“On the Universe” (Chapter I), Ocellus Lucanus, trans. Thomas Taylor (1831)

Ocellus Lucanus has written what follows concerning the Nature of the Universe; having learnt some things through clear arguments from Nature herself, but others from opinion, in conjunction with reason, it being his intention [in this work] to derive what is probable from intellectual perception. It appears, therefore, to me, that the universe is indestructible and unbegotten, since it always was, and always will be; for if it had a temporal beginning, it would not have always existed: thus, therefore, the universe is unbegotten and indestructible; for if someone should opine that it was once generated, he would not be able to find anything into which it can be corrupted and dissolved, since that from which it was generated would be the first part of the universe; and again, that into which it would be dissolved would be the last part of it.

But if the universe was generated, it was generated together with all things; and if it should be corrupted, it would be corrupted together with all things. This, however, is impossible [The universe could not be generated together with all things, for the principle of it must be unbegotten; since everything that is generated, is generated from a cause; and if this cause was also generated, there must be a progression of causes ad infinitum, unless the unbegotten is admitted to be the principle of the universe. Neither, therefore, can the universe be corrupted together with all things; for the principle of it being unbegotten is also incorruptible; that only being corruptible, which was once gene rated]. The universe, therefore, is without a beginning, and without an end; nor is it possible that it can have any other mode of subsistence.

To which may be added, that everything which has received a beginning of generation, and which ought also to participate of dissolution, receives two mutations; one of which, indeed, proceeds from the less to the greater, and from the worse to the better; and that from which it begins to change is denominated generation, but that at which it at length arrives, is called acme. The other mutation, however, proceeds from the greater to the less, and from the better to the worse: but the termination of this mutation is denominated corruption and dissolution.

If, therefore, the whole and the universe were generated, and are corruptible, they must, when generated, have been changed from the less to the greater, and from the worse to the better; but when corrupted, they must be changed from the greater to the less, and from the better to the worse. Hence, if the world was generated, it would receive increase, and would arrive at its acme; and again, it would afterwards receive decrease and an end. For every nature which has a progression, possesses three boundaries and two intervals. The three boundaries, therefore, are generation, acme, and end; but the intervals are, the progression from generation to acme, and from acme to the end.

The whole, however, and the universe, affords, as from itself, no indication of a thing of this kind; for neither do we perceive it rising into existence, or becoming to be, nor changing to the better and the greater, nor becoming at a certain time worse or less; but it always continues to subsist in the same and a similar manner, and is itself perpetually equal and similar to itself.

Of the truth of this, the orders of things, their symmetry, figurations, positions, intervals, powers, swiftness and slowness with respect to each other; and, besides these, their numbers and temporal periods, are clear signs and indications. For all such things as these receive mutation and diminution, conformably to the course of a generated nature: for things that are greater and better acquire acme through power, but those that are less and worse are corrupted through imbecility of nature.

I denominate, however, the whole and the universe, the whole world; for, in consequence of being adorned with all things, it has obtained this appellation; since it is from itself a consummate and perfect system of the nature of all things; for there is nothing external to the universe, since whatever exists is contained in the universe, and the universe subsists together with this, comprehending in itself all things, some as parts, but others as supervenient.

Those things, therefore, which are comprehended in the world, have a congruity with the world; but the world has no concinnity [i.e. elegance of arrangement and interrelation—F. C.] with anything else, but is itself co-harmonized with itself. For all other things have not a consummate or self-perfect subsistence, but require congruity with things external to themselves. Thus animals require a conjunction with air for the purpose of respiration, but sight with light, in order to see; and the other senses with something else, in order to perceive their peculiar sensible object. A conjunction with the earth also is necessary to the germination of plants. The sun and moon, the planets, and the fixed stars, have likewise a coalescence with the world, as being parts of its common arrangement. The world, however, has not a conjunction with anything else than itself.

Further still, what has been said will be easily known to be true from the following considerations. Fire, which imparts heat to another thing, is itself from itself hot; and honey, which is sweet to the taste, is itself from itself sweet. The principles likewise of demonstrations, which are indicative of things unapparent, are themselves from themselves manifest and known. Thus, also, that which becomes to other things the cause of self-perfection, is itself from itself perfect; and that which becomes to other things the cause of preservation and permanency, is itself from itself preserved and permanent. That, likewise, which becomes to other things the cause of concinnity, is itself from itself co-harmonized; but the world is to other things the cause of their existence, preservation, and self-perfection. The world, therefore, is from itself perpetual and self-perfect, has an everlasting duration, and on this very account becomes the cause of the permanency of the whole of things.

[Critolaus, the Peripatetic, employs nearly the same arguments as those contained in this paragraph, in proof of the perpetuity of the world, as is evident from the following passage, preserved by Philo, in his treatise On the Incorruptibility of the World: “That which is the cause to itself of good health, is without disease. But, also, that which is the cause to itself of a vigilant energy, is sleepless. But if this be the case, that also which is the cause to itself of existence, is perpetual. The world, however, is the cause to itself of existence, since it is the cause of existence to all other things. The world, therefore, is perpetual. Everything divine, according to the philosophy of Pythagoras and Plato, being a self-perfect essence, begins its own energy from itself, and is therefore primarily the cause to itself of that which it imparts to others. Hence, since the world, being a divine and self-subsistent essence, imparts to itself existence, it must be without non-existence, and therefore must be perpetual.]

In short, if the universe should be dissolved, it would either be dissolved into that which has an existence, or into nonentity. But it is impossible that it should be dissolved into that which exists, for there will not be a corruption of the universe if it should be dissolved into that which has a being; for being is either the universe, or a certain part of the universe. Nor can it be dissolved into nonentity, since it is impossible for being either to be produced from non-beings, or to be dissolved into nonentity. The universe, therefore, is incorruptible, and can never be destroyed.

If, nevertheless, someone should think that it may be corrupted, it must either be corrupted from something external to, or contained in the universe, but it cannot be corrupted by anything external to it; for there is not anything external to the universe, since all other things are comprehended in the universe, and the world is the whole and the all. Nor can it be corrupted by the things which it contains, for in this case it will be requisite that these should be greater and more powerful than the universe. This, however, is not true [i.e. it is not true that the universe can contain anything greater and more powerful than itself], for all things are led and governed by the universe, and conformably to this are preserved and co-adapted, and possess life and soul. But if the universe can neither be corrupted by anything external to it, nor by anything contained within it, the world must therefore be incorruptible and indestructible; for we consider the world to be the same with the universe.

Further still, the whole of nature surveyed through the whole of itself, will be found to derive continuity from the first and most honourable of bodies, attenuating this continuity proportionally, introducing it to everything mortal, and receiving the progression of its peculiar subsistence; for the first [and most honourable] bodies in the universe, revolve according to the same, and after a similar manner. The progression, however, of the whole of nature, is not successive and continued, nor yet local, but subsists according to mutation.

Fire, indeed, when it is congregated into one thing, generates air, but air generates water, and water earth. From earth, also, there is the same circuit of mutation, as far as to fire, from whence it began to be changed. But fruits, and most plants that derive their origin from a root, receive the beginning of their generation from seeds. When, however, they bear fruit and arrive at maturity, again they are resolved into seed, nature producing a complete circulation from the same to the same.

But men and other animals, in a subordinate degree, change the universal boundary of nature; for in these there is no periodical return to the first age, nor is there an antiperistasis [i.e. a process in which a quality strengthens its opposite, e.g. water soaking quicklime to make fire—F. C.] of mutation into each other, as there is in fire and air, water and earth; but the mutations of their ages being accomplished in a four-fold circle, they are dissolved, and again return to existence [This four-fold mutation of ages in the human race, consists of the infant, the lad, the man, and the old man, as is well observed by Theo of Smyrna]. These, therefore, are the signs and indications that the universe, which comprehends [all things], will always endure and be preserved, but that its parts, and such things in it as are supervenient, are corrupted and dissolved.

Further still, it is credible that the universe is without a beginning, and without an end, from its figure, from motion, from time, and its essence; and, therefore, it may be concluded that the world is unbegotten and incorruptible: for the form of its figure is circular; but a circle is on all sides similar and equal, and is therefore without a beginning, and without an end. The motion also of the universe is circular, but this motion is stable and without transition. Time, likewise, in which motion exists is infinite, for this neither had a beginning, nor will have an end of its circulation. The essence, too, of the universe, is without egression [into any other place], and is immutable, because it is not naturally adapted to be changed, either from the worse to the better, or from the better to the worse. From all these arguments, therefore, it is obviously credible, that the world is unbegotten and incorruptible. And thus much concerning the whole and the universe.

 

Note

Translated by Thomas Taylor; edited by Fergus Cullen (2017). All editorial additions, in square brackets, are Taylor’s.

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