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Breadth thereof) he wandereth but eight, and those not
equally, but two in the midst, four above, and two beneath.
Then the Sun in the midst, goeth always between the two
Extremities of the Zodiac ; but in his declining Course he
seemeth to wind unequally, after the Manner of Serpents.
Mars leaveth the ecliptic Line four half Degrees, Jupiter
two Degrees and a half, Saturn two, like as the Sun. Thus
you see the Manner of the Latitudes, as they descend south-
ward, or ascend northward. And upon this is the Reason
grounded of the third Opinion of them, who imagine that

BOOK II.] History of Nature. 53

the Planets do rise and mount from the Earth upward into
Heaven. For very many have thought, although untruly,
that they climb in this Manner. But to the End that they
may be confuted, we must lay open an immense Subtlety,
which containeth all those Causes and Reasons abovesaid.
First, therefore, this is admitted, that these Stars in their
Evening Setting are nearest to the Earth, both in Latitude
and Altitude : and when they be farthest from the Earth, as
well in Latitude as Elevation, they appear in the Morning
before the Sun : as also that then they are Stationaries in the
middle Points of the Latitudes, which they call Ecliptics.
Likewise it is acknowledged, that so long as the Planets are
near to the Earth, their Motion increaseth : and as they de-
part on hi:h it decreaseth. And this Reason is confirmed
principally by the Elevations of the Moon. And it is beyond
a Doubt, that every Planet in its Morning Rising riseth
every Day higher than the former. The superior three
above the Sun diminish from their first Stations unto the
second. Which being so, it will plainly appear, that every
Planet rising before the Sun ascendeth to the Latitudes : so
that from the Time they begin, their Motion increaseth by
little and little more sparely. But in the first Stations, they
are at the highest Altitude : for then first the Numbers begin
to be withdrawn, and the Planets to go backward ; whereof
a particular Reason may be given in this Manner : the
Planets being smitten in that Part whereof we spoke, they
are both restrained by the triangular Beams or trine Aspect
of the Sun, to hold on a direct Course, and are raised up
aloft by the fiery Power of the said Sun. This cannot im-
mediately be understood by our Eyesight : and so they are
supposed to stand, and hence the Name of Stations is de-
rived. Then proceedeth forward the Violence of the Sun's
Beams, and the Vapour thereof, by Repercussion, forceth
them to go backward. And much more is this perceived
in their Evening Rising, when the Sun is wholly against
them, and they be driven to the very Top of their Absides,
and so not seen at all, because they are at the highest, and
are carried on by their least Motion, which is so much the

54 History of Nature. [ BOOK II.

less, when it happeneth in the highest Signs of their Absides.
From the evening Rising the Latitude descendeth, for now the
Motion less diminisheth, but yet increaseth not before the
second Stations : because they are forced to descend by Rea-
son of the Sunbeams coming from the other Side ; and the
same Force beareth them downward to the Earth, which by
the former triangular Aspect raised them aloft toward Hea-
ven. Of so much Importance is it whether these Beams
come from beneath or above. The same happeneth much
more in the Evening Setting. This is an Explanation of
the Motions of the superior Planets; but the Theory of the
rest is more difficult, and hath by no Man before us been


General Rules concerning the Planets.

FIRST, therefore, let us set down the Cause why Venus
never departeth from the Sun more than forty-six Degrees,
and Mercury not above twenty-three : and why oftentimes
they retire back unto the Sun within that Space. To be
resolved in this Point, we must remark, that both of them
have their Absides turned opposite to the rest, as being
seated under the Sun : and so much of their Circles is under-
neath, as the forenamed were above ; and therefore farther
off they cannot be, because the Curvature of their Absides
in that Place hath no greater Longitude. Therefore both
Margins of their Absides, by a like Proportion, keep Mean,
and their Course is limited : but the short Spaces of their
Longitudes they compensate by the wandering of their Lati-
tudes. But what is the Reason that they reach not always
to forty-six Degrees, and to twenty-three? They do so truly:
but here the Explanation fails. For it is apparent, that their
Absides also move, because they never overpass the Sun.
And therefore when their Margins from either Side are per-
ceived to fall upon the very Point, then the Planets also are
understood to reach unto their longest Distances : but when
their Margins be short so many Degrees, the Stars them-
selves are thought to return more speedily in their Retro-

BOOK II.] History of Nature. 55

gradation than in their direct Course forward, though their
utmost Extremity is ever the same. And from hence is the
Reason understood of the contrary Motions of these two
Planets. For the superior Planets move most swiftly in the
Evening Setting, but these most slowly. They be highest
above the Earth, when they move slowest ; and these, when
they go swiftest : for as in the former the Nearness of the
Centre hasteneth them, so, in these, the Extremity of the
Circle : they, from their Morning Rising, begin to slacken
their Celerity ; but these to increase it : they return back
from their Morning Station to their Evening Mansion ; but
Venus, contrariwise, is retrograde from the Evening Station
to that of the Morning. But, she from the Morning Rising
beginneth to climb the Latitude : but to follow the Altitude
and the Sun from the Morning Station : as being most swift
and at the highest in the Morning Setting. Moreover she
beginneth to digress in Latitude, and to diminish her Motion,
from the Morning Rising : but to be retrograde, and to digress
in Altitude, from the Evening Station. Again, the Planet
Mercury rising in the Morning, beginneth both Ways to
climb, but to digress in Latitude from the Evening Rising :
and when the Sun hath overtaken him within the Distance
of fifteen Degrees, he standeth still for four Days almost
immovable. Presently, he descendeth from his Altitude,
and goeth back from the Evening Setting to that of the
Morning. This Star only, and the Moon, descend in as
many Days as they ascend. But Venus ascendeth up to her
Station in fifteen Days and a little more. Again, Saturn and
Jupiter are twice as long descending, and Mars four Times.
So great Variety is in their Nature, but the Reason thereof is
evident. For they which go against the Vapour of the Sun
do also descend with Difficulty. Many Secrets more of
Nature, and Laws whereunto she is obedient, might be shewn
about these Things. As, for Example: the Planet Mars,
whose Course, of all others, can be least observed, never
maketh Station but in quadrate Aspect : and Jupiter, in
triangular Aspect ; and very seldom separated from the Sun
sixty Degrees, which Number maketh six angled Forms of

56 History of Nature. [BooK II.

the Heaven (that is, it is the sixth Part of the Heaven) :
neither doth Jupiter shew his rising in any, save only two
Signs, Cancer and Leo. The Planet Mercury seldom hath
his Evening Rising in Pisces, but very often in Virgo ; and
the Morning Rising in Libra. In like Manner, the Morning
Rising is in Aquarius, but very seldom in Leo. Neither
becometh he retrograde in Taurus and Gemini : and in
Cancer, not under the twenty-fifth Degree. As for the
Moon, she entereth not twice in Conjunction with the Sun
in any other Sign but Gemini : and sometime hath no Con-
junction at all, and that only in Sagittarius. As for the last
and first of the Moon, to be seen in the same Day or Night,
happeneth in no other Sign but in Aries, and few Men have
had the Chance to see it. And hereupon came Linceus to be
so famous for his Eyesight. Also, the Planets Saturn and
Mars appear not in the Heaven at the most 170 Days:
Jupiter 36, or at least ten Days wanting : Venus 69, or when
least, 52 : Mercury 13, or at least, 17.

What is the Cause that the Planets alter their Colours ?

THE Reason of the Planet's Altitudes is it that tetnpereth
their Colours, for they take the Likeness of the Air, into
which they enter ; and the Circle of another Planet's Motion
coloureth them as they approach either Way, ascending or
descending. The colder setteth a pale Colour, the hotter a
red, and the windy a fearful Hue. Only the Points and
Conjunctions of iheAbsides, and the utmost Circumferences,
shew a dark black. Each Planet hath a several Colour;
Saturn is white, Jupiter clear and bright, Mars a fiery red,
Venus glowing, when Lucifer; when Occidental, or Vesper,
resplendent ; Mercury sparkling, the Moon pleasant, the
Sun when he riseth, burning, afterwards radiating 1 . Upon

1 Many of the colours here mentioned are only optical deceptions, but
that of the planet Mars must proceed from something inherent in the
planet itself, or the atmosphere by which it is surrounded ; for while

BOOK II.] History of Nature. 57

these Causes the Sight is entangled, and discovereth those
Stars also which are fixed in the Sky. For one while a
Number of them appear about the Half-moon, when in a
clear and calm Night she gently beautlfieth them ; and at
another they are seen but here and there, insomuch that we
may wonder how they are fled upon the full Moon, which
hideth them ; or when the Beams either of the Sun or other
abovesaid have dazzled our Sight. Yea, the Moon herself
perceiveth the Sun's Beams, as they come upon her : for
those Rays that come sidelong, according to the Convexity
of the Sky, give but an obscure Light to the Moon, in Com-
parison of them that fall directly with straight Angles. And,
therefore, in the quadrangular Aspect of the Sun she ap-
peareth divided in Half; in the triangular she is well near
environed, but her Circle is half empty ; but in Opposition
she appeareth full. And again, as she is in the Wane, she
representeth the same Forms, decreasing by Quarters as she
increased : with like Aspects as the other three Planets
above the Sun.


The Reason of the Suns Motion, and the Inequality of Days.

THE Sun himself hath four Differences in his Course :
twice in the Year, in Spring and Autumn, making the Night
equal to the Day ; for then he falleth on the Centre of the
Earth, in the eighth Degree of Aries and Libra. Twice
likewise he exchangeth the Compass of his Race : to lengthen
the Day from the Bruma, or Midwinter, in the eighth De-
gree of Capricorn; and again to lengthen the Night from the
summer Solstice, being in as many Degrees of Cancer. The
Cause of unequal Days is the Obliquity of the Zodiac: when
the one Half of the World is at all Times above and under
the Earth. But (hose Signs which mount upright in their

it reflects to us a red tinge, the light it obtains from the sun is the same
with that which comes to us from the sun, and in which the prismatic
rays produce a colourless mixture. Wern. Club.

58 History of Nature. [BooK II.

Rising, hold Light in a longer Tract, and make the Days
longer: whereas they which arise obliquely pass away in
shorter Time.


Why Lightnings are attributed to Jupiter.

MOST Men are ignorant of that Secret which, by great
Study of the Heavens, Men of deep Learning have found
out : namely, that it is the Fires of the three uppermost
Planets, which, falling to the Earth, carry the Name of
Lightnings ; but those especially which are seated in the
midst, because participating in the excessive Cold and Mois-
ture from the upper Circle, and the immoderate Heat from
the lower, by this Means he dischargeth the Superfluity :
and hereupon it is commonly said, that Jupiter darteth
Lightnings 1 . Therefore, as out of burning Wood a Coal of
Fire flieth forth with a Crack, so from a Star is spit out this
celestial Fire, carrying with it Presages of future Things : so
that it sheweth Divine Operations, even in these Portions
which are cast away as superfluous. And this most com-
monly happeneth when the Air is troubled; either because
the collected Moisture stirreth that Abundance to fall ; or
because it is disquieted, as it were, with a Birth from a
pregnant Star.

1 Much of the religious system of the ancients was founded on the
persuasion that every appearance of lightning and thunder, as well as
other aerial phenomena, were direct manifestations of Divine interposition
in the affairs of men ; and a college of officers (augurs) was appointed to
observe, record, report, and explain such appearances, for the guidance of
the state in its most important proceedings. From a slight expression of
Pliny in the course of this chapter, it appears that he hesitated to deny
this popular idea in a direct manner : in apprehension, perhaps, of laying
himself open to the charge of infidelity. But by implication, he expresses
his disbelief of what was so generally credited; for the ascribing to the
natural effect of Jupiter as a planet, what was believed by the priests and
the state to be a voluntary action of Jupiter, the supreme deity, can be
regarded as little better than a subterfuge. For a natural explanation of
thunder and lightning, such as it is, the reader is referred to chapter
xliii. of this book ; and for other curious particulars, to the chapters l.-lv.
Wern. Club.

BOOK II.] History of Nature. 59

The Distances of the Planets.

MANY have endeavoured to find out the Distance and
Elevation of the Planets from the Earth, and have set down
in Writing, that the Sun is distant from the Moon eighteen
Degrees, as the Moon is also from the Earth. But Pytha-
goras, a Man of much Sagacity, hath collected, that there
are 126,000 Stadia 1 from the Earth to the Moon, and a
double Distance from her to the Sun, and from thence to the
twelve Signs three Times so much. Of which Opinion was
also our countryman, Gallus Sulpitius.

Of the Music of the Planets.

BUT Pythagoras at the same Time uses the Terms of
Music, by calling the Space between the Earth and the
Moon a Tone ; saying, that from her to Mercury is Half a
Tone : and from him to Venus about the same Space. But
from her to the Sun so much and a Half more : but from the
Sun to Mars a Tone, that is to say, as much as from the
Earth to the Moon. From him to Jupiter Haifa Tone:
likewise from him to Saturn Half a Tone : and so from
thence to the Zodiac so much and a Half more. Thus are
composed seven Tunes, which Harmony they call Diapason;
that is to say, the Universality of Consent. In this, Saturn
rnoveth by the Doric Tune ; Mercury by Phthongus, Jupiter
by the Phrygian, and the Rest likewise : a Subtlety more
pleasant than needful 2 .

1 The Stadium differed in different countries ; but the standard may
be fixed at a furlong ; as may be seen in chapter xxiii. One hundred and
twenty-five paces make a stadium. In the larger numbers, therefore, it
has been sometimes judged best to translate the equivalent expressions
into miles. Wern. Club.

2 Ideas of the harmony of creation seem to have entered deeply into
the opinions of Pythagoras, on the system of creation, and especially on


History of Nature.

[BooK II.

The Geometry of the World.

A STADIUM maketh of our Paces 125, that is to say, 625
Feet. Posidonius saith, that from the Earth it is no less than
forty Stadia to that Height wherein thick Weather, Winds,
and Clouds are formed. Above this, the Air is pure, clear,
and light, without any troubled Darkness. But from the
cloudy Region to the Moon is 2,000,000 Stadia : from thence
to the Sun, 5000. By means of which Interval it cometh to
pass, that so exceeding great as the Sun is, he burneth not

the order and distances of the planets, the motions of which he appears to
have compared to the graceful and measured dances of the ancients to
the sound of the harp. But, as often happens, when philosophers confine
their views of Nature to a single aspect, what has a shadow of truth in
itself becomes, when thus interpreted, egregious trifling. The supposition
enounced is, that not only are the motions performed according to musical
time, but the intervals between the chords (of each planet's path) are
properly measured by their relative tones. The following diagram, taken
from the notes to Dalechamp's edition of Pliny, will more clearly repre-
sent the ideas of this eminent Greek philosopher :



The tone or unit of Pythagoras is taken for 125,000 stadia, or 15,625
miles. Wern. Club.

BOOK If.] History of Nature. 61

the Earth. Many there be, however, who have taught that
the Clouds are elevated to the Height of 900 Stadia. These
Points are undiscovered, and beyond Man's Reach ; but they
may now be delivered to others, as they have been taught :
in which, notwithstanding, one infallible Reason of a geome-
trical Collection cannot be rejected, if a man would search
deep into these Matters. Neither need a Man to seek an
exact Measure hereof (for to desire that is a foolish Idleness),
but only to make an Estimate of Probability. For, whereas
it is clear by the Course of the Sun, that the Circle through
which he passeth containeth three hundred, threescore, and
almost six Degrees ; and it is a Rule that the Diameter
formeth a third Part of the Circumference, and little less
than a seventh Part of a third : it is plain, that deducting
one Half thereof (because the Earth, situated in the Centre,
cometh between), about the sixth Part of this great Circuit
which he maketh about the Earth (so far as our Mind doth
comprehend), is the very Height from the Earth up to the
Sun, but the twelfth Part to the Moon, because she runneth
so much a shorter Circuit than the Sun ; whereby it ap-
peareth, that she is in the Midst between the Earth and the
Sun. It is a Wonder to see how far the Presumption of the
Heart of Man will proceed when instigated by some little
Success, as in the abovenamed Matter. The Reason whereof
ministereth plenteous Occasion of Impudency, for they who
dared to give a Guess at the Space between the Sun and the
Earth are so bold as to do the like from thence to Heaven.
For, presuming that the Sun is in the Midst, they have at
their Fingers' Ends the very Measure of the whole World.
For how many seven Parts the Diameter hath, so many
twenty-two Parts hath the whole Circle : as if they had got-
ten the certain Measure of the Heaven by the Plumb-line.
The Egyptians, according to the Reckoning which Petosiris
and Necepsos have invented, do collect, that every Degree in
the Circle of the Moon, which is the least (as hath been said)
of all other, containeth thirty-three Stadia, and somewhat
more; in Saturn^ the greatest of all, double as much ; and in
the Sun, which we said was the midst, the Half of both Mea-

62 History of Nature. [BooK II.

sures. And this Computation hath very great Importance,
for he that will reckon the Distances between the Circle of
Saturn and the Zodiac, by this Calculation shall multiply an
infinite Number of Stadia.

Of Sadden Stars.

THERE remain yet a few Points concerning the World :
for in the very Heaven there be Stars that suddenly appear,
whereof there are many Kinds 1 .


Of Comets and Celestial Prodigies , their Nature, Situation,
and Kinds.

THESE Stars which the Greeks call Cometas, our Romans
term Crinitas (hairy) : dreadful, with bloody Hair, and
shagged like the Bush of Hair upon the Top of the Head. The
same Greeks call those Stars Pogonias*, which from the lower
Part have a Mane hanging down like a long Beard. Those

1 This important fact in astronomy, that stars have suddenly appeared,
remained for a time visible in a fixed position, and then have either be-
come of less apparent brightness or disappeared altogether, is established
by the observations of modern as well as ancient astronomers ; and to
ascertain beyond doubt whether such a phenomenon might be repeated,
was the first motive for which a map of the heavens and a catalogue of
the known stars were constructed. Hipparchus (chap, xxvi.) is the first
that is known to have observed this phenomenon ; a detection of the
occurrence is no slight proof of the minuteness of inquiry of the ancient
astronomers. But it is to be remarked, that Pliny classes meteors and
shooting stars, not only with comets, but also among the more permanent
or fixed stars. Wern. Club.

2 The various names and comparisons here applied to what, for the
most part, are mere meteoric appearances have probably a reference to
the classification by which the augurs divided them, for the purposes of
divination ; for certainly a strong imagination is required to discern any
likeness between these aerial appearances and those material objects from
which they derive their names. Wern. Club.

BOOK II.] History of Nature. 63

named Acontice, shake like a Spear, signifying great Swift-
ness. This was it whereof Tiberius Ccesar, the Emperor,
wrote an excellent Poem in his fifth Consulship ; the last
that ever was seen to this Day. The same, if they be shorter
and sharp-pointed at the Top, are called Xiphias, which are
the palest of all, and glittering like a Sword, but without any
Rays: which another Kind of them, named .Disceus (resem-
bling a Disc or Quoit, whereof it beareth the Name, but in
Colour like to Amber), putteth forth here and there out of
its Margin. Pitheus is in the Form of Tuns environed in
the Cavity of a smoky Light. Ceratias resembleth a Horn :
and such an one appeared when Greece fought the Battle of
Salamis. Lampadias is like to burning Torches : and Hip-
peus to Horses' Manes, very swift in Motion, and revolving
in a Globe. There is also a white Comet with silver Hair,
so bright and shining that it can hardly be looked at ; and
in Man's Shape it sheweth the very Image of a God. More-
over, there be blazing Stars that become all shaggy, com-
passed round with a hairy Fringe like a Mane. One of these,
appearing in the Form a Mane, changed into that of a Spear,
in the hundred and eighth Olympiad, and the three hundred
and ninety-eighth Year from the Foundation of Rome. It
hath been observed, that the shortest Time of their Appear-
ance is seven Days, and the longest eighty Days. Some of
them move like the Planets ; others are immovably fixed.
Almost all are seen under the very North Star ; some in no
certain Part thereof, but especially in that white which hath
taken the Name of the Milky 1 Way. Aristotle saith 2 , that

1 Galaxy.

3 The author is here referring to those appearances which are now
denominated shooting stars ; and which, in ancient times, were believed
to be the very things the modern name denotes. St. John refers, figura-
tively, to this idea (Book of Revelation, vi. 13): " And the stars of
heaven fell unto the earth." Modern opinion has varied greatly with
regard to the nature and cause of these appearances ; and the diversity of
explanation is a proof how little satisfactory any of them is judged to be.
There have been times, chiefly in the autumn, and at long intervals, when
these meteors have been particularly abundant, and it appears that
Aristotle refers to such a luminous shower ; the rarity of which may be

64 History of Nature. [BooK II.

many are seen together; a Thing that no Man but he hath
known, so far as I can learn. They signify boisterous Winds,
and very hot Weather. They are seen also in Winter, and
about the South Pole : but in that Place without any Beams.
A terrible one likewise was seen by the People in Ethiopia
and Egypt, which the King who reigned in that Age, named
Typhon. It resembled Fire, and was twisted like a Wreath,
hideous to the Sight ; and not to be counted a Star, but truly
a Ball of Fire. Sometimes the Planets and other Stars are
spread over with Hairs ; but a Comet J is never seen in the
West Part of the Heaven.

A fearful Star, for the most Part, this Comet is, and not
easily expiated 2 : as it appeared by the late civil Troubles
when Octavius was Consul : as also a second Time by the
War of Pompey and Ccesar. And in our Days about the
Time that Claudius Ccesar was poisoned, and left the Empire
to Domitius Nero ; in the Time of whose Reign there was
another almost continually seen, and always terrible. It is
thought to be material for Presage, to observe into what
Quarters it shooteth, or what Star's Power and Influence it
receiveth : also what Similitudes it resernbleth, and in what

Online Librarythe Elder PlinyPliny's Natural history. In thirty-seven books → online text (page 5 of 60)