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Section XVIII

XVIII. Theophrastus, moreover, says that those men who attribute a beginning and destructibility to the world are deceived by four particulars of the greatest importance, the inequalities of the earth, the retreat of the sea, the dissolution of each of the parts of the universe, and the destruction of different terrestrial animals in their kinds; and he proceeds to establish the first point thus: if the earth had never had any beginning of its creation, then there would have been no portion of it rising above the rest so as to be conspicuous, but all the mountains would have been level, and all the pieces of rising ground would have been even with the plain. For as there are such vast showers falling from heaven throughout all ages, it would be natural that of any places which were originally raised on high some would be broken down and washed away by torrents, and others would subside of their own accord and so become lowered, and that every place everywhere would be smoothed; but now, as things are, the constant inequalities which exist, and the vast heights of many mountains, reaching up even to the sky, are so many proofs that the earth is not eternal. For otherwise, as I have said before, all the earth would long since have been rendered level from one extremity to the other by the vast rains which would have fallen from the eternal commencement of time; for it is the character of the nature of water, and especially of such as descends in a heavy fall from lofty places, to push some things away by force, and to cut out hollow others places by its continual dropping, and in this manner to operate on the hard, rugged, stony ground not less than men digging. And again, the sea, as they affirm, is already somewhat diminished, and for proof of this fact we can appeal to the most celebrated islands, Rhodes and Delos, for these were in ancient times invisible, being overwhelmed by and sunk under the sea, but by lapse of time, as the sea gradually diminished, they by slow degrees rose above it and came into sight, as the histories which are written concerning them record. And they used to call Delos Anaphe, confirming the account here given by both names, since when it appeared above the Waters15281528the Greek word is anaphaneisa, from which AnapheÂ̄ is derived. it became evident,15291529deÌ„leÌ„, from which DeÌ„los is derived. having been formerly invisible and unseen. And in addition to these arguments they adduce the facts that many great and deep bays and gulfs of vast seas have been dried up, and have become land, and have so turned out no insignificant addition to the adjacent country when sown and planted, and on that soil there is still left plenty of proof of such spots having formerly been sea, in the pebbles, and shells, and other things which are commonly washed up on the sea-shore being found in them. But if the sea is gradually being diminished then the earth also will be diminished; and in long revolutions of years every one of the elements will be entirely consumed and destroyed; and the whole air will be consumed, being diminished by little and little; and all things will be absorbed and dissolved into the one substance of fire. And for the purpose of establishing the third alternative of this question they use the following argument: beyond all question that thing is destroyed all the parts of which are liable to destruction; but all the parts of the world are liable to destruction, therefore the world also is liable to destruction. But we must now proceed to consider the question which we postponed till the present time. What sort of a part of the earth is that, that we may begin from this, whether it is greater or less, that is not dissolved by time? Do not the very hardest and strongest stones become hard and decayed through the weakness of their conformation (and this conformation is a sort of course of a highly strained spirit, a bond not indissoluble, but only very difficult to unloose), in consequence of which they are broken up and made fluid, so that they are dissolved first of all into a thin dust, and afterwards are wholly wasted away and destroyed? Again, if the water were never agitated by the winds, but were left immoveable for ever, would it not from inaction and tranquillity become dead? at all events it is changed by such stagnation, and becomes very foetid and foul-smelling, like an animal deprived of life. And so also the corruptions of the air are plain to everyone, for it is the nature of the atmosphere to become sick and to decay, and, as one may say, in a manner to die; since what else is it which a man, who is not aiming at selecting plausible language, but only at truth, would call a plague except a death of the atmosphere, which diffuses its own disease and suffering to the destruction of everything which is endowed with life? And why need I speak at great length concerning fire? for if it is deprived of nourishment it is immediately extinguished. If then, each of the separate parts of the world awaits utter destruction, it is plain that the world which is compounded of these can not be itself exempt from destruction. We must now consider with accuracy the fourth and remaining argument. Thus they argue: if the world were eternal then the animals also would be eternal, and much more the human race, in proportion as that is more excellent than the other animals; but, on the contrary, those who take delight in investigating the mysteries of nature consider that man has only been created in the late ages of the world; for it is likely, or I should rather say it is inevitably true, that the arts co-exist with man, so as to be exactly co-eval with him, not only because methodical proceedings are appropriate to a rational nature, but also because it is not possible to live without them; let us therefore examine the dates of each of these, disregarding the fables invented by the tragedians about the gods; but if man is not eternal then neither is any other animal, so that then neither are the places which receive them, the earth, or the water, or the air; from all which considerations it is plain that this world is liable to destruction.


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