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  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: December 2014

Book 8 - Water



1. Thales of Miletus, one of the Seven Sages, declared that water was the first principle of all things. Heraclitus said that fire was; the priests of the Magi, water and fire; and Euripides, a follower of Anaxagoras, that philosopher whom the Athenians called “the actor,” proposed air and earth, and said that the latter, inseminated by intercourse with heavenly rains, had conceived all peoples and all living things as her offspring in the world. He said as well that when her progeny dissolve, compelled by time's necessity, they return to her, while those things which have been begotten of air must return to the regions of heaven; they do not admit annihilation but rather revert, transformed by their dissolution, to their original characteristics. But Pythagoras, Empedocles, Epicharmos, and the other naturalists and philosophers proposed that the first principles of matter were four: air, fire, earth, and water, and that their adhesion to one another by natural formation creates the qualities particular to each type of substance.

2. We observe, indeed, not only that all creatures have been begotten of these elements, but also that none can be nourished without them, nor grow, nor sustain themselves. Without the infusion of breath, bodies cannot have life, not unless inflowing air creates continuous respirations and contractions. And if there were not a proper supply of heat for bodies, they would not have vital spirit nor firm uprightness, and the energy of food would be unable to attain the temperature of digestion. If the parts of the body are not nourished by earthly food, they will fail, for they will be deprived of their proper component of the element earth. 3. If animals lacked the powers of water, they would dry out, bloodless, sucked dry of their liquid element. Therefore the divine intelligence decided that those things which were truly necessary to the nations would be neither difficult nor expensive to obtain, not like pearls, gold, silver, and the other things that neither the body nor nature requires.