Lucretius: DIY Experiments in Atomic Motion

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 112-124

“As I remember, a remnant and a mirror of this thing
Turns always and stands before our eyes.
Only consider this, whenever the sun’s gleam
Pours its light over the shadows of a closed room:
You will see many motes mixing much in the emptiness,
Bodies swirling in the very light of the rays—
Something like an eternal conflict spawning
Battles, skirmishes, one after another without pause
Roiling on with increasing collisions and divisions.
You can predict from this what the first elements of matter
Were like as they were endlessly churning in the great emptiness.
To some extent, then, a small matter can offer a model
Of great affairs and trace out the tracks of their passing.”

Cuius, uti memoro, rei simulacrum et imago
ante oculos semper nobis versatur et instat.
contemplator enim, cum solis lumina cumque
inserti fundunt radii per opaca domorum:
multa minuta modis multis per inane videbis
corpora misceri radiorum lumine in ipso
et vel ut aeterno certamine proelia pugnas
edere turmatim certantia nec dare pausam,
conciliis et discidiis exercita crebris;
conicere ut possis ex hoc, primordia rerum
quale sit in magno iactari semper inani.

dum taxat, rerum magnarum parva potest res
exemplare dare et vestigia notitiai.

Atomic motion



“Atom: Instead of atmêton [“uncuttable”]. It signifies that a thing is [sufficient] on its own.”

῎Ατομον· ἀντὶ τοῦ ἄτμητον. σημαίνει δὲ καὶ τὸ καθ’ ἕκαστον.


“Atom: A refined thing. Objects which cannot admit [further] division.”

*ἄτομα· λεπτά. τομὴν μὴ δυνάμενα λαβεῖν

From the Suda

Atoma: “The most refined things. Things which cannot be [further] refined [lit. “cut”] because of their extreme irreducibility. The Greeks also call bodies uncuttable [atoma] or without subsection [lit, “limbless”, amerê] because they are resistant to harm or really small and are thus incapable of submitting to cutting or division. For this reason they call the most refined and smallest bodies [atoms] those which the sun shows emitting through its rays and in itself moving up and down.”

Ἄτομα: λεπτότατα. τὰ μὴ δυνάμενα διὰ τὴν ἄκραν λεπτότητα τέμνεσθαι. ὅτι ἄτομα ὠνόμασαν οἱ Ἕλληνες καὶ ἀμερῆ σώματα διὰ τὸ ἀπαθὲς ἢ σμικρὸν ἄγαν, ἅτε μὴ τομὴν ἢ διαίρεσιν δέξασθαι δυνάμενα. οὕτω δὲ καλοῦσι τὰ λεπτότατα καὶ σμικρότατα σώματα, ἃ διὰ τῶν φωταγωγῶν εἰσβαλλόμενα ὁ ἥλιος δείκνυσιν ἐν ἑαυτῷ ἄνω καὶ κάτω παλλόμενα.

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