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Epicurus on Void, Matter and Genesis: Some Historical Observations Author(s): Friedrich Solmsen Reviewed work(s): Source: Phronesis,

Vol. 22, No. 3 (1977), pp. 263-281 Published by: BRILL Stable URL: . Accessed: 22/09/2012 20:38
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andgenesis onvoid,matter Epicurus

Some historicalobservations

Forty years ago a new historicalperspectivewas introducedinto

the study of Epicurus and his philosophy. In 1936 Ettore Bignone in his massive two volumes L'Aristoteleperduto e la formazione filoso/ica di Epicurol directed attention to Aristotle's exoteric writings. As these works had been restored to life in the preceding decade and were thought to have been far more accessible than the treatises, it was natural to look to them as sources of inspiration. However in the same year Iolfgang Schmid,2 while studying remains of flepl yu=Xa and concentrating on passages critical of the Timaeus and its mathematical construction of elements, discovered in this criticism arguments borrowed from De generationeet corruptione.Today few scholars would question Epicurus' acquaintance with Aristotle's treatises - to think of them as unknown outside the Lyceum looks in retrospect rather unrealistic. Anyone inquiring into the origins and formative influences of Epicurus' system will be concerned about the proper balance between the Abderite and the Aristotelian (or Peripatetic) components of this system; within the latter the additional necessity of distinguishing between "exoteric" and "esoteric" sources remains - in principle at least - even if the treatises have progressively moved to the fore.3For the sake of completeness it should be observed that Plato too is given increased consideration; and in his case again not only the dialogues (of which the Philebus is the favorite) but his esoteric teachings are also scrutinized for clues to the origin of Epicurus' tenets.4 Although researchhas been lively in these areas, a number of philo1

Florence, 1936. a Epikurs Kritik der platon. Elementenlehre (Leipzig, 1936) 16 ff. a Particularly important are articles by C. Diano in Giornale critico di filosofia ital. esp. 21-22 (194041). See also David Furley, Two Studies in the Greek Atomists (Princeton, 1967) 115 ff., 194 ff. Fuller information is found in J. M. Rist, EPicurus. An Introduction (Cambridge, 1972) which includes a "Bibliography." "For the Philebus see Diano, SIFC 12 (1935) 61 ff., 237 ff.; Rist 107; for esoterica (of Plato and his successors) H. J. Kramer, Platonismus und Hellenistische Philosophie (Berlin, 1971), 171 ff., 199 ff., 288 ff.


sophical topics and among them central ones like those named in our title have so far been by-passed. le may not be able to achieve complete clarity on every aspect of their origin, but hope that the suggestions offered here point in the right direction. It seems convenient to begin with the "void." J. M. Rist in his recent Epicurus presents a fair and conscientious account of the present status quaestionis: "Earlier atomists had run into logical puzzles by calling the void non-being (oiux6v or tu 6v), thus bringing down on themselves the wrath of Aristotle, who remarks in the Physics that some people gave in to the Eleatic arguments and said that non-being (r6 u d6v) exists. To escape this objection, which he would have regarded as merely semantic, Epicurus avoids the term non-being and speaks of void as though it were a substance" but a "substance of a very peculiar kind ... an untouchable substance (&vacpJc ouato)." Rist next refers to terminological problems. "Space" (X6'po)when used for the void suggests "empty spaces between atoms and groups of atoms," whereas "place" (r'6oq) indicates a concern with "the area occupied" by atoms or their clusters.5Actually matters are more complex. "Places" are not always filled, and, to quote Rist once more: "some 'places' contain atoms and others void!" There is much in this account that I accept as factually correct;6 my reservations and my disagreement relate to the explanations. Aristotle when alluding to the Abderites in Physics I 3, 187 a lf. suggests they posited a pm 6v because Parmenidean being was "one" (... rv'a gv, t8 6v tv oa-%tavet), leaving no room for a plurality of things. As we know and as Aristotle knew, other thinkers of the generation following Parmenides recognized a plurality of physical
objects - and indeed of principles - without admitting the void as

,% 6v or by any other name. The reason why the Abderites took this step is stated by Aristotle more precisely in de gen. et corr. I 8, 325 a 23 ff. Here too it is in reaction against Parmenidesthat they developed their tenets. Leucippus, we read (a 26 ff.), agreed with those building up the One: Wgoux iv xCvwmvOSaxv &vcuxevo5, '6 rs xcv'ov [0] U xcl roVO cit. (n. 3) 56. Bailey (The Greek A tomists and Epicurus, Oxford, 1928, Op. 293 ff. and elsewhere) discusses "space" instead of "void," which causes distortions. de la nature. Commentaire 6 Robin goes farther in the right direction (Lucr&ce ex6g6tiqueet critique par Alfred Ernout et L6on Robin, Paris, Bud6 I, 1925) ad I 329-397 where he refers to Aristotle, Phys. IV 6 and 9 as helping Epicurus to "pr6ciser et compl6ter" the Abderite account of the void.


6vtoq o6&6v ,uJ 6v qpatv eIvaL. From Melissus we learn7 how closely movement, void and non-being are linked to one another and how natural it was for anyone working in the shadow of Parmenides to treat the void as ,u 6v. When we now turn to Aristotle's own system, we find that he has his own version of the v ov as well as his own way of restoring it to philosophical validity; in Physics 1 7 f., where he even vindicates genesis from non-being, he thinks of non-being chiefly as privation (aetp-aLq) but is also preparedto identify it with potential being as distinct from and opposed to actual being.8 With genesis back in honors and Being itself no longer monolithic but a plurality, multiform and hierarchically articulated,9 Parmenides was not as formidable an authority as he had been for Leucippus and Democritus. Aristotle criticizes Abderite non-being in Physics I 7 but his perfunctory strictures there are less significant for our purpose than the close examination of the void in Physics IV (6-9) which results in a rejection of it as &X1 xevov216 a 26 f.), a product of fallacious reasoning and a potential source of confusion. Still, to expose the fallacies in question, Aristotle has first of all to clarify the nature of the void. What kind of thing would it be if it were real? He provides a definition which to his own mind only points up the error of positing such a concept - yet someone operating on a different set of first assumptions might find the definition more positively useful. Aristotle's examination of the void forms the sequel to his disquisition about the reality and peculiar nature of "place" (TO6ioq, Phys. IV 1-5); for the void too, if it has any meaning at all, must for Aristotle be some kind of place; his entire discussion of the concept rests on this view.10A prior condition for his study of both place and from the far was the demotion of ?67roo void in purely physical termns
7 30 B 7.7 D-K. In Parmenides I would not find the void lurking behind the

%aaov (B 8. 34, 45, 48). ,u' 6v or, later in his argument, behind XeLp6&vpov, Pac6&repov, 8 It would be more accurate to speak of the substratum in the state of privation; see I 7 pass.; 8, 191 a 34 ff. (cf. b 9 ff.); 9,192 a 3 ff. For potentiality see 8,191 b 27-35 (with Simplicius' and modern commentaries). * Another articulation is according to categories. These are played off against Parmenides at Phys. I 2,185 a 20 ff. For noaoXx X6yecxLtb 6v see esp. Metaph. r 2 and pass. See Heinz Happ, Hyle (Berlin-New York, 1971), esp. Ch. IV for a very substantial account; on the categories see pp. 327 ff. with references to H. J. Kramer and others. 10 See his observation in a passage as early as 208 b 25 (where 'place' is still the subject): ot r6 xev6v 9&pxovfe elvcaLr6nov X&youaLv...; see further 213 a 15; b 31; 214 a 16 f. al.


nobler - ontological may be the word - position assigned to it in the

cooperates with the Forms to bring Timaeus, where "space" (y;Cop) about genesis, while "place"is necessary for the subsistence of physical objects (whose being in a place sets them apart from the Forms)."1 Correspondingly"place" could help Epicurus in his definition of the void only after the latter had lost its ontological status and was no
longer - or no longer of interest as - p.i 6v.

We have still to prove our suggestion that Aristotle's conception of the void as a kind of place was accepted by Epicurus. Aristotle himself names Plato as the only one who inquired into the nature (the 'T{ FocL) of "place,"12 and we see how much fuller and how circumspect his own investigation of it is. Thus if the similarities between him and Epicurus are close enough we need not hesitate to draw our conclusion. For Aristotle "void" is a place which happens not to be occupied by a body but could be occupied by one (in which event it would no longer
be void but only place): olov yocp-67ov

'rtv& xal O&yy?tov r6 xev6v XC8i 7CXvpCq ,Li ClVLX,6'aV 9X'n'6v 6yxoV o06 8OXCL 8Cx'rLx6v Earmv, 6'av 8i a'=epv$jj, xev6v, cl S'o cc&r6 ,?'v 6v xMvOv [x0Ct 6v. (213 a 15-19). Difi0Xipec]18 xol '6nov, 'r 8'CtVOL ot6roZ4 ov ro 8! ' xcv6v tr67roq ferently expressed, 8oxz-L elvaL iv tq86v ZCaLV (213



b 32). The xzv6vmust be devoid of any "corporealsubstance," oi6a[


being in the context of this argument characterized as


For Epicurus' new use of '6rtogwe cannot rest our case on a conjecture - dubious and by now out of favor - in the well known passage &aL <a4O'[LM'a of ad Herodotum(37) 'r67rxv xaalT6to0>,15 nor can we base
Tim. 49 a-52 c (for 'r67oqsee 52 a). Theophr., Metaph. 6a 23-b 5, a report on Plato's esoteric doctrines, complicates, but does not invalidate our opinion. Cf. Happ, op. cit., 111 and nn. Aristotle's interest in xxpa is slight. We note a few references in the chapters on "place": 208 b 7; 209 a 8; b 12 ff. (Plato's view). Cf. my Aristotle's System o/ the Physical World (Ithaca, New York, 1961) 118 ff., esp. 127 ff., 131. 12 209 b 16 f., where by contrast XiyouaL ... 7r&v'Vcc rt6v s7r6ov. This tvlv 'n means that references to "place" are frequent (cf. Parm. B 8.41), its existence being taken for granted. Is seclusi. 14 Cf. 214 a 16 f. and for the &cq (&tnr6v) motif 213 b 34 f., 214 a 5 f., 6 f., 8-11. For o6atocacjmdrLx see ibid. 12. - I need not deal with Aristotle's comments on the alleged necessity of the void for movement and for contraction and expansion. I' This is Usener's restoration; Bailey adopted it, but Giussani's alternative has carried the day. proposal <ac'Omaxodxcv6v>


it on a doxographer'stestimony: 'E7rdxoupoc OV60MMaL 7t0pOc rTTLV XeV6& ?6lov x?pcx(Stob., Ecl. I 13.4 p. 318. 1, Diels Doxogr.), but when Plutarch quotes Epicurus as declaring * scov6vmrcav &a'L xaot cp saRMOcLsCk 'r6noq(adv.Col. 1112 E = frg. 13 Bailey), we may accept this without suspicion (even though such use of TU'Mqand 6vrt in another thinker would give us pause).""Fuller information is provided by Lucretius. In his first reference to the void: quapropterlocus est intactus inane vacansque (I 334) he supports its existence by arguments relating to movement and to difference of weight and texture. There is nothing here (vv. 335-397) - at least no essential thought - that could not go back to the original proponents of atomism." Somewhat different in import are two passages of which it will suffice to present one; tumporro locus ac spatiumquodinane vocamus si nulum forethaudusquamsita corporapossentesse (neque.. .rmeare).I8 The words sita esse specify the function of locus. Void is found not only between bodies but is also occupied by them, in which case Aristotle would refer to it as "filled". Epicurus may not go so far with him; he may indeed think of bodies not so much as "filling" but as being in the void. Without it oux &v elxc -oc
acoaocT 67oU ~v ou
&L 0 oi &v-CLro c ...

he says in a passage(adHerod. 40)

where the word 'r67oqis not even used but Xc'opca and avoccpa cp'M appear as alternative designations of xev6v.Turning from him again to his faithful disciple we take note of a passage where the basic difference between body and void is defined in a manner which will presently engage us and where the void itself is said to praeberelocum (I 444) and by its nature to make possible in eo res esse gerique'l (442).
Jackson Hershbell draws my attention to adv. Col. 1114 a, where reality once more = sa6umarm xocl xcv6v. The doxographer knows that Epicurus varied his expressions. 17 About the polemical section (vv. 337-397) I ought perhaps to be less positive. Democritus may have had to oppose the notion of "circular thrust" (cf. Guthrie HGP II 147 n., where he speaks of this notion as present "in the mind" of Empedocles). 18 I 426 f. Note also vv. 419 ff., omnis ut est igitur per se natura duabus constitit in rebus; nam corpora sunt et inane,/ haec in quo sita sunt et qua diversa moventur (the first two lines are strikingly like Plutarch's quotation of Epicurus' own words). Cf. C. Giussani, T. Lucreti Cari De rer. nat. libri sex. vol. 1 (Torino 1896),
21 ff., 129 ff., 187 f. " I regard geri = LvelcOmL. To credit Democritus with the equation of void

and place is an error caused by Aristotle's habit of reading his own theories into earlier thinkers. Phys. 208 b 25 ff. is a clear case of "interpretation," which should fortify us for 213 a 15 ff., 214 b 23 f. Simplicius is no independent witness. At in de caelo 295.3 (A 37 D-K) on which Guthrie (II 391 n. 3) relies, he quotes Aristotle.


We may as well give Epicurus credit for some originality. Instead of accepting Aristotle's definition of r6to4 as a body's outer boundaries, he thinks of place primarilyas the iv 4 of bodies. If there were no place, haut unquam sita corporapossent esse (I 426 ff.). Despite Aristotle's protests, place is for Epicurus an irreducible reality.20We notice a difference between place (s'to', locus) and space (Xxpa, spatium) in Epicurus but it is not easy to decide how strictly and consistently he observed it. Assuming, as I believe we may, that Lucretiushas faithwould, besides partaking fully preservedthe nuances of meaning, Xc'par of the ev 4, represent the intervals between bodies as well as the infinite expanse of the universe.21In thus using the word Epicurus again appears as innovator,22and even if such new departures entail no substantive change in the atomist system, they may make us wonder whether for the conception of the void as place Epicurus really needed Aristotle's precedent. Once the barriers preventing a truly physical approach to spatial concepts had been lifted, was "place" not the obvious candidate for a new understanding of the void? So it seems, but about what was obvious and what was remote we may easily deceive ourselves, when we are judging ex eventu. I should entertain the idea of parallel developments more readily if this equation were the first instance in which Epicurus was found to share a doctrine with Aristotle. But the area of agreement or closeness is by now considerable; thoughts for which the influence of Aristotle We ourselves has been proved or rendered probable are numerous.23 when examining the atoms, partners of the void in constituting "the all," shall find them invested with a new status and character traceable to Aristotle's physical scheme. Moreoverone further designation that Epicurus applies to the void strengthens the case for Aristotle. reminds us of his emphasis in Physics IV 7 on the "tanouacrLc xvaxpjc, gible" quality of bodies. We speak of the void, says Aristotle, as
'20Wolfgang Raible, Aristoteles und der Raum (Diss., Kiel 1965) 61 defines Aristotle's objective correctly: "dem r6noq die Selbstandigkeit abzusprechen" (scil. which others were ready to grant). 21 E.g. I 969 omne quod est spatium; 984 spatium summai totius omne (cf. also II 92). The difference between the two concepts may be illustrated by I 521 ff.: nisi corpora certa essent quae loca complerent quaecumque tenerent, omne quod est spatium vacuum constaret inane. Cf. for "space" in Epicurus Bailey, Atomists, 293 ff. (see above n. 5) and Rist 56. 22 For Aristotle see above n. 11. The xpcx of the Timaeus (49 a ff.). "nurse and receptacle of all genesis" is an utterly different conception. 23 See above p. 263 and the studies referred to in n. 3.


"not filled by a body perceptible to touch." (214 a 6 f.) If bodies are tangible, the void is intangible - but on that account no less real24 (just as for the Abderites non-being was real). If we insist on finding the opposition documented we need only turn to passages in Lucretius such as I 451 ff.: coniunctum est ... (454) tactus corporibuscunctis, intactusinani.25 Astonishingly little attention has been given to Lucretius' use of the words materiesand materiato denote the atoms. On I 58, the passage in which materiesand a number of other technical expressions, are "introduced" in due form, Bailey comments: "Gk. U`Xrn, matter in the of innumerable atoms."26 collective sense, which exists in the formn It did not occur to him to wonder about Lucretius' familiarity with this Aristotelian concept. For it is a fact - often ignored but no less a fact and an important one - that Aristotle is the first thinker who uses UX- as a technical term." By applying it widely in his own work he demonstrated its usefulness. The terminological invention proved eminently successful. We know that the Stoics took to it.28 May we say the same of Epicurus? In three passages of 7repl q'aslco where the word i()< has been read, the text is unfortunately in such condition that nothing can be inferred about the meaning.29In ad Pythoclem 'U(I appears twice (93; 112). In both instances it refers to the nourishment of the stars.30 We would render it by "food" rather than by "matter" and are not surprised to find cibus in Lucr. V 524 where the topic discussed is
24 Note o'uacx,a word pointing toward Plato and Aristotle. Plato uses &.voap oLa(x to describe the Forms (Phaedr. 247 c 7); the coincidence is surely accidental. 25 Cf. also I 434-39 and note I 304: tangere enim et tangi nisi corpus nulla potest res. 26 Bailey, Titi Lucreti Cari de rerum natura (Oxford, 1947) Vol. II ad loc; see also Ernout and Robin (see n. 6) ad I 55 sqq. 27 "first in Aristotle" LSJ s.v. (2). Cf. "Aristotle's word for matter" in Didascaliae, Studies in honor of Anselm A lbareda (Rome, 1961) 393 if. = Kleine Schri/ten (Hildesheim, 1968) I 407 if. Happ in his incredibly learned and comprehensive Hyle (see n. 9) distinguishes between the "Materieprinzip" of the Academy and the new word U'kq, with which he deals pp. 273 ff. 28 See SVF IV s.v., where it may also be seen that Roman authors (Cicero, Seneca, al.) as a rule used materia to render the term. silva, the only competitor, falls considerably behind. 29 Except that physical or psychological matters are treated; cf. Graziano Arrighetti's comments in his edition Epicuro Opere (Torino, 21973) 638; the passages are ibid. 35. 8, 6; 11, 17; 12, 18. 'I A recurrent motif of Hellenistic physics; cf. SVF. II 658-66 f., 690.


close to ad Pyth. 93. Food is certainly some kind of matter - scil. matter conducive to the formation and sustenance of a body; and as no Greek author before Aristotle is known or likely to refer to food as "timber," while Aristotle himself in his zoology describes food as 0 5Xvg (e.g. de part. an. II 4, 651 a 14 f.: yap ?pomp {A),21 Epicurus' familiarity with the Aristotelian term may be regarded as certain. The question that remains - if question it may be called - would be whether a use of the word U7Tfor food creates a presumptionfor its use also in the sense of materies.32 Everything consideredthe likelihood is great. The only conceivable altemative would be the introduction of the term by a later generation of Epicureans. We have learned to credit them with some initiative, but so significant a departurewould be unparalleled." For what is involved is far more than a terminological innovation. To conceive of the atoms as "matter" means to abandon an essential part of the Abderite legacy, a departure and a sacrifice that could appear worthwhile because it brought the system into line with up-to-date conceptions of physical objects and processes. For Leucippus and Democritus the atoms were 6vra and as such the opposite and correlate of non-being, the void. They are descendants of Parmenides' majestic 16vand heirs to some of its predicates. More precisely, they have, like other heirs of Parmenides jettisoned a part of their legacy and held on to another. The attributes of being that are preservedby the atomists include: 1. the most essential of all, eternal (&y v-ov and &w?Ac4}pov, Parm. B 8. 3); 2. homogeneous (cf. Parm. B 8. 44-49); m 3. one in the sense of continuity (syneches), which in turn indivislble;
*1 The specific subject is the blood, "final nourishment" since all that we con-

sume is transformed into it; see further de part. an. II 3, 650 a 3 ff. (note a 34 ff.) and de gen. an. II 6 (e.g. 743 a 8 ff.) - For the analogy of food and matter in an Epicurean text see Lucr. I 103841. s When reading the Epicurean polemic against Heracitus' fire as materies rerum and against similar errors of others (Lucr. I 635-920), we recall Aristotle's treatment of Presocratic "principles" as &v5)-q teLSC, Metaph. I 3, 983 b 6 ff. See for Heracitus 984 a 7, for the atomists 985 b 4-10. Epicurus derived information about Presocratic doctrines from Theophrastus'


(see Erich Reitzenstein, Theophrast bei Epicur und Lucrez, Heidelberg, 1924), a work for which Aristotle's interpretations were by and large canonical (John B. McDiarmid, HSCP61 (1953) 93 ff.). "s Cf. Phillip H. DeLacy TAPA 79 (1948) 14 ff.


4. Cxvvjtov (ibid. 26; 38) in its qualitative meaning; 5. encompassed by unchanging boundaries (ibid. 26, 43), which to be sure need no longer be and as a rule are not spherical; 6. whole (o?Xov,B 8.4); 7. quality-less; see below p. 272 (In Parmenides the qualities or in the "powers": dark, bright, etc. attach to the two ,uoppocE realm of "opinion," ibid. 53 ff.) Attributes that have been abandoned include: 1. singleness (LouvoyrVw B 8.4); 2. Cxvjrov in the sense of locomotion; 3. x=W' &aur6 (B 8.29); for atoms combine; 4. although this can hardly be considered an "attribute," we should recordhere that existence without a pi 6v as partner has also ceased.34 Very few of the predicates here set forth are applicable to hyle; for some it even seems pointless to consider whether they could be applied to it. The reason is that while Empedocles' elements, Anaxthe atoms in the Abderite systems, the Platonic agoras' homoiomere, Forms and even Aristotle's entelechejaare all of them "real" (6vTo) and have their place in the tradition of Parmenides' Being,35 this would not be true of hyle. Instead of engagingin a lengthy disquisition I xmW' quote Metaphysics Z (3): yco 8& ai)hsv '-r trq'-re noa6v 5kjv % Cus o sujai Xkessrct (b Tz6 6V ...' ol; pLCUOL la pv y'p WmTcq O1,aECXc 20 8i rpe'roct, ocrn (1029 a f., 23 f.). As we are dealingwith a xm'-qyo v)-1; familiar subject we need not dwell on potentiality, formlessnessor the "indefinite"as the fatal defects that keep hyle from its place in the Sun. It is a relief that we may dispense with these explications; for if we embarked on them, it would become necessary to explain how qualitative indefiniteness, once - most notably in Anaximander's apeiron and in Empedocles' sphairos - associated with a condition of absolute
34 For the admission of >* 6v cf. Guthrie HGP II 390 f., for predicates of Par-

menides &6v applying to the atom ibid. 392. I am aware that the listing of some items needs justification but the purpose of this paper would not be affected by disagreements on one or the other. To save space I have also disregarded differences between Democritus and Leucippus. 31 Where several levels of reality are set up, the predicates of Parmenides' &6v attach to the highest. See for the Platonic Forms AJP 92 (1971) 62 ff., for the Platonic Cosmos (Tim. 33 b ff.) Cornford, Plato's Cosmology 54. The Parmenidean motifs in the doctrine of soul in the Phaedo (78 c f., 80 a f.) and in Aristotle's Prime Mover and Cosmos have not yet been investigated. The history of "Parmenides' legacy" remains to be written. Cf. Guthrie, HGP II 38 f., 47 f.


perfection, has sunk so low.36What interests us is the appearance of this humble entity hyle among the titles carried by a scion of Parmenides' noble lineage. Before we attempt an explanation we must consider how much or how little the Epicurean atoms and Aristotle's hyle have in common. They are comparable in two respects. Both are the s' ouiof whatever comes into being, and both are quality-less, apoia. The atoms, we read in Lucretius (I 545 ff.), into which physical things break up, must be eternal, materiesut suppeditetrebusreparandis.Again, materies est multa parata (for the formation of Cosmoi other than ours, II 1067), and in/inita . nisi erit vis materiai unde ea - a specific entity, but the thought has a larger bearing - progigni posset concepta, creari non poterit neque, quod superest,procrescere alique (II 544 ff.).37 To adduce evidence for an idea so basic to the Epicurean system may well be superfluous. For the apoion, which constitutes our second link between atoms and hyle we think it sufficient to quote Lucr. II 737: nullus enim colorest omninomateriai corportbus and to recall that after the absence of color has been proved by a battery of arguments a shorter section assures us that other qualities such as temperature, sound, taste, etc. must likewise of necessity be absent (II 842 ff.).38 As we have had occasion to mention, the quality-less condition of both derives from Parmenides'?6v and may even be traced to Anaximander's Infinite. Against such agreementswe must set the equally or more important differences. Every atom has its shape.39While not in need of a special "form principle" to achieve reality, the atoms also dispense with an outside mover, since to be in movement is their natural condition.40
36 The decisive step was taken when Plato, faithful lover of "form," dwelt on the shortcomings of the amorphous "mother and nurse of all Becoming" (Tim. 49 e ff., 50 a f.). ou8'v 1v8nXov (50 e 9) furnishes a historical link with Anaxagoras' original condition of things (59 B 1; 3, II 34. 17 D-K) and beyond him with Empedocles (31 B 27) and ultimately with Anaximander whose apeiron most probably was also qualitatively indefinite; cf. Hermann Frankel, Dichtung und Philosophie 341 ff.; Wege und Formen 189 ff. and other work listed by Michael Kaplan, GRBSt 16 (1975) 127 n. 13. ad Her. 54 f. with Bailey's a7 Cf. also I 684-89 and Epicurus' own statement commentary ad loc.; also his A tomists 290 ff., 304. See further the interpolation ("scholion") in ad Her. 44 whose content is above suspicion. 38 Cf. ad Her. 54 f. 39 ad Her. 42; Lucr. II 333-521. do ad Her. 61; Lucr. I 62 ff.


Their movements in turn produce combinations with other atoms and cause the formation of more complex entities, including entire Cosmoi. Aristotle's hyle has no such capacities. In fact the possession of movement and creativity sponte sua distinguishes the atoms also from the four "roots" of Empedocles, which, if not devoid of initiative, yet of obey the bidding of Love and Strife, and from the homoeomertat Anaxagoras. From this point of view, to designate them as maternes and treat them as such is to do them gross injustice. Did Epicurus really not know better? He did. For if his use of hyle as a term for the atoms is the result of inference - a very probable inference, we trust - his referenceto them as apyo. is certain: ss pXaC, eTvaLaamtv 0v66ouc&vcxyzxcZov (ad Her. 41). And when Lucretiusin the proem of his work gives Memmius his first taste of the obscurarepertato be expounded, his promise is:
rerum primordia pandam ... quae nos materiem et genitalia corpora

rebus ... vocareet semina rerumappellaresuemuset haec eademusurpare corporaprima ... (I 55-61). A motley crowd of technical terms surely, and their diversity becomes even more apparent when we consider their respective pedigrees. On materiesenough has been said; the background and the connotations of semina will be discussedlater on in this paper; primordia,as far as we can make out, does not differ in meaning from principia.41 ipxZ has just presented itself as their Greek equivalent; if we wish for more light we may find it in two particularly significant passages in Lucretius: I 592 ff. nam si primordiarerum/commutari aliqua possent ratione revicta/incertum quoqueiam constet quidpossit oriri,/quidnequeat... and I 545 f.: esse immortali primordia corpore debent/dissolvi quo quaequesupremo temporepossint. These passages must do duty for a larger number including I 485 f., which supplies one more characteristic of the primordia: they are solidocorpore, a motif closely linked to their eternity. Aristotle's discussion of the Presocratic &pxL under the heading of "material cause" (Metaph. A 3 ff.)42 may have encouraged Epicurus to consider the Abderite &py- as "matter" of all compound entities. For this is clearly what he did. The sequel to the affirmation of eternal primordiain vv. I 545 f. (quoted above) reads: materiesut suppeditetrebusreparandis.
"IBailey, Commentary ad I 55 considers principia = &pXodand primordia as "not exactly represent(ing) any word in Epicurus' terminology." ' See above n. 32.


Aristotle's intention was to expose the limitations of the Presocratic approach. From a historical point of view his presentation must be regarded as biased,43but Epicurus is not likely to have been aware of the bias. We have pointed out (above pp. 270ff.) what strange bedfellows a Presocratic arche with its an'stocratic aspirations and a humble creature like hyle are bound to make. If they appear side by side in Epicurus' definition of the atom, questions of status must have counted for nothing and he cannot have been as sensitive to the as the earlier atomists had been. What he meaning of Parmenides'&6v prima). does need and insist upon is aeternamateries(= aeternacorpora Yet it is a far cry from the ontological axiom of the Eleatics to the physical law regardingthe preservation of matter.," Does Epicurus' attitude to Being parallel that to non-being? So far we have encountered a disregard of ' 6v only in connection with the void and before we push on to further conclusions we must pay 6v does retain attention to a phase of Epicurean physics where the pA' its place. On coming-to-be and passing-away Epicurus' position Lx TOU [L- 6w'og (ad Her. 38)." has an orthodox look: o386vy'4ve?aOL But what are we to say of the argument which supports this axiom: &v pFatcdcv ye oi'giv 7rpoas86tcvov (ibid.)? n5&v yap ?X 7rav6v' iy&ver' Lucretius develops this thought by vivid illustrations; human beings would arise from the sea, fish be found on earth; anything could spring up anywhere; and there would be a world without certainty (incertum,I 164) and regularity (vv. 165 ff.). Is this really, we feel bound to ask, the authentic repudiation of genesis as we know it from Parmenides and Empedocles and partly know, partly assume it for Anaxagorasand the early atomists? For them genesiswas something impossible, genesis from not-being (or nothing) patently absurd and

',3See Cherniss, Aristotle's Criticism of Presocratic Philosophy, 218 ff. and pass.

One hesitates to believe that Epicurus made no distinction at all between

a-roLXctm, etc. on the other, but it is difficult to 8Xn on the one hand and &pXmt,

substantiate this belief since Lucretius, our principal witness, may not have preserved the nuances. There are passages in him, e.g. III 372, 425 ff., V 187 ff., where primordia could not easily be replaced by materies; the reason may be that individual atoms are essential to the argument. The same is true of primordia principiorum in III 262 f. Note, however, the ready change from materies to primordia in II 768 ff. (cf. 1 545 ff. quoted above p. 273). 4 For the orthodoxy cf. Robin (see n. 6) ad I 150 (it does not include divinitus, generally considered Lucretius' own addition).


inconceivable.46 We refuse to believe that to any of them genesis from nothing meant genesis of everything out of everything or that the genesis they rejected was spontaneousgenesis. In the case of Epicurus we have to believe just this. If all that he rejects is spontaneous genesis, genesis as such is quite logically no longer anathema. Indeed it is acceptable and accepted, provided it springs from semina certa, from mater (suggesting materies) certa, the appropriate genitalia corpora, from certae res which possess a secretafacultas.Y7 Moreover every genesis has its specific and definite
- again certus - time or season, needs auspicious general conditions

and requires the period for growth that is normal and natural semine certo (I 180-189). The entire section I 159-214 has regularity and organic development for its subject. Lucretius, doubtless following the master and reruminventor,specifies the limits and conditions within which genesistakes place. materiesrebusredditacertastgignundis e qua constat quid possit oriri (vv. 203 f.), and similarly materies certa is required for nourishment, increase, and growth (grandescerealique, v. 191; cf. 184; II 711 ff.). Comparedwith the later Presocratics who replaced genesis by composition or mixture and destruction by decomposition, Epicurus' attitude strikes us as remarkably original, an impression which we
may modify - but hardly abandon - when we take account of the

changed philosophical climate in which he developed his theories. Once more the influence of Plato and Aristotle is at work, yet in this instance it is better not to be too specific. For although we may quote Aristotle's definition of physis in De partibus animalium (I 1, 641 b 27 ff.): ou y&cp 8i 6on g'rxcv E&x&acrou yTvvrc cme'plav)o, Xi 6ac kx 'r6'ux6v Ax'0ouruX6v'ro ma=psua it is not -rovg, o86& Aristotle's a4tac'rog, way to think of the seed as 5A.48 Thileprincipaly the agent of motion
('6 xvrLx6v), the seed is also closer to form and purpose than to the

material principle which the female partner supplies. Ihat we should bear in mind is broader developments, notably the rehabilitation of
4" The passages are well known: 28 B 8.6-15, 19 ff.; 30 A 5.1 (= MXG 974 a 1, which looks trustworthy); 31 B 8 f., 11 f., 59 B 17. For Empedocles cf. my recent paper AGPh 57 (1975) 123 ff. On the Abderites see below. 47 Lucr. 1 167 f., 169-74, 177 and pass. On mater (I 168) some commentators refer to II 707 f. See also II 711-29. " Reference might also be made to De an. II 1. 412 b 26 f.: r6B 8m arip[?a xocl6 ' oL6v8C asux,oand to de gen. anim. I 19, 726 b 17 ff., but for XaPn6; T6 8aVuIL? the reason indicated I do not go farther.


genesis in the Timaeus and in Aristotle"9and - something no less important - the emphasis placed by both Plato and Aristotle on
of heavenly and meteorological 'aLq, in particular on the ra'OLq processes.50 The rm's in the celestial region is accepted by Epicurus

(without enthusiasm, it seems fair to say, but how could he deny it?); true to his categorical denial of divine operations, he locates the ordo certusin "seeds," i.e. atoms whose behavior follows definite patterns.5' To these major developments concerning genesis and order we may still add an increased awareness ever since Plato that definite causes have definite effects - since an attempt to substantiate this suggestion would requirea lengthy digressionI must be content to hope that such keener awareness is intrinsically probable.52
Has the same recognition of ordo (ro'CL) that enters into Epicurus'

doctrine of the heavenly phenomena inspired his affirmative and remarkablyoriginal theory of genesis? It is tempting to take this view, yet in the relevant sections of Book I we look in vain for a commitment to ordocertus.Still we must be close to this concept. We cannot ignore the similarity between passages in Book V that establish this ordo and some lines in our sections of Book I. I 174 ff. V 667 ff. (there is no reason for wonder) quod haec ignis tam certotempore praetereacur vererosam,frumenta possunt, / semina confluereet solis calore,/ vites autumnofundi suarepararenitorem./ multa videmus dente videmus, / si non certa suo enimquaecertotempore /iunt / om- quia temporesemina rerum / cum nibus in rebus. florescunttempore con/luxerunt, pate/it quodcumque certo / arbusta et certo dimittunt creatur. temporeflorem... Clearly to allow origin e nihilo must have been for Epicurus tantaSee P1., Tim. 48 b-53 c (note 52 d 2 ff.); Arist., Phys. I 6-9; de gen. et corr. I 3-5,II 4, 9 ff. 50 For Plato see Gorg. 503 a ff.; Tim. 30 a; Phileb. 30 a ff.; Legg. 809 d, 821 a ff., 897 bff.; for Aristotle de gen. et corr. II 10 (336 bll ff. etc.); metaph. A 10; de part. anim. I 1, 648 b 18 ff.; de gen. anim. IV 10 - but no number of individual passages can convey an adequate impression. "1 The most instructive passages are Lucr. V 655 ff., 732 ff. Cf. AJP 72 (1951) 16 ff. = Kleine Schrilten I 476 ff. 52 See however Phys. I 5, 188 a 31-34 and the passage just quoted from De part. an. In the Phaedo (96 a ff.) at(tx as such for the first time becomes a philosophical subject.


mount to denying all law and regularity in nature. It has been said that Epicurus "proves more than he need; all it was necessary for him to show was that every created thing was sprung from an antecedent something, was created of substance which already existed..."53 This opinion, while logically correct, ignores the historical situation and fails to grasp Epicurus' specific motivation. Genesis as such had been re-established and that genesis from something was no problem is shown by the readiness with which Lucretius avails himself of it throughout I 159-214 (as well as elsewhere). What Epicurus envisaged when he came to deal with the traditional topic of "no genesis from nothing" was the appalling condition of utter anarchy in nature. If we still - perhaps unnecessarily - hesitate to speak of ordo and on the other hand are reluctant to introduce a modern concept such as "law of nature," we may remember the passages where Lucretius invokes foederanaturae. These foedera,as we infer especially from I 584-598,r4guarantee predictability both in the phases of nature that present themselves to our senses and in those below the threshold of vision, which are the domain of atomist science. However the regularquicquam etc., I 588) which we today would ity (nec commutatutr consider a natural law presents itself to Epicurus under the rather different aspect of a finita potestas: quid possit oriri, quid nequeat (I 594 f.). We should like to know more about the underlying idea. If an approximation and (as seems probable) also a concession to Plato's and Aristotle's TOCLq,55 it is yet rather differently conceived. It is a "limit." However as we cannot even decide what if any Epicuwe must be satisfied with rean term Lucretius rendered by foedera,56 the rather general impressions gathered from a few passages in his poem. The word =ctp[m with its connotations and Epicurus' use of them for his version of genesis require no further comment. About the degree of his originality no precise statement is possible, since it is not certain
53Bailey, A tomists 276. "4 Passages where a comparable appeal to the foedera is made are II 302; V

310, 823 f. III 416 strikes me as different; and at II 254 the swerve "breaks" the foedera. " See my paper cited above n. 51. 65 Cf. the illuminating discussion of "limit" in Epicurus by Phillip DeLacy, Phoenix 23 (1969) 103 ff., esp. 109 ff. As for alte terminus haerens, while not minimizing Lucretius' poetic contributions to the image, I am inclined to regard terminus = 8poS.


whether Leucippusand Democritus spoke of their atoms as =JpI?cr.67 If they did, Epicurus' innovation would be his insistence that a "seed" is a seed of something. In making this point he would have the support of Greek usage and habits of thinking and we might say that he made his step in the direction of "organic" processes68by exploiting the connotations of a word used by his precursors.Actually the evidence for =p,ua in the technical vocabulary of (Leucippus or) Democritus is not as good as one might wish. It consists of three "doxographic" passages in Aristotle,59where Nature as conceived by the Abderites is likened to a panspermia. The choice of the word seems dictated by Aristotle's desire to give a vivid impressionof a large reservoiravailable for atoms of diverse shape; that the Abderites actually used the word Still someone ready spermafor the atoms I should hesitate to infer.ff0 spermata as a look Anaxagoras' this upon might inference to draw precedent and upon Epicurus' (presumably)fond and ready use of the same word as reflecting the habit of his principal authorities - not too bad a case, I admit, but not good enough either to compel assent. Still, it is the Vui6v from which Epicurus allows no genesis. He similarly makes a determined stand against 0stpeaoL et sv [Li 6v (ad Her. 39, 41). His atoms, he declares, prevent the "weakeningof all into 'LZ6 ,? 6v (56). And when withthings and a breakingup" of & 6Bvra holding qualities and qualitative change from the atoms, he speaks of xal' aCiXUrov the need for somethingto remainand persistas aTepe6v of but rather nor it out non-being which "makes its changes not into through regroupings, accretions and losses" (ibid. 54). In passages of this kind where the atoms succeed to the hallowed titles of &racppc,
&8L&M roc, and

(41), we seem to regain contact with the

a word " Bailey does feel sure but his comment on Lucr. I 59: "Gk. a7 p avra, which the atomists took from Anaxagoras" is unwarrantably dogmatic. I' No more than a step however, since atoms cannot grow, unfold or develop (as seeds normally would). For Epicurus genesis and growth still come about by mixture and conglomeration. Here he does not depart from the Abderite scheme, and his doctrines have nothing in common with "organic growth." I' Phys. 203 a 19 ff.; Dc caelo III 4, 303 a 10-6; De an. I 2, 404 a 1 ff. (59 A 45; 67 A 15; 69 A 88 D-K). In De caelo 303 a 15 f. I read: q oaotv a.urtv (obcrv codd.) 'I The Abderites doubtless knew that each biological species had its particular sperma but I do not see what bearing such elementary information might have on the Epicurean use of semina certa (also outside the biological sphere). I make bx&a'rou x this point because the thought: oiu y&p 6nt 'rxcv broi a7rip,uocroq yEyVrxL in Phys. 196 a 31 f. is rightly or wrongly by Simplicius and Ross (ad loc.) fathered on Democritus.
'r?v cacv otov rvac7rep[v ( &vrxdcvv 'r&vc'-OLX6(cov (cf. a 11 f.).


authentic Parmenidean tradition. Within limits this impression is correct. Still nuances should not go unnoticed. io,u&%vCLv (41, 54 twice)8' is not the same as Parmenides' .LvCLV (let alone his -tv?a) nor do Ta'&6uv' have the uniqueness of his &6v;82 standing half-way between "realities" and "things" they are adequately rendered by Bailey as "things that exist." What Epicurus wishes to keep intact is not "Being" in its original majesty and glory but something epe6v (54), hard and solid, the physical substance of the world or indeed as
Lucretius frankly admits, materies."

There can be no doubt that the basic Epicurean propositions that nothing arises from, and nothing passes into the , 6v hark back to Leucippus and Democritus.64As for them the ,ui 6v is the void, did they by these propositions exclude an origin from and a disappearance into the void? I know of no reason why this should not have been their meaning. In Epicurus the void, being no longer equated with the t 6v, has lost these connections with genesis and passing-away. As he simply pits 6vagainst t 6vhe may appearto be closer to Parmenides than Melissus, the Abderites and whatever other Presocratics had the void in mind when referring to the [i 6v; but enough has been said of the distance which separates him from the earlier thinkers." The closeness is deceptive. Epicurus' treatment of phthora shows no innovation comparable to what we have found in his dealing with genesis. There can be no passing-away into non-being because the results of a total destruction would simply cease to be, and when everything has disappeared no prospect would be left for a new formation of things (ad Her. 39). To prevent such wholesale annihilation, atoms must be posited (ibid. 41). This is Epicurus' line of reasoning, and we can reconstruct the same argument for the necessity of atoms from Lucretius if we read I 540-598 as the sequel of I 215-249, looking upon the intervening sec"1 Cf. Bailey's comments ad 54.11 (Epicurus 203).

,uouvoyevi B 8.4. In Platonic language Epicurus' 6v-rmare of the type t5v i

hctlq vWv6vrcv xamoi3cv, not 6 larLv 8v 6vrca,x (Phaedr. 247 a 1 f.). 3 See above pp. 272 ff.

u See 68 A 1.44. 65 There is, to be sure, room for altemative conclusions. If (as might be argued) in the later Presocratics the on had with its uniqueness also lost some of its original Parmenidean majesty and aloofness, Epicurus would merely continue this trend. Something could also be said for the thesis that Epicurus by the new predicates he attaches to hyle raises it considerably above the level it has in Aristotle.


tions as digressionsof explanatoryand pedagogicalintent, which drive a wedge between the premises and the conclusion. The sequence of thoughts thus recovered may well be close to the original Abderite argument for the necessity of atoms: since things cannot break up without end and finally pass into non-being, there must be frangendi finis certa (I 561 f.).66 The final passing "into nothing" is a logical howler; but was it diagnosed as such at the time? Zeno of Elea (B 1 extr.; 2) commits the same or a similar fallacy when he makes things decrease to "no size." So does Aristotle in a hypothetical reasoning which forms part of a reductioad absurdum(degen. et corr., I 2, 316 a 25 ff.).f7 However, if "dissolutioninto nothing" remains an unbearable affront to logic, we may settle for the Abderites on a less offensive argument in Lucretius (I 551-564): if by a progressivedivision, objects were to break up into smaller and ever smaller parts, everything would by now be so reduced that the origin and growth of any physical entity within a limited time would be inconceivable, not least because experience shows that construction always takes more time than destruction. I cannot offer a conclusive proof for the Abderites as authors of this argument but that Epicuruswhen he established the principle "nothing passes into non-being" remained close to his forbears not only in doctrine but also in the reasons used to support it may be illustrated by another argument.68In Epicurus we have just found the appalling reductio ad absurdum "all things would have perished." Lucretius develops some implications of this thought (I 225 ff.): if there were complete destruction, how could living beings once more come into
66 Cf. for this basic postulate Bailey, A tomists 72 ff. In more recent accounts it is overshadowed by disquisitions as to the nature of the finis, and De gen. et corr. 316 a 13 ff. is consulted with undue confidence that it is close to Democritus' own reasoning. Furley (Two Studies 83) admits in fairness that the argument is expressed in Aristotelian "terms". Where do we draw the line between terms and thoughts? If the style of reasoning is not altogether "typical" of Aristotle, the peculiar features do not necessarily make it Democritean. I share the cautious attitude of Cherniss, Aristotle's Criticism of Presocr. Philos. 113 and sympathize with the disbelief of J. Mau (Zum Problem des Infinitesimalen bei d. ant. A tomisten, Berlin, 1954) 25 f. See further Guthrie II 503 ff., also for bibliographical references. 67 Against Joachim's change of the text see Verdenius and Waszink, Aristotle on coming to be ..., (Philosophia antiqua 1, Leiden, 1946) 10 ff. I take the future tenses in this section as marking the reductio and (in most instances) suggesting the absurdity. 6b See also Robin (see n. 6) ad I 231.


existence, how could the world be replenished, nourishment be supplied, etc.? It has been noticed that this argument is in essence identical with one used by Empedocles69for his proof that nothing truly real can perish (B 17. 30-33). Empedocles may thereby have and filled a gap in the reasoning of Parmenides who makes &YeMyrov requirements of Being but in the cardinal passage of B 8 0vAxsetpov establishes only the former, not the latter predicate. Actually Em= pedocles' arguments: what could increase this all, and whence (7c&ev unde, Lucr. I 227 ff.) could it have come, scil. once everything has perished? are easily recognized as a variation of the stock arguments against genesis. This is natural enough, since when nothing is left Lucretius, as we genesis would be needed to lead from ,j 6v to 6iv.70 said, makes the same points but he is not likely to have adapted Empedocles' actual reasoning. If as Bailey suggests,7' his immediate source was Epicurus, Epicurus in turn would point back to the Abderites, who had as much interest as Empedocles, if not more, in while at the same time establishing a /inis proving the &vcArA*pov, frangendiagainst Zeno of Elea. At the beginning of this study we mentioned the need of separating Abderite and Peripatetic strands in Epicurus' thought. Not surprisingly the separation here attempted has left some undivided and indivisible substance. As a rule it is Epicurus' own new departures that mark the /inis Irangendi. Our hope is that they have become more distinctly visible.72


North Carolina

See E. Bignone, Empedocle (Torino, 1916) 408. Cf. also Bailey (see below n. 71). A straightforward assertion that a vanishing of T6 6v is inconceivable, is found elsewhere in Empedocles (B 12.2; cf. v. 1 and for &ituaroq Parm. B 8.21). 71 Commentary ad I 216 (p. 636). Nothing in ad Her. parallels Lucretius' unde... questions concerning replenishments; very probably, as Bailey suggests, they go back to a larger work of Epicurus. Conversely the argument in ad Her. 39 that there is nothing into which the all could change does not recur in Lucretius. It too has a parallel in Empedocles (B 17.33) and is likely to have occurred in Democritus. James Longrigg (Philologus 119 (1975) 147 ff.) compares Lucr. III 510-522 with Melissus B 7. The similarities are striking and cannot be accidental. That Lucretius read Melissus I consider unlikely. Here, too, I should think of Democritus and Epicurus as intermediaries but would not exclude other possibilities. 72 I am indebted to Jackson P. Hershbel for a number of critical comments.