Pliny the Elder, Natural History

LCL 419: 158-159

Pliny: Natural History

arte naturam1 faciente, succurrit mirari nihil paene non igni perfici. accipit harenas, ex quibus aliubi vitrum, aliubi argentum, aliubi minium, aliubi plumbi genera, aliubi pigmenta, aliubi medicamenta fundit. igni lapides in aes solvuntur, igni ferrum gignitur ac domatur, igni aurum perficitur, 201igni cremato lapide caementa in tectis ligantur. alia saepius uri prodest, eademque materia aliud gignit primis ignibus, aliud secundis, aliud tertiis, quando ipse carbo vires habere incipit restinctus atque interisse creditus maioris fit virtutis. inmensa, inproba rerum naturae portio et in qua dubium sit, plura absumat an pariat.

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LXIX. Est et ipsis ignibus medica vis. pestilentiae quae obscuratione solis contrahitur, ignes si fiant, multifariam2 auxiliari certum est. Empedocles et Hippocrates id demonstravere diversis locis. ad convolsa interiora viscera aut contusa, M. Varro—ipsis 203enim verbis eius utar—pyxis sit, inquit, focus. inde enim cinis lixivus potus medetur. licet videre gladiatores, cum deluserunt, hac iuvari potione. quin et carbunculum, genus morbi quo duos consulares nuper absumptos indicavimus, querneus

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Book XXXVI

that depends upon Man’s talent for making Art reproduce Nature, we cannot help marvelling that there is almost nothing that is not brought to a finished state by means of fire. Fire takes this or that sand, and melts it, according to the locality, into glass, silver, cinnabar,a lead of one kind or another,b pigments or drugs. It is fire that smelts ore into copper, fire that produces iron and also tempers it, fire that purifies gold, fire that burns the stonec which causes the blocks in buildings to cohere. There are other substances that may be profitably burnt several times; and the same substance can produce something different after a first, a second or a third firing. Even charcoal itself begins to acquire its special property only after it has been fired and quenched: when we presume it to be dead it is growing in vitality. Fire is a vast, unruly element, and one which causes us to doubt whether it is more a destructive or a creative force.

LXIX. Fire even by itself has a curative power. It is well established that epidemics caused by an eclipse of the sun are alleviated in many ways by the lighting of bonfires. Empedocles and Hippocrates have proved this in various passages of their writings. ‘For abdominal cramp or bruises,’ states Marcus Varro, and I quote his very words, ‘your hearth should be your medicine chest. Drink lyed made from its ashes, and you will be cured. One can see how gladiators after a combat are helped by drinking this.’ Moreover, anthrax, a disease which, as I haveXXVI. 5. mentioned, lately carried off two ex-consuls, may

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DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.pliny_elder-natural_history.1938