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Preface, tr. John Clarke











i I )




K.C.B., D.C.L., Sc.D., LL.D.





Plurimum ad inveniendum contulit qui speravit posse reperiri.

SENECA, Q.N. vi. v. 2


THIS book is intended primarily for English readers,
to most of whom it will probably be at least new.
Thomas Lodge, the well-known dramatist, pub
lished in 1614 a translation of the whole of Seneca s
prose works (except the Apocolocyntosis), but no
English editor or commentator seems to have
turned his attention to the Quaestiones Naturales,
either before or since. Lodge s translation, a folio
volume of nearly a thousand pages, was probably
very good for its day, but is now out of date.

The Introduction is designed to give a setting
to the translation, and to answer a few of the
questions that would naturally occur to the mind of
an intelligent reader who was not a classical scholar.
In the Index also some details are included that
may be helpful to those who have neither time nor
opportunity for hunting up historical and other
allusions in books of reference. The object has
been to make the volume self-interpreting, though
it may be that the course has not always been
judiciously steered between too little and too much.

The Quaestiones Naturales must be regarded as
occupying historically an important position. It
was the latest deliverance of the classical world


upon the subject of physical speculation. Its
currency during the Middle Ages rendered it for
many centuries the chief authority in science in
Western Europe. Its cosmology represented not
only popular but also educated opinion, and became
the source of many of the accepted ideas concerning
the universe that passed into early modern litera
ture in our own and other countries.

Indebtedness to editors of Seneca and to others,
which has been very great, is acknowledged as
fully as possible in the Introduction and elsewhere
where help has been availed of. The interest
taken in the book by various friends is also grate
fully acknowledged. Professor Sir Joseph Larmor
and Professor J. Arthur Thomson have made
several useful suggestions. Professor Herbert
J. C. Grierson has very kindly read the proofs and
given valuable assistance in other respects. But
my chief acknowledgments are due to Sir Archibald
Geikie. To him the translation owed its inception :
his constant aid and encouragement have enabled
me to complete a task from which I should probably
have otherwise shrunk. I am indebted to him also
for the Commentary appended to the translation,
in which the questions treated by Seneca are con
sidered from the point of view of modern Science.
It has been to him a labour of love : may our
readers enjoy something of the, same satisfaction !

J. C.


September 27, 1909.







CONTRAST between human (moral) philosophy and divine (natural,
physical). The sublime character of the latter which lifts us above
the contemplation of the littlenesses of the earth and earthly life
to the knowledge of God and His nature. Compared with
astronomical conceptions and dimensions the world of man is but
as a threshing-floor, the haunt of ants. The mind of man attains
its true height in contemplation and investigation of these sublime
facts. Some of the problems thus raised ..... 3


I. Meteoric fires she-goat, kid, etc. Occasions of their appearance ;

connection of portent with event. Explanation of the phenomena.
They may be due to pressure of the atmosphere. Aristotle attri
butes them to the effect of terrestrial evaporation : difference of
density causes various outbursts of this kind. They are analogous
to lightning, but less violent ....... 8

II. Halos. Produced by the light of a heavenly body striking the

surrounding air and forming a circle as a stone does when thrown
into a pond. Formed far away from the heavenly body and
comparatively near the earth in the region of the wind. Require
a particular state of the atmosphere neither too dense nor too
thin. More frequent at night than day for this reason : by day
the sun rarefies the air too much by its heat. Method of dis
sipation gives indication of wind or rain. Calmness a condition
of formation, as in the analogous case of water . . . . 12

III. Rainboius. Generally by day, produced by inequalities of surface
and density in clouds. Another species seen in a burst pipe or a
fuller at work. Various explanations. Light and shade will not
explain the varied colours. Some explain the rainbow as a con
fused reflection of the sun from individual drops of rain :
every bounded surface, large or small, thus reflects fish-pond
and dew-drop equally. Aristotle attributes the confusion of colours
to weakness of human sight ; parallels may be found in persons
whose sight is abnormally weak. As the innumerable drops,

vii b



apparently without intervals, fall, human vision fails to dis
tinguish severally the reflections of the sun, which thus become
blended and confused. Vision is similarly deceived in the case of
an oar in water, apples in a glass globe, etc., even in the size and
movements of the sun himself. At any rate the rainbow requires
both sun and cloud, and these opposite to each other. These
two in operation produce the varieties of colour . . . 16

IV. That the rainbow is an image is shown by the relation of sun to
cloud in position, by the rapidity of formation and dispersion.
Artemidorus explanation of the shape of the cloud (concave),

and the consequent position of the red in the rainbow . . 22

V. Arguments to show that the cloud is coloured by the sun, like a

dove s neck or a peacock s tail, and that the rainbow is not a
reflection of the sun. The position (opposite) would be equally
necessary in this case. Answer to this contention by Posidonius.
The colour effects. Author agrees with Posidonius position but
not his arguments. The only proof is the geometrical one. . 23

VI. Arguments from the size never more than a semicircle and
shape of the bow. As the colour, whether real or reflected, is
derived from the sun, so must also the shape be. The size is
accounted for by the magnifying power of water, glass, etc.

The sun as he appears in the rainbow is seen through moisture . 28

VII. The arguments from the dispersion of the sun s rays through glass
(prism). Contention that they confirm author s view . . 30

VIII. The form once more ; why it is never larger than a semicircle.
A wrong explanation refuted. Explanation of Aristotle s remark
as to the seasons of rainbows, in summer only in the morning or
evening, in autumn at any time . . . . . . 31

IX. Streaks or weather-galls. Merely abortive or imperfect rainbows . 33

X. Relations and differences of halos, bows, and weather-galls . . 34

XI. Mock suns. Their appearance and position in relation to the sun.

They are a reflection of the sun in a suitable medium . . 34

XII. The formation of a mock sun may be compared to the image of
the sun in eclipse as seen reflected in a dish of oil or pitch : the
medium must be adapted to give the impression. The mock sun
requires a certain consistency of cloud, failing which, a different
effect is produced obscuration, dissipation, etc. . . . 35

XIII. There may be two mock suns simultaneously. Some think the
one is a reflection of the other, the clouds acting as mirrors set
opposite to one another. Mock suns, especially in the South, are

a sign of rain ......... 36

XIV. Other celestial fires. "Cave meteors," "Barrel meteors"
" Chasms" with a brief description of each. The rapidity of
their flight, just as of lightning, deceives the sight. Their origin

and cause. They indicate wind . . . . . . 37

XV. Gleams (flashes, o-<?Xct). Their production and motions, varieties
of them. Some do damage. Some are analogous to comets.
* * Bearded, " torches," cypress are different kinds. Beams "
and " barrels " may be of the same class. A curious case where
such an appearance raised an alarm of fire. They are real fires.
On the contrary, rainbows and halos are mere reflections.
Mirrors have this wonderful power of false presentation . . 39



XVI. The " mirrored den " of Hostius Quadra .... 41

XVII. The philosophy of the looking-glass. The evolution of mirrors.
Mirrors of full length are now used. They cost a fortune greater
than the Senate gave Scipio s daughters. A harmless necessary
device has become an instrument of luxury, the adornment of
women, the burden of men, nay, part of the kit of the soldier . 44



[I. -XI. PREFATORY to treatment of thunder and lightning, descriptive
of the nature of the air, in which these phenomena occur.]

I. Divisions of physical science astronomy, meteorology, geography.

Cross divisions, e.g. earthquakes, belong to meteorology, being
produced by air ; so the earth, as a planet, belongs to Astronomy
but its properties belong to Geography . . . . . 51

II. Unity and composition in bodies. The analogy of the seen applies

to the unseen. The atmosphere is possessed of unity (tmitas) . 52

III. Parts and material of bodies distinguished. In the human body
blood is both ......... 54

IV. The atmosphere is an integral part of the universe : has unity . 54

V. The earth is both part and material of the universe. From it

nourishment is supplied to the latter . . . . . 55

VI. The atmosphere has unity is not compact of atoms, otherwise it
could not exert tension, which is one of its main features, with
endless manifestations ........ 55

VII. There is no vacuum in the air, as the analogy of. water shows . 57

VIII. The exertion of tension presupposes tensibility, just as motion
does mobility. Its existence in air proved by the effects of air,
which tosses about mountains, houses, walls, etc. The propaga
tion of sight and sound proves the same . . . . . 58

IX. Its tension is seen in raising water, as in the jet in the amphi
theatre. Proofs from a ship upborne of water, a quoit flung from

a height, sound heard through a wall . . . . . 59

X. Varieties of density and temperature in the atmosphere : the

central layer is coldest ........ 60

XI. The lower parts are most subject to change. The cause of this
is in part the earth, in part the sun, moon, and other stars.
So much by way of preface to explain the nature of that atmo
sphere in which thunder and lightning occur . . . . 61

XII. Lightning, thunder-bolt, thunder. All agree that they occur in
the clouds, but different explanations are given of their cause and
relations. Anaxagoras connects them with the ether ; Aristotle
says they are due to exhalations of various kinds, from the earth,
coming in contact with the clouds . . . . . . 62

XIII. The fire cannot be inherent in the clouds and fall from them.
When it so comes it is forced ....... 64



XIV. There is nothing inconsistent with this in the explanation given
(I. xv.) of meteors. There may be an analogy with what is
observed in cases of fire when isolated groups of houses take fire
through gradual accumulation of heat . . . . . 65

XV. Some (Stoics) think that spontaneous combustion takes place in

the air. . . 66

XVI. Difference between a flash of lightning and a bolt ... 66

XVII. Some explain the noise of thunder as due to hot meeting cold,

as in the case of hot iron plunged into water .... 67

XVIII. Anaximander attributes the effects to air and explains all the
phenomena by reference to it . . . . . . . 67

XIX. Anaxagoras says it is the ether that acts on the lower atmo
sphere to produce them : it sends out fire .... 68

XX. Diogenes of Apollonia thinks that fire and air interact, pro
ducing one another, as may be observed in the various phenomena 68

XXI. Authorities discarded : independent explanation. A flash and

a bolt are fire in some form : they differ only in degree . . 69

XXII. Analogy of fire on earth : it must apply above. Lightning due
either to impact or friction. Hurricanes are a sufficient cause of

the former .......... 70

XXIII. Clouds and air may through friction also be a cause. The fires

so produced are insubstantial and evanescent . . . . 71

XXIV. Fire by reason of its lightness levitates, just as water gravi
tates. But in the case of a bolt it is forced down, contrary to its
nature, like a weeping " tree . . . . . . 71

XXV. But it is said that wet clouds produce fire. How? . . 72

XXVI. There is no inconsistency in the combination in the same
cloud of potential fire and water. A log burns at one end,
exudes moisture at the other. An island on each of two occa
sions was thrown up by fire in the Aegean Sea, fire overcoming
water. And clouds are, as a matter of fact, required for light
ning : exceptions to this are only apparent . . . . 72

XXVII. Different kinds of thunder. The growling and the crashing,

with their causes ......... 75

XXVIII. In order to the sound of thunder, clouds of a particular
shape must meet in a particular way. A bladder does not burst
with a report if cut. A broad simultaneous blow over the whole
cloud is necessary to an explosion . . . . . . 76

XXIX. The proper shape and the rupture of the cloud are necessary.
Compare drums, etc. .... . .... 77

XXX. According to some, clouds are not necessary to thunder :
witness eruptions of Etna and the overthrow of Cambyses army,
where particles of sand were the medium of the thunder and
lightning. But in this case, too, a cloud was formed, it may be,
a denser, and more solid than one composed of mere air, before

the sound was emitted . . . . . . . . 77

XXXI. Strange effects of lightning . . . . . . 78

XXXII. Portents and events, their undoubted and widespread con
nection .......... 79

XXXIII. Thunderbolts. Threefold division of the art of dealing

with them ..... 8 1



XXXIV. Mistaken views as to the relation of lightning to other
presages. The former are of equal, not superior, value . . 82

XXXV. Fate cannot be changed by expiation and entreaty . . 83

XXXVI. " God is not a man " that he should change fate. What is

the use, then, of rites ?........ 84

XXXVII. Answer Fate fixes some things only conditionally: the
alternative issues are determined by the conduct, active or
passive, of the worshipper ....... 84

XXXVIII. This action of his is likewise a part of fate. The sooth
sayer, like the physician, is the minister of fate. Discussion of

free will deferred 85

XXXIX. Three classes or kin 3s of thunderbolts, as judged by their
indications, according to Caecina ...... 86

XL. These are kinds of prognostications rather than of bolts. The
different species of the latter are distinguished by their effects
boring, splitting, burning. Fine distinctions of Latin terms . 87

XLI. A kind that stains or discolours. The Etruscan view of the

three kinds of bolt according to their division .... 88

XLII. The Etruscans knew what they were about in attributing
certain motives and actions to Jupiter. Their theory was for the
benefit of the ignorant mass of humanity ..... 89

XLIII. "Which things are an allegory." An example is set to

earthly rulers to be merciful and consider well their judgments . 90

XLIV. Jove does not change his missiles ; but there are gradations in

the offence to be punished. That is the lesson . . . 91

XLV. By Jove the Etruscans meant, as we do, all that is greatest and

best Fate, Providence, Nature, the Universe . . . . 91

XLVI. He is the source of the thunder s power, though he does not
superintend each stroke. Why he spares the guilty is another
affair, which will be discussed in another place .... 92

XLVII. An erroneous classification of thunderbolts according to time 92

XLVIII. It must be wrong, because the time is always limited. A
better basis of treatment is that of Attalus. Place, time, person,
etc., must all be looked into ....... 93

XLIX. Caecina s division, his names and their meanings ... 94

L. That of Attalus is much better, being based on the true significa
tion ........... 95

LI. The signification of some does not affect, of some does not

reach, us .......... 95

LII. The force of lightning as seen in different materials, and at

different times in the same material (cf. xxxi.) .... 96

LI 1 1. Poisonous effects : may be followed up afterwards. Panegyric

on philosophy ......... 97

LIV. Returns to Posidonius (Aristotle s) opinion as to the cause of

thunder, an explosion of air . . . . . . . 98

LV. The collision of clouds may produce it. Air is the cause in this
instance also. Shooting stars are associated with thunder, but
this is the exception, not the rule . . . . . . 98



LVI. Heraclitus and Caecina think sheet lightning an intermittent

incipient fire. Change in the pronunciation of the Latin word . 100

LVII. Lightning is probably due to the air turning into fire through
rarefaction of the clouds. It is naturally most frequent in
summer. Sheet and forked lightning differ in degree, not in kind loo

LVIII. Reasons for rapidity of lightning and its obliquity . 101

LIX. Every story should have a moral. Death cannot be prevented ;
why fear it ? It is cowardly and silly. Death by lightning is
rather an honour than otherwise. Besides, fear is futile . . 102



HAVING begun a mighty task in my old age I must make up for lost
time by hurrying on. The magnitude of it is actually an incentive
to effort. Such studies are far superior to the historian s task of
recording the deeds of the robbers and butchers of mankind. The
former raise us above the vicissitudes of fortune. " The principal
thing " is to have a pure heart and clean hands, to escape slavery
to self. The study of the universe exalts us to this . . .109

I. The cause of rivers and their varieties. Waters vary in amount at

different seasons, in temperature, in medicinal qualities . . 114

II. Varieties of taste, weight, colour, utility to health, consistency . 115

III. Gravitation or the force of air determines the flow of water. Surface

and spring water : they may be combined as in Lake Fucinus . 115

IV. Why is the sea not filled nor the earth drained dry by rivers ? . 1 1 6

V. Some hold that what flows into the sea returns by secret passages

cleansed of its salinity . . . . . . . .116

VI. Some think rain supplies the rivers, and in proof cite the interior

of Africa as contrasted with Gaul and Germany . . . 117

VII. Objections to this argument. Rain does not penetrate more than
10 feet. If the earth is dry, it absorbs the rain ; if it is saturated,
the rain runs off. Again, rivers rise in rocks and mountains,
where what rain ever fell must have run off. Rich wells of
" living " water are found in the driest ground at depth. Fountains

well out at mountain tops 117

VIII. The interior of the earth is, according to some, a huge receptacle

of fresh water . . . . . . . . .118

IX. Others think the air which is contained within the earth being
prevented from circulating turns into water . . . . 119

X. But indeed the four elements are all interchangeable . . .120

XI. Though the supply of water is perennial, rivers and springs are
intermittent . . . . . . . . . .121

XII. The abundance of water is no difficulty, since it is a fourth part

of the universe . . . . . . . . .123



XIII. The relation of water to the other elements. Thales silly
notion that the earth sails in water like a ship at sea . . .124

XIV. The Egyptians divide each of the elements into male and
female ........... 125

XV. The veins of the earth resemble those of the human body. There
are likewise the analogies of marrow, mucus, etc., of injuries and

of bleeding, of parturition, perspiration, etc. . . . . 125

XVI. Intermittent fountains are an illustration of seasonal activity. The
great: vacant spaces of the earth and their tenants. Underground fish 128

XVII. The incredible wonders of nature are paralleled and even out
done by the excesses of luxury . . . . . .129

XVIII. The extravagances of luxury, which make a wise man mad . 1 30

XIX. To return a sudden eruption of water casts up fish, generally
poisonous. This points to the unfailing supply of subterranean
water . . . . . . . . . . .132

XX. Various tastes of water due to four causes ; qualities of water
petrifying, soporific, intoxicating, fatal . . . . 133

XXI. The same pestilential influence as taints rivers is perceived in
caves : the noxious rivers flow from or through them . . 134

XXII. The Ocean and seas are coeval with the universe. So probably

are abnormal rivers like the Danube and the Nile . . . 135

XXIII. Rain and surface water must be added to subterranean . . 135

XXIV. The causes of hot springs . . . . . . .136

XXV. Poisonous rivers. Colouring power of others. Great specific
gravity of certain waters, its effects and cause . . . .137

XXVI. Intermittent rivers and springs. Means possessed by river,
fount, and sea of purifying themselves . . . . .141

XXVII. Digression on the universal deluge which will destroy the
world. Nature is niggardly in creation, lavish in destruction.

Ovid is unequal in his treatment of this catastrophe . . .143

XXVIII. Further imaginative pictures of what water can do by way
of destruction. Alternative methods of destroying the earth
water and fire . . . . . . . . .148

XXIX. Further possibilities of the same character. Distinctions of
seas, gulfs, etc., will all be obliterated ; nature and the works of

man will alike be overthrown . . . . . . 1 50

XXX. Nature shows by the chafing of the sea that she designs to
inundate the world. A deluge is part of the fore-ordained plan.
But there will be a new earth and a new race of men who will

not sin for a time . . . . . . . .154




THE dangers of flattery and its insidiousness. If you must have
praise, praise yourself. Lucilius has good cause : he must not,



however, think too much of himself because he is governor of that
historic province Sicily, which has ere now decided the fate of
generals and of empires . . . . . . . .159

I. Leaving Sicily and its marvels let us deal with the omitted part of

the last book, the Nile. There is no real analogy between it and

the Danube .......... 166

II. The course of the Nile ; its cataracts. The inundation of the

river. Its meaning to Egypt. Its denizens ; crocodiles and
dolphins in conflict. Causes of the overflow : melting of

snow ; Etesian Winds ; drying up of the springs through internal
heat of the earth in winter ; the attraction of the sun in Africa
draws water from the sea to fill up the gap caused by evaporation
[none of the accounts apparently accepted] . . . .167

III. Origin of hail; why it differs from snow . . . . .177

IV. Causes of snow in winter, hail in spring . . . . -179

V. It is said that the cooler air of the North (Scythia, etc.) is stirred

by the melting of the snow in spring and floats South, causing hail
instead of rain . . . . . . . . .180

VI. Hail, it is again alleged, is averted by sacrifice. If there is not a
victim handy you have merely to prick your finger ! . . . 181

VII. This belief in the power of blood was an ancient superstition . 182

VIII. Three causes why the air near the earth is warmest, and there
fore produces snow rather than hail . . . . . . j 82

IX. Democritus view dense bodies are heated most quickly, and
retain their heat longest . . . . . . . .183

X. The air nearest the earth is denser than elsewhere . . ,184

XL The tops of mountains, it is urged, should be warmer because
nearer the sun. The difference is wholly inappreciable if we
adopt the scale of the universe, the true one . . . .184

XII. The comparatively mild air near the earth causes snow, but not

hail !86

XIII. The despicable luxury of the effeminate Romans, who bought
snow, bathed in it, and must resort even to ice to cool the
unnatural feverish thirst born of their indulgence . . .186



I. DEFINITION of wind air flowing in one direction. The air, like

the sea, is always moving, even when it is thought to be still ;
hence the necessity of the additional qualification in one direction 193

II. Democritus says wind arises from a multitude of atoms in a small

space striving to get free, just like a crowd jostling each other . 194



III. But wind does not thus depend on density ; cloudy or misty
weather does not necessarily produce wind, while wind is pro
duced when the morning sun dissipates the air. Democritus is,
therefore, wrong . . . . . . . . .195

IV. Wind arises in two ways from the interior of the earth by emis
sion like wind on the stomach ! and from evaporation . . 196

V. The air has inherent power of movement, which is the chief cause

of wind, evaporation being a less powerful one. Water has the
power of moving and of imparting life to animals and plants . 197

VI. Fire even, the destroyer, sometimes generates life. Air in like
manner has a peculiar power of its own . . . . .197

VII. Breezes before dawn arise from rivers, etc. Do not last long . 198

VIII. The " g^tlf" wind (^y/coXTr/as) : its origin and duration . . 198

IX. Connection of winds with seasons of the year and with the heat

and light of the sun. The sun does not directly cause the winds 200

X. Some cite the Etesian Winds as proof that he does. They blow in

summer when the snows melt and the moisture is carried South . 201

XI. But as to the effect of the sun, there is no analogy between the
Etesian Winds, which do not spring up till late in the day, and the
winds which rise at dawn and fall as the day advances . . 2O2

XII. Cloiid squalls (e/c^e0tas). Their formation and combinations . 203

XIII. The breaking up of clouds produces wind. Air, in an effort to
get free, or heat, may produce this. Interruption of free passage
may produce a whirlwind, just as an obstacle in a river a whirl
pool. Violent whirhvinds take fire (irprjar-rip). Some winds pro
duce different ones. An analogy holds between air and drops of
moisture. A union of forces in air or in dew is necessary to give
impulse and produce a current. Air and wind are merely a matter

of degree .......... 204

XIV. Mode in which the subterranean winds are generated and make

their escape .......... 205

XV. Ancient miners of Philip s saw rivers and vast underground
reservoirs. It is some consolation to read such a story, which
shows greed is no new vice : the older generations were as reck
less as we are in their quest for treasure better hid . . . 207

XVI. The four cardinal winds. The full list includes twelve. Their
names and directions ........ 208

XVII. The great circles of the earth which give twelve divisions, and
therefore prescribe the possible number of the winds . . . 210

XVIII. The uses of wind and the illustration afforded of the wisdom
of Providence. The crops are dependent on it. So is commerce.
But we make the sea a highway to war and not to peace. We
go to seek for death, as if it were not always near. Xerxes,
Alexander, Crassus are warnings of the mischievous use of power
to cross the sea. Better, perhaps, the winds had never been
given at all. But the value of a natural gift must not be esti
mated by the depraved use of it. Every gift, even sight and
speech, man has perverted in the same way . . . . 212





I. EARTHQUAKE at Pompeii and the alarm it caused, many giving up

Campania as a residence altogether. If the solid earth fail, what
can be done ? Refuge from tempest and fire and thunderstorm
and war is possible, but not from earthquake. But (i) the whole
earth is subject to such movement : we cannot escape by changing
our ground Tyre, Asia Minor, Achaia have all suffered. (2)
Death is the same in whatever form it come, the circumstances
matter not, a stone is all one with a mountain . . . . 221

II. We cannot escape death. The hopeless find refuge in despair.

The knowledge of our frailty and mortality is our true solace.
Death must come, a death with circumstance is rather to be
preferred than otherwise. In an earthquake the earth shows
itself mortal as men are . . . . . . . .225

III. Our fears are due to ignorance. Through lack of a philosophic
view of the universe we consider phenomena strange which are
merely rare, e.g. eclipses. Fear may be removed by knowledge 228

IV. The study of such problems is the very worthiest ; it reveals
the secrets of nature, and is disinterested. But it is highly
profitable at the same time ....... 229

V. Various explanations of earthquakes have been suggested. The

earlier ones are crude, but not therefore to be despised. Every
subject develops as time goes on. Gratitude is due to the
investigators who first dared to question nature . . .230

VI. The cause of earthquakes is by some said to be water. Thales
of Miletus explains how this takes place, but he must be wrong :
the analogy of a ship sailing the ocean will not apply to the earth

(cp. III. xiii.) 231

VII. Water may be the cause, but may operate in quite different ways
from those supposed by Thales. Storms, etc., in subterranean

seas may cause earthquakes . . . . . . .233

VIII. There must be such subterranean water. The Tigris and
Arethusa prove it. Nero, the virtuous and the veracious, sent
two officers to investigate the sources of the Nile ; their account
confirms the assumption 235

IX. Fire is another alleged cause. It either bursts out through
opposing obstacles, as in the clouds (Anaxagoras), or burns away

the foundation and causes a subsidence at the spot . . . 236

X. Pieces of the earth falling in merely through the decay of age

may produce the effect without fire or any external influence.

This is Anaximenes opinion . . . . . . .237

XI. Fire is supposed by some to cause earthquakes by expanding the
vapour which it first causes to be given off from the subterranean
waters 238

XII. Archelaus sets down the cause as air pressing up the earth s
internal wind which is already condensed to bursting point . 239



XIII. Aristotle and Theophrastus take evaporation to be the cause.
Strato, much in the same way, thinks that differences of internal
temperature are the cause ....... 240

XIV. By some it is thought that air is the cause, but that its operation,
along with water, is like that of blood and air in the vessels of
the body. The earth, it is assumed in this case, admits air,
which must find an exit. When it does so violently, the result

is an earthquake ......... 242

XV. The earth is porous, perforated at many points, and it is thus

that the air enters ......... 243

XVI. The earth is full of air, nourishing plants rooted in it, and exhaling
enough to feed the sun and the other heavenly bodies. Air
is the most movable of elements ; therefore the earth, if it is

full of air, must also have frequent movements .... 244

XVII. Obstruction of air, just as of water, causes greater impetuosity
when it escapes. Wind is frequently associated with earthquakes,

as at Chalcis ......... 245

XVIII. Additional considerations to prove that the great cause of
earthquakes is air, i.e. wind ....... 247

XIX. Metrodorus of Chios compares the rumbling of an earthquake
to the resonance of the voice in a tub ; the underground caves
impart the sound ......... 248

XX. Various combinations of water and air supposed by Democritus

and Epicurus to co-operate to the production of earthquakes . 249

XXI. Air must be the cause. Different kinds of earthquakes . . 251

XXII. First species shaking of the earth : its causes . . . 252

XXIII. Next comes the form of concussion caused by air. The great
Callisthenes, who braved the fury of Alexander and lost his life
for it, supports this view. Submarine effects of it are particu
larly noticeable . . . . . . . . .253

XXIV. Different explanations may be given of the exact method in
which air acts . . . . . . . . .255

XXV. The striving of the air in subterranean caverns produces a con
cussion or collapse in the earth above. The area of disturbance
is limited, never over 200 miles, as numerous instances prove.

The Peneiis and Ladon were thus produced .... 256

XXVI. The nature of the soil composed of muddy accretions without
interstices is said to account for the exemption of Egypt from
earthquakes. So Delos in the sea has porous rocks which emit
the air easily. But the facts are wrong. There is abundant
proof that proximity to the sea is no safeguard against shock . 258

XXVII. A peculiarity of the Campanian earthquake, that it killed 600
sheep, is explained by the emission of pestilential vapour, by
which sheep, with their heads close to the ground, naturally were

most readily affected ........ 259

XXVIII. Noxious vapours are not, however, peculiar to earthquakes.
They are found in several parts of Italy habitually. Such, too,

-is the origin of new diseases . . . . . . .261

XXIX. Excessive fear drives people mad. Earthquakes split statues

and divide kingdoms, e.g. Sicily from Italy, Spain from Africa . 262



XXX. The action of the air accounts for all the detailed phenomena,
splitting of walls, houses, towers, statues ; also for the prolonga
tion of shocks for several days . 263

XXXI. A further proof that air is the agent is to be found in the
gradually diminishing violence of the successive shocks. Pheno
mena in the pavement witnessed by a philosopher who was in

his bath . ... 264

XXXII. The moral. Life hangs on a thread ; why should one dread
the loss of it ? The greatness of the cause of death is no source
of terror. The hereafter is better and safer than earth. There
there is no fear of earthquake or thunderstorm, fire or flood.
Fear of death magnifies all human risks. Do not dread death,

long for it, and, if necessary, meet it half way .... 265



I. PHENOMENA, however wonderful, are not noted and admired

unless they are uncommon. The sun and moon and starry
heavens have no observers, but a Comet at once sets the
whole world agog. The nature of the stars is a sublime and like
wise a profitable study . . . . . . . .271

II. The nature of Cornets has not been hitherto fully investigated.

They are so rare that one wants a record of the movements of all

ever observed ......... 273

III. Democritus, Eudoxus, Conon, Epigenes, and Apollonius of
Myndus all fail to give any satisfactory account of the matter.

Nor had the Egyptians or Chaldaeans investigated them . . 274

IV. Epigenes explains the Comet as due to a conjunction of Saturn
with Mars or the Sun: it is akin to whirlwind and "beam"
meteors .......... 275

V. But there are essential differences between whirlwind, which is

terrestrial, and beams and torches, which are above the clouds.
There is a difference of duration also. Beams and Comets, it is
true, have been mistaken for one another. It was a Comet,
according to Aristotle, that appeared before the destruction of
Buris and Helice. The character of the flame differs in the two
forms ........... 276

VI. There are two kinds of Comets, according to Epigenes. They
are produced by air driven up and setting on fire suitable material
above, which takes place every day at the same hour . . 277

VII. But Comets are not concomitants of winds ; there is no
parallelism in the phenomena. The higher ones, which have an
orbit, he attributes to the north wind, but the facts do not square

here either .......... 278

VIII. The course and altitude of Comets render the whirlwind
explanation impossible . . . . . . . .279

IX. The force and duration of whirlwinds are similarly inadequate . 280


X. The slowness and steadiness of the Comet could not be
accounted for on this assumption, nor its general behaviour and
shape . . . . . . . . . . .281

XL We must look for some other explanation. Now Comets, it
must be premised, appear in all quarters of the sky. Whatever
the divisions of them made by the Greeks, they are all of one
origin. Some of the ancients thought they were due to the
union of two planets ........ 283

XII. Again the facts do not square. Comets and planets appear
simultaneously. A conjunction is momentary, a Comet lasts six
months sometimes. The planets do not pass much beyond the
ecliptic, but Comets appear in every quarter of the xy. And

there are other objections ....... 284

XIII. Artemidorus thinks the firmament is solid and has openings
for stars. Comets are casual planets, or formed by conjunctions

of them. His account is a tissue of barefaced falsehoods . . 286

XIV. How would a solid firmament be supported ? No feasible
explanation can be offered. Besides, the number of stars is so
great and they may all be "wanderers" if an indefinite
number is that there must be innumerable conjunctions of them,

i.e. Comets. But, as a matter of fact, Comets are rare . . 287

XV. Again the huge Comets of the times of Demetrius and Attalus
would require scores of planetary conjunctions to form them . 288

XVI. Ephorus, a mere chronicler, who takes this view, has nothing
to support him. He tries, like others of his set, to embellish his
work by narrating marvels. Why did he not tell us what the
two stars were into which the Comet resolved itself, as he alleges

it did ? 289

XVII. Apollonius of Myndus holds the Comet to be a true star
(planet) with an erratic course, visible only when it approaches

the lower part of its orbit. Different colours of Comets . . 290

XVIII. But Comets do not wax and wane as they approach and
recede like planets. Nor do their orbits lie within the ecliptic.
Besides, we can see through a Comet but not through a true star
(planet) 291

XIX. Zeno the Stoic thinks the light of converging stars gives the
appearance of a longer star. Others hold modified forms of the

same opinion or analogous views . . . . . .291

XX. Most of the Stoics hold Comets to be evanescent, and attribute

them to friction of the air. Various phenomena are analogous . 292

XXI. Their methods of accounting for varieties of orbits in Comets . 293

XXII. I do not agree with any School. Reasons .... 295

XXIII. Further arguments showing difference between fires and
Comets .......... 295

XXIV. There may be many stars in the universe whose paths have
not been traced : Comets are such. No satisfactory explanation

has been given of the mind, but its existence is not doubted . 297

XXV. Comets are not yet fully understood. Many things are in the
same category. A future age will be amazed at our ignorance of

such matters ......... 298



XXVI. Reasons of apparent movements of Comets. The transparence

and shape accounted for 299

XXVII. Parallels to the differences between Comets and other
planets .......... 300

XXVIII. Comets give prognostications, but not of immediate events

or weather .......... 302

XXIX. Denial of heaviness and slowness of Comets . . . 303

XXX. Humility is as becoming in investigators of the nature of the
heavens as in worshippers. God has revealed but a little of
Himself to man ......... 304

XXXI. One cannot be surprised that everything has not yet been
discovered. We must leave something to succeeding genera
tions. We are not yet fully proficient in vice, though we have
striven so long and hard. We still retain, strange to say, some
traces of manhood ........ 305

XXXII. We are all given up to low pleasures and vices, and devote
our strength to them. Philosophy is kept for wet days. The
old teachers have no successors. In fact, we are letting go what
they discovered. We at best play with truth, which, as of old,
lies at the bottom of the well, and needs the best efforts of
young and old, late and early, to bring it to light . . . 307



READINGS ... 344

INDEX .... 351



Lucius ANNAEUS SENECA was the second son of Annaeus
Seneca (generally, but apparently without authority, called
Marcus Annaeus Seneca) of Corduba (Cordova) in Spain :
his mother was a Spanish lady named Helvia. The
elder Seneca was himself a man of note. He is known
as Seneca the Orator or Rhetorician, in contradistinction
to his more famous son, the Philosopher. His works that
have come down to us suggest by their titles, Controversiae
and Suasoriae, the rhetorical character of the contents.

Seneca had an elder brother, M. Annaeus Novatus,
and a younger one, L. Annaeus Mela (or Mella), father of
Lucan the poet (M. Annaeus Lucanus). 1 The family
was thus a distinguished one. The poet Martial, himself
a Spaniard, speaks of " the house of learned Seneca thrice
to be numbered " (iv. 40. 2) : the allusion might with
equal appropriateness apply either to the three brothers
or to the three generations : Seneca the Elder, Seneca,
Lucan father, son, grandson.

The eldest brother of the Senecan family, Novatus,
was adopted by a friend of the family, Junius Gallic, by
whose name he is known to history. Seneca on more
than one occasion makes reference to him in the Q.N.,
and always in the most laudatory terms. In iv. Pref. 9
et sqq., he pays a high tribute to his character, and a

1 Lucan, owing to the jealousy of Nero, was induced to join Piso ; s con
spiracy in 65 and suffered the penalty. His heroic poem, the Pharsalia, though
in many respects crude, is a wonderful production for a man of twenty-six.



further proof of his admiration and affection is afforded
by his addressing to him his treatise on A Happy Life.
Gallic is of interest in another connection. He was
proconsul of Achaia during the period of the Apostle
Paul s activity there (Acts xviii.), and his conduct on the
occasion of a sectarian uproar at Corinth has attached
to his name a certain stigma which, perhaps, he does not
altogether deserve.

Seneca was born about the beginning of the Christian
era, probably in the year 3. By this time the language
and the arts of Rome had spread widely over the conquered
provinces, in many of which independent centres of culture
and literary activity had sprung up. While Rome as the
capital and heart of things continued to draw to herself all
that was best, or, at any rate, all that was most enterprising
and ambitious, her literary and even her political life was
largely recruited and maintained by supplies from external
sources, such as Spain, Gaul, and Africa. 1

Seneca was brought by his father to Rome at an early
age, 2 and there he was educated and spent practically his
whole life. His lot was cast in perilous times, those of
Caligula the madman (37-41), Claudius the imbecile
(41-54), Nero the monster ( 5 4-6 8). Seneca s early studies
were devoted to rhetoric. With such assiduity did he
prosecute them, and with such brilliant success were his
efforts at the bar crowned, that he speedily awakened the
jealousy of Caligula. The hint of danger was taken. By
his father s advice he abandoned law in the meantime and
devoted himself with equal ardour and enthusiasm to
philosophy. Among his philosophic tutors were Attalus,
a Stoic, and Sotion, a pupil of the Sextii, the decline
of whose school is lamented in the Q.N. (307). He
first embraced the Stoic doctrine, but finding the tenets

1 From Spain, besides the Senecas, Lucan and Martial, already mentioned,
came Columella, Pomponius Mela, Quintilian, etc. ; from Gaul came many
rhetoricians ; Africa sent so many of the same class that by Juvenal s time
(fire. loo) it could with propriety be designated " nursery of lawyers " (see
Teuffel, Hist, of Rom. Lit. vol. ii. 6).

2 His maternal aunt acted as nurse on the occasion : see Consol. ad
Helviam, xvii.


and practices of this sect not sufficiently severe, he
adopted those of the Pythagoreans. His father, a man
with a good deal of worldly wisdom, saw the dangers
of extreme eccentricities of this kind, which implied a
covert condemnation of the whole world. He exhorted
his son to live more like other people ; he might other
wise be mistaken for a Jew (i.e. a Christian) ! The
young barrister s difficulties were, however, ended for a
time by the death of Caligula (41). Seneca, who was
now thirty-eight, resumed his practice at the bar, and
opened a school for youths of noble birth, which was
largely attended. About this time also he obtained the
quaestorship, the duties of which introduced a young man
into public service and enabled him to obtain some
insight into the financial methods of the Empire.

His re-entry on public life was, however, destined to be
the prelude to another disaster. Indeed, all through his
subsequent life his interests were so involved with the
affairs of the rulers of the State that he must always stand
on slippery ground. The fact is, Seneca s abilities were
too great for his position. He was a man of the most
brilliant parts, " one of those ardent natures the virgin
soil of whose talent shows a luxurious richness un
known to the harassed brains of an old civilisation "
(Cruttwell, Hist, of Rom. Liter, p. 378). In an age of abso
lute and suspicious tyranny all eminence is obnoxious to the
ruling powers. It is a standing reproach to them, hence
a source of fear and alarm, a menace as they imagine, and
an incentive to disloyalty. During the very first year of
Claudius reign Seneca was banished to Corsica, where the
next eight years find him. It was the outcome of a
Court intrigue. Messalina, wife of the Emperor, was
apparently jealous of the influence of Claudius nieces,
Julia and Agrippina, whom he had just recalled from
banishment Julia was again banished, and Seneca, on
the ground of an alleged improper intimacy with her, was
made to share her disgrace. His banishment was really a
blessing in disguise. He employed assiduously the period
of enforced leisure, devoting himself again to philosophy,


and returning to his first love, Stoicism. Here he per
fected his study, and probably elaborated most of those
doctrines with which his writings abound. In Cruttwell s
words, he " struck out the mild and catholic form " of the
Stoic philosophy " which has made his teaching, with all
its imperfections, the purest and noblest of antiquity "
(pp. cit. 379). To this period, too, belong some of what
may be called his earlier works, already showing remark
able power.

His exile had been compassed by the notorious
Messalina, the third wife of Claudius. On her fall
Claudius married, as his fourth wife, his niece, the still
more notorious Agrippina, 1 daughter of Germanicus
Caesar and sister of Caligula and of Julia. One of
Agrippina s first acts was to have Seneca recalled and
appointed tutor to the young Nero, her son by a former
marriage and now heir-apparent to the throne. This was
in 48, when Nero was but eleven years of age, and hence
forth to the end of his life Seneca s fortunes are closely
associated with those of Nero, " a name to all succeeding
ages curst." To be tutor to a prince means much if the
pupil is docile. If he prove headstrong and at the same
time vicious, as Nero speedily did, the choice of the tutor
is an unenviable one, either to follow his pupil and palliate
his conduct, or else to resist at the risk of position and
influence and, it may be eventually, of life. With Seneca
at first all went well. The prince was amenable, the
tuition seemed to bear good fruit. The teacher was
faithful to his charge, and loyal to the prince s mother,
Agrippina, to whom he owed his office and influence.
Mother and son were still in accord. To the philosopher
there was no conflict of duty, no necessity for the choice
of one of two evils.

In 54 the vacillating Claudius was poisoned by
Agrippina, and Nero succeeded to the throne. For a time
the government was virtually in the hands of Seneca and
of Burrus, also an excellent man, commander of the

1 This lady must not be confounded with her mother, who bore the same



praetorian guards. In these earlier years the young
Emperor gained a reputation for justice and moderation
which has thrown a halo round that golden quinquennium.
His tutor must in fairness receive a portion of the credit.
He seems to have been throughout imbued with an honest
desire to promote virtue and good government and to
check such vicious propensities as a youth with Nero s
antecedents was not unlikely to develop ; but whether the
means adopted were always unimpeachable seems more
open to question. Seneca s own interests were apparently
not neglected. In 50 he had been made praetor ; shortly
I after he was raised to the consulship. Within the short
space of four years from his appointment as Nero s master
he had attained a position of commanding influence in
the State, and had amassed a colossal fortune (nearly
3,000,000 it is said). The latter he attributed to the
unsolicited generosity of his master, but his enemies and
(detractors had quite a different version of the matter.

For more than a decade after Nero s succession
[Seneca s life is part of the history of the Roman Empire,
philosopher had become, as it appeared, de facto king
ind a new era seemed to have arisen on mankind,
hilosophers, it is true, have neither in ancient nor in
lodern times shone in the sphere of action. The troubled
;a of practical politics is strewn with the wrecks of
tilosophic reputations. Still, even before the age of
e Antonines, Seneca, if any man, might have been the
:ception to prove the rule. He was a man of versatile
inius, he had had a practical training, he was a man of
iffairs. The facts show that he had a true conception
>f the necessities as well as of the duties of government.
>ut he was placed in an impossible situation. Agrippina
Dished to rule her son, and her chosen means was
ihrough his tutor. Nero, on the other hand, once he
iad tasted the sweets of power, determined not to be ruled
>y his mother, but to make her instrument his tool. The
:ondition of unstable equilibrium could not long continue.
The conflict came to a head through a disgraceful
Intrigue of Nero s about the year 59. Seneca had to


make his choice, and never was choice more difficult.
To Agrippina he owed everything life, position, fortune,
his past belonged to her. But he saw that Nero was to
be the winner in the struggle ; his safety, his hopes, his
future lay with the ruling power. He may have felt that
expostulation was vain and resistance fruitless. He does
not appear to have attempted either. He decided to cast
in his lot with the Emperor. When Nero finally decided
to get rid of his mother, Seneca not only adhered to the
plan but consented to vilify her memory by composing
the letter to the Senate, in which the matricide sought to
justify his act. It was the great treason of his life. In a
critical situation he had chosen a wrong course, and it
cannot have been without a pang, a sense of moral
cowardice and tergiversation. He had sacrificed self-
respect, he had lost philosophic caste.

After the murder of his mother, Nero abandoned
himself to the wildest excesses and extravagances. The
philosopher had perforce to follow in his wake, and
humiliating enough he must have felt the part he
was obliged to play. Still, he and Burrus continued
to act as a sort of drag, conspiring with what of con
science was left to Nero in checking his headlong
course. The beginning of the end, so far as Seneca was
concerned, came with the death in 63 of Burrus, his
constant friend and ally. Various indications now showed
that the tyrant was anxious to be freed from the last
remaining restraint. The philosopher felt his position was
insecure. The man who had murdered his mother, not
to mention his (step-)brother and his wife two of his
other victims was not likely to have great compunction
in ridding himself of his tutor. Seneca sought to anticipate
the storm by abandoning politics, retiring from Court,
and surrendering his estates. Nero refused the offer, and
expressed profusely his continued regard for his tutor ;
shortly afterwards he displayed the sincerity of his pro-*
fessions by an insidious attempt to poison him ! The
philosopher then renounced all his state, adopted a
voluntary poverty, and by putting into practice his


professed tenets of the simple life endeavoured to avoid a
repetition of the risk at least of poison. His diet was
herbs, his drink, water from the fountain. But it was
only a matter of time now. The occasion for which the
Emperor was on the watch came in 65. In that year
Piso s conspiracy was formed against the Emperor s life,
and Seneca was accused, falsely so far as we can judge,
of complicity. He was ordered to prepare for death,
which, according to the custom of the day, allowed the
victim the choice of means, and was usually a voluntary
opening of the veins in order to bleed to death. Tacitus
has with characteristic power and pathos depicted the
scene (Annals, xv. 61-4). No act of his life, it would
seem, became Seneca better than the leaving of it.
His death was worthy of a philosopher and a Stoic.
With the utmost calmness, amid a throng of mourning,
sympathising friends, he faced his fate, and yet with
the studied pose of a man who had conned the part.
The age was one of posturing. Men were always under
the eye of the informer and the spy, and learnt to act
their part accordingly. The " meditation of death " must
often have occupied the philosopher s latter days. He was
a second Socrates consigned to an unjust end ; the last
scene was enacted with all the dignity, composure, and
even cheerfulness of his great prototype. The cock due
to Aesculapius has a parallel more worthy of the occasion
in the libation to Jupiter the Liberator. The supreme act
atoned for many weaknesses and failures.

Though Seneca was not without many detractors, 1 his
worth as a man is attested by many proofs. His young
wife Paulina desired to share his fate, and opened her
veins along with her husband. By Nero s orders she
was saved, but she continued to the end of her life to
bear in her unnatural pallor the marks of her devotion.
Tacitus, writing at a distance of thirty or forty years,
describes the character of Seneca in terms of commendation
and esteem. No doubt the historian had himself borne

1 Dio Cassius is often very caustic in his criticisms, but even he recognises
Seneca s sterling merit and services to the state.


the yoke of the savage Domitian, and knew what life under
a tyrant meant. But withal he was too acute an observer
and too impartial a critic to be blinded by any mere
sentimental sympathy. He understood and appreciated
Seneca, to whose genuine worth his testimony is the most
enduring tribute.

The age of Seneca, whose " life almost coincides with
the Julio-Claudian tyranny," has been made to re-live for
us in Professor Dill s Roman Society from Nero to Marcus
Aurelius, which ought to be studied by those who desire
to understand more of Seneca as statesman, philosopher,
and man. 1 In addition to a short account and criticism of
the Quaestiones Naturales (pp. 300 et sqq.}, the chapter
(Book III. ch. i. pp. 289-333) on "The Philosophic Director"
is particularly illuminating. The following tribute from
it may fittingly close our brief sketch :

" The man who approaches Seneca thinking only of
scandals gleaned from Tacitus and Dio Cassius, and
frozen by a criticism which cannot feel the power of
genius, spiritual imagination, and a profound moral experi
ence, behind a rhetoric sometimes forced and extravagant,
had better leave him alone. The Christianity of the
twentieth century might well hail with delight the advent
of such a preacher, and would certainly forget all the
accusations of prurient gossip in the accession of an
immense and fascinating spiritual force. The man with
any historical imagination must be struck with amazement
thc.t such spiritual detachment, such lofty moral ideals, so
pure an enthusiasm for the salvation of souls, should
emerge from a palace reeking with all the crimes of the
haunted races of Greek legend" (op. tit. p. 295).


Seneca was a voluminous writer. Most of his works
partake more or less of a philosophical character. In a
class by themselves may be placed the ten tragedies,

1 Mr. Henderson s The Life and Principate of the Emperor Nero should
also be studied.


together with some verses, attributed to him. The titles,
Medea, Hercules Furens, Hippolytus, Agamemnon, etc.,
suggest the Greek subjects as well as the plays of the
same names by Euripides and Aeschylus. The treatment \
of the themes is all Seneca s own. Moral maxims \
abound ; the plays are homiletic and were never designed
to be acted.

One of the plays is of special interest as dealing with
current topics. This is the Octavia, whose chief character
is Nero s wife of that name, exiled by him in order to
make room for the licentious Poppaea Sabina. Seneca
himself is introduced as one of the characters, deploring
the vices of the age and the unhappiness of those set in
high position. If the play is genuine, which has been
doubted on the ground of references in it that seem to
apply to Nero s death, it goes to prove that Seneca used
very plain language toward his master and pupil. In
any case, it shows what the relation of Seneca to Nero
was generally supposed to be. Tacitus (xv. 61) repre
sents Seneca as telling Nero by messenger that the latter
has had more frequent experience of his independence
than of his servility, and the Octavia is fair comment upon
his statement.

Here is a specimen of the dialogue :

Nero. Fortune has put everything in my power.

Seneca. Distrust her favours : she is a fickle goddess.

N. To fail to see all that one may do, betrays the coward.

S. The credit lies in doing not what one may, but what one ought.

N. The crowd tramples on a feeble prince.

S. They will crush a hated one :

and so forth. Seneca s last remark may be a prophecy
some would say after the event. The play contains other
allusions which suggest some of the actual details of
Nero s end.

The prose works include :

(a) Philosophical Essays such as Anger, Clemency,
Benefits, Calmness of Mind, A Happy Life, The Shortness
of Life, Providence, or Why Providence allows troubles to


afflict the Just, The Constancy of the Sage, The Leisure of
the Sage,

(ti) Letters, or rather Treatises, of Condolence, the so-
called Consolations, addressed respectively to his Mother
Helvia ; to Marcia, the daughter of Cordus, on the death
of her son ; to Polybius, the powerful freed man of Claudius,
on the loss of his brother.

(c] Letters to Lucilius, a hundred and twenty-four in

(d] Apocolocyntosis a lampoon on the deceased
Emperor Claudius. On such occasions deification (apothe
osis) was accorded to the late ruler, and he was received
into the number of the gods. This skit describes the
reception of Claudius in heaven and his expulsion thence
to the lower regions, with his trial and sentence there.
Pumpkinification is the nearest English translation of the
title. 1

(e] Quaestiones Naturales.

(/) Works no longer extant, the only one of them
that concerns us being that on Earthquakes, referred to as
a work of his youth in Q.N. 230.

(g) A spurious work, as is now on all hands conceded,
is the correspondence between Seneca and St. Paul. In
i his opposition to popular beliefs and superstitions, and in
the purity of his moral tenets, Seneca approached some of
the Christian doctrines, and it was no improbable supposi
tion that at the Court of Nero he might have became
acquainted with the Apostle of the Gentiles. 2 But the
assumption of a correspondence of this kind is another
affair. Its genuineness was believed from the time of
Jerome (400) till the sixteenth century.

Seneca is generally considered to appear at his best
in the Consolation to his Mother Helvia and in the Epistles
to Lucilius, which are therefore usually ranked as amongst
his finest works. The latter work, which from the outset

1 One would have expected that Claudius fate would be to be enrolled
among the Pumpkins. But the piece as we have it contains no allusion to

2 See Mr. Henderson s Life and Principate of Nero, 286-7, and Wr -
Glover s The Conflict of Religions in the Early Roman Empire, 149.


was designed for publication, is not an ordinary corre
spondence on the current affairs and interests of everyday
life like Cicero s Letters, but is philosophic in character ;
it covers a wide range of moral discussion and reflec
tion, and is full of admirable maxims. Many of its
sentiments have become commonplaces ; their almost
hackneyed character detracts perhaps somewhat from our
appreciation of their intrinsic merit. On the other hand,
the spitefulness of the Apocolocyntosis, the servility of the
Consolation to Polybius, and the flattery of the Clemency,
which was addressed to Nero, show the reverse of Seneca s
character. Of the characteristics of his style, however,
and of his position in Roman literature one of command
ing importance this is not the place to speak. His
works reflect truly enough both the iron and the miry
clay which entered into his mental and moral composition.


This work stands in a category by itself. It raises a
number of difficult problems, in which every reader of it,
whether classical scholar or not, is interested.

The historical title, Natural Questions, is convenient,
though, without explanation, a little misleading. The
nearest rendering of the Latin form Quaestiones Naturales
is Physical Inquiries, or Investigations in the Domain of
Physics, or, as in the title, what we should now call
Physical Science. The terms Physics and Science had
a very different connotation in that age and in ours.
Plutarch, almost a younger contemporary of Seneca,
gravely discusses in a work with a similar title such
questions as Why shepherds give their sheep salt, Why
horses hair is superior to mares for casting-lines, and
even, Why a dog runs after a stone rather than after the
person who threw it ! The extent of such a title is
determined pretty much by the range of topics an author
decides to include. In Seneca s case, as it happens,


the branches chiefly dealt with are Astronomy and
Meteorology, together with certain portions of what
may be designated as Physical Geography including

Science was in that day synonymous with Philosophy,
or at any rate Philosophy embraced all that could claim
to be Science. Learning was homogeneous ; its sub
divisions had not yet been separated or differentiated.

The treatise was addressed in a quasi-epistolary form
to Lucilius Junior, procurator l of Sicily. Most of our
knowledge of him is derived from Seneca, who, besides
the Q.N., addressed to him his Epistles and his tract on
Providence. Lucilius seems to have been a protege of
Seneca, and rising from the ranks under his fostering care
and guidance, not only to have attained a position of
influence, but also to have achieved literary distinction.
His philosophical predilections were toward Epicureanism,
but he was a man of high principle and character, though
not exempt from dangerous temptations at various points in
his career. His public labours had associated him with Sicily,
and the themes of his writings, chiefly poems as it would
appear, had been drawn from the same quarter. He is,
not without probability, supposed to have been the author
of the anonymous didactic poem Aetna, for long attri
buted to Virgil, a work which presents many interesting
parallelisms to the Q.N. both in its science and its
philosophy. Seneca s Epistle Ixxix. contains a special
charge to Lucilius, who was at the time making a circuit
of his province, to report the facts concerning Charybdis
Seneca knew all there was to know about Scylla and to
investigate in detail the present condition of Aetna. The
letter goes on to banter Lucilius upon the inclusion of
Aetna in the poem on which he was engaged no doubt
the work referred to in Q.N. 114, 142 ; cf. 167. The whole
question is discussed with full knowledge by Professor
Robinson Ellis in the Introduction (xxxvi-xlviii) to his

1 The procurator was in this case practically governor. In some instances
he was .he representative of a chief governor (praeses] to whom he was
subject, e.g. Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judaea under the Governor of


edition of the Aetna, to which reference should be made.
For other allusions to Lucilius in Seneca see, besides the
Q.N., Epistles xix. xxvi. xxxiv. etc.

The Q.N. was composed probably about the year 63
or 64. We might content ourselves with the statement
of the fact, did not the circumstances of composition
throw light upon difficulties of arrangement and sequence
which can scarcely be passed unnoticed. The evidence
on which we have to rely is chiefly internal. The exact
date of Lucilius procuratorship in Sicily (159) is unknown,
but the consulship of Regulus and Virginius, which
witnessed the Campanian earthquake (221), fell in 63,
that is, some two years before Seneca s death. The
allusions in the Preface to Book III. (109) are still
more direct and convincing. The writer was drawing
near his end, pressed hard on the rear by old age, with
every necessity and incentive to hurry on the completion
of his task.

On the other hand, the mission despatched by Nero
to the sources of the Nile (235-6) would naturally point
to an earlier date during the more promising years of his
reign unless indeed, as is by no means improbable, the
complimentary reference to the emperor s virtues be a
piece of adulation. A similar reference recurs in con
nection with the comet in Nero s reign (290), the date of
which must (after Tacitus) be assigned to the year 61.

The Elder Pliny, writing in 77, about a dozen years
after Seneca s death, adds to each Book of his Natural
History an exhaustive list of the authorities, native and
foreign, that he had used. Book II. deals with many of
the subjects of the Q.N., of wnich it is in some places an
expansion, but in most little more than an epitome. 1
And yet no mention of Seneca occurs in the list of

1 See particularly Pliny s treatment of Comets (ii. xxii.), Winds (xliv.-L),
Lightning (liii.), Floating Islands (xcvi.). But most striking of all is the
reproduction (Ixiii.) of Seneca s remark (208 end of c. xv.), "If any nether
gods existed, they would have been dug up long ere this in the mines sunk
by our avarice and luxury." The two authors had hit upon the same thought,
and Seneca had happened to use it first. Or it may have been a current
witticism in an age of unbelief.


authorities attached, which seems strange if the work had
then been given to the world. 1

We read in the Sixth Book of the Q.N. (230) that the
author had previously, when a young man, composed a work
upon Earthquakes. This, taken in connection with what
precedes, and with what we know of the author s character
and interests, affords some ground for the conjecture that
he may have worked intermittently at the subject at
various periods of life. But no doubt the arrangement of
the materials and the completion of the work belong to
his latter years. He had by this time lost his hold upon
Nero, and had practically retired from political activity.
His trust in princes had been found misplaced. He was
disappointed if not embittered. The discussion of public
affairs was precluded. It was dangerous even to let one s
thoughts rest upon them. But there were consolations
for political disappointment and inactivity. Recourse
might be made to the contemplation of those great works
and workings of Nature which are exempt from the
caprices of human passion. The study of Nature was
equally fitted to humble and to console ; to it Seneca
betook himself for refuge. 2

The Q.N. may, thus, have been composed at different
dates, materials for it being gathered at various times as
opportunity offered. But the final arrangement and
systematisation belong to the last years of the author s
life, about the years 63 or 64. The publication may not
have taken place until some time subsequently, and may
have been carried out by Lucilius, who was Seneca s literary
executor. So much is certain, that the work as we have
it is not the work as it left the author s hand.

Much time and ingenuity have been bestowed on

1 Seneca s name does occur in the lists attached to Books VI. IX. and
XXXVI. ; the first is geographical, dealing with Asia and Africa, the second
has for subject fishes and aquatic life in general, while the third deals with
the natural history of stones.

" The Stoics affected to despise physical studies, or at any rate to postpone
them to morals. Seneca shared this edifying but far from scientific persuasion.
But after his final withdrawal from court, as the wonders of nature forced
themselves on his notice, he reconsidered his old prejudice, and entered with
ardour on the contemplation of physical phenomena" (Cruttwell, op. cit. 381).


attempts to restore the Q.N. to what may be supposed
to have been its original form. The most casual reading
of it as it stands, shows that it is full of inequalities. If
the clue could only be recovered, much of its difficulty
and obscurity would disappear. As it is, it abounds in
abrupt transitions, interruptions of the logical sequence,
repetitions, excrescences, and even irrelevancies and incon
sistencies, which it can hardly be supposed that an author
would have allowed to remain in a treatise prepared for

One or two considerations derived from the present
arrangement will serve to throw light upon this point.
In the first place, Book IV., as we have it, is evidently
composite. Between Chaps. II. and III. there is a deep
hiatus. In the former chapter the discussion of the Nile
is cut short, and the author s own view is not even
indicated, much less established ; while the latter opens
so abruptly as at least to suggest that it may have origin
ally been preceded by something with which it stood in
organic sequence.

Again, the several Books do not conform to the
author s division of the subject as set forth in the opening
of Book II. (51), but follow or precede one another

Then, three of the Books (I. III. IV.) have a formal
Preface, while the others have not, though in them, too,
with the exception of the Sixth, the opening chapter is
introductory in character.

Any attempt to restore a more intelligible order must
depend for its success on the extent to which we may
assume Seneca to have been a methodiser. In Book II. i.,
he certainly states very distinctly the divisions of his sub
ject (a) things in the heavens, () things between heaven
and earth, (c) things on the earth. But it by no means
follows that he himself maintained this order of treatment,
or that he always exhausted one subject before passing
on to the next. The division evidently enumerates the
subjects in order of dignity or worth, and may have little,
if any, relation to the order of their discussion ; in fact, in


Book II. he goes on immediately to deal with meteorology,
his second and not his first topic.

Bernhardt (Die Anschauung des Seneca vom Universum,
p. 7) frankly accepts the traditional order of the Books,
and finds its explanation in the distinction between
phenomena and elements. The first three Books deal
with the phenomena of heaven, air, earth, respectively ;
the last four respectively with the elements water,
air, earth, fire. This is ingenious, if not altogether

The most recent editor, Professor Gercke, divides Book
IV. into its two constituents, IV. (a) = IV. Pref.-ii., IV.
(#) = IV. iii.-xiii., and arranges the Books in ascending
scale thus: Earth III. IV. (a); Air IV. (b\ II. V. VI.;
Heaven VII. I. There seems great probability, almost
amounting to certainty, that there were originally eight
Books, as he supposes. But a consistent and fairly
natural order might perhaps be restored with less violence
to the accepted form than his scheme involves. Books
III. and IV. (a) seem to have been misplaced or transposed,
being placed after Book II. instead of after Book VI., where
they originally stood ; Book IV. (a) had somehow got muti
lated, which the more easily led to the confusion. Book IV.
(&) also suffered somewhat in the process. Thus the original
order may have been I. II. IV. (b\ V. VI. ; III. IV. (a) ;
VII. ; the first five Books deal with Meteorology, including
Seismology (air), the next two with Physical Geography
(earth), the last Book with Astronomy (heaven). A single
change of the order is thus all that is required ; but, of
course, the regrettable gap after IV. (a) remains.

Even with this rearrangement the sequence leaves
something to be desired. But it must be borne in mind
that the author makes a claim to philosophic liberty (178),
and that in no case can the rules of modern requirement
be applied to him.

Of course, if the assumption of methodical arrangement
be unfounded, and the author composed just as the humour
took him, the existing order may be all right : it is as
good as any other fortuitous collocation. Some have


supposed that the work was left unfinished at the author s
death, but of this we have no proof.

The language of the Preface to Book III. has been
taken by some to imply that this was the opening of the
whole work. Whether this is so must remain to some
extent matter of opinion. It may, however, be pointed
out (a) that the claim of the Preface to Book I. seems at
least equally strong, (&} that the language of 4 of the
Preface to Book III. (i 10), " how much is unaccomplished
of my plan, though not of my life," seems inapplicable
to a work that was not begun or merely beginning.
There was a remnant of the work and a remnant of life,
but they were disproportionate, the one large, the other
small. This was a reminder to hurry on to completion
a work with which, ex Jiypothesi, some progress had already
been made.

When all has been said, we must, for practical purposes,
accept the book as it has been handed down to us and
make what we can of it. The difficulties are not exhausted
even when the pristine order is restored. What is true of
the work as a whole is true of it also in detail. The text
is full of uncertainties and corruptions. The work was
popular and was frequently copied, and this naturally
gave rise to variations, which, being improved upon by
succeeding generations of copyists, in course of time
rendered the text in many places very obscure if not
unmeaning. The nature of the subject matter, frequently
little understood, no doubt facilitated and hastened the
process of corruption. Hence the translator has at every
turn to decide first what> and then how, he shall translate. 1

An added difficulty is the form of address to Lucilius.
The adoption of the epistolary style, whatever its other
advantages, has not, it must be admitted, conduced
to the lucidity of the argument. Science does not
readily lend itself to exposition by dialogue, and the

1 Gercke says (Preface, xlvi) that the traditional text of the Q.N. is
utterly corrupt and still requires the united efforts of many earnest scholars
for its restoration. He writes as recently as two years ago (1907), and has
himself probably made the most considerable contribution of all the editors to
the correction of the text ; but he modestly calls himself only a pioneer.


trouble is aggravated when, in addition to the corre
spondent, an imaginary opponent is from time to time
introduced and indifferently addressed in the second
person, or referred to in the third. To make matters
still worse, the author frequently conceals himself behind
the mask of one or other of the disputants, irrespective
of pronouns. Finally, he employs " we " sometimes of
himself and his correspondent, sometimes of his philosophic
sect, the Stoics, sometimes of his nation, the Romans,
sometimes of his kind, man in general !


In order to appreciate Seneca s treatment of his subject
we must understand something of his philosophical tenets.
He was in the main a Stoic, but with such a strong
tendency toward independence that he may be considered
an Eclectic. The Stoics, whether or not they originated,
at any rate recognised and adopted the threefold division
of philosophy Physics, Ethics, Logic 1 which was origin
ated among the Greeks and handed down by them to
the Romans, who were in this department their pupils.
Seneca is typical of the Stoics in regarding Ethics as of
supreme importance. On Logic he did not apparently
set any great store, though he must have been a diligent
student of the cognate branch, Rhetoric. Physics, as we
have seen, did not claim much attention from him in early
life ; only as he approached the mature age of threescore
did his study of it become more detailed and systematic.
No clear line of demarcation existed in his mind, or for
the matter of that in his age, between philosophy and

1 See Professor Davidson s The Stoic Creed, p. 42, where it is pointed out
that each of these may be subdivided so as to bring the number up to six
Physics and Theology, Ethics and Politics, Logic and Rhetoric. See also
Seneca, Epist. Ixxxix., where the division is discussed. For further infor
mation on the subject, the article on the Stoics in the Encyclopaedia Britannica
and any of the histories of philosophy, e.g. Erdmann or Zeller, may be


science. Yet there is considerable internal evidence in
the Q.N. that his pursuit of such studies was in part an
outcome of the true scientific spirit, and that he possessed
in no ordinary degree the scientific imagination. Still,
when all due allowance is made for this, it remains true
that Seneca was moralist first and physicist or scientist
afterwards. Physics led to theology, 1 and had thus a
direct bearing on man s destiny and fate. Had there been
no Ethics, whose interests were involved in a knowledge
of the universe, its parts, its function, and its author, the
impelling motive for the study of Physics would have been
removed. Possibly when his political career was closed
by the death of Burrus in 63, Seneca might in any case
have devoted some of his leisure to a subject which
offered such opportunities of exalted contemplation. But
it was his ethical aims that added the chief zest to the
pursuit. 2 As the various departments of knowledge had
not assumed definite divergent forms, there was nothing
incongruous to his mind in the mixture, or as he might
have regarded it, the union, of what to us seem so different
from one another as Physics and Ethics. The facts of
nature had, in his view, to be brought into connection with
the lessons that may be derived from them. In so many
words he tells us (102) that every study must have a
moral attached to it, or to put it otherwise, that physical
phenomena must be made the occasion for driving home
some general truth, establishing some ethical position,
clinching an argument, reprobating a vice. The conclusion
of each Book of the Q.N. contains the practical application
of the lessons to be derived from its subject : there are not
infrequent digressions, too, for the same or a cognate
purpose. The author s moral zeal sometimes ran off with
him, and he felt constrained to break off for the time his
discussion of scientific truths and to assume the role of
the moralist and reformer. 3

1 Cf. Professor Burnet s Early Greek Philosophy for illustration of this in
earlier times.

2 Cf. footnote 2 to p. xxxiv.

3 The method was not obsolete for many centuries, even if it is yet wholly
dead. On more than one occasion the study of Natural History has been



The reader of the Q.N. need not, therefore, regard as
matter of surprise this curious medley of science and
morality, which is of the very essence of the author s
principles and purpose. Seneca performs this part of his
task with evident relish. He is always ready to improve
the occasion, and will even go out of his way to find it.
His censure of vice, his denunciation of luxury and self-
indulgence, his castigation of immorality, seem to afford
him a kind of morbid satisfaction. Even a note of
insincerity may sometimes be suspected. He is rather too
ready to display his own acquaintance with all the refine
ments of the vices of " good society " : perhaps it was
the fault of his age to gloat over unsavoury details that a
moralist would now be more anxious to conceal than to
reveal. 1

With Seneca as moralist, however, we are not here
directly concerned. But what attitude are we to assume
toward his Science? It need scarcely be said that of
Science in the twentieth century sense, the first century
of our era knew very little. Its greatest weakness was
that it possessed practically no means of interrogating
nature save those afforded by the human senses. The
sundial was known, but the thermometer, the barometer,
the telescope, and even the microscope, had still to be
invented. Experiment except in the most rudimentary
form was impossible. Observation was the only method
available, and it lost much of its value from the necessary
looseness and inaccuracy attaching to it. Seneca was
fully alive to the necessity of procuring correct data. He
records his own observation when digging among his
vines (117) ; he had visited the Sabine country to see a
floating island (139); he had evidently watched closely
rainbow, lightning, meteors, comets, etc., etc. He laid

advocated on account of the abundance of figures of speech that may be drawn
from it ! Erasmus esteemed it because of the light it threw on the classics ;
his insensibility to the wonders of natural forces and processes provoked
Luther s remark that "Erasmus looks upon external objects as cows look
upon a new gate. "

1 " There are pictures of voluptuous ease and jaded satiety which may be
the work of a keen sympathetic observation, but which may also be the
expression of repentant memory" (Dill, op. cit. p. 298).


friends like Lucilius under contribution, and he insists on
the necessity for keeping records of observation, especially
when the phenomenon is comparatively rare, as a Comet
(274). Besides, he draws not only upon the history of
his country, but also upon the learning of other nations
Greeks, Babylonians, and Egyptians records which for the
most part are no longer extant. The Q.N. thus embodies
many out-of-the-way facts which otherwise would be
unknown to us. Accuracy is nearly always a relative
term : approximate accuracy is the most we can look for
in that age. Seneca s contribution of data is curious,
interesting, and valuable.

Again, in arguing from facts, or supposed facts, Seneca
is entitled to credit for his method if not always for his
results. A great merit is that he endeavours to account
for the phenomena observed, he habitually raises the
causal issue, and he is not satisfied until he has passed in
review all the considerations involved in the observation
or problem. He is scrupulous in always giving the other
side a hearing, and in discussing views with which he
disagrees, even though only to reject them. On the
negative side he is generally fairly convincing, and succeeds
in showing the fallacies involved in a proposition. But
on the constructive side he is many times ingeniously
perverse, curiously blind to the inadequacy of the theories
which he himself advances, and which he would readily
have confuted in an opponent. Sometimes he adopts an
error already current, as old as Aristotle or older ; some
times he advances a fresh one of his own. But even his
errors are instructive, and represent a phase of progress.
The line of progress is zigzag. Only after errors have
been exhausted does the truth emerge and advance become

The amenities of ancient science seem to have been
somewhat scanty. A mistake, a false inference, an
erroneous view, is met with the lie direct. The moral
stigma of falsehood is, at any rate in certain instances,
attached to such a deviation from fact. Nor is this all.
The whole character must be bad if a man has " lied."


The authors, whom Seneca calls chroniclers, and particu
larly Epigenes, are in one passage quite fiercely attacked
(289). In justice to Seneca it must be said that he is
hardly more polite toward himself. The words on p. 154,
2, rendered, " I can give my own word, etc.," read liter
ally, " I m a liar if water does not meet us, etc." Perhaps,
therefore, it is only a manner of speaking. In the early
days of public education in Britain a Government report
recorded as a proof of moral progress the substitution in
some parts of the country of " I beg your pardon " for
" You re a liar ! " The child seems to have here re-lived
the history of the race.

Seneca had a wide outlook, too, and a splendid scien
tific faith. With prophetic eye he sees the day when an
astronomer will arise to demonstrate the nature and orbit
of Comets 1 (299) ; he is content to let posterity have a
share of the credit ! Nor is his humility less than his
confidence. His lessons may still usefully be taken
home ; we imagine we have pierced to nature s inmost
sanctum, yet we are still loitering round her outer court
(306); let us not despise the day of small things, the investi
gation of nature s marvels requires generations of workers
and ages of work ; there will come a day when all will
be revealed, when posterity will smile at our feeble and
clumsy efforts and wonder how we missed such obvious
truths (298). The ancients must be treated leniently ; it
was a large contribution to discovery to have conceived
the hope of its possibility (231). Seneca maintained and
promoted this belief in ultimate success. He displays
throughout the same alert, buoyant, enthusiastic confid
ence, together with patient, reverent search for truth in
nature and truth about God.

Seneca nowhere gives us a reasoned connected exposi
tion of the views entertained by him regarding the Universe
as a whole or the relation of its parts. Only " by parcels "
and inference can we glean them from scattered remarks
and comments that he makes in the course of his work.

1 The fulfilment, or at least the beginning of the fulfilment, of this predic
tion may be dated from Newton in 1680.


In Physics even more than in Ethics he was an Eclectic ;
he criticises freely, and occasionally rejects entirely, the
opinions of his own school, the Stoics, at one point going
so far as to call them silly (181, cf. 295). He claims
authority, too, for his own research, and asserts the right to
hypothesise for himself: he is hopeful, if not certain, of
discovery (304). He frequently quotes rival opinions
without indicating his own. He is familiar with conflict
ing theories which he does not attempt, or fails in his
attempt, to harmonise. And in the end one is tempted
to ask whether he himself had reached any consistent
comprehensive cosmical scheme. There is much that is
quaint and interesting and ingenious, but it seems doubt
ful whether an attempt to construct from the Q.N. a
complete cosmology would in the end repay the labour.
The scheme might prove self-contradictory ; it would in
any case be full of error, and there would in no case be
the assurance that it was all Seneca s own. This seems
sufficient reason for declining the task. If one care to
pursue it further, helpful information may be obtained
from Bernhardt s brochure (Die Anschauung, etc?) already
referred to, while a discussion of the whole subject will
be found in Crousle s Thesis, written in Latin, De L.
Annaei Senecae Nat. Quaest., which for fulness and fair
ness leaves nothing to be desired. 1 In the Commentary
and Notes at the end of the volume Seneca s scientific
opinions and methods are discussed by Sir Archibald


The history of ancient Science is a very tangled and
abstruse subject, a portion of the history of ancient

1 Ideler s Meteorologia veterum Graecorum et Romanorum, which forms the
Prolegomena to his edition of Aristotle s Meteorology, but is printed as a
separate volume, also contains much curious information on this recondite


Philosophy, which lies as much outside the scope of the
present work as beyond the powers of the writer. Still,
Seneca cannot be altogether detached from what pre
ceded him. In order to throw light upon his work, it
may be permissible to pass in rapid review a few of the
chief sources from which he drew. Our starting-point
may be Aristotle.

Aristotle is with good reason named " the master of
those who know " (Dante, H. iv.). He may be said to
have summed up the knowledge of the ancient world,
at least as far as Greece is concerned, on all subjects. If
not the founder of Science any more than of Philosophy,
he recapitulated so fully all that went before that he
became the fountain-head and source from which all
succeeding workers mainly drew. He systematised the
existing materials, adding his own criticisms and observa
tions, and illuminating the whole with the strong light of
his unrivalled powers. He drew upon many authorities
whose works are now lost, the leading names among
them being familiar from the Q.N. Thales, Anaximander,
Pythagoras, and the rest. The extent and variety of
the material may, perhaps, best be understood from a
work like Professor Burnet s Early Greek Philosophy, to
which reference should be made. A reasoned con
secutive account will there be found of the individual
contributions made to philosophy (including science) by
the early Greek thinkers. Long before Aristotle s time
numerous physical theories had been propounded, and
had been supported by their authors with great acuteness
of argument ; hardly any question had been left unasked
that related to matter, motion, or mind. " We may smile,
if we please, at the strange medley of childish fancy and
true scientific insight. . . . But we shall do well to remem
ber at the same time that even now it is just such hardy
anticipations of experience that make scientific progress
possible, and that nearly every one of the early inquirers
. . . made some permanent addition to the store of posi
tive knowledge, besides opening up new views of the
world in every direction " (op. cit. 29).


Seneca probably possessed fuller details of the investi
gations and speculations of these early workers than we
now do. The existing materials are contained in Pro
fessor Diels Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker^ with which
his other great work, the Doxographi Graeci, should be
compared. 1

The chief work of Aristotle upon which Seneca drew
was the Meteor ologica. The extent to which its subject
coincided with that of the Q.N. may be inferred from a
glance at its contents. The Meteor ologica is divided into
four Books, arranged thus :

I. Scope and relations of Meteorology. The four
elementary bodies earth, water, fire, air and their rela
tions. Celestial fires. Shooting stars. Comets. The
Milky Way. Clouds. Fog. Dew. Hoar-frost. Rain.
Snow. Hail. Wind. Formation of rivers. Change in
land through action of rivers : effects on movements of

II. The sea and its salinity. Theory of the winds,
their varieties, positions, etc. Earthquakes and their
explanation. Lightning and thunder.

III. Lightning, thunder, and similar phenomena. Halo
and rainbow. Mock sun and cognate appearances. Ex
halation and its influence.

IV. Theory of the elements ( = ingredients or first-
principles) ; two active hot and cold, two passive dry
and moist. Their effect on bodies. Cohesion, Lique
faction, Solidification, Coagulation, Fusion, Solubility, and
other properties. Homogeneous and non-homogeneous
bodies. Effects of temperature. Place of this work in
author s scheme.

Another work that goes under Aristotle s name, but is
now generally considered spurious, is the De Mundo (the
Universe], which in part repeats the subjects of the latter
part of the Meteorology. Seneca may also have drawn
on the De Coelo (the Heavens\ whose subject covers
portions of the Q.N. He refers more than a dozen of
times to Aristotle by name, but it was not customary to

1 These are, of course, only for the classical scholar.


refer to individual works. There are numerous instances
in which Aristotle is his authority, though no specific
mention of him occurs.

Theophrastus, the pupil of Aristotle, and his successor
as head of the Academy, is also frequently referred to
in the Q.N. His master bequeathed to him his library
and original manuscripts, and Theophrastus was himself
also a voluminous writer.

Among his extant works on Science, we have treatises
or tracts dealing with Fire ; Winds ; Stones ; Signs of
Rain, Wind, Storm, and Fine Weather ; not to mention
Colours, Odours, etc., and an extensive work on Plants
and their History. His work on Perception and Per
cepts is said to be a chapter of a larger work on the
history of philosophy. At any rate, it records and dis
cusses the opinions of earlier writers on the subjects to
which the title refers. For his further views on Physics,
and the lost treatise on the subject, see Diels, Dox. Graec.
1 19 et sqq., and 473 et sqq.

Aratus, who flourished about 280-270 B.C., wrote two
poems (in Greek) entitled respectively Phaenomena^ an
introduction to the knowledge of the constellations ; and
Prognostics, a method of forecasting the weather from
astronomical phenomena. Aratus scarcely ranks as a
scientific writer, but Seneca refers to his opinions on one
occasion in the Q.N. He was apparently held in high
esteem by the Romans, for he found a translator (in
part) in Cicero, and an imitator in Virgil (Georgics).

Plutarch stands in a somewhat different relation to
Seneca. He was a little subsequent in date, but there is
a sort of parallelism between the two, both in their
scientific and their more general interests. Besides the
Physical Causes, already referred to, Plutarch made a
compilation in five Books at least it goes under his
name of the Tenets of the Philosophers (Placita Philo-
sophormri) regarding a vast number of physical, especially

1 It is from this poem (1. 5) that Paul quotes (Acts xvii. 28), " For we
are also his offspring." Aratus was a native of Soli in Cilicia, and therefore
a compatriot of Paul.


astronomical and physiological, subjects. Diels (pp. cit.
65) scouts the idea of the genuineness of the "wretched
epitome," and assigns it to the middle of the second
century. Whether this be so or not does not much affect
its value for us. The existence of the work shows the
nature of the material which was available in Seneca s
age. The work is a kind of distant echo of Theo-
phrastus lost treatise and preserves many opinions of the
older philosophers, of which, to say the least of it, we
should otherwise have been less fully informed. The
parallelism of the Placita to the Q.N. will appear from
a few of the titles. Books II. and III. of the former
reproduce a long array of opinions of Thales, Empedocles,
Anaxagoras, Diogenes, Anaximenes, Democritus, Xeno-
phanes, Xenocrates, not to mention Plato, Aristotle, the
Pythagoreans, the Stoics, etc., etc., regarding such sub
jects as Eclipses, the Milky Way, Comets, Earthquakes,
Clouds, Winds, Thunder and Lightning, etc., etc.

Plutarch also has questions regarding Aratus Prog
nostics, and a Miscellanea of discussions on allied sub

Of Latin writers two have special bearing on Seneca.
Lucretius (95-51 B.C.), in his great poem on Nature (De
Rerum Natura\ has expounded the Epicurean view of the
universe. In so far as science is capable of metrical and
poetical exposition, he ranks high among scientific writers ;
while the recent resuscitation of the atomic theory lends
special interest to his views. The Romans were always a
practical and not a speculative nation, and any deviation
from the type, such as Lucretius or Seneca, becomes
especially noteworthy and valuable. Numerous parallelisms
between them have been brought out in the Commentary
and Notes appended to this Translation.

Pliny the Elder stands in respect of date in much the
same relation to Seneca as Plutarch does. His great
work on Natural History, which was addressed to the
reigning Emperor, Vespasian, was published in the year
77, that is, about a dozen years after Seneca s death.
We have already glanced at the bearing of this date upon


that of the publication of the Q.N. We are now con
cerned rather with the relation of the contents of the two
works. Gibbon (Decline and Fall, chap, xiii.) speaks of
" that immense register where Pliny has deposited the
discoveries, the arts, and the errors of mankind." Nor
is the description unjust. The work is of portentous
length, extending to thirty-seven Books ; it treats of an
enormous variety of subjects, physical, geological, geo
graphical, ethnographical, botanical, medical, etc., many of
which are now quite dissociated from the title, Natural
History. Pliny seems to have read everything that
existed in writing on the various subjects included, and
his array of authorities attached to the contents of each
Book is very imposing. 1 But unfortunately his judgment
does not appear to have been equal to his industry. Every
thing is recorded, credible and incredible, whether derived
from trustworthy literature or based on mere report : a
more uncritical congeries of truth and error it would be
difficult to imagine.

Book II. deals with the constitution of the universe,
including astronomical and meteorological phenomena,
such as Meteors, Halos, Eclipses, Winds, Earthquakes,
Rain, etc., etc. Many of these cover the same ground
as the Q.N. Among the domestic authors cited for this
Book are M. Varro, Livy, Cornelius Nepos, Caecina,
" who wrote on the Etruscan cult " ; among the foreign
authors are Plato, Anaximander, Democritus, Archimedes,
Aristotle, etc., etc. The omission of Seneca from the
Latin list is balanced by that of Theophrastus from
the Greek list. It is, of course, unsafe to build any
theory on a merely negative basis. Obviously Pliny had
read at any rate portions of these authors, to whom he
elsewhere refers, and may, through mere oversight or negli
gence, have omitted specific mention of them here : he
usually refers to authors and not to their individual works.
If, at the time of the composition of Book II., which may

1 He claims to have read about 2000 volumes of 100 choice authors, but
his lists seem to include a much larger number of names 146 Roman and
327 foreign writers. See Teuffel, Rom. Lit. vol. ii., under Pliny the Elder.
Cf. Dill, op. dt. p. 146 and note.


have been considerably earlier than the date of publica
tion of the whole work, he did not know of Seneca s Q.N.,
then the inference seems inevitable that there were current
a collection or collections of the opinions (Sofat) of the
older philosophers which were common property to any
one interested in such matters. The Placita attributed to
Plutarch, though its present form may be much later than
Pliny s time, may have been derived from sources of this
kind. We shall not be far wrong in supposing that, in
addition to the works still extant, there was a mass of
material available to Seneca and Pliny alike which repre
sented the traditional views on physical and allied subjects
handed down from the old Greek philosophy. Most of
the Latin authors, seventeen in number in all, cited by
Pliny on Book II. are now known to us only by name ;
of those whose works remain, Varro is the only one whom
we should consider likely to furnish much material for the
topic in hand.

Of Pliny s lists in general it may be said that they
indicate that a good many writers even among the
Romans had been attracted by subjects of a scientific or
quasi-scientific character, if we may not venture to say that
their works can rank as science even in the modified sense
in which the term is applicable to Seneca or Pliny. It is
in keeping with the character of the people that practical
sciences like agriculture (Varro, Columella) and architecture
(Vitruvius), not to mention cookery, should have received
special attention. These authors, with others like Manilius
(Astronomicd) and Pomponius Mela (geography), however
interesting in themselves, have only an indirect and some
times only a remote bearing on the Physical Science of
their day.


The Q.N. is a landmark in the progress of Physical
Science. From Aristotle and Theophrastus there is a
great gap until we reach Seneca : the gap is still greater


between Seneca and the Renascence, from which the era
of true science is to be dated. The Q.N. is the last word
spoken on the subject by the classical world, and practi
cally the only work of its kind that survives to us in
Latin. Various commentators on Aristotle and Seneca
have, probably unconsciously, appeared as champions of
either author s claim to be considered as the authority
in Science during the Middle Ages. All the materials
for forming an unbiassed judgment are to be found in
Dr. Sandys History of Classical Scholarship (vol. i.).

Seneca possessed one or two initial advantages. In
the first place, Latin, in which he wrote, was understood
and spoken throughout the world, whereas for many
centuries Greek was over large tracts of it, particularly
in the West, an unknown tongue. Again, Seneca was
for long supposed to be a Christian, claimed by the early
fathers as " one of us," and ranked by Jerome among the
Ecclesiastical Writers. There was not therefore the same
prejudice against his works as is known to have existed
in the early Christian centuries against pagan authors,
especially against the poets.

As a matter of fact, the knowledge of Aristotle s works,
at any rate in the West, seems to have been derived in
the first instance from Arabic translations made in the
ninth century and brought to Spain about the twelfth
century, while from 1204 onwards he was known in
Latin translations made direct from the Greek MSS.,
which were now accessible. "In Roger Bacon s day, not
withstanding his eagerness for promoting the study of
Aristotle in the original Greek, it was the Latin Aristotle
alone that was studied in the schools " (Sandys, op. cit. 575).
That was about the year 1267. Seneca seems to have
been well known, chiefly as a moralist, through the Middle
Ages. He " was famous as the author of the Naturales
Quaestiones" (ib. 627 *) also. Saint-Hilaire s claim, there
fore (Arist. Meteor. Pref. ii. iii.), "that Aristotle laid
down the law on Meteorology, as in everything else, from
the age of Alexander right up to the Renascence," must

1 See, besides, pp. 387, 541, 547, 560, 569, etc.


be accepted with some qualification. There seems room
for Ruhkopf s explanation (Q.N. Pref.) that Seneca s work
was, and continued to be, the sole fountain whence Natural
Philosophy derived its source and drew its supplies during
many centuries, " until Aristotle s books were transmitted
for public use into Western Europe."

By the thirteenth century Aristotle had come fully into
vogue, and the references to his teaching in Dante (1265-
1321), said to number upwards of 300, show what a hold
he had obtained upon the greatest man of the age. The
" moral Seneca " is also known to Dante, and placed by
him in the same region of the unseen world (H. iv.), but
the references to his teaching are insignificant by com
parison (less than ten). Dr. Sandys states (op. cit. 591 n.)
that the references to Aristotle are mainly to the Ethics,
Physics, Metaphysics, and De Anima.

But we are now on the eve of the Renascence, whose
" morning-star . . . arose in the person of Petrarch "
(pp. cit. 650), early in the fourteenth century (1304-1374).
Greek scholarship was reviving in the West, and Petrarch
studied the language in his later days. But his inspiration
was derived in the first instance from Latin, " the philo
sophical works of Cicero and the moral letters of Seneca "
(pp. cit. ii. 4). The latter he cites as many as sixty times
(ib. 7), and he was also familiar with the Senecan tragedies
(ib. 6).

From this and from the general course of history
we seem justified in believing that during the Middle
Ages, in default of any general knowledge of Aristotle,
Seneca was the chief authority on Physical Science. \
The views transmitted by him, for they were compara
tively seldom altogether his own, having obtained currency,
found their way into literature, and probably went far
to colour the conceptions entertained on the subject
in all the earlier literature of Modern Europe. Later,
when Aristotle s works became more widely known, his
authority became supreme alike in philosophy and in
science. Nor does the temporary ascendancy of Seneca,
though historically very important, carry with it any pre-


sumption of rivalry, not to say superiority, to Aristotle.
Seneca may best be regarded as pupil and interpreter of
Aristotle, in so far as the two come into competition.
His date, the language employed as his medium, his
position, his reputation as a Christian, and his activity in
other fields, all conspired to give him a position in the
Middle Ages which is not necessarily the measure of his
intrinsic merit as compared with Aristotle.


From what has preceded, it will appear that the path
of the translator of the Quaestiones Naturales is beset with
snares. At best he has a choice of difficulties. It may
perhaps, therefore, be well to say a word or two upon the
method in which these have been dealt with on the present

A translator s prime duty is to follow his author, for
which purpose he must first understand him, a requirement
not very easily here fulfilled. The texts of the Q.N. vary
greatly, as already indicated, and it is no easy matter to
select any one that might be consistently followed. The
most recent and best text, the Teubner, edited by Gercke,
has strong claims, and had it been my good fortune to have
it by me when the translation was made, I should have
been tempted to adopt it simpliciter, even though in many
details it departs somewhat violently from the accepted
arrangement. As it was, it did not come to hand until
the translation was finished and paged for publication, so
that full use could not be made of it. In a few cases its
corrections had been anticipated ; in some its readings
have been adopted ; some that could not be incorporated
are referred to in a note on the subject.

The text being settled, the translator must, if possible,
put himself in the author s position and obtain his point
of view.

In science, particularly, the milieu of the author
must be caught if his thoughts are to be accurately


reproduced. The danger of attributing to Seneca ideas
that were unknown to him and that are due to modern
analysis and discovery has to be constantly present to
one s mind. For example, " homogeneity," " elasticity,"
" electricity," " gas," " explosion," etc., are a few of the
terms that his language suggests, but that would probably
convey a wrong impression of his conception of the
phenomena to which they relate. They have been thus
ruled out. Nor is Seneca consistent in the use of the
terms he employs ; he has no scientific vocabulary. In a
separate note attention is called to his words for " air "
and " atmosphere " ; but there are many other terms that
belong to the same category. These are, for instance,
three words for " thick " or " dense," crassus, densus, spissus,
which he seems to use almost indifferently, at any rate
without any precise discrimination. So with terms like
" impetus " (impulse, onset) " impulsus " (shove, impulse),
" ictus " (stroke, blow), " vis " (force, quantity, amount),
" curro " (to run (river), to revolve (heavenly body)), and
its compounds, eo (to go), and its compounds, etc., etc.

Apart from any peculiarity of Seneca, Latin allows
the use of adjectives and pronouns, whose distinctive
gender points their reference, where English requires
substantives or their equivalent. Latin, too, often conveys
by mere suggestion where English requires explicit ex
pression. This is particularly so with connectives, where
a separate clause may be required to develop the nuance
of a subtle collocation. In general, assuming and it is
no great stretch that the author meant to express some
thing, whether right or wrong, I have endeavoured to
ascertain what that something was and to convey it to
the English reader. In doing so I have had no scruple
in using more words than Latin, or in making explicit
what I conceived to be implicit, or in varying the render
ing of the same term to suit the context and idiom.
Ambiguity has, as far as possible, been avoided and even
removed. At the same time the author has been followed
as closely and faithfully as may be. Where he repeats
a term purposely, as he frequently does, the repetition is


retained, though a variant might have sounded more
euphonious. Probably, in some cases it may be in a
good many the meaning has been misconceived; certainly,
there will be difference of opinion in regard to readings
adopted for translation, where one had to be taken and
two or more almost equally good had to be left out.
Ruhkopf was the text chiefly used ; in addition Koeler
and the Variorum Edition of Bouillet were constantly kt
hand, and I have been much indebted to all three in
questions of interpretation. Nisard s French Translation
has also been of some service, indirectly by suggestion
perhaps rather than directly ; in a few passages the
translation is from a different text from that printed on
the same page. The old Tauchnitz text has been habitu
ally consulted, while Gercke s text has been carefully
collated throughout. The latter does not mention Ruhkopf
at all in his Bibliography surely an involuntary omission.
There is a useful Bibliography also in Bouillet, but the
date of his Edition is as far back as 1830. To my
regret I have not been able to procure Lagrange s famous
French Translation, and the same remark applies to several
German works of repute. Lodge s Translation (1614) was
not of any service for my purpose.


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