any of all the things that perish, nor any cessation for them of baneful death. They are only a mingling and interchange of what has been mingled. Substance is but a name given to these things by men. R. P. 165.
But they (hold?) that when Light and Air (chance?) to have been mingled in the fashion of a man, or in the fashion of the race of wild beasts or of plants or birds, that that is to be born, and when these things have been separated once more, they call it (wrongly?) woeful death. I follow the custom and call it so myself.
- I understand this fragment to deal with the "elements," of which φῶς and αἰθήρ (Fire and Air) are taken as examples. These are not subject to birth and death, like the θνητά of fr. 8, and the application of the terms to them is as much a matter of convention as the application of the term φύσις to the perishable combinations which are subject to birth and death. The text is corrupt in Plutarch, and has two or three lacunae, but the usual reconstructions depart too far from the tradition. I suggest the following, which has at least the merit of not requiring the alteration of a single letter:
οἱ δ' ὅτε μὲν κατὰ φῶτα μιγὲν φῶς αἰθέρι <κύρσῃ>,
ἢ κατὰ θηρῶν ἀγροτέρων γένος ἢ κατὰ θάμνων
ἠὲ κατ' οἰωνῶν, τότε μὲν τὸ ν<έμουσι> γενέσθαι·
εὖτε δ' ἀποκρινθῶσι, τάδ' αὖ δυσδαίμονα πότμον
ᾗ θέμις <οὐ> καλέουσι, νόμῳ δ' ἐπίφημι καὶ αὐτός.
I understand τάδε in the fourth verse as referring to the "elements" (e.g. Fire and Air), which cannot properly be said to be born or to die as their combinations do. I take it that Fire and Air are specially mentioned because the life of animate creatures depends on them. The earth and water would never of themselves produce a living being.
the four elements (cf. fr. 35, 11), and the point is that they are constantly coming into being and passing away. It is, therefore, impossible, as pointed out by Prof. Lovejoy (Philosophical Review, xviii. 371 sqq.), to take θανάτοιο τελευτή as equivalent to θάνατος here, and it may equally well mean "end of death." Now Aristotle, in a passage where he is carefully distinguishing the various senses of φύσις (Met. Δ, 4. 1015 a 1), quotes this very verse as an illustration of the meaning ἡ τῶν ὄντων οὐσία (see further in the Appendix). I understand the words ἐπὶ τοῖσδ' as equivalent to ἐπὶ τοῖς θνητοῖς, and I take the meaning of the fragment to be that temporary compounds or combinations like flesh, bone, etc., have no φύσις of their own. Only the four "immortal" elements have a φύσις which does not pass away. This interpretation is confirmed by the way Diogenes of Apollonia speaks in denying the ultimate reality of the "elements." He says (fr. 2) εἰ τούτων τι ἦν ἕτερον τοῦ ἑτέρου, ἕτερον ὂν τῇ ἰδίᾳ φύσει, i.e. he says the elements are θνητά.