Presocratic Fragments and
Copyright 1996, James Fieser (firstname.lastname@example.org). See end note
for details on copyright and editing conventions. This text file is
adapted from passages in John Burnet's Early Greek Philosophy
(1892). This is a working draft; please report errors.1
(1) Anaximander of Miletus, son of Praxiades, a
fellow-citizen and associate of Thales, said that the material cause
and first element of things was the Infinite, he being the first to
introduce this name of the material cause. He says it is neither
water nor any other of the so-called elements, but a substance
different from them which is infinite, from which arise all the
heavens and the worlds within them. (Theophrastus, Phys.
Op. fr. 2)
(2) He says that this is " eternal and ageless," and that
it " encompasses all the worlds." (Hippolytus Ref. i. 6)
(3) And into that from which things take their rise they
pass away once more, " as is proper; for they make reparation and
satisfaction to one another for their injustice according to the
ordering of time," as he says in these somewhat poetical terms.
(Theophrastus Phys. Op. fr. 2)
(4) And besides this, there was an eternal motion, in which
was brought about the origin of the worlds. (Hippolytus Ref.
(5) He did not ascribe the origin of things to any
alteration in matter, but said that the oppositions in the
substratum, which was a boundless body, were separated out.
(Simplicius Phys. P. 3150, 20)
(6) Further, there cannot be a single, simple body which is
infinite, either, as some hold, one distinct from the elements, which
they then derive from it, or without this qualification. For there
are some who make this (i.e. a body distinct from the elements) the
infinite, and not air or water,- in order that the other things may
not be destroyed by their infinity. They are in opposition one to
another-air is cold, water moist, and fire hot-and therefore, if any
one of them were infinite, the rest would have ceased to be by this
time. Accordingly they say that what is infinite is something other
than the elements, and from it the elements arise. (Aristotle,
Phys. 204b 22)
Back to the top
(1) Anaximenes of Miletus, son of Eurystratos, who had been
an associate of Anaximander, said, like him, that the underlying
substance was one and infinite. He did not, however, say it was
indeterminate, like Anaximander, but determinate; for he said it was
Air. (Theophrastus, Phys. Op. fr. 2)
(2) From it, he said, the things that are, and have been,
and will be, the gods and things divine, took their rise, while other
things come from its offspring. (Hippolytus Ref. i. 7)
(3) "Just as," he said, "our soul, being air, holds us
together, so do breath and air encompass the whole world." (Aet. i.
(4) And the form of the air is as follows. Where it is most
even, it is invisible to our sight; but cold and heat, moisture and
motion, make it visible. It is always in motion; for, if it were not,
it would not change so much as it does. (Hippolytus Ref. i.
(5) It differs in different substances in virtue of its
rarefaction and condensation. (Theophrastus, Phys. Op.
(6) When it is dilated so as to be rarer, it becomes fire;
while winds, on the other hand, are condensed Air. Cloud is formed
from Air by felting; and this, still further condensed, becomes
water. Water, condensed still more, turns to earth; and when
condensed as much as it can be, to stones. (Hippolytus Ref. i.
Back to the top
(1) Now is the floor clean, and the hands and cups of all;
one sets twisted garlands on our heads, another hands us fragrant
ointment on a salver. The mixing bowl stands ready, full of gladness,
and there is more wine at hand that promises never to leave us in the
lurch, soft and smelling of flowers in the jars. In the midst the
frankincense sends up its holy scent, and there is cold water, sweet
and clean. Brown loaves are set before us and a lordly table laden
with cheese and rich honey. The altar in the midst is clustered round
with flowers; song and festivity fill the halls.
But first it is proper that people should sing to the god
with joy, with holy tales and pure words; then after offerings and
prayer made that we may have strength to do right -- for that is in
truth the first thing to do -- no sin is it to drink as much as a
person can take and get home without an attendant, so he be not
stricken in years. And of all people is he to be praised who after
drinking gives considerable proof of himself in the trial of skill,
as memory and strength will serve him. Let him not sing of Titans and
Giants -- those fictions of the people of old -- nor of turbulent
civil battles in which is no good thing at all; but to give heedful
reverence to the gods is always good.
(2) What if a person wins victory in swiftness of foot, or
in the pentathlon, at Olympia, where is the region of Zeus by Pisa's
springs, or in wrestling -- what if by cruel boxing or that fearful
sport people call pankration he become more glorious in the citizens'
eyes, and win a place of honor in the sight of all at the games, his
food-at the public cost from the state, and a gift to be an heirloom
for him-what if he conquer in the chariot-race -- he win not deserve
all this for his portion so much as I do. Far better is our art than
the strength of men and of horses! These are but thoughtless
judgments, nor is it fitting to set strength before considerable art.
Even if there arise a mighty boxer among a people, or one great in
the pentathlon or at wrestling, or one excelling in swiftness of foot
-- and that stands in honor before all tasks of people at the games
-- the city would be none the better governed for that. It is but
little joy a city gets of it if a person conquer at the games by
Pisa's banks; it is not this that makes fat the store-houses of a
(3) They learnt dainty and unprofitable ways from the
Lydians, so long as they were free from hateful tyranny; they went to
the market-place with cloaks of purple dye, not less than a thousand
of them all told, conceited and proud of their shapely locks of hair,
fragrant from salves.
(4) Nor would a person mix wine in a cup by pouring out the
wine first, but water first and wine on the top of it.
(5) You did send the thigh-bone of a kid and get for it the
fat leg of a fatted bull, a worthy compensation for a person to get,
whose glory is to reach every part of Hellas and never to pass away,
so long as Greek songs last.
(7) And now I will turn to another tale and point the way.
. . . Once they say that he (Pythagoras) was passing by when a dog
was being beaten and spoke this word: "Stop! Don't beat it! For it is
the soul of a friend that I recognized when I heard its voice."
(8) There are by this time threescore years and seven that
have tossed my careworn soul up and down the land of Hellas; and
there were then five-and-twenty years from my birth, if I can say
anything truly about these matters.
(9) Much weaker than an aged person.
(10) Since all at first have learnt according to Homer. . .
(11) Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all things
that are a shame and a disgrace among mortals, stealings and
adulteries and deceivings of one another.
(12) Since they have uttered many lawless deeds of the
gods, stealings and adulteries and deceivings of one another.
(14) But mortals deem that the gods are begotten as they
are, and have clothes like theirs, and voice and form.
(15) Yes, and if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and
could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as people do,
horses would paint the forms of the gods like horses, and oxen like
oxen, and make their bodies in the image of their several kinds.
(16) The Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed;
the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair.
(18) The gods have not revealed all things to people from
the beginning, but by seeking they find in time what is better.
(23) One god, the greatest among gods and humans, neither
in form like unto mortals nor in thought. . . .
(24) He sees all over, thinks all over, and hears all
(25) But without toil he sways all things by the thought of
(26) And he abides ever in the selfsame place, moving not
at all; nor does it befit him to go about now here, now there.
(27) all things come from the earth, and in earth all
(28) This limit of the earth above is seen at our feet in
contact with the air; below it reaches down without a limit.
(29) All things are earth and water that come into being
(30) The sea is the source of water and the source of wind;
for neither in the clouds (would there be any blasts of wind blowing)
from within without the mighty sea, nor rivers' streams nor
rain-water from the sky. The mighty sea is father of clouds and of
winds and of rivers.
(31) The sun swinging over the earth and warming it. . .
(32) She that they call Iris is a cloud likewise, purple,
scarlet and green to observe.
(33) For we all are born of earth and water.
(34) There never was nor will be a person who has certain
knowledge about the gods and about all the things I speak of. Even if
he should chance to say the complete truth, yet he himself knows not
that it is so. But all may have their fancy.
(35) Let these be taken as fancies something like the
(36) all of them that are visible for mortals to
(37) And in some caves water drips. . . .
(38) If god had not made brown honey, people would think
that figs are far sweeter than they do think of about them.
Back to the top
(1) It is wise to listen, not to me, but to my Word, and to
confess that all things are one.
(2) Though this word is true always, yet people are as
unable to understand it when they hear it for the first time as
before they have heard it at all. For, though all things come to pass
in accordance with this Word, people seem as if they had no
experience of them, when they make trial of words and deeds such as I
establish, dividing each thing according to its kind and showing how
it truly is. But other people know not what they are doing when
awake, even as they forget what they do in sleep.
(3) Fools when they do hear are like the deaf: of them does
the saying bear witness that they are absent when present.
(4) Eyes and ears are bad witnesses to people if they have
souls that understand not their language.
(5) The many do not take heed of such things as they meet
with, nor do they mark them when they are taught, though they think
(6) Knowing not how to listen nor how to speak.
(7) If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find
it for it is hard to be sought out and difficult.
(8) Those who seek for gold dig up much earth and find a
(10) Nature loves to hide.
(11) The lord whose is the oracle at Delphi neither utters
nor hides his meaning, but shows it by a sign.
(12) And the Sibyl, with raving lips uttering things
mirthless, unadorned, and unperfumed, reaches over a thousand years
with her voice, thanks to the god in her.
(13) The things that can be seen, heard, and learned are
what I prize the most.
(14) . . . bringing untrustworthy witnesses in support of
(15) The eyes are more exact witnesses than the ears.
(16) The learning of many things teaches not understanding,
else would it have taught Hesiod and Pythagoras, and again Xenophanes
(17) Pythagoras, son of Mnesarchus, practiced scientific
inquiry beyond all other people, and malting a selection of these
writings, claimed for his own wisdom what was but a knowledge of many
things and an imposture.
(18) Of all whose discussions I have heard, there is not
one who attains to understanding that wisdom is apart from all.
(19) Wisdom is one thing. It is to know the thought by
which all things are steered through all things.
(20) This world, which is the same for all, no one of gods
or humans has made; but it was ever, is now, and ever will be an
ever-living Fire, with measures of it kindling, and measures going
(21) The transformations of Fire are, first of all, sea;
and half of the sea is earth, half whirlwind.
(22) all things are an exchange for Fire, and Fire for all
things, even as wares for gold and gold for wares.
(23) It becomes liquid sea, and is measured by the same
tale as before it became earth.
(24) Fire is want and excess.
(25) Fire lives the death of air, and air lives the death
of fire; water lives the death of earth, earth that of water.
(26) Fire in its advance will judge and convict all
(27) How can one hide from that which never sets?
(28) It is the thunderbolt that steers the course of all
(29) The sun will not overstep his measures; if he does,
the Erinyes, the handmaids of justice, will find him out.
(30) The limit of dawn and evening is the Bear; and
opposite the Bear is the boundary of bright Zeus.
(31) If there were no sun it would be night, for all the
other stars could do.
(32) The sun is new every day.
(33) Thales foretold an eclipse.
(34) . . . the seasons that bring all things.
(35) Hesiod is most people's teacher. People are sure he
knew very many things, a man who did not know day or night! They are
(36) God is day and night, winter and summer, war and
peace, surfeit and hunger; but he takes various shapes, just as fire,
when it is mingled with spices, is named according to the taste of
(37) If all things were turned to smoke, the nostrils would
(38) Souls smell in Hades.
(39) Cold things become warm, and what is warm cools; what
is wet dries, and the parched is moistened.
(40) It scatters and it gathers; it advances and retires.
(41, 42) You cannot step twice into the same rivers; for fresh waters
are ever flowing in upon you.
(43) Homer was wrong in saying: "Would that strife might
perish from among gods and humans!" He did not see that he was
praying for the destruction of the universe; for, if his prayer were
heard, all things would pass away. . . .
(44) War is the father of all and the king of all; and some
he has made gods and some humans, some bond and some free.
(45) People do not know how what is at variance agrees with
itself. It is an attunement of opposite tensions, like that of the
bow and the lyre.
(46) It is the opposite which is good for us.
(47) The hidden attunement is better than the open.
(48) Let us not conjecture at random about the greatest
(49) People that love wisdom must be acquainted with very
many things indeed.
(50) The straight and the crooked path of the fuller's comb
is one and the same.
(51) Asses would rather have straw than gold.
(51a) Oxen are happy when they find bitter vetches to
(52) The sea is the purest and the impurest water. Fish can
drink it, and it is good for them; to people it is undrinkable and
(53) Swine wash in the mire, and barnyard fowls in
(54) . . . to delight in the mire.
(55) Every beast is driven to pasture with blows.
(56) [Same as 45.]
(57) Good and ill are one.
(58) Physicians who cut, burn, stab, and rack the sick,
demand a fee for it which they do not deserve to get.
(59) Couples are things whole and things not whole, what is
drawn together and what is drawn asunder, the harmonious and the
discordant. The one is made up of all things, and all things issue
from the one.
(60) People would not have known the name of justice if
these things were not.
(61) To God all things are fair and good and right, but
people hold some things wrong and some right.
(62) We must know that war is common to all and strife is
justice, and that all things come into being and pass away (?)
(64) all the things we see when awake are death, even as
all we see in slumber are sleep.
(65) The wise is one only. It is unwilling and willing to
be called by the name of Zeus.
(66) The bow is called life, but its work is death.
(67) Mortals are immortals and immortals are mortals, the
one. Living the others' death and dying the others' life.
(68) For it is death to souls to become water, and death to
water to become earth. But water comes from earth; and from water,
(69) The way up and the way down is one and the same.
(70) In the circumference of a circle the beginning and end
(71) You will not find the boundaries of soul by traveling
in any direction, so deep is the measure of it."
(72) It is pleasure to souls to become moist.
(73) A person, when he gets drunk, is led by a beardless
lad, tripping, knowing not where he steps, having his soul moist.
(74-76) The dry soul is the wisest and best.
(77) People set a light for themselves in the night-time,
when they have died but are alive. The sleeper, whose vision has been
put out, lights up from the dead; he that is awake lights up from the
(78) And it is the same thing in us that is quick and dead,
awake and asleep, young and old; the former are shifted and become
the latter, and the latter in turn are shifted and become the
(79) Time is a child playing checkers, the kingly power is
(80) I have sought for myself.
(81) We step and do not step into the same rivers; we are
and are not.
(82) It is a weariness to labor for the same masters and be
ruled by them.
(83) It rests by changing.
(84) Even the posset separates if it is not stirred.
(85) Corpses are more fit to be cast out than dung.
(86) When they are born, they wish to live and to meet with
their dooms -- or rather to rest -- and they leave children behind
them to meet with their dooms in turn.
(87-89) A man may be a grandfather in thirty years.
(90) Those who are asleep are fellow-workers (in what goes
on in the world).
(91a) Thought is common to all.
(91b) Those who speak with understanding must hold fast to
what is common to all as a city holds fast to its law, and even more
strongly. For all human laws are fed by the one divine law. It
prevails as much as it will, and suffices for all things with
something to spare.
(92) So we must follow the common, yet though my Word is
common, the many live as if they had a wisdom of their own.
(93) They are estranged from that with which they have most
(94) It is not proper to act and speak like people
(95) The waking have one common world, but the sleeping
turn aside each into a world of his own.
(96) The way of humans has no wisdom, but that of God
(97) People are called babies by God, even as a child by a
(98, 99) The wisest person is an ape compared to God, just
as the most beautiful ape is ugly compared to humans.
(100) The people must fight for its law as for its
(101) Greater deaths win greater portions.
(102) Gods and humans honor those who are slain in
(103) Wantonness needs putting out, even more than a house
(104) It is not good for people to get all they wish to
get. It is sickness that makes health pleasant; evil, good; hunger,
plenty; weariness, rest.
(105-107) It is hard to fight with one's heart's desire.
Whatever it wishes to get, it purchases at the cost of soul.
(108, 109) It is best to hide folly; but it is hard in
times of relaxation, over our cups.
(110) And it is law, too, to obey the counsel of one.
(111) For what thought or wisdom have they? They follow the
poets and take the crowd as their teacher, knowing not that there are
many bad and few good. For even the best of them choose one thing
above all others, immortal glory among mortals, while most of them
are glutted like beasts.
(112) In Priene lived Bias, son of Teutamas, who is of more
account than the rest. (He said, "Most people are bad.")
(113) One is ten thousand to me, if he be the best.
(114) The Ephesians would do well to hang themselves, every
grown person of them, and leave the city to beardless lads; for they
have cast out Hermodorus, the best person among them, saying, "We
will have none who is best among us; if there be any such, let him be
so elsewhere and among others."
(115) Dogs bark at every one they do not know.
(116) . . . (The wise person) is not known because of
people's want of belief.
(117) The fool is fluttered at every word.
(118) The most esteemed of them knows but fancies, and
holds fast to them, yet of a truth justice will overtake the
artificers of lies and the false witnesses.
(119) Homer should be turned out of the lists and whipped,
and Archilochus likewise.
(120) One day is like any other.
(121) A person's character is his fate.
(122) There awaits people when they die such things as they
look not for nor dream of.
(123) . . . that they rise up and become the wakeful
guardians of the quick and dead.
(124) Night-walkers, Magians, Bakchoi, Lenai, and the
initiated . . .
(125) The mysteries practiced among people are unholy
(126) And they pray to these images, as if one were to talk
with a person's house, knowing not what gods or heroes are.
(127) For if it were not to Dionysus that they made a
procession and sang the shameful phallic hymn, they would be acting
most shamelessly. But Hades is the same as Dionysus in whose honor
they go mad and rave.
(129, 130) They vainly purify themselves by defiling
themselves with blood, just as if one who had stepped into the mud
were to wash his feet in mud. Any person who marked him doing thus,
would deem him mad.
Back to the top
Fragments from On Nature
(1) The car that bears me carried me as far as ever my
heart desired, when it had brought me and set me on the renowned way
of the goddess, which leads the man who knows through all the towns.
On that way was I carried along; for on it the wise steeds carried
me, drawing my car, and maidens showed the way. And the axle, glowing
in the socket -- for it was urged round by the whirling wheels at
each end -- gave a sound like a pipe, when the daughters of the Sun,
to convey me into the light, threw back their veils from off their
faces and left the abode of Night.
There are the gates of the ways of Night and Day, fitted
above with a lintel and below with a threshold of stone. They
themselves, high in the air, are closed by mighty doors, and Avenging
justice keeps the keys that fit them. Her did the maidens entreat
with gentle words and cunningly persuade to unfasten without demur
the bolted bars from the gates. Then, when the doors were thrown
back, they disclosed a wide opening, when their brazen posts fitted
with rivets and nails swung back one after the other. Straight
through them, on the broad way, did the maidens guide the horses and
the car, and the goddess greeted me kindly, and took my right hand in
hers, and spoke to me these words:
Welcome, O youth, that come to my abode on the car that
bears you tended by immortal charioteers! It is no ill chance, but
right and justice that has sent you to travel on this way. Far,
indeed, does it lie from the beaten track of people! It is proper for
you to learn all things, as well the unshaken heart of well-rounded
truth, as the opinions of mortals in which is no true belief at all.
Yet none the less will you learn these things also, -- how passing
right through all things one should judge the things that seem to
But do you restrain your thought from this way of inquiry,
nor let habit by its much experience force you to cast upon this way
a wandering eye or sounding ear or tongue; but judge by argument the
much disputed proof uttered by me. There is only one way left that
can be spoken of ...
The Way of Truth
(2) Look steadfastly with your mind at things though afar
as if they were at hand. You can not cut off what is from holding
fast to what is, neither scattering itself abroad in order nor coming
(3) It is all one to me where I begin; for I will come back
(4, 5) Come now, I will tell you -- and do you listen to my
saying and carry it away -- the only two ways of search that can be
thought of. The first, namely, that it is, and that it is
impossible for it not to be, is the way of belief, for truth is its
companion. The other, namely, that it is not, and that it must
needs not be,-that, I tell you, is a path that none can learn of at
all. For you can not know what is not-that is impossible-nor utter
it; for it is the same thing that can be thought and that can be.
(6) It must be that what can be spoken and thought is; for
it is possible for it to be, and it is not possible for what is
nothing to be. This is what I bid you ponder. I hold you back from
this first way of inquiry, and from this other also, upon which
mortals knowing nothing wander two-faced; for helplessness guides the
wandering thought in their breasts, so that they are carried along
stupefied like people deaf and blind. Unreasonable crowds, who hold
that it is and is not the same and not the same, all things travel in
(7) For this will never be proved, that the things that are
not are; and do you restrain your thought from this way of
(8) One path only is left for us to speak of, namely, that
it is. In this path are very many tokens that what is is
uncreated and indestructible; for it is complete, immovable, and
without end. Nor was it ever, nor will it be; for now it is, all at
once, a continuous one. For what kind of origin for it will you look
for? In what way and from what source could it have drawn its
increase? . . . I will not let you say nor think that it came from
what is not; for it can neither be thought nor uttered that anything
is not. And, if it came from nothing, what need could have made it
arise later rather than sooner? Therefore must it either be
altogether or be not at all. Nor will the force of truth suffer
anything to arise besides itself from that which is not. For this
reason, justice does not loose her fetters and let anything come into
being or pass away, but holds it fast. Our judgment thereon depends
on this: "Is it or is it not?" Surely it is decided, as it must be,
that we are to set aside the one way as unthinkable and nameless (for
it is no true way), and that the other path is real and true. How,
then, can what is be going to be in the future? Or how could it come
into being? If it came into being, it is not; nor is it if it is
going to be in the future. Thus is becoming extinguished and passing
away not to be heard of.
Nor is it divisible, since it is all alike, and there is no
more of it in one place than in another, to hinder it from holding
together, nor less of it, but everything is full of what is. For this
reason it is wholly continuous; for what is, is in contact with what
Moreover, it is immovable in the bonds of mighty chains,
without beginning and without end; since coming into being and
passing away have been driven afar, and true belief has cast them
away. It is the same, and it rests in the self-same place, abiding in
itself. And thus it remains constant in its place; for hard necessity
keeps it in the bonds of the limit that holds it fast on every side.
For this reason it is not permitted to what is to be infinite; for it
is in need of nothing; while, if it were infinite, it would stand in
need of everything.
The thing that can be thought and that for the sake of
which the thought exists is the same; for you cannot find thought
without something that is, as to which it is uttered. And there is
not, and never will be, anything besides what is, since fate has
chained it so as to be whole and immovable. For this reason all these
things are but names which mortals have given, believing them to be
true-coming into being and passing away, being and not being, change
of place and alteration of bright color.
Since, then, it has a furthest limit, it is complete on
every side, like the mass of a rounded sphere, equally poised from
the center in every direction; for it cannot be greater or smaller in
one place than in another. For there is no nothing that could keep it
from reaching out equally, nor can anything that is be more here and
less there than what is, since it is all inviolable. For the point
from which it is equal in every direction tends equally to the
The Way of Belief
Here will I close my trustworthy speech and thought about
the truth. In the future, learn the beliefs of mortals, giving ear to
the deceptive ordering of my words.
Mortals have made up their minds to name two forms, one of
which they should not name, and that is where they go astray from the
truth. They have distinguished them as opposite in form, and have
assigned to them marks distinct from one another. To the one they
give out the fire of heaven, gentle, very light, in every direction
the same as itself, but not the same as the other. The other is just
the opposite to it, dark night, a compact and heavy body. Of these I
tell you the whole arrangement as it seems likely; for so no thought
of mortals will ever outstrip you.
(9) Now that all things have been named light and night,
and the names which belong to the power of each have been assigned to
these things and to those, everything is full at once of light and
dark night, both equal, since neither has anything to do with the
(10, 11) And you will know the substance of the sky, and
all the signs in the sky, and the radiant works of the glowing sun's
pure torch, and from where they arose. And you will learn likewise of
the wandering deeds of the round-faced moon, and of her substance.
You will know, too, the heavens that surround us, from where they
arose, and how Necessity took them and bound them to keep the limits
of the stars . . . how the earth, and the sun, and the moon, and the
sky that is common to all, and the Milky Way, and the outermost
Olympus, and the burning might of the stars arose.
(12) The narrower bands were filled with unmixed fire, and
those next them with night, and in the midst of these rushes their
portion of fire. In the midst of these is the divinity that directs
the course of all things; for she is the beginner of all painful
birth and all propagation, driving the female to the embrace of the
male, and the male to that of the female.
(13) First of all the gods she contrived Eros.
(14) Shining by night with borrowed light, wandering round
(15) Always looking to the beams of the sun.
(16) For just as thought stands at any time to the mixture
of its, erring organs, so does it come to people; for that which
thinks is the same, namely, the substance of the limbs, in each and
every person; for their thought is that of which there is more in
(17) On the right boys; on the left girls.
(19) Thus, according to people's opinions, did things come
into being, and thus they are now. In time they will grow up and pass
away. To each of these things people have assigned a fixed name.
Back to the top
(1) And do you give ear, Pausanias, son of Anchitus the
(2) For straitened are the powers that are spread over
their bodily parts, and many are the woes that burst in on them and
blunt the edge of their careful thoughts! They observe but a brief
span of a life that is no life, and, doomed to swift death, are taken
up and fly off like smoke. Each is convinced of that alone which he
had chanced upon as he is hurried every way, and idly boasts he has
found the whole. So hardly can these things be seen by the eyes or
heard by the ears of people, so hardly grasped by their mind!
Nevertheless, you, since you have found your way hither, will learn
no more than mortal mind has power.
(3) . . . to keep within your dumb heart.
(4) But, O you gods, turn aside from my tongue the madness
of those people. Bless my lips and make a pure stream flow from them
I And you, much-wooed, white-armed Virgin Muse, do I urge that I may
hear what is lawful for the children of a day I Speed me on my way
from the abode of holiness and drive my willing car! You will not
lift garlands of glory and honor at the hands of mortals on condition
of speaking in your pride beyond that which is lawful and right, and
so to gain a seat upon the heights of wisdom.
Go to now, consider with all your powers in what way each
thing is clear. Hold not your sight in greater credit as compared
with your hearing, nor value your resounding ear above the dear
instructions of your tongue; and do not withhold your confidence in
any of your other bodily parts by which there is an opening for
understanding, but consider everything in the way it is clear.
(5) But it is all too much the way of low minds to
disbelieve those better. Do you learn as the sure testimonies of my
Muse bid you, when my words have been divided in your heart.
(6) Hear first the four roots of all things: shining Zeus,
life-bringing Hera, Aidoneus and Nestis whose tear-drops are a
well-spring to mortals.
(7) . . .uncreated.
(8) And I will tell you another thing. There is no
substance of any of all the things that die, nor any cessation for
them of depraved death. They are only a mingling and interchange of
what has been mingled. Substance is but a name given to these things
(9) But they (hold?) that when Light and Air (chance?) to
have been mingled in the fashion of a human, or in the fashion of the
race of wild beasts or of plants or birds, that that is to be born,
and when these things have been separated once more, they call it
(wrongly?) woeful death. I follow the custom and call it so
(10) Avenging death.
(11, 12) Fools! for they have no far-reaching thoughts, who
deem that what before was not comes into being, or that anything can
perish and be utterly destroyed. For it cannot be that anything can
arise from what in no way is, and it is impossible and unheard of
that what is should perish; for it will always be, wherever one may
keep putting it.
(13) And in the all there is nothing empty and nothing too
(14) In the all there is nothing empty. From where, then,
could anything come to increase it?
(15) A person who is wise in such matters would never
surmise in his heart that as long as mortals have what they call
their life, so long they are, and suffer good and bad; while before
they were formed and after they have been dissolved they are just
nothing at all.
(16) For even as they (Strife and Love) were previously, so
too they will be; nor ever, methinks, will boundless time be emptied
of that pair.
(17) I will tell you a twofold tale. At one time it grew to
be one only out of many; at another, it divided up to be many instead
of one. There is a double becoming of perishable things and a double
passing away. The coming together of all things brings one generation
into being and destroys it; the other grows up and is scattered as
things become divided. And these things never cease continually
changing places, at one time all uniting in one through Love, at
another each carried in different directions by the repulsion of
Strife. Thus, as far as it is their nature to grow into one out of
many, and to become many once more when the one is parted asunder, so
far they come into being and their life abides not. But, inasmuch as
they never cease changing their places continually, so far they are
ever immovable as they go round the circle of existence.
But come, listen to my words, for it is learning that
increases wisdom. As I said before, when I declared the heads of my
discussion, I will tell you a twofold tale. At one time it grew
together to be one only out of many, at another it parted asunder so
as to be many instead of one; Fire and Water and Earth and the mighty
height of Air; dread Strife, too, apart from these, of equal weight
to each, and Love in their midst, equal in length and breadth. Her do
you contemplate with your mind, nor sit with dazed eyes. It is she
that is known as being implanted in the frame of mortals. It is she
that makes them have thoughts of love and work the works of peace.
They call her by the names of joy and Aphrodite. Her has no mortal
yet marked moving round among them, but do you attend to the
undeceitful ordering of my discussion.
For all these are equal and alike in age, yet each has a
different prerogative and its own peculiar nature, but they gain the
upper hand in turn when the time comes round. And nothing comes into
being besides these, nor do they pass away; for, if they had been
passing away continually, they would not be now, and what could
increase this all and from where could it come? How, too, could it
perish, since no place is empty of these things? There are these
alone; but, running through one another, they become now this, now
that, and like things always.
(19) Clinging love. Love.
(20) This (the contest of Love and Strife) is manifest in
the mass of mortal limbs. At one time all the limbs that are the
body's portion are brought together by Love in blooming life's high
Season; at another, severed by cruel Strife, they wander each alone
by the breakers of life's sea. It is the same with plants and the
fish that make their homes in the waters, with the beasts that have
their lairs on the hills and the seabirds that sail on wings.
(21) Come now, look at the things that bear witness to my
earlier discussion, if so be that there was any shortcoming as to
their form in the earlier list. Observe the sun, everywhere bright
and warm, and all the immortal things that are bathed in heat and
bright radiance. Observe the rain, everywhere dark and cold; and from
the earth issue things close-pressed and solid. When they are in
strife all these are different in form and separated; but they come
together in love, and are desired by one another.
For out of these have sprung all things that were and are
and will be-trees and men and women, beasts and birds and the fishes
that live in the waters, yea, and the gods that live long lives and
are highest ranking in honor.
For there are these alone; but, running through one
another, they take different shapes -- so much does mixture change
(22) For all of these -- sun, earth, sky, and sea -- are at
one with all their parts that are cast far and wide from them in
mortal things. And even so all things that are more adapted for
mixture are like to one another and united in love by Aphrodite.
Those things, again, that differ most in origin, mixture and the
forms imprinted on each, are most hostile, being altogether
unaccustomed to unite and very sorry by the bidding of Strife, since
it has wrought their birth.
(23) Just as when painters are elaborating
temple-offerings, people whom wisdom has well taught their art, --
they, when they have taken pigments of many colors with their hands,
mix them in due proportion, more of some and less of others, and from
them produce shapes like unto all things, making trees and men and
women, beasts and birds and fishes that live in the waters, yea, and
gods, that live long lives, and are highest ranking in honor -- so
don't let the error prevail over your mind, that there is any other
source of all the perishable creatures that appear in countless
numbers. Know this for sure, for you have heard the tale from a
(24) Stepping from summit to summit, not to travel only one
path of words to the end. . . .
(25) What is right may well be said even twice.
(26) For they prevail in turn as the circle comes round,
and pass into one another, and grow great in their appointed
There are these alone; but, running through one another,
they become people and the tribes of beasts. At one time they are all
brought together into one order by Love; at another, they are carried
each in different directions by the repulsion of Strife, till they
grow once more into one and are wholly subdued. Thus in so far as
they are wont to grow into one out of many, and again divided become
more than one, so far they come into being and their life is not
lasting; but in so far as they never cease changing continually, so
far are they always, immovable in the circle.
(27) There (in the sphere) are distinguished neither the
swift limbs of the sun, no, nor the shaggy earth in its might, nor
the sea, -- so fast was the god bound in the close covering of
Harmony, spherical and round, rejoicing in his circular solitude.
(27a) There is no discord and no unseemly strife in his
(28) But he was equal on every side and quite without end,
spherical and round, rejoicing in his circular solitude.
(29) Two branches do not spring from his back, he has no
feet, no swift knees, no fruitful parts; but he was spherical and
equal on every side.
(30, 31) But when Strife was grown great in the limbs of
the god and sprang to claim his prerogatives, in the fullness of the
alternate time set for them by the mighty oath, . . . for all the
limbs of the god in turn quaked.
(32) The joint binds two things.
(33) Even as when fig juice rivets and binds white milk
(34) Cementing meal with water ...
(35, 36) But now I will retrace my steps over the paths of
song that I have traveled before, drawing from my saying a new
saying. When Strife was fallen to the lowest depth of the vortex, and
Love had reached to the center of the whirl, in it do all things come
together so as to be one only; not all at once, but coming together
at their will each from different quarters; and, as they mingled,
strife began to pass out to the furthest limit. Yet many things
remained unmixed, alternating with the things that were being mixed,
namely, all that Strife not fallen yet retained; for it had not yet
altogether retired perfectly from them to the outermost boundaries of
the circle. Some of it still remained within, and some had passed out
from the limbs of the All. But in proportion as it kept rushing out,
a soft, immortal stream of blameless Love kept running in, and
immediately those things became mortal which had been immortal
before, those things were mixed that had before been unmixed, each
changing its path. And, as they mingled, countless tribes of mortal
creatures were scattered abroad endowed with all manner of forms, a
wonder to observe.
(37) Earth increases its own mass, and Air swells the bulk
(38) Come, I will now tell you first of all the beginning
of the sun, and the sources from which have sprung all the things we
now observe, the earth and the billowy sea, the damp vapor and the
Titan air that binds his circle fast round all things.
(39) If the depths of the earth and the vast air were
infinite, a foolish saying which has been vainly dropped from the
lips of many mortals, though they have seen but a little of the all
(40) The sharp-darting sun and the gentle moon.
(41) But (the sunlight) is gathered together and circles
round the mighty heavens.
(42) And she cuts off his rays as he goes above her, and
casts a shadow on as much of the earth as is the breadth of the
(43) Even so the sunbeam, having struck the broad and
mighty circle of the moon, returns at once, running so as to reach
(44) It flashes back to Olympus with untroubled
(45, 46) There circles round the earth a round borrowed
light, as the nave of the wheel circles round the furthest
(47) For she gazes at the sacred circle of the lordly sun
(48) It is the earth that makes night by coming before the
(49) . . .of solitary, blind-eyed night.
(50) And Iris brings wind or mighty rain from the sea.
(51) (Fire) swiftly rushing upwards . . .
(52) And many fires bum beneath the earth.
(53) For so it (the air) chanced to be running at that
time, though often otherwise.
(54) But the air sank down upon the earth with its long
(55) Sea the sweat of the earth.
(56) Salt was solidified by the impact of the sun's
(57) On it (the earth) many heads sprung up without necks
and arms wandered bare and deprived of shoulders. Eyes strayed up and
down in want of foreheads.
(58) Solitary limbs wandered seeking for union.
(59) But, as divinity was mingled still further with
divinity, these things joined together as each might chance, and many
other things besides them continually arose.
(60) Clumsy creatures with countless hands.
(61) Many creatures with faces and breasts looking in
different directions were born; some, offspring of oxen with faces of
people, while others, again, arose as offspring of people with the
heads of oxen, and creatures in whom the nature of women and men was
mingled, furnished with sterile parts.
(62) Come now, hear how the Fire as it was separated caused
the night-born shoots of men and tearful women to arise; for my tale
is not off the point nor uninformed. Whole-natured forms first arose
from the earth, having a portion both of water and fire. These did
the fire, desirous of reaching its like, send up, showing as yet
neither the charming form of the limbs, nor yet the voice and parts
that are proper to men.
(63) . . .But the substance of (the child's) limbs is
divided between them, part of it in men's (and part in women's
(64) And upon him came desire reminding him through