The World Around Us – 01.16.10

“For first the several bodies of earth, because they were heavy and closely entangled, met together in the middle and took up all of them the lowest positions; and the more they got entangled and the closer their union, the more they squeezed out those particles which were to make up the sea, stars, sun, and moon and the walls of the great world…Thus then the ponderous mass of earth was formed with close-cohering body and all the slime of the world so to speak slid down by its weight to the lowest point and settled at the bottom like dregs. Then the sea, then the air, then the fire-laden ether itself, all are left unmixed with their clear bodies; and some are lighter than others and clearest and lightest of all ether floats upon the airy currents, and blends not its clear body with the troubled airs.”

Given that during the authors’ time, neither telescope nor biology, let alone the concept of nature as we know it existed, this was a pretty decent crack at explaining how this world came to be. When I first read Lucretius’ “On the Nature of Things” (De Rerum Natura), all I could think was how crazy he must have been. Then I realized that he lived just before the time of Jesus and this would have been a valiant effort at cosmology. In many ways, we’ve come a long way since Lucretius, but re-reading him always reminds me not to take what I’ve heard for granted. Surely, Lucretius was incorrect in thinking that the whole universe emitted from the center of the earth, but he was well-known during and after his time. No worries, though, this comes just a few years before our star gazing friend Ptolemy and human thought quickly gets back on track.

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