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This kind of reasoning carries the human mind to the heavens, and by contemplating the world as it were from thence, it discloses to us the magnitude of the three greatest bodies in nature1. For the sun could not be entirely concealed from the earth, by the intervention of the moon, if the earth were greater than the moon2. And the vast size of the third body, the sun, is manifest from that of the other two, so that it is not necessary to scrutinize its size, by arguing from its visible appearance, or from any conjectures of the mind; it must be immense, because the shadows of rows of trees, extending for any number of miles, are disposed in right lines3, as if the sun were in the middle of space. Also, because, at the equinox, he is vertical to all the inhabitants of the southern districts at the same time4; also, because the shadows of all the people who live on this side of the tropic fall, at noon, towards the north, and, at sunrise, point to the west. But this could not be the case unless the sun were much greater than the earth; nor, unless it much exceeded Mount Ida in breadth, could he be seen when he rises, passing considerably beyond it to the right and to the left, especially, considering that it is separated by so great an interval5.

The eclipse of the moon affords an undoubted argument of the sun's magnitude, as it also does of the small size of the earth6. For there are shadows of three figures, and it is evident, that if the body which produces the shadow be equal to the light, then it will be thrown off in the form of a pillar, and have no termination. If the body be greater than the light, the shadow will be in the form of an inverted cone7, the bottom being the narrowest part, and being, at the same time, of an infinite length. If the body be less than the light, then we shall have the figure of a pyramid8, terminating in a point. Now of this last kind is the shadow which produces the eclipse of the moon, and this is so manifest that there can be no doubt remaining, that the earth is exceeded in magnitude by the sun, a circumstance which is indeed indicated by the silent declaration of nature herself. For why does he recede from us at the winter half of the year9? That by the darkness of the nights the earth may be refreshed, which otherwise would be burned up, as indeed it is in certain parts; so great is his size.

1 Marcus conceives that our author must here mean, not the actual, but the apparent size of these bodies; Ajasson, ii. 295; but I do not perceive that the text authorizes this interpretation.

2 I have given the simple translation of the original as it now stands in the MSS.; whether these may have been corrupted, or the author reasoned incorrectly, I do not venture to decide. The commentators have, according to their usual custom, proposed various emendations and explanations, for which I may refer to the note of Hardouin in Lemaire, ii. 252, with the judicious remarks of Alexandre, and to those of Marcus in Ajasson, ii. 295–298, who appear to me to take a correct view of the subject.

3 Alexandre remarks, "Hinc tamen potius distantia quam magnitudo Solis colligi potest." Lemaire, ii. 252. And the same remark applies to the two next positions of our author.

4 Alexandre remarks on the argument of our author, perhaps a little too severely, "Absurde dictum; nam aliis oritur, aliis occidit, dum aliis est a vertice; quod vel pueri sentiunt." Lemaire, ii. 253. But we may suppose, that Pliny, in this passage, only meant to say, that as the sun became vertical to each successive part of the equinoctial district, no shadows were formed in it.

5 The commentators have thought it necessary to discuss the question, whether, in this passage, Pliny refers to the Ida of Crete or of Asia Minor. But the discussion is unnecessary, as the statement of the author is equally inapplicable to both of them. Mela appears to refer to this opinion in the following passage, where he is describing the Ida of Asia Minor; "ipse mens...orientem solem aiter quam in aliis terris solet aspici, ostentat." lib. i. cap. 18.

6 "Ut dictum est superiore capite, quo Plinius falso contendit Terram esse Luna minorem." Alexandre in Lemaire, ii. 253. The words of the text, however, apply equally to the comparative size of the earth and the sun, as of the earth and the moon.

7 "turbo rectus;" literally an upright top.

8 "meta."

9 This has been pointed out as one of our author's erroneous opinions on astronomy. The earth is really about 1/30 nearer the sun in our winters than in our summers. The greater degree of heat produced by his rays in the latter case depends upon their falling on the surface of the earth less obliquely. This is the principal cause of the different temperatures of the equatorial and polar regions.

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