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This webpage reproduces a section of
Institutio Oratoria


published in Vol. III
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1920

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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(Vol. III) Quintilian
Institutio Oratoria

Book VII

Chapter 2

2 1 All conjecture is concerned either with facts or intention. Each of these may occur in one of three times, past, present, or future. Questions concerning facts are either general or definite, that is to say, those which involve consideration of persons and those which do not. 2 Concerning intentions there can be no questions which do not involve some person and where the facts of the case are not admitted. Therefore when the question turns on some fact, the point on which doubt arises is either what has been done, or what is being done, or what is likely to be done. For example, in general questions we discuss whether the universe has been formed of a concourse of atoms, or is governed by  p47 providence, or is likely some day to come to an end. In definite questions, on the other hand, we discuss whether Roscius has murdered his father, whether Manlius is aiming at making himself king, or Quintus Caecilius will be justified in appearing as the accuser of Verres. 3 In the law courts past time is of most importance, since all accusations are concerned with what has actually been done, while what is being done or is likely to be done is inferred from the past. We also enquire into origins. For instance, we enquire whether a pestilence be due to the anger of heaven, the inclement weather, the pollution of the water-supply, or the noxious vapours emitted by the earth.​a Again, we seek for the motives of an act. For example, we enquire whether the fifty kings who sailed against Troy did so because they were bound by their oath, or were moved to do so by righteous indignation, or merely desired to gratify the sons of Atreus. There is no very great difference between these two classes of question. 4 As regards facts falling within the present, if they can be detected by the eye without any reference to their logical antecedents being required, there will be no need of conjecture: let us suppose, for instance, that the Lacedaemonians are enquiring whether the Athenians are erecting fortifications. But although conjecture may seem entirely foreign to this class of question, there are cases in which it isº necessary, as in questions of personal identity, which may be illustrated by the action brought against the heirs of Urbinia,​35 where the question was whether the man who claimed the property as being the son of the deceased, was Figulus or Sosipater. 5 In this case the actual person was before the  p49 eyes of the court, so that there could be no question whether he existed (as there is, for instance, when we ask whether there exists any land beyond the Ocean)​36 nor what he was nor of what kind. The question was simply, who he was. But this kind of dispute also depends on past time. The problem of whether this man Clusinius Figulus was born of Urbinia. Such disputes have arisen even in our own day, indeed I myself have pleaded in such. 6 On the other hand, conjecture as to intention is obviously concerned with all three times. We ask with what purpose Ligarius went to Africa, with what purpose Pyrrhus is asking for a treaty, and how Caesar will take it if Ptolemy kills Pompey.37

We may also employ conjecture to enquire into quality in questions dealing with size, species and number, such as whether the sun is greater than the earth, whether the moon is spherical, flat or conical, whether there is one universe or several, 7 or, to go outside these physical speculations, whether the Trojan or the Peloponnesian war was the greatest, what was the nature of the shield of Achilles, or whether there was more than one Hercules.

In forensic cases, however, which consist of accusation and defence, there is one kind of conjecture by which we enquire both about an act and about its author. This sometimes treats the two questions together, as, for example, when both the act and the identity of the author are denied, and sometimes separately, as when the first enquiry, whether the act was committed, is followed by a second, where, the act being admitted, the question is by whom it was committed. 8 The act itself again sometimes involves a single question, as, for example,  p51 whether a man is dead, and sometimes two, as, for instance, whether he died of poison or of some internal disease. Another form of conjecture is concerned with the act alone, it being admitted that if the act was really committed, there can be no doubt as to its author. A third form is concerned solely with the author, the act being admitted and the dispute turning on the question as to who committed it. 9 This third form is complex. For the accused either confines himself to denying that he did it or accuses another of having done it. Further, there is more than one way of transferring the charge to another. At times this results in mutual accusation, which the Greeks call ἀντικατηγορία, and some of our own authors concertative accusation.38 At times, on the other hand, the charge is transferred to some person who cannot be brought to trial, and may be either known or unknown: again, if the person is known, he may be someone outside the case or the victim himself, who may be alleged to have committed suicide. 10 In such cases we compare characters, motives and other circumstances in the same way as in cases of mutual accusation. Cicero, for instance, in the pro Vareno diverts the charge from the accused to the slaves of Ancharius and in the pro Scauro throws the suspicion of Bostar's murder upon his mother. 11 There is also a different form of comparison, which comes into play when both parties claim the credit of some act, and yet another kind, when the question is not as between two persons, but as between two acts; that is to say, the question is not which of the two committed an act, but which of two acts was committed. Finally, if the act and the identity of the author are both  p53 admitted, we may still raise the question of his intention.

I shall now proceed to detail. As an example of joint denial covering both the act and the identity of the author we may take the following statements, "I have not committed adultery," "I have not sought to establish myself as tyrant." In cases of murder or poisoning the denial is often divided as follows: 12 "The act was not committed, and, if it was committed, it was not by me." But if the defence say, "Prove that the man was killed," the burden falls solely on the accuser, for the accused can say nothing more against the charge except perhaps in the way of casting certain suspicions, which he should throw out in the vaguest terms, since if you make one definite assertion, you will have to prove it or run the risk of losing your case. For when the question lies between our statement and that of our opponent, one or theº other will be regarded as true. Thus when the point on which we relied for our defence is overthrown, there is nothing left but the points that tell against us. 13 For example, when the question turns on symptoms, which may point either to poisoning or internal disease, there is no third course left open and consequently each party sticks to his statement. At times the question turns on the nature of the fact, whether, for instance, death was due to poisoning or internal disease, and arguments are introduced which are drawn from the circumstances alone without any reference to the person concerned. 14 For example, it makes a difference whether the deceased was cheerful or depressed, had been working or taking his ease, had been awake or sleeping previous to the festive gathering that  p55 was followed by his death. The age of the deceased is also an important factor, and it is desirable to know whether he died suddenly or after a long period of ill health. If the question turns only on his sudden death, both parties will have still freer scope for discussion. 15 At times the character of the accused may be adduced to prove the fact, and to make it likely that it was or was not a case of poisoning because the accused is or is not a likely person to have committed such an act.

When, on the other hand, the enquiry concerns both the accused and the act, the natural order for the accuser to pursue is to commence by proving that the act has been committed and then to go on to show that it was committed by the accused. If, however, proofs of the author­ship of the crime are more in number than the proofs of the commission, this order may be reversed. 16 On the other hand, the accused will always begin by denying the fact, since if this can be successfully proved, there is no need to say anything more, while if it is not proved, there remain other means of defence.

Similarly, when the dispute turns solely on the act and, the act being proved, there can be no doubt as to the author, arguments may be drawn in like manner both from the person and the facts, although with reference to the question of fact alone. 17 Take the following controversial theme as an example, for it is best to employ scholastic themes as illustrations since they are more familiar to the student. "A man who had been disinherited by his father took to the study of medicine. His father fell sick and, his life being despaired of by the other doctors, the son was called in, and said he would cure him if  p57 he would take a draught prescribed by himself. The father after drinking part of the draught said that he had been poisoned: the son drank the remainder of the draught. The father died and the son is accused of parricide." 18 There is no doubt who administered the draught, and, if it was poison, there is no question as to the author: but the problem as to whether the draught was poison can only be decided by arguments drawn from the character of the accused.

There remains a third type of conjectural case where the fact is admitted, and the only question is as to the author. It is unnecessary for me to quote examples, since such cases are of frequent occurrence. For example, it may be clear that a man has been killed or that sacrilege has been committed, but the person accused of the crime may deny his guilt. It is from such circumstances that cases of mutual accusation arise, where it is admitted that the crime has been committed, but each party charges the other with being the author. 19 With regard to this class of case Celsus points out that they cannot actually occur in the courts, a fact which I imagine is familiar to all: for the jury is empanelled to try one accused person only, and even though the defence and the prosecution may accuse each other of the crime, the first case must be tried before the second. 20 Apollodorus again stated that mutual accusation involved two separate disputes, and this is of course in conformity with the practice of the courts, which insists on two separate trials. On the other hand, mutual accusation is possible in cases tried before the senate or the emperor, and even in the courts the fact of mutual accusation will involve  p59 no difference in the pleadings, since the same methods will be required whether the verdict is given on both charges simultaneously or only on one. 21 In such cases the defence must always come first for three reasons. In the first place, we naturally prefer to secure our own safety than to injure our opponent, while secondly, our accusation will carry greater weight if we have first proved our own innocence, and thirdly, we shall thus secure a double line of defence. For the man who says, "I did not kill him," is then free to go on to say, "You killed him," whereas it is superfluous for the man who says, "You killed him," to go on to say, "I did not kill him."

22 Further, such cases consist of comparison, which may be effected in different ways. For we may either compare our case in its entirety with that of our adversary, or we may compare individual arguments. The choice between these two methods can only be determined by the requirements of the case. For example, in the pro Vareno, Cicero, in dealing the first charge, compares the individual arguments: for it would have been rash in connexion with the second charge to compare the position of a stranger with that of a mother.​39 It is therefore best, if possible, to refute argument by individual argument: if, however, our individual arguments are weak, we shall try to secure success by comparison of case with case as a whole. 23 But whether the case is one of mutual accusation, or the accused throws the guilt upon his opponent without making any formal accusation (as Roscius​40 did without indicting  p61 his accusers), or the responsibility for the deed be placed on the victims themselves, whom we allege to have perished by their own hand, the arguments for both sides of the case will be compared in exactly the same way as in cases of mutual accusation. 24 The class of case last mentioned by me is, however, not merely of frequent occurrence in the schools, but sometimes actually occurs in the courts. For example, the sole question in the case of Naevius of Arpinum was whether he threw his wife out of the window or she threw herself. My speech in this case is the only one of all my pleadings that I have so far published, and I admit that I was led to do so merely by a youthful desire for glory. For the other speeches which circulate as mine have little in them that actually fell from my lips, having been corrupted by the carelessness of the shorthand-writers who took them down with a view to making money out of them.

25 There is also another type of conjectural case which, though it involves two questions, is different from cases of mutual accusation; such cases are concerned with rewards and may be illustrated by the following controversial theme. "A tyrant, suspecting that his physician had given him poison, tortured him and, since he persisted in denying that he had done so, sent for a second physician. The latter asserted that poison had been administered, but that he would provide an antidote; he gave him a draught: the tyrant drank it and died. Both physicians claim a reward for slaying the tyrant." Now just as in cases of mutual accusation where each party shifts the guilt to his opponent, so in this  p63 case we compare the characters, motives, means, opportunities, instruments and evidence of the persons who claim the reward. 26 There is yet another type of case which, though not one of mutual accusation, is treated in the same way: I mean a case in which we enquire, without accusing anyone, which of two acts has taken place. For both parties make and defend their own statement of the case. Thus in the suit concerning the estate of Urbinia​41 the claimant says that Clusinius Figulus, the son of Urbinia, on the defeat of the army in which he was serving, fled and after various misfortunes, being evenº kept in captivity by the king, at length returned to Italy and his own home in the Marrucine district, where he was recognised. To this Pollio replies that he had been a slave to two masters at Pisaurum, that he had practised medicine, and finally, after receiving his freedom, inserted himself into a gang of slaves who were for sale​42 and was at his own request purchased by himself. 27 Does not the whole suit consist of comparison between the two cases and of two different and opposite sets of conjecture? But the method to be followed is identical whether the case be one of accusation and defence or of claim and denial of the claim.

Conjecture is, in the first place, based on what is past, under which I include persons, cause and intent. For in dealing with a case we first ask what the accused intended to do, next what he was in a position to do, and lastly what he actually did. Consequently the first point on which we must fix our attention is the character of the accused. 28 It is the business of the accuser to make any charge that  p65 he may bring against the accused not merely discreditable, but as consistent as possible with the crime for which he is arraigned. For example, if he calls a man accused of murder a debauchee or an adulterer, the discredit attached to such charges will no doubt tell against the accused, but will, on the other hand, do less to prove the case than if he shows him to be bold, insolent, cruel or reckless. 29 On the other hand, counsel for the defence must, as far as possible, aim at denying, excusing or extenuating such charges, or, if that be impossible, show that they are not relevant to the case. For there are many charges which not only have no mutual resemblance, but may even at times contradict each other, as for instance if a man accused of theft is called prodigal or careless. For it is not likely that one and the same man should at once despise money and covet it. 30 If such means of defence are not available, we must take refuge with the plea that the charges made are not relevant to the case, that because a man has committed certain sins, it does not follow that he has committed all, and that the accusers ventured to make such false charges merely because they hoped by injuring and insulting the accused to be able to overwhelm him with the unpopularity thus created. 31 There are also other topics which arise from and against the statement of the case by the prosecution. The defence may begin by drawing arguments from the person involved, and will at times urge on general grounds that it is incredible that a father has been killed by his son or that a commander has betrayed his country to the enemy. The answer to such arguments is easy, for we may  p67 urge that bad men are capable of every crime, as is shown by every-day occurrences, or that the atrocious nature of a crime is but a poor argument against its having been committed. 32 At times we may base our arguments on the special circumstances of the person involved. This may be done in various ways: rank, for example, may be pleaded in defence of the accused, or at times, on the other hand, may be employed to prove his guilt on the ground that he trusted to his rank to secure impunity. Similarly poverty, humble rank, wealth may be used as arguments for or against the accused according to the talent of the advocate. 33 Upright character, however, and the blamelessness of his past life are always of the utmost assistance to the accused. If no charge is made against his character, counsel for the defence will lay great stress on this fact, while the accuser will attempt to restrict the judge to the sole consideration of the actual issue which the court has to decide, and will say that there must always be a first step in crime and that a first offence is not to be regarded as the occasion for celebrating a feast in honour of the defendant's character. 34 So much for the methods of reply which will be employed by the prosecution. But he will also in his opening speech endeavour to dispose the judges to believe that it is not so much that he is unable, as that he is unwilling to bring any charge against the character of the accused. Consequently it is better to abstain from casting any slur on the past life of the accused than to attack him with slight or frivolous charges which are manifestly false, since such a proceeding discredits the rest of our argument. Further, the advocate who brings  p69 no charges against the accused may be believed to have omitted all reference to past offences on the ground that such reference was not necessary, while the advocate who heaps up baseless charges thereby admits that his only argument is to be found in the past life of the accused, and that he has deliberately preferred to risk defeat on this point rather than say nothing at all about it. 35 As regards the other arguments derived from character, I have already discussed them in connexion with "places" of argument.43

The next type of proof is derived from causes or motives, such as anger, hatred, fear, greed or hope, since all motives can be classified as species of one or other of these. If any of these motives can be plausibly alleged against the accused, it is the duty of the accuser to make it appear that such motives may lead a man to commit any crime, and to exaggerate the particular motives which he selects for the purpose of his argument. 36 If no motive can be alleged, he must take refuge in suggesting that there must have been some hidden motive, or in asserting that, if he committed the act, all enquiry into motive is irrelevant or that a motiveless crime is even more abominable than one which has a motive. Counsel for the defence, on the other hand, will, wherever it be possible, emphasise the point that it is incredible that any act should be committed without a motive. Cicero develops this point with great energy in a number of his speeches, but more especially in his defence of Varenus, who had everything else against him and was as a matter of fact condemned. 37 But if the prosecution do allege some motive, he will either say that the motive alleged is  p71 false or inadequate or unknown to the accused. For it is possible that a man may be quite ignorant of motives imputed to him. He may not, for example, have known whether the man whom he is accused of having killed had appointed him his heir or intended to prosecute him. All else failing, we may urge that motives are not necessarily of importance. For what man is there who is not liable to the emotions of fear, hatred or hope, and yet numbers of persons act on these motives without committing crime? 38 Nor should we neglect the point that all motives do not apply to all persons. For example, although poverty may in certain cases be a motive for theft, it will not have the same force with men such as Curius or Fabricius.

39 The question has been raised as to whether we should deal first with persons or motives, and different orators have given different answers: Cicero as a rule prefers to treat motives first. For my own part, if the circumstances of the case do not point strongly in either direction, I consider that the most natural course is to begin by dealing with persons. For the enquiry whether any crime can credibly be imputed to such a man as the accused is of a more general character than the question whether some one particular crime can be imputed, and in addition involves a greater correctness in division. 40 Still, in many cases expediency may make it desirable to reverse the order. Further, we have to seek not merely motives affecting the will, but also causes leading to error, such as drunkenness or ignorance. For just as such considerations lessen the guilt of a crime when regarded from the point of view of its quality, so they tell heavily against the criminal as  p73 far as the question of fact is concerned. 41 I should imagine that there could never be a case, or at any rate an actual case in the courts, in which neither side said anything about the character of the persons involved; but this is not true of causes and motives, for it is often wholly unnecessary to trouble ourselves about them, as, for example, in cases of theft or adultery, crimes which carry their motives on the face of them.

42 Next we must consider the intention, a term which involves a number of questions, such as whether it is probable that the accused hoped that he would be able to carry such a crime into effect, or that it would escape detection when committed, or that, even if detected, it would be pardoned or punished but lightly or after considerable lapse of time, or that the inconvenience involved by the penalty would be outweighed by the pleasure resulting from the crime: or again, whether it was worth while incurring the penalty; 43 and further, whether he could have done the deed at some other time and in some other way, or with greater ease or security, as Cicero says in the pro Milone,​44 where he mentions the numerous occasions when his client could have killed Clodius with impunity. There is also the question why the accused should have chosen that particular place or time or means for the commission of the crime, a topic to which Cicero gives a thorough treatment in the same passage; 44 or whether, without having the least reason for the deed, he was carried away by the impulse of the moment and acted without deliberate purpose (for it is a common saying that crimes are irrational), or finally, whether he was led astray by the fact that crime had become a habit with him.

 p75  Having dealt with the question whether he intended to commit the crime, we proceed to the question whether he was in a position to commit it. Under this head we discuss the place and occasion of the offence. For instance, in a case of theft we ask whether it was committed in a secluded or frequented spot, in the daytime, when witnesses are more numerous, or by night, when success is more difficult. 45 Consequently we shall consider all the circumstances rendering the act difficult or easy of accomplishment; these require no illustration, being numerous and familiar. This second topic is of such importance that, if it is impossible to give it satisfactory treatment, the case falls to the ground; if, however, we succeed in dealing with it adequately, we must proceed to consider whether the accused actually committed the act. But this topic involves conjecture as to intention, for it is from these facts that we infer whether he hoped for success or not. Therefore we must also consider the question of the means at his disposal, such, for example, as the retinues of Clodius and Milo.

46 The question whether he actually did the deed belongs, in the first place, to the second division of time, namely the present, and secondly to time that is almost, though not actually contemporary: under this latter head come circumstances such as noise, cries or groans,​45 while concealment, fear and the like belong to subsequent time. To these must be added indications, which we have already discussed elsewhere,​46 and words and acts antecedent or subsequent to the crime. 47 These words and acts are either our own or those of others. With regard to words, our own do us greater harm and bring us less profit  p77 than do those of others, while those of others bring us greater profit and do us less harm than our own. On the other hand, with regard to deeds, it is sometimes from our own and sometimes from those of others that we derive the greatest advantage, as, for example, when our opponent has done something which tells in our favour: but our own acts are always more injurious to our case than are those of others. 48 Again, with regard to words, we must distinguish between those whose meaning is clear and those whose significance is doubtful. The latter will necessarily give less assistance to either side, be they our own words or another's. On the other hand, any ambiguity in our own words will always tell against us, as, for example, in the following controversial theme. "A son, on being asked where his father was, replied: 'Wherever he is, he is alive.' But the father was found dead at the bottom of a well." 49 When the ambiguity lies in words used by others, they can never do us any harm, unless he who uttered them be unknown or dead; I will give two illustrations of my meaning: "A cry was heard at night, 'Be on your guard against the establishment of a tyranny'; and, "on being asked who had poisoned him, he replied: 'It is not fit that you should know.' " For if the speaker is available for examination, he will clear up the ambiguity. 50 Finally, whereas our own words and deeds can only be justified by their intention, the deeds and words of others can be disposed of in a number of different ways.

My remarks on this subject have, I think, been confined to one very important class of conjectural cases, but something of what I have said will apply to all cases. For example, in cases concerned with  p79 theft, deposits and loans, arguments are derived both from possibilities (as when we enquire whether there was any money to deposit), and from persons, as when we raise the question whether it is credible that anyone deposited money with this man or trusted him with a loan, or that the claimant is bringing a false accusation, or that the accused repudiates his debt or is a thief. 51 But even in the case of an accusation of theft, just as in an accusation of murder, we enquire both into the act and the author, while in cases concerned with loans and deposits there are also two questions (though these are always distinct from one another), namely, whether the money was delivered and whether it has been repaid. Cases of adultery are marked by the following peculiarity, that, as a rule, the safety of two persons is involved, and it is necessary to say something of the past life of both, although some have raised the question whether both parties should be defended together. The line to be taken must depend on the circumstances of the individual case: if the defence of one party lends support to the defence of the other, I should defend them conjointly; if the reverse is the case, I should treat the two cases separately. 52 However, that no one may think me somewhat hasty in saying that two persons are as a rule involved in charges of adultery, I would point out that I would not assert that this is always the case. The woman alone may be accused of adultery with a person unknown: we may say, "Gifts were found in the house, and money from some unknown source, and love-letters whose destination cannot be ascertained." 53 The case is similar in accusations of forgery: for either there are several accused or only  p81 one. The writer of a document always regards it as necessary to support the signatory, but the signatory does not always support the writer of the document, for it is always possible that he has been deceived on the matter.​47 On the other hand, the man who is said to have called in their services, and for whom the document is alleged to have been written, will always defend both writer and signatories. The arguments employed in cases of treason or attempted tyranny will be drawn from the same sources.

54 But the custom prevalent in the schools of regarding everything not definitely stated in the theme as being in the speaker's favour,​48 is likely to prove harmful to students destined for practice in the courts. You bring a charge of adultery. "Who is your witness? who is your informer?" You charge me with treason. "What was my reward? who was my accomplice?" You charge me with poisoning. "Where did I buy the poison, and from whom? When did I buy it, what was the price, and whom did I employ to administer it?" Or in defence of one charged with attempting to establish himself as tyrant, the declaimer will cry, "Where are my weapons, and what bodyguards have I ever collected?" 55 I do not deny that these questions should be asked, or that we should use them as far as is permitted by the rôle which we have assumed; for even in the courts I feel that it will be desirable to put such questions, if my opponent is not in a position to reply effectively; but we have often felt the lack of such freedom in the courts, whereas in the schools there is scarcely a case where one or more examples of this method are not to be found. 56 Similar to this is the practice which some  p83 declaimers allow themselves in their perorations of assigning children, parents and nurses to their characters at will, though it is more reasonable to call for evidence which is not explicitly mentioned in the statement of the theme than to introduce it ourselves.49

With regard to the method to be followed when we enquire into intention, I have said enough in dividing the subject into three questions,​50 namely, whether the accused intended to do the deed, whether he was in a position to do it and whether he actually did it. For the method of enquiring into the purpose with which an act was committed is identical with that employed in enquiring whether the deed was intended, since it amounts to asking whether a criminal act was intended. 57 Further, the order in which the facts are stated may either contribute to or detract from the credibility of our case; for consistency and the reverse depend to a very great extent on the way the circumstances are arranged. But we shall be unable to detect these qualities unless we consider the circumstances in connexion with the case as a whole. None the less, it will always be necessary to consider what are best suited to be placed together.

The Translator's Notes:

35 cp. IV.1.11 and VII.II.26.

36 cp. III.VIII.16.

37 cp. III.VIII.56.

38 i.e. mutual or reciprocal accusation, see VII.I.3.

39 The Pro Vareno being lost, it is impossible to say to what this refers, and for the same reason Halm's conjecture must be regarded as quite uncertain.

40 Roscius Amerinus, accused of parricide and defended by Cicero.

41 cp. IV.I.11 and VII.II.4.

42 For another meaning of venalis, newly-bought, see VIII.II.8.

43 V.X.20, where argumentorum loci are defined as "the dwellings of arms, where they hide and where we must look for them."

44 c. xiv sqq.

45 cp. V.X.45.

46 V ch. ix.

47 The writer will always support the signatory's statement that he signed the document. The signatory will not always support the writer; e.g. he may not know the nature of the document which he signed.

48 cp. IV.II.28. As the examples which follow show, the declaimer assumes that his imaginary opponent has no good evidence to support his case: i.e. no witness, no informer, no weapons, no bodyguard.

49 i.e. it is safer to ask the imaginary opponent "where is your evidence?" than to produce imaginary evidence ourselves.

50 § 27.

Thayer's Note:

a heaven, weather, water-supply, or earth — Quintilian quietly covers the four possible bases of all natural questions: the four elements of fire, air, water, and earth. Heaven is the last sphere, the empyrean sphere of fire.

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