neither hot nor cold, but a blending and union of the two. When these are so fused, they meet without injury and the fused matter sends forth or takes to itself the opposing extremes61 without violence.

16 1   [link to original Greek text] Then, too, air is everywhere equal, though neither winter nor cold is identical everywhere. It is no accident that some parts of the world are cold and damp, while others are hot and dry; it is due to the existence of a single substance that includes p265coldness and wetness in one. FThe greater part of Africa is hot and without water; while those who have travelled through Scythia, Thrace, and Pontus62 report that these regions have great lakes or marshes and are traversed by many deep rivers. As for the regions that lie between, those that are near lakes and marshes are especially cold because of the exhalations from the water. Posidonius,63 then, in affirming that the freshness and moistness of marsh air is the reason for the cold, has done nothing to disturb the plausibility of the argument; he has, rather, made it more plausible. For fresh air would not always seem colder if cold did not take its origin from moisture. So Homer64 spoke more truly when he affirmed

952The river-air blows chill before the dawn,

thereby indicating the source of coldness.

Our senses, moreover, often deceive us and we imagine, when we touch cold garments or cold wool, that we are touching moist objects: this is because wet and cold have a common substance and their natures have a close affinity and relationship. In very cold climates the low temperature often breaks vessels whether they are of bronze or of clay — not, of course, when they are empty, but only when they are full and the water exerts pressure by means of its coldness. Theophrastus,65 to be sure, declares that the air breaks these vessels, using the liquid as a spike. BBut take care66 that there isn't more wit than p267truth in such a remark! For if it were so, vessels full of pitch or of milk would more readily be broken by the air.67

Water, however, seems to be cold of itself, and primordially so. It is the antithesis, in its coldness, to the heat of fire, just as in its wetness to the dryness of fire, and in its heaviness to the other's lightness. To sum up: fire is of a disintegrating and separative nature, while water is adhesive and retentive, holding and gluing together by means of its moistness. Empedocles68 alluded to this, when, as often as he mentioned them, he termed Fire a "Destructive Strife" and Water "Tenacious Love." CFor the nourishment of fire is that which can be changed into fire and only things that have affinity and a close relationship to it can be so changed; while its opposites, like water, are not easily changed to fire. Water itself is practically incombustible, and it renders matter such as damp grass and moist timber very hard to consume; the greenness in them produces a dusky, dull flame because, by dint of cold, it struggles against heat as against its natural enemy.

17 1   [link to original Greek text] Now you must pursue the subject by comparing these arguments with those of my opponents. For Chrysippus,69 thinking that the air is primordially cold because it is also dark, merely mentioned those who affirm that water is at a greater distance from the aether70 than is air; and, wishing to make them some answer, he said, "If so, we might as well declare that even earth is primordially cold because it is at the p269greatest distance from the aether" — Dtossing off this argument as if it were utterly inadmissible and absurd. But I have a mind to maintain the thesis that earth too is not destitute of probable and convincing arguments, and I shall start with the one that Chrysippus has found most serviceable for air. And what is this? Why, that it is primordially dark and cold. For if he takes these two pairs of opposing forces and assumes that one must of necessity accompany the other, there are, surely, innumerable oppositions and antipathies between the aether and the earth with which one might suppose this to be consistent. EFor it is not only opposed as heavy to light and as moving by gravity downwards, not upwards, or as dense to rare or as slow and stable to mobile and active, but as heaviest to lightest and as densest to rarest and, finally, as immovable of itself to self-moving, and as occupying the central position in the universe to revolving forever around a centre. It is not absurd, then, if oppositions so numerous and important carry with them the opposition of cold and heat as well. "Yes," Chrysippus may say, "but fire is bright." Is not the earth, then, dark? Why, it is the darkest and most unilluminated of all things. FCertainly air is first of all to participate in light; it is instantly altered and when it is saturated, it distributes illumination everywhere, lending itself to light as a body in which to reside. For when the sun arises, as one of the dithyrambic writers71 has said,

It straightway fills the mighty home of the air-borne winds.

p271 Next the air, moving downward, infuses a part of its brightness into the lakes and the sea, and the depths of the rivers flash brightly,72 to the extent that air is able to penetrate them. Of all bodies only the earth remains constantly without light, impenetrable to the illumination of sun or moon; yet it is warmed by them and permits the heat to sink in and warm it up to a slight depth. 953But because it is solid, earth does not give passage to light, but is encircled by light on its surface only, while the inner parts are called Darkness and Chaos and Hades73 — so that Erebus74 turns out to be the subterranean and interior darkness. Then, too, the poets tell us that Night was born of Earth75 and mathematicians demonstrate that night is the shadow of Earth blocking the light of the sun. The air, indeed, is saturated with darkness by the earth, just as it is with light by the sun. The unlighted portion of the air is the area of night, amounting to the space occupied by the earth's shadow. This is the reason why men make use of the air out of doors even when it is night, as well as many beasts which do their pasturing in the darkness, Bsince it retains some vestiges of light and dispersed glimmerings of radiance; but the house-bound man who is under a roof is utterly blind and without light inasmuch as there the earth envelops him from all directions. Whole skins, furthermore, and horns of animals do not let light pass through them because of their solidity; yet if sections are sawed off and polished, they become translucent when once the air has been mixed with them. It is also my opinion p273that the earth is called black by the poets,76 whenever they have occasion to do so, because of its murky and lightless characteristics. The result, then, of these considerations is that the much-prized antithesis of light and darkness belongs to earth rather than to air.

18 1   [link to original Greek text] CThis, however, has no relevance to the question under discussion; for it has been shown that there are many cold objects which are bright and many hot which are dull and dark. Yet there are qualities more closely connected that belong to coldness; heaviness, stability, solidity, and resistance to change. Air has no part at all in them, while earth has a greater share in all of them than water has. Cold, moreover, is perceptibly one of the hardest of things and it makes things hard and unyielding. Theophrastus,77 for instance, tells us that when frozen fish are dropped on the ground, they are broken and smashed to bits just like objects of glass or earthenware. DAnd at Delphi you yourself heard, in the case of those who climbed Parnassus to rescue the Thyiades78 when they were trapped by a fierce gale and snowstorm, that their capes were frozen so stiff and wooden that when they were opened out, they broke and split apart. Excessive cold, because of its hardness and immobility, also stiffens the muscles and renders the tongue speechless, for it congeals the moist and tender parts of the body.

p275 19 1   [link to original Greek text] In view of these considerations, regard the facts in the following light: every force, presumably, whenever it prevails, by a law of nature changes and turns into itself whatever it overcomes. What is mastered by heat is reduced to flames, what is mastered by wind turns to air; and anything that falls into the water, Eunless it gets out quickly, dissolves and liquefies. It follows, then, that whatever is completely frozen must turn into primordial cold. Now freezing is extreme refrigeration that terminates in a complete alteration and petrifaction when, since the cold has obtained complete mastery, the moist elements are frozen solid and the heat is squeezed out. This is the reason why the earth at its bottom-most point is practically all solid frost and ice. For there undiluted and unmitigated cold abides at bay, thrust back to the point farthest removed from the flaming aether.79 As for these features that are visible, cliffs and crags and rocks, Empedocles80 thinks that they have been fixed in place and are upheld by resting on the fire that burns in the depths of the earth; Fbut the indications are rather that all these things from which the heat was squeezed out and evaporated were completely frozen by the cold; and for this reason they are called pagoi.81 So also the peaks82 of many of them have a black crust where the heat has been expelled and have the appearance of debris from a conflagration. For the cold freezes substances to a varying degree, but hardest those of which it is naturally a primary constituent. 954Thus, if p277it is the nature of heat to lighten, the lightest object will have most heat, and if it is the nature of humidity to soften, the softest will have the most humidity; so, if it is also true that the nature of cold is to harden, then it must also follow that the hardest object will have the most cold — that is to say, just as the earth has. But what is coldest by nature is surely also primarily cold, so that the earth is in fact cold both primordially and naturally; and, of course, this is obvious even to the senses. Mud, in fact, is a colder thing than water; and men extinguish a fire by dumping earth upon it. Blacksmiths, when their iron becomes fiery and begins to melt, sprinkle on it marble chips and gypsum Bto check and cool it off before it melts too much. It is also true that dust cools the bodies of athletes and dries up their sweat.

20 1   [link to original Greek text] And what is the meaning of our demand for a yearly change of habitation? In winter we retreat to the loftiest parts of our homes, those farthest from the earth, while in summer we require the lowest parts, submerging ourselves and going in quest of comfortable retreats, as we make the best of a life in the embrace of mother earth. Since we do this, are we not guided to the earth by our perception of its coldness? Do we not acknowledge it as the natural seat of primordial cold? And surely our living by the sea in the winter is, in a way, an escape from the earth, Csince we abandon the land as far as possible because of the frost and wrap ourselves in salt sea air because it is warm. Then again, in the summer by reason of the heat, we long for the earth-born, upland air, not p279because it is itself chilly, but because it has sprung from the naturally and primordially cold and has been imbued with its earthy power, as steel is tempered by being plunged in water.83 And of flowing waters, also, the coldest are those that fall from rocks or mountains, and of well waters the deepest are the coldest; the air from outside does not, in the case of these wells, affect the water, so deep are they, while any such streams burst forth through pure unmixed earth, like the one at Taenarum,84 Dwhich they call the water of Styx: it flows from the rock in a trickle, but so cold that no vessel except an ass's hoof can contain it — all others it bursts and breaks apart.

21 1   [link to original Greek text] We are, further, informed by physicians that generically earth is by nature astringent and cold, and they enumerate many metals that provide a styptic, staying effect for medicinal use. The element of earth is not sharp or mobile or slender or prickly or soft or ductile, but solid and compact like a cube.85 EThis is how it came to have weight; and the cold, which is its true power, by thickening, compressing, and squeezing out the humidity of bodies, induces shivering and shaking through its inequality;86 and if it becomes complete master and expels or extinguishes all the heat, it fixes the body in a frozen and corpselike condition. This is the reason why earth does not burn at all, or burns only grudgingly p281and with difficulty. Air, on the other hand, often shoots forth flames from itself and, turning into fire, makes streams and flashes of lightning. Heat feeds on moisture,87 for it is not the solid part of wood, but the damp part, that is combustible; and when this is distilled, Fthe solid, dry part remains behind, reduced to ashes.88 Those who emulously strive to prove that this too is changed and consumed, sprinkling it, perhaps, with oil or kneading it with suet and setting it alight, accomplish nothing; for when the oily part is consumed, the earthy remains as a permanent residue, do what they may. Not only, therefore, because the earth is physically immovable from its station, but also because it is unalterable in essence, it was quite appropriately called Hestia89 by the ancients — in as much as she "remains in the home of the gods" — because of its stationary and compact nature; and coldness is what binds it together, as Archelaüs90 the natural philosopher declared, since nothing can relax or soften it, as a substance that is subject to heating or warming might be loosened.

955As for those who suppose that they feel cold air and water, but are less sensible of earth's coldness, what they perceive is that portion of earth which is closest to them and has come to be a medley, a congeries, abounding in air and water, sun and heat. There is no difference between such people and those who p283declare that the aether91 is not naturally and primordially hot, but rather that scalding water or red hot iron ore are — because they can feel and touch these, but are unable to touch and feel the primordially pure and heavenly fire. Nor likewise are these persons able to touch and feel the earth at its bottom-most, which is what we particularly mean by earth — earth set off alone by itself, without admixture of any other element. BBut we can see a sample of such earthiness in that statement about the cliffs92 that display from deep down so intense a cold that it can scarcely be endured. Then, too, those who want a colder drink throw pebbles into the water,93 which becomes thicker and denser through the coldness the streams upward, fresh and undiluted, from the stones.

22 1   [link to original Greek text] We must, therefore, believe that the reason why ancient learned men held that there is no commerce between earthly and celestial things was not that they distinguished up and down by relative position, as we do in the case of scales; but rather it was the difference in powers that led them to assign such things as are hot and bright, swift and buoyant, to the eternal and imperishable part of nature, while darkness and cold and slowness they considered the unhappy heritage of transitory and submerged beings. Then too, the body of a living creature, Cas long as it breathes and flourishes, does, as the poets say, enjoy both warmth and life;94 but when these forsake it and it is abandoned in the realm of earth alone, immediately frigidity and congelation seize upon it, p285since warmth naturally resides in anything else rather than in the earthy.

23 1   [link to original Greek text] Compare these statements, Favorinus, with the pronouncements of others; and if these notions of mine are neither less probable nor much more plausible than those of others, say farewell to dogma, being convinced as you are that it is more philosophic to suspend judgement when the truth is obscure than to take sides.95


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 See J. Schröter, Plutarchs Stellung zur Skepsis (Greifswald, 1911), pp23 and 40. He compares other recommendations to the suspension of judgement, such as Mor. 430F‑431A. Cf. also Hartman, De Plutarcho, pp253 f.

2 For the details see Ziegler's article on Plutarch in Pauly-Wissowa, RE, col. 675.

3 Lamprias cat. 132: Plutarch's Letter to Favorinus on Friendship (or The Use of Friends); Galen, de Opt. Doctr. (I.41 K): Favorinus's Plutarch, or On the Academic Disposition. See also Suidas, s.v. Φαβωρῖνος.

4 Alexander the Great, II.298 f.

5 See the recent brisk controversy as to their relationship: Manton, Class. Quart. XLIII (1949), pp97‑104; Hubert, Rhein. Mus. XCIII (1950), pp330‑336; Einarson and De Lacy, Class. Phil. XLVI (1951), p110, n56; Flacelière, ed. Plutarch, Amatorius, pp35 ff. The evidence in this essay, for what it may be worth, seems to make it unlikely that B was here copied from either E or an immediate descendant; they both appear to go back to a common ancestor, perhaps through several intermediaries: see, e.g., 951A, B, D, 953E. See now Cherniss supra, pp27, note a; 31, 32.

6 See the introduction to this essay.

7 As, for instance, the force of fire.

8 As steam is condensed and oil becomes viscous.

9 The verb is ambiguous: "become cold" or "dry" or perhaps "congealed."

10 Cf. Mor. 1052F; von Arnim, S.V.F., II, pp134, 222; and see Hartman's explanation, De Plutarcho, p566. Von Arnim thinks that the next five chapters also contain Stoic material.

11 As, when a hill has been stripped of timber, you cannot see the trees.

12 See, e.g.Odyssey, VI.156; Iliad, XXIII.598, 600; and cf. Mor. 454D, 735F.

13 Heat, for example, may be said to be a "state" or condition of metal.

14 See Diels-Kranz, Frag. der Vorsok.5, I, pp315 ff., Empedocles, frag. B 17. The doctrine is clearly stated by, for example, Pliny, Nat. Hist. II.10. The author of the Epinomis (981C) adds a fifth element, aether (cf. 951D infra).

15 Post translates his emendation: "by which all things are qualified through the natural action of the elements," pointing out that elements have nothing but size, shape, and motion. Fire causes heat, but its atoms are not themselves hot.

16 Diels-Kranz, Frag. der Vorsok.5, I, p95; cf. Diller, Hermes, LXVII, pp35 f.

17 See Aesop's Fables (no. 60 in Chambry's Budé edition, vol. I, pp131 ff.), where the satyr renounces friendship with the man because the latter blows both hot and cold through the same mouth.

18 Probably (cf. the note on 950B infra) Problemata, XXXIV.7 (964 A10 ff.); contrast Plato, Timaeus, 79A C.

19 Cf. Plato, Timaeus, 53C, 54B‑C.

20 Or, perhaps, "with Hestia," as the first principle of the cosmos (see, for example, Ritter, on Plato, Phaedrus, 247A, pp123‑124 of his edition). This passage is somewhat obscurely quoted below in 954F. There were already three different interpretations known to the scholiast on Plato, Euthyphro, 3A (p2, ed. Greene).

21 Wyttenbach suggested "Xenocrates" for "Democritus" in this passage, which may be right, though his proposal is not considered by either Mullach or Heinze.

22 Cf. Diels-Kranz, Frag. der Vorsok.5, I, p319, frag. B 21, part of which is quoted below in 949F.

23 See Fritz Wehrli, Die Schule des Aristoteles, Part V, frag. 49.

24 Cf. Mor. 952C, 1053F; von Arnim, S.V.F. II, pp140 f.

25 As Plutarch himself: see below, 952C ff. (chapters 17‑22).

26 Homer, Odyssey, IX.144‑145. Words for "air" in Homer often mean "mist" or "fog."

27 Hesiod, Works and Days, 255.

28 Homer, Iliad, XVII.649‑650.

29 Plutarch's etymologies here are no more scientific or convincing than those to be found in his Roman Questions, L. C. L. vol. IV, pp6‑171.

30 "Invisible"; cf. 953A below and Plato, Cratylus, 403A ff.; Phaedo, 81C‑D and contrast Mor. 942F supra; "colourless," achroston, Acheron. Cf. L. Parmentier, "Recherches sur le traité d'Isis et d'Osiris de Plut.," Mém. Acad. Belg. II.2 (1912/13), pp71 ff.

31 Theogony, 119; contrast Plato, Phaedo, 112A ff.

32 Cf. Servius on Virgil, Aen. VI.577.

33 Diels-Kranz, Frag. der Vorsok.5, I, p168, Heraclitus, frag. 76 (frag. 25, ed. Bywater, p11). Cf. Mor. 392C‑D.

34 Cf. Mor. 281F, 702E‑F; 703B.

35 Isth. IV.112.

36 Included without authority among Callimachus's fragments (787 = anon. 384) by Schneider, but rejected by Pfeiffer.

37 Cf. Mor. 691F and Hubert's references ad loc.

38 Frag. 212, ed. Rose and cf. Mor. 695D.

39 There is here probably a confusion of lead and tin, for both of which the term stannum is used in Latin. Tin is reduced to powder by severe cold, owing to transformation to its allotrope. In [Aristotle], De Mir. Ausc. 50 (p257, L. C. L.) the more nearly correct statement appears that tin melts in severe cold. This note is due to the suggestion of O. T. Benfey of Haverford College.

40 Presumably Plutarch is thinking of a jar of porous earthenware, such as are commonly used to cool water in the Near East.

41 Cf. Mor. 690B‑E.

42 The Thracians, according to 968F ff. infra: cf. also Pliny, Nat. Hist. VIII.103; Aelian, De Natura Animal. VI.24; XIV.26.

43 Probably the reference is to Trajan and the Second Dacian War (A.D. 105‑107). Plutarch's intimate friend, Sosius Senecio, is known to have taken part in it.

44a 44b Cf. Mor. 690C‑D.

45 Diels-Kranz, Frag. der Vorsok.5, I, p319, frag. B 21, lines 3 and 5. Plutarch apparently used a version different from those known to Aristotle and Simplicius. The evidence is complicated and may be consulted in Diels-Kranz. On Empedocles' meaning see Cherniss, Aristotle's Criticism of the Presocratics, p110.

46 Cf. Mor. 364B.

47 Cf. 952F infra.

48 Cf. Mor. 696B, 702B.

49 Problemata, 961 A23 ff., though this work is surely not by Aristotle in the form in which it has come down to us.

50 Cf. 981E infra; Oppian, Hal. V.638 ff.

51 Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag. pp107‑108, frag. 360.

52 Iliad, XXI.330‑383; 435‑469. The river is the Xanthus.

53 Diehl, Anthologia Lyrica Graeca, I.237, frag. 86; Edmonds, Elegy and Iambus (L. C. L.), II, p146, frag. 93; quoted again in Mor. 1070A, Life of Demetrius, 35 (905E).

54 But, curiously enough, not to be found in the Paroemiographi Graeci, as edited by Leutsch and Schneidewin.

55 Cf. the quotation from Aeschylus supra, 950E.

56 Presumably those who, in 950D supra, claim that air is cold because it is dark.

57 Cf. 949F supra; Mor. 690B‑E.

58 Cf. Mor. 691C‑692A for snow packed in chaff and the like.

59 On the difference between aer and aether see the lucid discussion of Guthrie, The Greeks and their Gods, pp207 f.

60 That is, the aether. See also Cherniss, op. cit. p126.

61 Heat and cold.

62 Plutarch may be thinking of the old kingdom of Pontus, which included tracts south, east, and north of the Black Sea.

63 The fragment has not yet been numbered in L. Edelstein's forthcoming collection; for the literature see A. J. P. LVII (1936), p301 and n. 61.

64 Odyssey, V.469.

65 The fragment is apparently omitted by Wimmer.

66 This seems to be addressed to Favorinus' Peripatetic sympathies.

67 That is, than those full of water.

68 Diels-Kranz, Frag. der Vorsok.5, I.p318, frag. B 19. Plutarch seems to have mistaken Empedocles' meaning, though some would invoke frag. B 34. In general, while Plutarch is said to have written ten books on Empedocles (Lamprias catalogue no. 43), he does not seek the difficult poet's meaning very carefully.

69 Von Arnim, S.V.F. II, p140; cf. Mor. 1053E.

70 See 951D supra.

71 Diehl, Anthologia Lyrica Graeca, II.302; Edmonds, Lyra Graeca (L. C. L.), III, p460 (adespota no. 95).

72 Cf. Aeschylus, Prometheus, 90, and 950B supra.

73 The Invisible Place, according to the etymology adopted above in 948F.

74 Hesiod, Theogony, 125. The original meaning of Erebus is actually "darkness."

75 Cf. Diels-Kranz, Frag. der Vorsok.5, I, p331, Empedocles, frag. B 48; cf. Mor. 1006F.

76 e.g. Homer, Iliad, II.699; Alcman, 36 (Edmonds, Lyra Graeca, I, p76; Diehl, Anthologia Lyrica Graeca, II.27); Sappho, 38 (Edmonds, op. cit. I, p208).

77 Frag. 184 Wimmer.

78 The Thyiades were Attic women, devotees of Dionysus, who went every other year to Delphi to join in the midwinter festival. (See Guthrie, The Greeks and their Gods, p178). The rites must have involved considerable discomfort and even risk, as Dodds says (edition of Euripides, Bacchae, p. xi).

79 See 951D above.

80 Diels-Kranz, Frag. der Vorsok.5, I, p296, frag. A 69; cf. Mor. 691B and Hubert's references ad loc.

81 Crags and rocks are called pagoi (as the Areo-pagus, "Mars Hill," at Athens), which Plutarch correctly connects with the verb meaning "freeze" or "solidify" and uses to confute Empedocles.

82 Plutarch is speaking of volcanoes like Aetna with a lava bed on top.

83 Cf. Mor. 433A and 946C supra.

84 Plutarch knew that the mouth of Hades was at Taenarum (Pindar, Pythian, IV.44) and transferred the Styx to that place. For its water see Frazer on Pausanias, VIII.18.4. According to Antigonus, Hist. Mirab. 158 (ed. Keller) no receptacle except one of horn can contain the water; he adds, "All that taste of it die."

85 Cf. Mor. 288E and Plato, Timaeus, 55D‑E.

86 Cf. 948B supra.

87 Cf. Mor. 649B, 687A, 696B; Aristotle, Metaphysics, A 3 (38 B23 ff.); Pseudo-Aristotle, Problemata, 949 B29.

88 Cf. Mor. 696B.

89 Cf. Plato, Phaedrus, 247A and 948B supra with the note. For earth as Hestia see also Dio Chrys. XXXVI.46 (L. C. L.) with Crosby's note; Dion. Hal. II.66.3; Ovid, Fasti, VI.267; Koster, Mnemosyne, Suppl. III (1951), p7, n. 6.

90 Diels-Kranz, Frag. der Vorsok.5, II, p48.

91 Cf. 951D supra.

92 Cf. 954C‑D supra.

93 Cf. Mor. 690F‑691C.

94 Perhaps some such passage as Homer, Iliad, XXII.363 is meant.

95 See the introduction to this essay.


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