“Nought that has once existed dies,
Though often what has been combined
Before, we separated find,
Invested with another form.”
(145) For it is the greatest folly imaginable to estimate the antiquity of the human race from the state of art; for if any one were to follow the absurdity of such a system of reasoning as this, he will prove the world to be very young indeed, and to have been made scarcely a thousand years, since all those men whom we have heard of traditionally as the discoverers in different branches of science do not to back to a greater number of years than that which I have mentioned. (146) But if we must speak of the arts as coeval with the race of mankind, then we must speak, drawing our arguments from natural history, and not inconsiderately or carelessly. And what is this history? The destruction of the things on the earth, not all together, but of the greatest number of them, is attributed to two principal causes, the indescribable violence and power of fire and water. And they say that each of these elements attacks them in its turn, after very long periods of revolving years. (147) When, therefore, a conflagration seizes upon things, a stream of ethereal fire being poured down from above is frequently diffused over them, overrunning many districts of the habitable world; and when a deluge draws down the whole of the rainy nature of water, the regular rivers and torrents overflowing, and not only that, but even far exceeding the ordinary measure of a common flood, and breaking down their banks with their violence, or else overleaping them, and rising to an enormous height, from which they swell and are diffused over all the adjacent champaign country, and the land is in the first instance divided into huge lakes, as the water is continually settling down into the more hollow parts, and afterwards flows still higher, and inundates the isthmuses which separate the lakes, till at last everything presents the appearing of one vast sea from the union of so many waters. (148) And then it happens that, through the violence of these powers contending against one another in turn, the inhabitants of the places exposed to it are destroyed; those who dwell on the mountains and higher ground, and in ill-watered districts, being destroyed by fire, as not having a sufficiency of water, which is the natural weapon with which to repel fire, and those, on the other hand, being destroyed by water who live on the banks of rivers or lakes, or on the shores of the sea, for evils like to attack those who are nearest first, or indeed solely. (149) Accordingly, when the greater part of mankind is destroyed in the manners above mentioned, besides an infinity of other ways of less power and importance, it follows of necessity that the arts also must fail, for it cannot be possible to discuss science by itself without some one to reduce it to method and practice. But when those common pestilences relax their fury, and when the human race begins again to recover vigour and to flourish, descending from those who have not been previously destroyed by the evils which pressed upon them, then the arts also begin again to exist, not indeed as they were at fist, but in thinner numbers from the diminution of the numbers of those who practise them. (150) I have now then set forth to the best of my ability what I have been able to learn or to understand concerning the indestructibility of the world, and in the subsequent treatises I shall proceed to show what may be said against each of the arguments here stated.