On the Nature of Things, by Titus Lucretius Carus

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On the Nature of Things, by Titus Lucretius Carus

Postby admin » Sun Jun 21, 2015 11:17 pm

Titus Lucretius Carus, On the Nature of Things [1910]
Translator: Cyril Bailey
Author: Titus Lucretius Carus



Table of Contents:

Lucretius on the Nature of Things
Book I: Deals with the ultimate constitution of the universe, which consists of infinite atoms moving in infinite space
A.: General Principals
B.: The ‘first-bodies’ are atoms: solid, eternal and indivisible particles
C.: Refutation of rival theories
D.: The Universe is Infinite
Book II: Deals with the Motion and Forms of the Atoms, and their Combination in Things
A.: The Motion of the Atoms
B.: The Forms of the Atoms and their Effects in Combination
C.: The Atoms are without Secondary Qualities
D.: The Infinite Worlds and their Formation and Destruction
Book III: Deals with the Soul, its Nature, and its Fate
A.: Nature and Formation of the Soul
B.: Proofs of the Mortality of the Soul
C.: The folly of the Fear of Death
Book IV: Deals Mainly with the Psychology of Sensation and thought, and also with certain biological functions
A.: Existence and Nature of the ‘Idols’
B.: Sensation and Thought
C.: Some Functions of the Body
D.: Attack on the passion of Love
Book V: Deals with out World and its Formation, Astronomy, the beginnings of Life and Civilization
A.: The World Bad a beginning and is Mortal
B.: Formation of the World
C.: Astronomy
D.: The Youth of the World
E.: The Beginnings of the Civilization
Book VI: Explains from the Atomic Point of View a Variety of Occurrences, Partly Meteorological Phenomena, Partly Terrestrial Curiosities
A.: Celestial Phenomena
B.: Terrestrial Phenomena
C.: The Plague at Athens
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Re: On the Nature of Things, by Titus Lucretius Carus

Postby admin » Sun Jun 21, 2015 11:18 pm


No one can set about translating Lucretius into English without finding his head full of the great work of H. A. J. Munro. It is not only that certain striking phrases ring in one’s ears—vitai claustra, ‘the fastnesses of life,’ alte terminus haerens, ‘the deepset boundary-mark,’ &c.—but one is possessed with a strong feeling that he has finally set the tone or colour which Lucretius in English must assume. It might indeed be thought that with so fine a model in existence it is unnecessary and unprofitable to undertake the task again. But there are, I think, good reasons to justify the attempt. In the first place, the study of Lucretius has made considerable advances since Munro’s edition: thanks largely to Dr. Brieger and still more to the late Professor Giussani,1 the philosophy of Epicurus is far better understood than it was, and, as a consequence, much light has been thrown on many dark places in the poem, and its general grouping and connexion can be far more clearly grasped. Secondly, though Munro set the tone, he did not always keep it: in the more technical parts of the poem he is apt to drop almost into the language of a scientific textbook, and phrases and even passages of sheer prose give the [4] reader the idea that Lucretius’s muse allowed him only a fitful inspiration. While acknowledging then my debt to Munro for the main spirit of the translation and often for words and phrases which seemed to me inevitable, I have tried at once to embody the results of more recent Lucretian scholarship, and to preserve a more equable level of style, which will, I hope, leave the impression that the De Rerum Natura, even in its most scientific discussions, is still poetry.
I have translated from my own text published in the Bibliotheca Oxoniensis in 1898, but in the—I fear—numerous places, where I have since altered my opinion, I have taken what I now believe to be the right reading or the best suggestion and added the warning of a footnote. I have appended some notes for the general reader, which are intended either to explain allusions or to elucidate what seemed to me difficult or obscure passages in the light of the general Epicurean theory.
I wish to thank the Rector of Lincoln for several valuable suggestions, and Professor H. H. Turner for much help in the elucidation of the astronomical problems raised in Book V.

C. B.
In the present reprint the translation has been adapted to the second edition of the text in the Bibliotheca Oxoniensis (1921).
C. B.
March, 1921.
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Re: On the Nature of Things, by Titus Lucretius Carus

Postby admin » Sun Jun 21, 2015 11:20 pm


Of the three great Latin poets Lucretius seems to make the most peculiar appeal to our own age. Catullus and Virgil are for all time; the passionate love-history of a genuine soul and a poet of marvellously wide range, the all-embracing yet finely pessimistic sympathy of a mind which could focus past and future in the consciousness of present crisis, will find their response in all generations. But Lucretius—possibly because from the point of view of universality he stands a little below the other two—seems to demand for full appreciation a rather special temper. His are not the interests of every man, nor is his a common attitude to life. A fierce hatred of conventional superstitions and a yearning for intellectual liberty coupled with a sense of awe—deeply religious in reality—in the presence of nature, a strong desire for scientific method and accuracy of observation combined with a profound feeling of the beauty of the world and its works, an unswerving consciousness of natural law and the sequence of cause and effect counteracted by an equal stubbornness in defence of man’s moral freedom—these are qualities which may engage attention, but cannot at all times awaken a vital sympathy. Yet these are antitheses familiar enough to our generation, and this is an attitude of mind which we are peculiarly qualified to understand. The antagonism of Religion and Science, the relation of the investigation to the [6] love of Nature, the opposition of Natural Law and Freewill are themes which seem very near to us.

Only we must be careful not to interpret the past by the present. To each generation its problems present themselves in their own peculiar manner, and we must endeavour to understand Lucretius not as a contemporary, but as an Epicurean of the last century bc It was eminently a period of disturbance and dissolution, intellectually as well as socially and politically. The Republican régime was breaking down, and with it the system of morals and beliefs on which it rested. The genuine Roman religion—the belief in the numina, the countless little impersonal ‘spirits’, always ‘about man’s path and about his bed’, mostly hostile by instinct, but capable of pacification by simple gifts and easy acts of worship—had long ago lost its hold on the life of the city, or at the most lingered on here and there in the old-fashioned piety of a household cult. The imposing structure of the State-worship, raised as the primitive agricultural community developed into a commercial city, and consolidated when the great wave of Greek culture anthropomorphized numina into dei, gave them temples and statues, and organized ceremonials and priesthoods, remained still untouched in form, but the form was empty. Magistrates and priests duly sacrificed the appropriate victims, augurs watched for omens and blessed or stayed proceedings, the populace kept holiday on the festivals, but little real religious feeling remained, except a vague sense of the insecurity of life owing to the malevolent interference of divine beings, and an abiding fear of death and the punishments of a life to come. The more recent introduction of [7] Oriental cults, which had obtained a great influence over the popular mind, had but heightened these terrors, by adding an ecstatic and orgiastic form of worship, which through excitement and reaction gave an unnatural and intermittent character to religion, essentially foreign to the sober and straightforward temperament of the Roman.

Among the educated classes in consequence a profound scepticism prevailed. When Q. Mucius Scaevola1 advocated the maintenance of religion among the populace as a political asset, he was but voicing what had for a generation been the practice of the ruling classes. Cicero, the Augur, could discuss2 the fundamental assumptions of his art and arrive at a very unfavourable conclusion; Caesar, the acknowledged sceptic, was selected to direct the whole system of religious worship as Pontifex Maximus. But a pure scepticism cannot satisfy any type of mind, least of all the Roman, and Greek culture, which had introduced the disease, brought also the antidote in philosophy. Philosophy professed to place men above the conflict of religions and to give them what religion did not claim to offer, a guide to moral conduct. It seems strange at first sight that the two greatest philosophies of Greece—those of Plato and Aristotle—should have made so little impression on the Roman mind, attracting only a few strong intellects like Cicero’s, and even then only to a very eclectic and almost dilettante study. But the reason is not really far to seek: not only were the idealism of Plato and the intellectualism of Aristotle alien to the plain Roman mind, but morally both systems rested essentially on the conception of the State, on the identification of the good man and the good [8] citizen. It was just this conception which with the fall of the Republic was breaking down, and philosophy, if it was to help the sceptical Roman, must be individualistic: he wanted to know about himself and his conduct as a single human being. In the corresponding period of the history of Athens, when the city-state had given place to the monarchy of Macedon, and that again had fallen into the disruption of the rule of the ‘Successors’, two creeds had arisen to supply the need. Stoicism with its assertion of the divine element in the world and the mind of man had appealed to the more directly religious natures; the doctrine of Epicurus, founded on the atomic materialism of Democritus, made its way with those more inclined to a matter-of-fact scientific outlook on life. And so now in Rome these two philosophies answered the demand, and as men drifted away from religion, they divided themselves almost unconsciously into the rival camps of the Stoics and Epicureans.

Into this atmosphere Lucretius grew up. Of his personal history we are singularly ignorant. By a comparison of an entry in Jerome’s Fasti1 and a casual note in Donatus’s Life of Virgil,2 and an attempt to reconcile their disagreement by considerations of probability, we can arrive at the conclusion that he was born in 94 bc and died in 55. We have a romantic story,3 which has been very variously interpreted, that he was ‘poisoned by a love-philtre, wrote some poems in his lucid intervals and finally committed suicide’. We are told that Cicero ‘edited’ the poem—a statement whose meaning is again much vexed—and a recently discovered [9] Renaissance1 ‘Life’ gives us what purport to be details of his criticism:2 we know for certain that by 54 bc both Cicero and his brother had read the poem and communicated to each other their opinions on it. We are aware that the Lucretii were a family of good standing in Rome, and Lucretius’s friendship with Memmius suggests that he too was—or might have been, if he had wished it—in the society of his day: the ‘Borgian Life’ gives us the names of others, prominent philosophers and public men, with whom he was familiar. But beyond that we must be content to know nothing, nor indeed could any addition of external details add much to the unmistakable picture of his personality which the poem itself presents to us. A keen active mind, eager in its pursuit of truth and not shrinking from hard thought in the attainment of its end, or from intellectual labour in the attempt to present it to others; and a profound poetic sensitiveness, alive at once to the greatness and the beauty of nature, and instinct with the feeling for accuracy in expression and the consciousness of the revealing power of language in its ‘sudden flashes’3—these are characteristics which strike one at once. And the closer study of the poem seems to disclose another feature almost equally marked. Whether or no we accept the legend of the love-philtre and the idea of insanity, we cannot refuse the testimony of the poem itself to an abnormal and even morbid strain in its author’s character. The fierceness of the unceasing attack on the religious point of view—even on its shadow in a [10] teleological interpretation of nature;1 the unnatural virulence of the onslaught on love;2 the almost brooding pessimism with which he anticipates the coming destruction of the world;3 such are the signs which lead one to think of Lucretius as a not quite normal personality—perhaps even not quite sane.

Lucretius then approached the problems of his age with a strongly-marked temper and a very decided bias. It was not sufficient for him to take up, as did so many of his contemporaries, a position of sceptical indifference towards religion. Nor could he, like the Stoics, attempt to get rid of the grosser elements of superstition and yet retain a purified belief in the divine control of the world, reconciling the conflicts of religion in a kind of religious philosophy. Religion was his enemy and he could have no truce with it, for he saw in it the cause of the greater part of the sorrows and even the crimes4 of human life. The whole theological view must be eradicated from men’s minds before they could even begin to live a life ‘worthy of the gods’.5 Naturally enough then he turned to the philosophy of Epicurus: he had had the same battle to fight: it was he who, ‘when the life of man lay foul and grovelling upon the earth crushed by the weight of religion … dared first to raise his mortal eyes to meet her … and in mind and spirit traversed the boundless whole:’6 he was the real ‘god’,7 who had taught that the power of the gods over the world was nought. In the philosophy of Epicurus Lucretius had found his own rest, and it was the purpose of his life8 [11] to put that philosophy at the service of his countrymen and so deliver them too from the tyranny of religion.

But it would be the greatest mistake to think of Lucretius or his master as the author of a mere polemic against religion. Still less is Epicurus justly represented—as has sometimes been the case—as patching together from various sources a crude piecemeal view of the world to combat superstition and afford a plausible basis for a moral theory of doubtful moral tendency. If there is one point that modern work at Epicureanism tends to reveal, it is that it was a serious philosophy, a consistent whole derived from a single starting-point and following step by step with logical precision. As such Lucretius had learnt it, and as such he intended to present it, and many of the difficulties which modern critics have found in his detail, many of the puerilities at which they have scoffed, are to be explained by the perfectly consistent and relentless application of his fundamental principles. He has seemed trivial or inconsistent or obscure to his critics, because they would not take him seriously enough.

It will not be possible here to deal in any detail with the Epicurean system, and indeed, in most of its aspects it will gradually unfold itself in the De Rerum Natura, but it will be well to call attention to certain fundamental points with regard to it, which Lucretius has rather assumed than stated, but which are of vital importance for the understanding of his poem, and the comprehension of its essential unity. First, however, we must very briefly consider the origin of the system. It is commonly said that Epicurus adopted the atomic theory of Democritus to act as a physical basis for his moral theory that [12] the end of life was ‘pleasure’. This is in a very limited sense true. The long debate of the pre-Socratic physical philosophers as to the ultimate constitution of the universe had led up to the hypothesis, first propounded by Leucippus and greatly strengthened and elaborated by Democritus of Abdera (circ. 430 bc), that the physical basis of the world was infinite atoms, tiny, eternal, indivisible particles of matter, possessing and differing in size, shape and weight,1 and moving in infinite space. This conclusion with many of the deductions from it and much of Democritus’s elaboration of detail Epicurus accepted, and combined with it the theory that pleasure was the highest good, but in no mere casual spirit of eclecticism. He believed pleasure to be the moral end, because that, as we shall see, was an immediate deduction from his one fundamental principle; he accepted Democritus’s atomism, because that alone of all theories of the world known to him was consistent with his fundamental principle—and yet in his very maintenance of that principle he most conspicuously differed from Democritus.

The principle concerned the root-problem of metaphysics: how do we get our knowledge? are we to trust our senses or our reason, or both or neither? The question had been raised at a comparatively early stage in pre-Socratic speculation, and had forced itself more and more into prominence as theories of the world became more and more remote from the experience of every-day consciousness, until Parmenides, who believed [13] the world to be a corporeal plenum, had declared wholeheartedly for reason and identified the ‘way of the senses’ with the ‘way of error’. Democritus had pushed scepticism a step further: reason rested upon the senses, and if the senses were untrustworthy, still more so must reason be: ‘wretched mind,’ he represents the senses as saying, ‘from us you received your belief, yet you overthrow us; your victory is your defeat.’1 Epicurus approached the problem as the plain man: he must have a sure basis for the structure of his system, and no scepticism at the root. The keystone of the whole Epicurean philosophy is the simple assertion: ‘sensation is true,’ ‘I know what I feel.’ On this one foundation all is built. Wherever the senses give us evidence, we are to accept their evidence as finally and certainly true: where they do not, as for instance, in considering the ultimate constitution of the world,2 they are still supreme; we must reject any hypothesis which is contradicted by the evidence of sense, and accept as equally probable any explanations that are consistent with it. Now Lucretius does not start with this fundamental principle: he does not even approach the discussion of it until the fourth Book.3 But on the other hand he is always assuming it and acting on it, and to understand his line of thought it must always be borne in mind. The sun and the moon, for instance, are the same size as we see them to be:4 there the senses [14] give us evidence and we must not attempt to go behind it. The sequence of night and day,1 the orbits of the heavenly bodies,2 eclipses3 may be explained in several ways, some of which to our mind appear trivial; but these are cases where the senses provide no direct evidence, and we must therefore accept as equally worthy of consideration all hypotheses which they do not contradict. Above all, it is this principle which prompts him again and again to appeal for support in his theories of imperceptible things to the analogy of the perceptible: the trust in the senses is the ultimate cause of those many illustrations from common experience, which are so largely responsible for the beauty and the poetic wealth of the whole poem.

Let us pursue this line of thought a little further. Of what do the senses give us evidence? Of nothing but a material world: matter then is the one reality. But can the existence of matter alone give us a world as we know it? No, for our senses tell us of a world of matter in motion,4 and things cannot move without space to move in: there must then be empty space. And in what form does this matter exist? The section in the middle of the first Book,5 in which Lucretius criticizes rival theories of the world, shows us how Epicurus applied his principle: some schools deny the existence of void, which makes motion impossible;6 others permit infinite division, which precludes permanence;7 some propose a fundamental matter that is unstable, for it changes into other things,8 others one that is perishable, for it is [15] of the same nature as perceptible things.1 The only theory which is found not to be contradicted, but rather supported by the evidence of the senses, is an atomic theory. Finally, lest the supply of matter should run short, the atoms must be infinite in number,2 and, lest it should all congregate ‘at the bottom’, space must be infinite in extent.3 Epicurus has then arrived at the atomism of Democritus, not, however, as an arbitrary choice, but as a direct deduction from the primary assertion of the infallibility of sense-perception.

And in this atomic system Epicurus and Lucretius find their refutation of the pretensions of religion, the release from the two great terrors which beset man’s mind, the fear of the arbitrary intervention of the gods in life, and the fear of the punishment of an immortal soul after death. For the atomic system, capable of being worked out in detail throughout the whole realm of the universe, can show how every phenomenon is but the result of natural causes. The atoms in the void, obeying the law of their own nature, falling downwards owing to their weight,4 meeting and clashing,5 form first into little molecules, then into larger masses, and ultimately build up the whole universe of worlds, planted about here and there in infinite space, and all things, down to the smallest, contained in them. Nature, acting by law and yet without purpose—‘for not by design did the first-beginnings of things place themselves each in their order with foreseeing mind … but by trying movements and unions of every kind, at last they fall into such dispositions as those, whereby our world [16] of things is created’1—acting indeed blindly and occasionally with a kind of spontaneity which seems like chance,2 Nature made all the worlds and ‘all that in them is’. There is no need for the aid of the gods, there is not even room for their interference. They are rather a part of nature’s creation, immortal creatures,3 of a body of infinitely subtle formation,4 dwelling apart in the ‘interspaces between the worlds’,5 in regions ‘where falls not hail or rain or any snow, nor ever wind blows loudly’,6 an example and an ideal in their untroubled calm to man, but utterly unconcerned with the movements of the world or human affairs. As for the soul, it is, like all other things, a corporeal aggregate of atoms,7 which owes its sensation to the shape and movements of its constituents,8 and its union with the body:9 neither can exist without the other, at death the soul is dissolved just like the body,10 and it can have nothing to fear for all time to come.11 Nature then has freed man alike from the tyranny of the gods and the fear of death, and in the knowledge of nature he will find not only the guarantee of his freedom, but the highest pleasure of his free life.

But is man ‘free’? The exclusion of the gods from the workings of the universe has been accomplished by the establishment of law, the demonstration of the natural sequence of cause and effect from the first downward movement of the atoms to the formation of the newest ‘thing’ in the remotest world. Is man then [17] alone exempt from this chain of causation? has he the power to direct his own actions, or is he too ruled by this inexorable destiny, so that his smallest act is but the inevitable outcome of all that has preceded? Democritus had already been confronted with this problem and had boldly answered it with an absolute determinism: man’s actions are no exception to the universal law, free-will is but a delusion. But for Epicurus this answer would not do: man’s conduct was his primary interest, and it is no use, he thought, telling a man what he ought to do, unless he is free to do it. Even the tyranny of religion is better than the tyranny of destiny.1 Besides, Epicurus on his own fundamental principles had a good reason to fight for free-will; for it is a matter of immediate consciousness: ‘we know’2 that from time to time we assert our independence of the great claim of causation: ‘we feel’ our freedom and it cannot therefore be denied. Yet how is it to be preserved? Is man to be an exception to the universal law, or can it be otherwise accounted for? Epicurus’s answer, the ‘swerve’3 of the atoms, has always been ridiculed, but, whatever may be thought of it, it is not to be regarded as a weak admission, but rather as a cardinal point in the system, second only in importance to the infallibility of the senses, and again reached by a strict logical deduction. For if man’s will is free, it cannot be by special exemption granted him, but because of some principle inherent in the very first-beginnings: man can do what he will because there is an element of spontaneity—not of course conscious spontaneity—in the atoms. It is the ‘swerve’ then which enables the atoms to meet in their downward [18] fall, it is the ‘swerve’ which preserves in inorganic nature that curious element of spontaneity which we call chance,1 and it is the ‘swerve’, become conscious in the sensitive aggregate of the atoms of the mind, which secures man’s freedom of action and makes it possible to urge on him a theory of conduct.

Lastly then—for though Lucretius never explicitly deals with it, it emerges to the surface again and again in the poem—we must very shortly consider the moral theory of Epicurus. Let us go back once more to the fundamental principle. In the sphere of conduct, of action and suffering, has immediate sensation any evidence to give us comparable to the evidence of sense-perception in the field of knowledge? Clearly it has in the immediate perceptions of pleasure and pain: we all feel them, we all instinctively seek pleasure and avoid pain. Epicurus then has his answer at once: pleasure is the moral good; sensation tells us so, and we cannot attempt to go behind it. But what does ‘pleasure’ mean? to what practical conduct will its adoption as the aim of life lead us? Two points in the physical theory are here of importance: firstly, that man, in Epicurus’s idea, is always essentially a compound of body and soul; secondly, that pain is dislocation of atomic arrangements and motions, pleasure, their readjustment and equilibrium. Pleasure then must be of body and soul alike, and it will show itself in the calm that denotes atomic equilibrium. It is seen at once that Epicurus’s doctrine is no recommendation of mere vulgar pleasures of sensuality, as it has sometimes been represented. The body must have its pleasure, but the [19] true pleasure is not such as brings attendant pain in the form either of anticipation or reaction: rather, we shall secure its pleasure best by maintaining its health and restricting its desires within the narrowest possible limits. Lucretius has given us a pleasing picture of the Epicurean ‘picnic’—a full satisfaction of the bodily needs: ‘men lie in friendly groups on the soft grass near some stream of water under the branches of a tall tree and at no great cost delightfully refresh their bodies, above all when the weather smiles on them and the season of the year bestrews the green grass with flowers.’1 And with the pleasures of the soul the principle is the same. First it must be relieved of its peculiar pains, the fear of the gods and the fear of death: and then it may give itself up to its own particular pleasure, the study—not of rhetoric,2 for in the private life of the individual that has no place, not of mathematics,3 or literature,4 for they deal with mere words, not things—but of nature: and so the highest pleasure of the mind is the acquisition of that knowledge which will incidentally free it from its pains. Epicurean pleasure is indeed simple of acquisition, and men are strangely blind that they do not recognize it: ‘to think that ye should not see that nature cries aloud for nothing else but that pain may be kept far sundered from the body, and that, withdrawn from care and fear, the mind may enjoy the sense of pleasure.’5

The ideal for the individual then is not far to seek, and Epicurus is above all an individualist. But a man cannot live his life quite alone and he must have relations with his fellows: how are they to be regulated? As [20] one would expect, Epicurus treats the ‘other-regarding’ virtues with scant respect: they are but of secondary importance and necessary only in so far as they secure the individual from interruption in the pursuit of his own pleasure. Justice, the summing up of the relations between man and man, is a convention: Lucretius describes to us how, when primitive man came to unite in a common life, ‘neighbours began eagerly to form friendship with one another, not to hurt or be harmed.’1 The individual retains his freedom by a compact, and for his own sake respects his neighbours. But beyond that he is but little concerned with them. He will not enter public life or attempt to hold office, for ambition and the cares of rule are among the most disturbing influences which can beset the mind: ‘it is far better to obey in peace than to long to rule the world with kingly power and to sway kingdoms.’2 Even in private life he will learn not to trust too much to others, for his life must be independent. Friendships he will form, for friendship based on the common study of philosophy is one of the highest blessings of life: such friendship Lucretius hopes for with Memmius.3 But love—the giving up of oneself to one’s affections and the complete dependence on another’s will—the philosopher will of all things eschew: Lucretius’s denunciations in the fourth Book4 are unmistakable. It is not perhaps a very attractive picture of the philosopher in isolation, pursuing his own pleasure and disregarding others, but it is again a relent-less deduction from first principles, and it explains many casual touches in Lucretius.

These hints may serve to make clear some of the [21] salient points in the Epicurean theory which in Lucretius’s own treatment are somewhat obscured, and to show how the whole system is really knit together by the single principle of the certainty of sensation. For those who like to find in antiquity the anticipation of modern ideas and hypotheses1 Lucretius is of course instinct with interest. The physicist will find in him the germs of the modern atomic theory, which in its most recent development seems more likely than ever to come back to the notion of uniform homogeneous ‘first-beginnings’: the biologist will find notable anticipations of the hypothesis of the formation of species by evolutionary experiments and the survival of the fittest,2 and in the idea of the spontaneous ‘swerve’ of the atoms a supposition not far remote from the modern speculations of W. K. Clifford and Haeckel: the anthropologist will see a picture of primitive man startlingly like that to which modern investigation has led,3 and all the more noticeable in that the current notions of Lucretius’s time looked back to a primitive ‘Golden Age’: the moral philosopher will discover the foundation both of Hedonism and Utilitarianism, and the political scientist will recognize the familiar description of the Social Contract.4 But to the general reader what will come home most is the spirit of the whole, the problems with which Lucretius is faced and the general attitude in which he goes to meet them. And if one is to appreciate this fully, it is more than all else necessary to have the clear conception of the main principles and their fearless application.[22]

It is often asked whether a didactic work can be real poetry, and certainly didactic poetry must stand or fall by the answer given in the case of Lucretius, for not even Hesiod or the Georgics can put forward a higher claim. It is easy, of course, to point to long tracts of scientific discussion, to call them ‘arid’, or to characterize them as ‘scanning prose’: it is just to urge that a few or even many great passages of sustained poetic beauty cannot in themselves save a poem, if they are sundered by such deserts. It is not difficult to reply by pointing, as Cicero did,1 to the ‘flashes of genius’ in the poem, whether they be the wonderful descriptions, such as that of the cow who has lost her calf,2 or the distant view of the flock on the hillside,3 or those quieter ‘flashes’ of poetic painting,—the ‘flower of flame’,4 ‘the ice of brass,’5 the shells ‘painting the lap of the earth’6—which in a moment transform argument with imagination. It might be maintained rather more subtly that there is high poetic quality in the very exactness of the expression of the intricate theories and abstruse arguments—a quality which is the more appreciated, the more we realize the genius with which almost every word in the poem is chosen to do precisely its own work and no more. But surely a didactic poem, more than any other, must not be judged piecemeal in this way by isolated phrases or even continuous passages of poetic imagination. Its claim to rank as true poetry will rest rather on the spirit of the whole—the depth of intention underlying the work and giving life to the parts. And this is the supreme claim of the De Rerum Natura; there may be portions [23] of it, which judged separately by superficial students would seem to fall beneath the dignity of poetry, but it is knit into a whole and vivified through all its parts by the fearless desire for truth, the consciousness of a great purpose, and a deep reverence for nature—felt almost as a personal presence—which has caused this bitter opponent of religion to be universally recognized as one of the most truly religious of the world’s poets.
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Re: On the Nature of Things, by Titus Lucretius Carus

Postby admin » Sun Jun 21, 2015 11:22 pm


Lucretius on the Nature of Things

Book I: Deals with the ultimate constitution of the universe, which consists of infinite atoms moving in infinite space


Introduction: Invocation to Venus, the creative power of Nature.

Mothern of Aeneas’s sons, joy of men and gods, Venus the life-giver, who beneath the gliding stars of heaven fillest with life the sea that carries the ships and the land that bears the crops; for thanks to thee every tribe of living things is conceived, and comes forth to look upon the light of the sun. Thou, goddess, thou dost turn to flight the winds and the clouds of heaven, thou at thy coming; for thee earth, the quaint artificer, puts forth her sweet-scented flowers; for thee the levels of ocean smile, and the sky, its anger past, gleams with spreading light. For when once the face of the spring day is revealed and the teeming breeze of the west wind is loosed from prison and blows strong, first the birds in high heaven herald thee, goddess, and thine approach, their hearts thrilled with thy might. Then the tame beasts grow wild and bound over the fat pastures, and swim the racing rivers; so surely enchained by thy charm each follows thee in hot desire whither thou goest before to lead him on. Yea, through seas and mountains and tearing rivers and the leafy haunts of birds and verdant plains thou dost strike fond love into the hearts of all, and makest them in hot desire to renew the stock of their races, each after his own kind. And since thou alone art pilot to the nature of things, and nothing without thine aid comes forth into the bright coasts of light, nor waxes glad nor lovely. I long that thou shouldest be my [28] helper in writing these verses, which I essay to trace on the nature of things for the son of the Memmii, my friend, whom thou, goddess, through all his life hast willed to be bright with every grace beyond his fellows. Therefore the more, goddess, grant a lasting loveliness to my words. Bring it to pass that meantime the wild works of warfare may be lulled to sleep over all seas and lands. For thou only canst bless mortal men with quiet peace, since ’tis Mavors, the lord of hosts, who guides the wild works of war, and he upon thy lap oft flings himself back, conquered by the eternal wound of love; and then pillowing his shapely neck upon thee and looking up he feeds with love his greedy eyes, gazing wistfully towards thee, while, as he lies back, his breath hangs upon thy lips. Do thou, goddess, as he leans resting on thy sacred limbs, bend to embrace him and pour forth sweet petition from thy lips, seeking, great lady, gentle peace for the Romans. For neither can we in our country’s time of troublen set to our task with mind undistressed, nor amid such doings can Memmius’s noble sonn fail the fortunes of the state. 1

Appeal to Memmius.

for the rest, do thou (Memmius), lend empty ears and a keen mind, severed from cares, to true philosophy, lest, before they are understood, you should leave aside in disdain my gifts set forth for you with unflagging zeal. For of the most high law of the heaven and the gods I will set out to tell you, and I will reveal the first-beginnings of things, from which nature creates all things, and increases and fosters them, and into which nature too dissolves them again at their perishing: these in rendering [29] our account it is our wont to call matter or the creative bodies of things, and to name them the seeds of things, and again to term them the first-bodies, since from them first all things have their being.

Epicurus and Religion.

When the life of man lay foul to see and grovelling upon the earth, crushed by the weight of religion, which showed her face from the realms of heaven, lowering upon mortals with dreadful mien, ’twas a man of Greecen who dared first to raise his mortal eyes to meet her, and first to stand forth to meet her: him neither the stories of the gods nor thunderbolts checked, nor the sky with its revengeful roar, but all the more spurred the eager daring of his mind to yearn to be the first to burst through the close-set bolts upon the doors of nature. And so it was that the lively force of his mind won its way, and he passed on far beyond the fiery walls of the world,n and in mind and spirit traversed the boundless whole; whence in victory he brings us tidings what can come to be and what cannot, yea and in what way each thing has its power limited, and its deepset boundary-stone. And so religion in revenge is cast beneath men’s feet and trampled, and victory raises us to heaven.

The impiety of Religion.

Herein I have one fear, lest perchance you think that you are starting on the principles of some unholy reasoning, and setting foot upon the path of sin. Nay, but on the other hand, again and again our foe, religion, has given birth to deeds sinful and unholy.

Sacrifice of Iphigenia.

Even as at Aulisn the chosen chieftains of the Danai, the first of all the host, foully stained with the blood of Iphianassa the altar of the Virgin of the Cross-Roads.n For as soon as the band braided about her virgin locks streamed from her either cheek in equal lengths, as soon as she [30] saw her sorrowing sire stand at the altar’s side, and near him the attendants hiding their knives, and her countrymen shedding tears at the sight of her, tongue-tied with terror, sinking on her knees she fell to earth. Nor could it avail the luckless maid at such a time that she first had given the name of father to the king. For seized by men’s hands,n all trembling was she led to the altars, not that, when the ancient rite of sacrifice was fulfilled, she might be escorted by the clear cry of ‘Hymen’, but in the very moment of marriage, a pure victim she might foully fall, sorrowing beneath a father’s slaughtering stroke, that a happy and hallowed starting might be granted to the fleet. Such evil deeds could religion prompt.

The fear of death and its cure.

You yourself sometime vanquished by the fearsome threats of the seer’s sayings, will seek to desert from us. Nay indeed, how many a dream may they even now conjure up before you, which might avail to overthrow your schemes of life, and confound in fear all your fortunes. And justly so: for if men could see that there is a fixed limit to their sorrows, then with some reason they might have the strength to stand against the scruples of religion, and the threats of seers. As it is there is no means, no power to withstand, since everlasting is the punishment they must fear in death.

The nature of the soul.

For they know not what is the nature of the soul, whether it is born or else finds its way into them at their birth, and again whether it is torn apart by death and perishes with us, or goes to see the shades of Orcus and his waste pools, or by the gods’ will implants itself in other breasts, as our own Enniusn sang, who first bore down from pleasant Helicon the wreath of deathless leaves, to win bright fame among [31] the tribes of Italian peoples. And yet despite this, Ennius sets forth in the discourse of his immortal verse that there is besides a realm of Acheron, where neither our souls nor bodies endure, but as it were images pale in wondrous wise; and thence he tells that the form of Homer, ever green and fresh, rose to him, and began to shed salt tears, and in converse to reveal the nature of things.

Problems to be dealt with.

Therefore we must both give good account of the things on high, in what way the courses of sun and moon come to be, and by what force all things are governed on earth, and also before all else we must see by keen reasoning, whence comes the soul and the nature of the mind, and what thing it is that meets us and affrights our minds in waking life, when we are touched with disease, or again when buried in sleep, so that we seem to see and hear hard by us those who have met death, and whose bones are held in the embrace of earth.

Lucretius’ difficulty.

Nor does it pass unnoticed of my mind that it is a hard task in Latin verses to set clearly in the light the dark discoveries of the Greeks, above all when many things must be treated in new words, because of the poverty of our tongue and the newness of the themes; yet your merit and the pleasure of your sweet friendship, for which I hope, urge me to bear the burden of any toil, and lead me on to watch through the calm nights, searching by what words, yea and in what measures, I may avail to spread before your mind a bright light, whereby you may see to the heart of hidden things.

A.: General Principals

A. General principles. The first law: nothing is made of nothing.

This terror then, this darkness of the mind, must needs be scattered not by the rays of the sun and the gleaming shafts of day, but by the outer view and the inner law of nature; whose first rule shall take its start for us from [32] this, that nothing is ever begotten of nothingn by divine will. Fear forsooth so constrains all mortal men, because they behold many things come to pass on earth and in the sky, the cause of whose working they can by no means see, and think that a divine power brings them about. Therefore, when we have seen that nothing can be created out of nothing, then more rightly after that shall we discern that for which we search, both whence each thing can be created, and in what way all things come to be without the aid of gods.

Proof: all things require fixed seeds.

For if things came to being from nothing, every kind might be born from all things, nought would need a seed. First men might arise from the sea, and from the land the race of scaly creatures, and birds burst forth from the sky; cattle and other herds, and all the tribe of wild beasts, with no fixed law of birth, would haunt tilth and desert. Nor would the same fruits stay constant to the trees, but all would change: all trees might avail to bear all fruits.

For 1.

they have fixed substance, Why, were there not bodies to bring each thing to birth, how could things have a fixed unchanging mother? But as it is, since all things are produced from fixed seeds, each thing is born and comes forth into the coasts of light, out of that which has in it the substance and first-bodies of each; and ’tis for this cause that all things cannot be begotten of all, because in fixed things there dwells a power set apart.

2. and fixed seasons of birth.

Or again, why do we see the roses in spring, and the corn in summer’s heat, and the vines bursting out when autumn summons them, if it be not that when, in their own time, the fixed seeds of things have flowed together, then is disclosed each thing that comes to birth, while the season is at hand, and the lively earth in safety brings forth the fragile [33] things into the coasts of light? But if they sprang from nothing, suddenly would they arise at uncertain intervals and in hostile times of year, since indeed there would be no first-beginnings which might be kept apart from creative union at an ill-starred season.

3. and require fixed periods for increase,

Nay more, there would be no need for lapse of time for the increase of things upon the meeting of the seed, if they could grow from nothing. For little children would grow suddenly to youths, and at once trees would come forth, leaping from the earth. But of this it is well seen that nothing comes to pass, since all things grow slowly, as is natural, from a fixed seed, and as they grow preserve their kind: so that you can know that each thing grows great, and is fostered out of its own substance.

4. and fixed nourishment;

There is this too, that without fixed rain-showers in the year the earth could not put forth its gladdening produce, nor again held apart from food could the nature of living things renew its kind or preserve its life; so that rather you may think that many bodies are common to many things, as we see letters are to words, than that without first-beginnings anything can come to being.

5. they have too a fixed limit of growth;

Once more, why could not nature produce men so large that on their feet they might wade through the waters of ocean or rend asunder mighty mountains with their hands, or live to overpass many generations of living men, if it be not because fixed substance has been appointed for the begetting of things, from which it is ordained what can arise? Therefore, we must confess that nothing can be brought to being out of nothing, inasmuch as it needs a seed for things, from which each may be produced and brought forth into the gentle breezes of the air. Lastly, inasmuch as we see [34] that tilled grounds are better than the untilled,

6. and culture makes the soil more fertile.

and when worked by hands yield better produce, we must know that there are in the earth first-beginnings of things, which we call forth to birth by turning the teeming sods with the ploughshare and drilling the soil of the earth. But if there were none such, you would see all things without toil of ours of their own will come to be far better.

The second law: nothing is resolved into nothing. Otherwise 1. all things would be destroyed at once;

Then follows this, that nature breaks up each thing again into its own first-bodies, nor does she destroy ought into nothing.n For if anything were mortal in all its parts, each thing would on a sudden be snatched from our eyes, and pass away. For there would be no need of any force, such as might cause disunion in its parts and unloose its fastenings. But as it is, because all things are put together of everlasting seeds, until some force has met them to batter things asunder with its blow, or to make its way inward through the empty voids and break things up, nature suffers not the destruction of anything to be seen. Moreover, if time utterly destroys whatsoever through age it takes from sight, and devours all its substance,

2. nor could the world be replenished;

how is it that Venus brings back the race of living things after their kind into the light of life, or when she has, how does earth, the quaint artificer, nurse and increase them, furnishing food for them after their kind? how is it that its native springs and the rivers from without, coming from afar, keep the sea full? how is it that the sky feeds the stars? For infinite time and the days that are gone by must needs have devoured all things that are of mortal body. But if in all that while, in the ages that are gone by, those things have existed, of which this sum of things consists and is replenished, assuredly they are blessed with an immortal nature; all things [35] cannot then be turned to nought.

3. the same force could destroy all things alike;

And again, the same force and cause would destroy all things alike, unless an eternal substance held them together, part with part interwoven closely or loosely by its fastenings. For in truth a touch would be cause enough of death, seeing that none of these things would be of everlasting body, whose texture any kind of force would be bound to break asunder. But as it is, because the fastenings of the firstelements are variously put together, and their substance is everlasting, things endure with body unharmed, until there meets them a force proved strong enough to overcome the texture of each. No single thing then passes back to nothing, but all by dissolution pass back into the first-bodies of matter.

4. as it is, the loss of one thing means the increase of another.

Lastly, the rains pass away, when the sky, our father, has cast them headlong into the lap of earth, our mother; but the bright crops spring up, and the branches grow green upon the trees, the trees too grow and are laden with fruit; by them next our race and the race of beasts is nourished, through them we see glad towns alive with children, and leafy woods on every side ring with the young birds’ cry; through them the cattle wearied with fatness lay their limbs to rest over the glad pastures, and the white milky stream trickles from their swollen udders; through them a new brood with tottering legs sports wanton among the soft grass, their baby hearts thrilling with the pure milk. Not utterly then perish all things that are seen, since nature renews one thing from out another, nor suffers anything to be begotten, unless she be requited by another’s death.

The existence of invisible particles is supported by other invisible bodies.

Come now, since I have taught you that things cannot be created of nought nor likewise when begotten be called [36] back to nothing, lest by any chance you should begin nevertheless to distrust my words, because the first-beginings of things cannot be descried with the eyes, let me tell you besides of other bodies, which you must needs confess yourself are among things and yet cannot be seen. First of all the might of the awakened wind lashes the ocean and o’erwhelms vast ships and scatters the clouds,

1. Wind.

and anon scouring the plains with tearing hurricane it strews them with great trees, and harries the mountain-tops with blasts that rend the woods: with such fierce whistling the wind rages and ravens with angry roar. There are therefore, we may be sure, unseen bodies of wind, which sweep sea and land, yea, and the clouds of heaven, and tear and harry them with sudden hurricane; they stream on and spread havoc in no other way than when the soft nature of water is borne on in a flood o’erflowing in a moment, swollen by a great rush of water dashing down from the high mountains after bounteous rains and hurling together broken branches from the woods, and whole trees too; nor can the strong bridges bear up against the sudden force of the advancing flood. In such wise, turbid with much rain, the river rushes with might and main against the piles: roaring aloud it spreads ruin, and rolls1 and dashes beneath its waves huge rocks and all that bars its flood. Thus then the blasts of wind too must needs be borne on; and when like some strong stream they have swooped towards any side, they push things and dash them on with constant assault; sometimes in eddying whirl they seize them up and bear them away in swiftly swirling hurricane. Wherefore again and again there are unseen bodies of wind, [37] inasmuch as in their deeds and ways they are found to rival mighty streams, whose body all may see. Then again we smell the manifold scents of things,

2. Scent.

and yet we do not ever descry them coming to the nostrils, nor do we behold warm heat,

3. Heat.

nor can we grasp cold with the eyes,

4. Cold.

nor is it ours to descry voices;

5. Sound.

yet all these things must needs consist of bodily nature, inasmuch as they can make impact on our senses. For, if it be not body, nothing can touch and be touched.

6. Moisture.

Once more, garments hung up upon the shore, where the waves break, grow damp, and again spread in the sun they dry. Yet never has it been seen in what way the moisture of the water has sunk into them, nor again in what way it has fled before the heat. Therefore the moisture is dispersed into tiny particles, which the eyes can in no way see.

7. The evidence of Decay.

Nay more, as the sun’s year rolls round again and again, the ring on the finger becomes thin beneath by wearing, the fall of dripping water hollows the stone, the bent iron ploughshare secretly grows smaller in the fields, and we see the paved stone streets worn away by the feet of the multitude; again, by the city-gates the brazen statues reveal that their right hands are wearing thin through the touch of those who greet them ever and again as they pass upon their way. All these things then we see grow less, as they are rubbed away: yet what particles leave them at each moment, the envious nature of our sight has shut us out from seeing.

8. and Growth.

Lastly, whatever time and nature adds little by little to things, impelling them to grow in due proportion, the straining sight of the eye can never behold, nor again wherever things grow old through time and decay. Nor where rocks overhang the sea, devoured by the thin salt spray, [38] could you see what they lose at each moment. ’Tis then by bodies unseen that nature works her will.

The Void.

And yet all things are not held close pressed on every side by the nature of body; for there is void in things.n To have learnt this will be of profit to you in dealing with many things; it will save you from wandering in doubt and always questioning about the sum of things, and distrusting my words. There is then a void, mere space untouchable and empty.

1. Without void motion is impossible.

For if there were not, by no means could things move; for that which is the office of body, to offend and hinder, would at every moment be present to all things; nothing, therefore, could advance, since nothing could give the example of yielding place. But as it is, through seas and lands and the high tracts of heaven, we descry many things by many means moving in diverse ways before our eyes, which, if there were not void, would not so much be robbed and baulked of restless motion, but rather could in no way have been born at all, since matter would on every side be in close-packed stillness.

2. Void accounts for the perviousness of seeming solids,

Again, however solid things may be thought to be, yet from this you can discern that they are of rare body. In rocky caverns the liquid moisture of water trickles through, and all weeps with copious dripping: food spreads itself this way and that into the body of every living thing: trees grow and thrust forth their fruit in due season, because the food is dispersed into every part of them from the lowest roots through the stems and all the branches. Noises creep through walls and fly through the shut places in the house, stiffening cold works its way to the bones: but were there no empty spaces, along which each of these bodies might pass, you would not see this come to pass by any means.

3. and differences in weight in bodies of equal size.

Again, why do we see one thing surpass another in weight, when [39] its size is no whit bigger? For if there is as much body in a bale of wool as in lead, it is natural it should weigh as much, since ’tis the office of body to press all things downwards, but on the other hand the nature of void remains without weight. So because it is just as big, yet seems lighter, it tells us, we may be sure, that it has more void; but on the other hand the heavier thing avows that there is more body in it and that it contains far less empty space within. Therefore, we may be sure, that which we are seeking with keen reasoning, does exist mingled in things—that which we call void.

The false theory of motion without void.

Herein lest that which some vainly imaginen should avail to lead you astray from the truth, I am constrained to forestall it. They say that the waters give place to the scaly creatures as they press forward and open up a liquid path, because the fishes leave places behind, to which the waters may flow together as they yield: and that even so other things too can move among themselves and change place, albeit the whole is solid. In very truth this is all believed on false reasoning.

1. How can things move without room to go to?

For whither, I ask, will the scaly creatures be able to move forward, unless the waters have left an empty space? again, whither will the waters be able to give place, when the fishes cannot go forward? either then we must deny motion to every body, or we must say that void is mixed with things, from which each thing can receive the first start of movement. Lastly,

2. There is a momentary void between two rebounding bodies.

if two broad bodies leap asunder quickly from a meeting, surely it must needs be that air seizes upon all the void, which comes to be between the bodies. Still, however rapid the rush with which it streams together as its currents hasten round, yet in one instant the whole empty space cannot be filled: for it must needs be that [40] it fills each place as it comes, and then at last all the room is taken up.

False idea of the condensation of air:

But if by chance any one thinksn that when bodies have leapt apart, then this comes to be because the air condenses, he goes astray; for in that case that becomes empty which was not so before, and again that is filled which was empty before, nor can air condense in such a way, nor, if indeed it could, could it, I trow, without void draw into itself and gather into one all its parts.

which is impossible without void.

The growth of knowledge.

Wherefore, however long you hang back with much objection, you must needs confess at last that there is void in things. And besides by telling you many an instance, I can heap up proof for my words. But these light footprints are enough for a keen mind: by them you may detect the rest for yourself. For as dogs ranging over mountains often find by scent the lairs of wild beasts shrouded under leafage, when once they are set on sure traces of their track, so for yourself you will be able in such themes as this to see one thing after another, to win your way to all the secret places and draw out the truth thence. But if you are slack or shrink a little from my theme, this I can promise you, Memmius, on my own word: so surely will my sweet tongue pour forth to you bounteous draughts from the deep well-springs out of the treasures of my heart, that I fear lest sluggish age creep over our limbs and loosen within us the fastenings of life, before that the whole store of proofs on one single theme be launched in my verses into your ears.

The two natures, matter and void.

But now, to weave again at the web, which is the task of my discourse, all nature then, as it is of itself, is built of these two things: for there are bodies and the [41] void, in which they are placed and where they move hither and thither. For that body exists is declared by the feeling which all share alike; and unless faith in this feeling be firmly grounded at once and prevail, there will be naught to which we can make appeal about things hidden, so as to prove aught by the reasoning of the mind. And next, were there not room and empty space, which we call void, nowhere could bodies be placed, nor could they wander at all hither and thither in any direction; and this I have above shown to you but a little while before.

There is no third nature.

Besides these there is nothing which you could say is parted from all body and sundered from void, which could be discovered, as it were a third nature in the list.

1. Touch shows matter, intangibility void.

For whatever shall exist, must needs be something in itself; and if it suffer touch, however small and light, it will increase the count of body by a bulk great or maybe small, if it exists at all, and be added to its sum. But if it is not to be touched, inasmuch as it cannot on any side check anything from wandering through it and passing on its way, in truth it will be that which we call empty void.

2. Body acts or suffers: void is the field of action.

Or again, whatsoever exists by itself, will either do something or suffer itself while other things act upon it, or it will be such that things may exist and go on in it. But nothing can do or suffer without body, nor afford room again, unless it be void and empty space. And so besides void and bodies no third nature by itself can be left in the list of things, which might either at any time fall within the purview of our senses, or be grasped by any one through reasoning of the mind.

Properties and Accidents.

For all things that have a name, you will find either properties linked to these two things or you will see them to be their accidents. That is a property which in no [42] case can be sundered or separated without the fatal disunion of the thing, as is weight to rocks, heat to fire, moisture to water, touch to all bodies, intangibility to the void. On the other hand, slavery, poverty, riches, liberty, war, concord, and other things by whose coming and going the nature of things abides untouched, these we are used,

Time is not a separate existence, but an accident of things.

as is natural, to call accidents. Even so time exists not by itself,n but from actual things comes a feeling, what was brought to a close in time past, then what is present now, and further what is going to be hereafter. And it must be avowed that no man feels time by itself apart from the motion or quiet rest of things. Then again, when men sayn that ‘the rape of Tyndarus’s daughter’,

False argument from past events, because the persons, whose accidents they were, are no more.

or ‘the vanquishing of the Trojan tribes in war’ are things, beware that they do not perchance constrain us to avow that these things exist in themselves, just because the past ages have carried off beyond recall those races of men, of whom, in truth, these were the accidents. For firstly, we might well say that whatsoever has happened is an accident in one case of the countries, in another even of the regions of space. Or again, if there had been no substance of things nor place and space, in which all things are carried on, never would the flame of love have been fired by the beauty of Tyndaris,

But 1. they may be called accidents of places; 2. without matter and space, they could not have occurred;

nor swelling deep in the Phrygian heart of Alexander have kindled the burning battles of savage war, nor unknown of the Trojans would the timber horse have set Pergama aflame at dead of night, when the sons of the Greeks issued from its womb. So that you may see clearly that all events from first to last do not exist, and are not by themselves like body, nor can they be spoken of in the same way as the being [43] of the void, but rather so that you might justly call them the accidents of body and place, in which they are carried on, one and all.

B.: The ‘first-bodies’ are atoms: solid, eternal and indivisible particles

B. The ultimate particles are solid and eternal atoms.

Bodies, moreover, are in part the first-beginnings of things, in part those which are created by the union of first-beginnings. Now the true first-beginnings of things, no force can quench; for they by their solid body prevail in the end. Albeit it seems hard to believe that there can be found among things anything of solid body. For the thunderbolt of heaven passes through walled houses, as do shouts and cries; iron grows white hot in the flame, and stones seethe in fierce fire and leap asunder; then too the hardness of gold is relaxed and softened by heat, and the ice of brass yields beneath the flame and melts; warmth and piercing cold ooze through silver, since when we have held cups duly in our hands we have felt both alike, when the dewy moisture of water was poured in from above. So true is it that in things there is seen to be nothing solid. But yet because true reasoning and the nature of things constrains us, give heed, until in a few verses we set forth that there are things which exist with solid and everlasting body, which we show to be the seeds of things and their first-beginnings, out of which the whole sum of things now stands created.

Proofs. 1. Void and body are mutually exclusive.

First, since we have found existing a twofold nature of things far differing, the nature of body and of space, in which all things take place, it must needs be that each exists alone by itself and unmixed. For wherever space lies empty, which we call the void, body is not there; moreover, wherever body has its station, there is by no means empty void. Therefore the first bodies are solid and free from void. Moreover, since there is void in [44] things created,

2. Body must be solid to enclose void.

solid matter must needs stand all round, nor can anything by true reasoning be shown to hide void in its body and hold it within, except you grant that what keeps it in is solid. Now it can be nothing but a union of matter, which could keep in the void in things. Matter then, which exists with solid body, can be everlasting,

3. Body is that which distinguishes the full from the void;

when all else is dissolved. Next, if there were nothing which was empty and void, the whole would be solid; unless on the other hand there were bodies determined, to fill all the places that they held, the whole universe would be but empty void space. Body, then, we may be sure, is marked off from void turn and turn about, since there is neither a world utterly full nor yet quite empty. There are therefore bodies determined, such as can mark off void space from what is full. These cannot be broken up when hit by blows from without,

it cannot be broken and is therefore eternal.

nor again can they be pierced to the heart and undone, nor by any other way can they be assailed and made to totter; all of which I have above shown to you but a little while before. For it is clear that nothing could be crushed in without void, or broken or cleft in twain by cutting, nor admit moisture nor likewise spreading cold or piercing flame, whereby all things are brought to their end. And the more each thing keeps void within it, the more is it assailed to the heart by these things and begins to totter. Therefore, if the first bodies are solid and free from void, as I have shown, they must be everlasting. Moreover,

4. Otherwise all things would ere now have perished.

if matter had not been everlasting, ere this all things had wholly passed away to nothing, and all that we see had been born again from nothing. But since I have shown above that nothing can be created from nothing, nor can what has been begotten be summoned [45] back to nothing, the first-beginnings must needs be of immortal body, into which at their last day all things can be dissolved, that there may be matter enough for renewing things. Therefore the first-beginnings are of solid singleness, nor in any other way can they be preserved through the ages from infinite time now gone and renew things.

5. If there were no limit to division, things could not reach maturity in due season, and destruction would now have gone past repair.

Again, if nature had ordainedn no limit to the breaking of things, by now the bodies of matter would have been so far brought low by the breaking of ages past, that nothing could be conceived out of them within a fixed time, and pass on to the full measure of its life; for we see that anything you will is more easily broken up than put together again. Wherefore what the long limitless age of days, the age of all time that is gone by, had broken ere now, disordering and dissolving, could never be renewed in all time that remains. But as it is, a set limit to breaking has, we may be sure, been appointed, since we see each thing put together again, and at the same time fixed seasons ordained for all things after their kind, in the which they may be able to reach the flower of their life.

6. Solid bodies with void can make soft things: the reverse is impossible.

There is this too that, though the first-bodies of matter are quite solid, yet we can give account of all the soft things that come to be, air, water, earth, fires, by what means they come to being, and by what force each goes on its way, when once void has been mingled in things. But on the other hand, if the first-beginnings of things were to be soft, it will not be possible to give account whence hard flints and iron can be created; for from the first all nature will lack a first-beginning of foundation. There are then bodies that prevail in their [46] solid singleness, by whose more close-packed union all things can be riveted and reveal their stalwart strength. Moreover,

7. If there are not atoms, things themselves must be eternal, which is clearly untrue.

if no limit has been appointed to the breaking of things, still it must needs be that all the bodies of things survive even now from time everlasting, such that they cannot yet have been assailed by any danger. But since they exist endowed with a frail nature, it is not in harmony with this that they have been able to abide for everlasting time harried through all the ages by countless blows.
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Re: On the Nature of Things, by Titus Lucretius Carus

Postby admin » Sun Jun 21, 2015 11:22 pm

8. Eternal atoms account for the persistence of species.

Once again, since there has been appointed for all things after their kind a limit of growing and of maintaining life, and inasmuch as it stands ordained what all things severally can do by the laws of nature, and what too they cannot, nor is anything so changed, but that all things stand so fast that the diverse birds all in their due order show that the marks of their kind are on their body, they must also, we may be sure, have a body of unchanging substance. For if the first-beginnings of things could be vanquished in any way and changed, then, too, would it be doubtful what might come to being, what might not, yea, in what way each thing has its power limited and its deepset boundary-stone, nor could the tribes each after their kind so often recall the nature, habits, manner of life and movements of the parents.

9. The analogy of perceptible extremities proves the solid singleness of the atoms.

Then, further, since there are extreme pointsn, one after another <on bodies, which are the least things we can see, likewise, too, there must be a least point>1 on [47] that body, which our senses can no longer descry; that point, we may be sure, exists without parts and is endowed with the least nature, nor was it ever sundered apart by itself nor can it so be hereafter, since it is itself but a part of another and that the first single part: then other like parts and again others in order in close array make up the nature of the first body, and since they cannot exist by themselves, it must needs be that they stay fast there whence they cannot by any means be torn away. The first-beginnings then are of solid singleness; for they are a close dense mass of least parts, never put together out of a union of those parts, but rather prevailing in everlasting singleness; from them nature, keeping safe the seeds of things, suffers not anything to be torn away, nor ever to be removed.

10. Unless there is a ‘least part’ the universe and the smallest thing are equal.

Moreover, if there be not a least thing, all the tiniest bodies will be composed of infinite parts, since indeed the half of a half will always have a half, nor will anything set a limit. What difference then will there be between the sum of things and the least of things? There will be no difference; for however completely the whole sum be infinite, yet things that are tiniest will be composed of infinite parts just the same. And since true reasoning cries out against this, and denies that the mind can believe it, you must be vanquished and confess that there are those things which consist of no parts at all and are of the least nature. And since these exist, those first-beginnings too you must needs own are solid and everlasting.

11. The least parts, if separated, could not produce things.

And again, if nature, the creatress, had been used to constrain all things to be dissolved into their least parts, then she could not again renew aught of them, for the reason that things which [48] are not enlarged by any parts, have not those powers which must belong to creative matter, the diverse fastenings, weights, blows, meetings, movements, by which all things are carried on.

C.: Refutation of rival theories

C. False theories. That one element is the primal substance. Heraclitus’s doctrine of fire.

Wherefore those who have thought that fire is the substance of things, and that the whole sum is composed of fire alone, are seen to fall very far from true reasoning. Heraclitusn is their leader who first enters the fray, of bright fame for his dark sayings, yet rather among the empty-headed than among the Greeks of weight, who seek after the truth. For fools laud and love all things more which they can descry hidden beneath twisted sayings, and they set up for true what can tickle the ear with a pretty sound and is tricked out with a smart ring.

1. It does not account for the variety of things.

For I am eager to know how things could be so diverse, if they are created of fire alone and unmixed. For it would be of no avail that hot fire should condense or grow rare, if the parts of fire had the same nature which the whole sum of fire has as well. For fiercer would be the flame, if the parts were drawn together, and weaker again, were they sundered and scattered. But further than this there is nothing which you can think might come to pass from such a cause, far less might the great diversity of things come from fires condensed and rare. This too there is:

2. He denies the void and so vitiates his own theory.

if they were to hold that void is mingled in things, the fires will be able to condense or be left rare. But because they see many things to thwart them, they hold their peace and shrink from allowing void unmixed among things;1 while they fear the heights, they lose the true track, nor again do they perceive that, if void be removed from things, all things must condense [49] and be made one body out of many, such as could not send out anything from it in hot haste; even as fire that brings warmth casts abroad light and heat, so that you may see that it has not parts close-packed.

3. Fire ever changing to other things means ultimate destruction.

But if perchance they believe that in some other way fires may be quenched in union and alter their substance, in very truth if they do not spare to do this at any point, then, we may be sure, all heat will perish utterly to nothing, and all things created will come to be out of nothing. For whenever a thing changes and passes out of its own limits, straightway this is the death of that which was before. Indeed something must needs be left untouched to those fires, lest you find all things returning utterly to nothing, and the store of things born again and growing strong out of nothing.

The true atomic view.

As it is then, since there are certain bodies most determined which keep nature safe ever the same, through whose coming and going and shifting order things change their nature and bodies are altered, you can be sure that these first-bodies of things are not of fire. For it would be no matter that some should give place and pass away, and others be added, and some changed in order, if despite this all retained the nature of heat; for whatever they might create would be in every way fire. But, I trow, the truth is this; there are certain bodies, whose meetings, movements, order, position, and shapes make fires, and when their order changes, they change their nature, and they are not made like to fire nor to any other thing either, which is able to send off bodies to our senses and touch by collision our sense of touch.

4. Heraclitus impugns the senses.

Moreover, to say that fire is all things, and that there is no other real thing in the whole count of things, but [50] only fire, as this same Heraclitus does, seems to be raving frenzy. For on behalf of the senses he fights himself against the senses, and undermines those on which all that he believes must hang, whereby he himself has come to know that which he names fire. For he believes that the senses can know fire aright, but not all other things, which are no whit less bright to see. And this seems to me alike idle and frenzied. For to what shall we appeal? What can be surer for us than the senses themselves, whereby we may mark off things true and false?

5. Why choose fire?

Besides, why should any one rather annul all things, and wish to leave only the nature of heat, than deny that fire exists, and grant in its stead that another nature exists? For it seems equal madness to say the one or the other.

That (a) other elements are the primal substance,

Wherefore those who have thought that fire is the substance of things, and that the whole sum may be built of fire, and those who have set up air as the first-beginning for the begetting of things, or again all who have thought that moisture fashions things alone by itself, or that earth creates all and passes into all the natures of things, seem to have strayed very far away from the truth.

or(b)a combination of two, or (c) of four.

Add to them too those who make the first-beginnings of things twofold, linking air to fire or earth to water, and those who think that all can grow up out of four things, fire, earth, wind, and rain. Of them in the forefront comes Empedoclesn of Acragas; him that islandn bore within the three-cornered coasts of its lands, around which flows the Ionian ocean, with many a winding inlet,


splashing salt foam from its green waves, while with narrow strait a tearing sea sunders with its waves the coasts of Italy’s lands from the island-borders. Here is devastating Charybdis, and here the rumblings of Aetna threaten [51] to gather once more the flames of its wrath, that again in its might it may belch forth the fires bursting from its throat, and once more dash to the sky its flashing flames. And though this mighty country seems in many ways marvellous to the tribes of men, and is said to deserve seeing, rich in goodly things, and strengthened with a mighty wealth of men, yet it is seen to have held nothing in it more glorious than this man, nothing more holy, more marvellous and loved. Nay, the songs of his godlike heart lift up their voice and set forth his glorious discoveries, so that he seems scarce born of human stock.n

Errors of Empedocles and his school:

Yet he and those whom I named before, weaker than he by exceeding many degrees, and far beneath him, though they discovered much in good, nay godlike fashion, and gave answers as from the shrine of their hearts in more holy wise and with reasoning far more sure than the Pythian priestess who speaks out from the tripod and laurel of Phoebus, yet in the first-beginnings of things they came to grief: great were they, and great and heavy their fall therein.

1. they deny the void:

First because they take away the void from things, but suppose movement, and leave things soft and rare, air, sunlight, fire, earth, beasts, and crops, and yet mingle no void in their body.

2. they set no limit to division;

Then because they hold that there is no limit at all to the cutting of bodies, that no halting-place is set to their breaking, nor again is there any least among things. And that when we see that there is that extreme point in each thing, which is seen to be the least to our senses, so that you can infer from this that the extreme point in things which you cannot see is the least in them. Then follows this [52] that

3. their elements are soft

since they suppose the first-beginnings of things soft, things which we see come to birth and endowed throughout with a mortal body, the whole sum of things must then return to naught, and the store of things be born again, and grow strong out of nothing. And how far both this and that are from the truth, you will know by now.

4. and pernicious to one another.

Then again, these things are in many ways hostile, nay poison, the one to the other; therefore either when they meet they will pass away, or they will so fly apart, as when a storm gathers we see the thunderbolts and rain and wind fly asunder.

5. Why not call things the primal substance of the elements?

Again, if from four things all are created and all again are dissolved into those things, how can they be called the first-beginnings of things any more than things the first-beginnings of them, with our thought reversed? For they are begotten turn by turn, and change their colour and all their nature one with the other from all time onward. But if perchance you think that the body of fire and the body of earth and the breezes of the air and the dewy moisture so unite,

6. or, if the elements do not change in compounds, what else could they create?

that in union no one of them changes its nature, you will see that nothing can be created out of them, no, not a living thing, nor one with lifeless body, like a tree. Indeed in the mingling of this diverse mass each thing will reveal its own nature, and air will be seen to be mixed together with earth, and heat to cleave to moisture. But first-beginnings ought in the begetting of things to bring to bear a secret and unseen nature, that nothing may stand out which might bar and thwart whatever is created from existing with its own true being.

7. The flux of the elements destroys permanence;

But indeed they trace it back to heaven and heaven’s fires, and hold that fire first turns itself into the breezes [53] of the sky, that thence is begotten rain, and of rain is created earth, and then all things pass back again from earth, first moisture, next air, then heat, and that these things never cease their mutual changes, in their path from heaven to earth, from earth to the stars of the firmament. But the first-beginnings ought in no wise to do this. For it must needs be that something abides unchangeable, that all things be not altogether brought to naught. For whenever a thing changes and passes out of its own limits, straightway this is the death of that which was before. Wherefore since the things we have named a little before pass into a state of interchange, they must needs be made of other things, which cannot in any case be altered, lest you find all things returning altogether to naught. Why not rather suppose that there are certain bodies endowed with such a nature, and that, if by chance they have created fire, they can too, when a few are removed and a few added, and their order and movement is changed, make the breezes of the sky, and that thus all things are changed one into another?

8. the argument from the presence of the four elements in growth;

‘But,’ you say, ‘the facts show clearly that all things are nourished and grow from the earth up into the breezes of the sky; and unless the season at a propitious time fosters them with rain, so that the trees rock beneath the outpouring of the storm-clouds, and the sun for its part cherishes them, and bestows its heat on them, crops, trees, living creatures, none could grow.’ Yes, in very truth, unless we too were nurtured by dry food and soft moisture, we should lose our flesh, and all the life too would be loosened from all our sinews and bones.

its true atomic explanation.

For beyond all doubt we are nurtured and nourished upon things determined, and other things again, each in their turn, [54] on things determined. Yea, we may be sure, it is because many first-beginnings common in many ways to many things are mingled among things, that so diverse things are nourished on diverse food. And often it is of great matter with what others those first-beginnings are bound up, and in what position, and what movements they mutually give and receive; for the same build up sky, sea, earth, rivers, sun, the same too crops, trees, living creatures, but only when mingled with different things and moving in different ways. Indeed scattered abroad in my verses you see many letters common to many words, and yet you must needs grant that verses and words are unlike both in sense and in the ring of their sound. So great is the power of letters by a mere change of order. But the first-beginnings of things can bring more means to bear, by which all diverse things may be created.

The homoeomeria of Anaxagoras:

Now let us also search into the homoeomeria of Anaxagoras,n as the Greeks term it, though the poverty of our country’s speech does not suffer us to name it in our own tongue; nevertheless the thing itself it is easy to set forth in words. First—what he calls the homoeomeria of things—you must know that he thinks that bones are made of very small and tiny bones, and flesh of small and tiny pieces of flesh, and blood is created of many drops of blood coming together in union, and that gold again can be built up of grains of gold, and the earth grow together out of little earths, that fire is made of fires, and water of water-drops, and all the rest he pictures and imagines in the same way.

1. he denies the void;

And yet he does not allow that there is void in things on any side, nor that there is a limit to the cutting up of bodies. Therefore in this [55] point and that he seems to me to go astray just as they did,

2. he sets no limit to division;

of whom I told above. Add too to this that he pictures his first-beginnings too weak: if indeed those are first-beginnings, which exist endowed with a nature like things themselves, which suffer none the less, and pass away, nor does anything rein them back from their destruction.

3. his first particles are soft;

For which of them all will hold out beneath strong pressure, so as to escape death in the very jaws of destruction? fire or moisture or breeze? which of these? blood or bones? Not one, I trow, when everything alike will be altogether as mortal as the things we see clearly before our eyes vanquished by some violence and passing away. But that things cannot fall away into nothing, nor again grow from nothing, I call to witness what I have before now proved.

4. he does not account for change.

Moreover, since ’tis food that increases and nourishes the body, you may know that our veins and blood and bones <and sinews are created of parts alien in kind>;1 or if they say that all foods are of mingled substance, and have in them little bodies of sinews, and bones and indeed veins and portions of gore, then it will be that all food, both dry, yes and liquid too, must be thought to consist of things alien in kind, of bones and sinews and matter and blood mingled together. Moreover, if all bodies that grow from out the earth are in the earth, the earth must be composed of things alien in kind, which rise up out of the earth. Shift this to another field, you may use the same words again. If in logs flame lurks hidden, and smoke and ash, it must needs be that the logs are composed of things alien in kind. Moreover, all the bodies which the earth nourishes, it [56] increases <from things alien in kind, which rise up out of the earth. So too the bodies which logs emit, are nourished>1 upon things alien in kind, which rise up out of the logs.

Anaxagoras’s evasion: ‘all things are in all things’;

Herein there is left a slight chance of hiding from justice, which Anaxagoras grasps for himself, to hold that all things are mingled, though in hiding, in all things, but that that one thing comes out clear, whereof there are most parts mingled in, stationed more ready to view and in the forefront. But this is very far banished from true reasoning. For it were right then that corn also,

then they ought to appear.

when crushed by the threatening strength of rock, should often give out some sign of blood, or one of those things which are nourished in our body, and that when we rub it with stone on stone, gore should ooze forth. In the same way it were fitting that blades of grass too and pools of water should often give out sweet drops with a savour like the richness of the milk of fleecy beasts, and that often when sods of earth are crumbled, kinds of grasses and corn and leaves should be seen, hiding in tiny form, scattered about among the earth, lastly that ash and smoke should be seen in logs, when they were broken off, and tiny flames in hiding. But since facts clearly show that none of these things comes to pass, you may be sure that things are not so mingled in other things, but that seeds common to many things lie mingled and hidden in things in many ways.

The argument from forest conflagrations.

‘But often on mighty mountains it comes to pass,’ you say, ‘that the neighbouring tops of tall trees rub [57] together, when the strong south winds constrain them to it, until at last a flowery flame gathers, and they blaze with fire.’ And yet you must know that fire is not implanted in their wood, but there are many seeds of heat, which when they have flowed together through the rubbing, create fires in the forests. But if the flame had been hidden away ready-made in the forests, the fires could not have been concealed for any time, they would consume the forests one and all, and burn the trees to ashes.

The true atomic explanation.

Do you not then see now, what I said but a little while ago, that it is of very great matter often with what others those same first-beginnings are bound up, and in what position, and what movements they mutually give and receive, and that the same a little changed with one another can create bearns or flames? Even as the words themselves have their letters but little changed, when with sound distinct we signify beams or flames.

Reductio ad absurdum.

Once again, if you think that all that you can descry in things clear to be seen cannot come to being, but that you must suppose first-bodies of matter endowed with a nature like the whole, by this reasoning you see the first-beginnings of things pass away. Nay, it will come to be that they will be shaken with quivering mirth and laugh aloud, and wet face and cheeks with salt tears.

D.: The Universe is Infinite

D. Lucrotius’s mission.

Come now, learn what remains, and listen to clearer words. Nor do I fail to see in mind how dark are the ways; but a great hope has smitten my heart with the sharp spur of fame, and at once has struck into my breast the sweet love of the muses, whereby now inspired with strong mind I traverse the distant haunts of the Pierides, never trodden before by the foot of man. ’Tis my joy to approach those untasted springs and drink my fill, ’tis [58] my joy to pluck new flowers and gather a glorious coronal for my head from sports whence before the muses have never wreathed the forehead of any man. First because I teach about great things, and hasten to free the mind from the close bondage of religion, then because on a dark theme I trace verses so full of light, touching all with the muses’ charm. For that too is seen to be not without good reason; but even as healers, when they essay to give loathsome wormwood to children, first touch the rim all round the cup with the sweet golden moisture of honey, so that the unwitting age of children may be beguiled as far as the lips, and meanwhile may drink the bitter draught of wormowood, and though charmed may not be harmed, but rather by such means may be restored and come to health; so now, since this philosophy full often seems too bitter to those who have not tasted it, and the multitude shrinks back away from it, I have desired to set forth to you my reasoning in the sweettongued song of the muses, and as though to touch it with the pleasant honey of poetry, if perchance I might avail by such means to keep your mind set upon my verses, while you come to see the whole nature of things, what is its shape and figure.

The problem of infinity.

But since I have taught that the most solid bodies of matter fly about for ever unvanquished through the ages, come now, let us unfold, whether there be a certain limit to their full sum or not; and likewise the void that we have discovered, or room or space, in which all things are carried on,

There is no limit to the sum of things.

let us see clearly whether it is all altogether bounded or spreads out limitless and immeasurably deep.

a. The universe is infinite: 1. for it has no bounding point;

The whole universe then is bounded in no direction of its ways; for then it would be bound to have an extreme [59] point. Now it is seen that nothing can have an extreme point, unless there be something beyond to bound it, so that there is seen to be a spot further than which the nature of our sense cannot follow it. As it is, since we must admit that there is nothing outside the whole sum, it has not an extreme point, it lacks therefore bound and limit. Nor does it matter in which quarter of it you take your stand; so true is it that, whatever place every man takes up, he leaves the whole boundless just as much on every side.

2. experiment of the hurled dart;

Moreover, suppose nown that all space were created finite, if one were to run on to the end, to its furthest coasts, and throw a flying dart, would you have it that that dart, hurled with might and main, goes on whither it is sped and flies afar, or do you think that something can check and bar its way? For one or the other you must needs admit and choose. Yet both shut off your escape and constrain you to grant that the universe spreads out free from limit. For whether there is something to check it and bring it about that it arrives not whither it was sped, nor plants itself in the goal, or whether it fares forward, it set not forth from the end. In this way I will press on, and wherever you shall set the furthest coasts, I shall ask what then becomes of the dart. It will come to pass that nowhere can a bound be set and room for flight ever prolongs the chance of flight.

3. the sensible world bears no analogy.

Lastly, before our eyes one thing is seen to bound another; air is as a wall between the hills, and mountains between tracts of air, land bounds the sea, and again sea bounds all lands; yet the universe in truth there is nothing to limit outside.

b. Space is infinite: otherwise matter would collect at the bottom.

Moreover, if all the space in the whole universe were shut in on all sides, and were created with borders determined, [60] and had been bounded, then the store of matter would have flowed together with solid weight from all sides to the bottom, nor could anything be carried on beneath the canopy of the sky, nor would there be sky at all, nor the light of the sun, since in truth all matter would lie idle piled together by sinking down from limitless time. But as it is, no rest, we may be sure, has been granted to the bodies of the first-beginnings, because there is no bottom at all, whither they may, as it were, flow together, and make their resting-place. All things are for ever carried on in ceaseless movement from all sides, and bodies of matter are even stirred up and supplied from beneath out of limitless space. The nature of room then and the space of the deep is such that neither could the bright thunderbolts course through it in their career, gliding on through the everlasting tract of time, nor bring it about that there remain a whit less to traverse as they travel; so far on every side spreads out huge room for things, free from limit in all directions everywhere.

c. Matter is infinite:

Nay more, nature ordains that the sum of things may not have power to set a limit to itself, since she constrains body to be bounded by void, and all that is void to be bounded by body, so that thus she makes the universe infinite by their interchange, or else at least one of the two, if the other of them bound it not, yet spreads out immeasurable with nature unmixed. <But space I have taught above spreads out without limit.

otherwise things could not last

If then the sum of matter were bounded,>1 neither sea nor earth nor the gleaming quarters of heaven nor the race of mortal [61] men, nor the hallowed bodies of the gods could exist for the short space of an hour.

or even have been created.

For driven apart from its unions the store of matter would be carried all dissolved through the great void, or rather in truth it could never have grown together and given birth to anything, since scattered abroad it could not have been brought to meet For in very truth,

Our world was not formed by design but by the chance movements of atoms.

not by design did the first-beginnings of things place themselves each in their order with foreseeing mind, nor indeed did they make compact what movements each should start, but because many of them shifting in many ways throughout the world are harried and buffeted by blows from limitless time, by trying movements and unions of every kind, at last they fall into such dispositions as those, whereby our world of things is created and holds together. And it too, preserved from harm through many a mighty cycle of years, when once it has been cast into the movements suited to its being, brings it about that the rivers replenish the greedy sea with the bounteous waters of their streams, and the earth, fostered by the sun’s heat, renews its increase, and the race of living things flourishes, sent up from her womb, and the gliding fires of heaven are alive; all this they would in no wise do, unless store of matter might rise up from limitless space, out of which they are used to renew all their losses in due season. For even as the nature of living things, robbed of food, loses its flesh and pines away, so all things must needs be dissolved, when once matter has ceased to come for their supply, turned aside in any way from its due course.

Its preservation by blows from without.

Nor can blows from without on all sides keep together the whole of each world which has come together in union. For they can smite on it once and again, and keep a part in place, until [62] others come, and the sum may be supplied. Yet sometimes they are constrained to rebound and at once afford space and time for flight to the first-beginnings of things, so that they can pass away freed from union.

Necessity of infinity of matter.

Therefore, again and again, it must be that many things rise up, yea, and in order that even the blows too may not fail, there must needs be limitless mass of matter on all sides.

False theory of Stoics: the world is held together by centripetal force.

Herein shrink far from believing,n Memmius, what some say: that all things press towards the centre of a sum, and that ’tis for this cause that the nature of the world stands fast without any blows from outside, and that top and bottom cannot part asunder in any direction, because all things are pressing upon the centre (if indeed you can believe that anything can stand upon itself): and that all heavy things which are beneath the earth press upwards, and rest placed upside down upon the earth,

Its absurdities.

like the images of things which we see, as it is, through water. And in the same way they maintain that living things walk head downwards, and cannot fall off the earth into the spaces of heaven beneath them any more than our bodies can of their free will fly up into the quarters of heaven: that when they see the sun, we are descrying the stars of night, and that they share with us turn by turn the seasons of the sky, and pass nights equal to our days.1 But empty error has commended these false ideas to fools, because they embrace and hold a theory with twisted reasoning. For there can be no centre, since the universe is created infinite. Nor, if indeed there were a centre, could anything at all rest there any more for [63] that, rather than be driven away for some far different reason: for all room and space, which we call void, must through centre or not-centre give place alike to heavy bodies, wherever their motions tend. Nor is there any place, to which when bodies have come, they can lose the force of their weight and stand still in the void; nor must aught that is void support anything, but rather hasten to give place, as its own nature desires. It cannot be then that things can be held together in union in such a way, constrained by a yearning for the centre.

Its inconsistency; for not all things seek the centre.Moreover, since they do not pretend that all bodies press towards the centre, but only those of earth and liquid, the moisture of the sea and mighty waters from the mountains, and those things which are, as it were, enclosed in an earthy frame; but on the other hand, they teach that the thin breezes of air and hot fires at the same time are carried away from the centre, and that for this cause all the sky around is twinkling with stars, and the flame of the sun is fed through the blue tracts of heaven, because all the heat fleeing from the centre gathers itself together there; nor again can the topmost branches grow leafy upon trees, unless from the earth little by little each has food <supplied by nature, their thoughts are not at harmony with themselves.

Without infinite matter, the world would be destroyed.

There must then be an infinite store of matter>,1 lest after the winged way of flames the walls of the world suddenly fly apart, dissolved through the great void, and lest all else follow them in like manner, or the thundering quarters of [64] the sky fall down from above, and the earth in hot haste withdraw itself from beneath our feet, and amid all the mingled ruin of things on earth and of the sky, whereby the frames of bodies are loosed, it pass away through the deep void, so that in an instant of time not a wrack be left behind, except emptied space and unseen first-beginnings. For on whatever side you maintain that the bodies fail first, this side will be the gate of death for things, by this path will all the throng of matter cast itself abroad.

Progress in learning.

These things you will learn thus, led on with little trouble; for one thing after another shall grow clear, nor will blind night snatch away your path from you, but that you shall see all the utmost truths of nature: so shall things kindle a light for others.
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Re: On the Nature of Things, by Titus Lucretius Carus

Postby admin » Sun Jun 21, 2015 11:25 pm


Book II: Deals with the Motion and Forms of the Atoms, and their Combination in Things


Introduction: the calm heights of philosophy.

Sweet it is, when on the great sea the winds are buffeting the waters, to gaze from the land on another’s great struggles; not because it is pleasure or joy that any one should be distressed, but because it is sweet to perceive from what misfortune you yourself are free. Sweet is it too, to behold great contests of war in full array over the plains, when you have no part in the danger. But nothing is more gladdening than to dwell in the calm high places, firmly embattled on the heights by the teaching of the wise, whence you can look down on others, and see them wandering hither and thither, going astray as they seek the way of life, in strife matching their wits or rival claims of birth, struggling night and day by surpassing effort to rise up to the height of power and gain possession of the world. Ah! miserable minds of men, blind hearts! in what darkness of life, in what great dangers ye spend this little span of years!

Nature’s needs

to think that ye should not see that nature cries aloud for nothing else but that pain may be kept far sundered from the body, and that, withdrawn from care and fear, she may enjoy in mind the sense of pleasure!

for the body

And so we see that for the body’s nature but few things at all are needful, even such as can take away pain. Yea, though pleasantly enough from time to time they can prepare for us in many ways a lap of luxury, yet nature herself feels no loss, if there are not golden images of youths about the halls, grasping fiery torches in their right hands, that light may be supplied to banquets at [66] night, if the house does not glow with silver or gleam with gold, nor do fretted and gilded ceilings re-echo to the lute. And yet, for all this, men lie in friendly groups on the soft grass near some stream of water under the branches of a tall tree, and at no great cost delightfully refresh their bodies, above all when the weather smiles on them, and the season of the year bestrews the green grass with flowers. Nor do fiery fevers more quickly quit the body, if you toss on broidered pictures and blushing purple, than if you must lie on the poor man’s plaid. Wherefore since in our body riches are of no profit, nor high birth nor the glories of kingship, for the rest,

and for the mind. Earthly power and the terrors of Religion.

we must believe that they avail nothing for the mind as well; unless perchance, when you see your legions swarming over the spaces of the Campus,n and provoking a mimic war, strengthened with hosts in reserve and forces of cavalry,1 when you draw them up equipped with arms,2 all alike eager for the fray, when you see the army wandering far and wide in busy haste, then alarmed by all this the scruples of religion fly in panic from your mind, or that the dread of death leaves your heart empty and free from care. But if we see that these thoughts are mere mirth and mockery, and in very truth the fears of men and the cares that dog them fear not the clash of arms nor the weapons of war, but pass boldly among kings and lords of the world, nor dread the glitter that comes from gold nor the bright sheen of the purple robe,

Religion and Philosophy.

can you doubt that all such power belongs to reason alone, above all when the whole of life is but a struggle in darkness? For even as children tremble and fear everything [67] in blinding darkness, so we sometimes dread in the light things that are no whit more to be feared than what children shudder at in the dark, and imagine will come to pass. This terror then, this darkness of the mind, must needs be scattered not by the rays of the sun and the gleaming shafts of day, but by the outer view and the inner law of nature.

A.: The Motion of the Atoms

A. Motion of the atoms:Come now, I will unfold by what movement the creative bodies of matter beget diverse things, and break up those that are begotten, by what force they are constrained to do this, and what velocity is appointed them for moving through the mighty void: do you remember to give your mind to my words.

the cause of successive growth and decay.

For in very truth matter does not cleave close-packed to itself, since we see each thing grow less, and we perceive all things flow away, as it were, in the long lapse of time, as age withdraws them from our sight: and yet the universe is seen to remain undiminished, inasmuch as all bodies that depart from anything, lessen that from which they pass away, and bless with increase that to which they have come; they constrain the former to grow old and the latter again to flourish, and yet they abide not with it. Thus the sum of things is ever being replenished, and mortals live one and all by give and take. Some races wax and others wane, and in a short space the tribes of living things are changed, and like runners hand on the torch of life.

Their incessant movement. Its two causes:

If you think that the first-beginnings of things can stay still, and by staying still beget new movements in things, you stray very far away from true reasoning. For since they wander through the void,n it must needs be that all the first-beginnings of things move on either by their own weight or sometimes by the blow of another [68] For when quickly,

movement of free atoms in the void;

again and again, they have met and clashed together, it comes to pass that they leap asunder at once this way and that; for indeed it is not strange, since they are most hard with solid heavy bodies, and nothing bars them from behind. And the more you perceive all the bodies of matter tossing about, bring it to mind that there is no lowest point in the whole universe, nor have the first-bodies any place where they may come to rest, since I have shown in many words, and it has been proved by true reasoning, that space spreads out without bound or limit, immeasurable towards every quarter everywhere. And since that is certain, no rest, we may be sure, is allowed to the first-bodies moving through the deep void, but rather plied with unceasing, diverse motion, some when they have dashed together leap back at great space apart, others too are thrust but a short way from the blow.

movement of atoms in compounds.

And all those which are driven together in more close-packed union and leap back but a little space apart, entangled by their own close-locking shapes, these make the strong roots of rock and the brute bulk of iron and all other things of their kind. Of the rest which wander through the great void, a few leap far apart, and recoil afar with great spaces between; these supply for us thin air and the bright light of the sun. Many, moreover, wander on through the great void, which have been cast back from the unions of things, nor have they anywhere else availed to be taken into them and link their movements. And of this truth, as I am telling it, a likeness and image is ever passing presently before our eyes. For look closely,

Illustration from the motesin the sunbeam:

whenever rays are let in and pour the sun’s light through the dark places in houses: for you will see many tiny bodies mingle [69] in many ways all through the empty space right in the light of the rays, and as though in some everlasting strife wage war and battle, struggling troop against troop, nor ever crying a halt, harried with constant meetings and partings; so that you may guess from this what it means that the first-beginnings of things are for ever tossing in the great void.

a picture and an indication of the unseen movements of the atoms.

So far as may be, a little thing can give a picture of great things and afford traces of a concept.n And for this reason it is the more right for you to give heed to these bodies, which you see jostling in the sun’s rays, because such jostlings hintn that there are movements of matter too beneath them, secret and unseen. For you will see many particles there stirred by unseen blows change their course and turn back, driven backwards on their path, now this way, now that, in every direction everywhere. You may know that this shifting movement comes to them all from the first-beginnings. For first the first-beginnings of things move of themselves; then those bodies which are formed of a tiny union, and are, as it were, nearest to the powers of the first-beginnings, are smitten and stirred by their unseen blows, and they in their turn, rouse up bodies a little larger. And so the movement passes upwards from the first-beginnings, and little by little comes forth to our senses, so that those bodies move too, which we can descry in the sun’s light; yet it is not clearly seen by what blows they do it.

Velocity of the atoms. Comparison with sunlight,

Next, what speed of movement is given to the first-bodies of matter, you may learn, Memmius, in a few words from this. First, when dawn strews the land with new light, and the diverse birds flitting through the distant woods across the soft air fill the place with their clear cries, we see that it is plain and evident for all to behold [70] how suddenly the sun is wont at such a time to rise and clothe all things,

which yet is impeded by external opposition

bathing them in his light. And yet that heat which the sun sends out, and that calm light of his, is not passing through empty space; therefore, it is constrained to go more slowly, while it dashes asunder, as it were, the waves of air. Nor again do the several particlesn of heat move on one by one, but entangled one with another, and joined in a mass; therefore they are at once dragged back each by the other,

and internal vibration,

and impeded from without, so that they are constrained to go more slowly. But the first-beginnings, which are of solid singleness, when they pass through the empty void, and nothing checks them without, and they themselves, single wholes with all their parts, are borne, as they press on, towards the one spot which they first began to seek,

whereas the atoms are quite unchecked.

must needs, we may be sure, surpass in speed of motion, and be carried far more quickly than the light of the sun, and rush through many times the distance of space in the same time in which the flashing light of the sun crowds the sky.

1 nor to follow up each of the first-beginnings severally, to see by what means each single thing is carried on.

False theory that the world is made for men by divine power;

Yet a certain sect, against all this, ignorant <that the bodies> of matter <fly on of their own accord, unvanquished through the ages,>2 believe that nature cannot without the [71] power of the gods, in ways so nicely tempered to the needs of men, change the seasons of the year, and create the crops, and all else besides, which divine pleasure wins men to approach, while she herself, the leader of life, leads on and entices them by the arts of Venus to renew their races, that the tribe of mankind may not perish. But when they suppose that the gods have appointed all things for the sake of men, they are seen in all things to fall exceeding far away from true reason.

but it is made so badly.

For however little I know what the first-beginnings of things are, yet this I would dare to affirm from the very workings of heaven, and to prove from many other things as well, that the nature of the world is by no means made by divine grace for us: so great are the flaws with which it stands beset. And this, Memmius, I will make clear to you hereafter. Now I will set forth what yet remains about the movements.

Causes of atomic motion:

Now is the place, I trow, herein to prove this also to you, that no bodily thing can of its own forcen be carried upwards or move upwards; lest the bodies of flames give you the lie herein. For upwards indeed the smiling crops and trees are brought to birth, and take their increase, upwards too they grow,

1. the universal motion downwards: upward motion is always due to force;

albeit all things of weight, as far as in them lies, are borne downwards. Nor when fires leap up to the roofs of houses, and with swift flame lick up beams and rafters, must we think that they do this of their own will, shot up without a driving force. Even as when blood shot out from our body spirts out leaping up on high, and scatters gore. Do you not see too with what force the moisture of water spews up beams and rafters? For the more we have pushed them straight down deep in the water, and with might and main have [72] pressed them, striving with pain many together, the more eagerly does it spew them up and send them back, so that they rise more than half out of the water and leap up. And yet we do not doubt, I trow, but that all these things, as far as in them lies, are borne downwards through the empty void. Just so, therefore, flames too must be able when squeezed out to press on upwards through the breezes of air, albeit their weights are fighting, as far as in them lies, to drag them downwards. And again, the nightly torches of the sky which fly on high, do you not see that they trail long tracts of flames behind towards whatever side nature has given them to travel? do you not descry stars and constellations falling to earth? The sun too from the height of heaven scatters its heat on every side, and sows the fields with his light; ’tis towards the earth then that the sun’s heat also tends. And you descry, too, thunderbolts flying crosswise through the rain; now from this side, now from that the fires burst from the clouds and rush together; the force of flame everywhere falls towards the earth.

2. the swerve of the atoms.

Herein I would fain that you should learn this too, that when first - bodies are being carried downwards straight through the void by their own weight, at times quite undetermined and at undetermined spots they push a little from their path:n yet only just so much as you could call a change of trend. But if they were not used to swerve, all things would fall downwards through the deep void like drops of rain, nor could collision come to be, nor a blow brought to pass for the first-beginnings: so nature would never have brought aught to being.[73]

False theory that heavier atoms fall faster than lighter.

But if perchance any one believesn that heavier bodies, because they are carried more quickly straight through the void, can fall from above on the lighter, and so bring about the blows which can give creative motions, he wanders far away from true reason. For all things that fall through the water and thin air, these things must needs quicken their fall in proportion to their weights, just because the body of water and the thin nature of air cannot check each thing equally, but give place more quickly when overcome by heavier bodies.

This is not true in the void.

But, on the other hand, the empty void cannot on any side, at any time, support anything, but rather, as its own nature desires, it continues to give place; wherefore all things must needs be borne on through the calm void, moving at equal rate with unequal weights. The heavier will not then ever be able to fall on the lighter from above, nor of themselves bring about the blows, which make diverse the movements, by which nature carries things on. Wherefore, again and again,

A slight swerve is necessary,

it must needs be that the first-bodies swerve a little; yet not more than the very least, lest we seem to be imagining a sideways movement, and the truth refute it. For this we see plain and evident, that bodies, as far as in them lies, cannot travel sideways, since they fall headlong from above,

and is not contradicted by phenomena.

as far as you can descry. But that nothing at all swerves from the straight direction of its path, what sense is there which can descry?1

Once again, if every motion is always linked on,

The swerve accounts for the power of free motion in living beings.

and the new always arises from the old in order determined, nor by swerving do the first-beginnings make a certain start of movement to break through the decrees of fate, [74] so that cause may not follow cause from infinite time; whence comes this free will for living things all over the earth, whence, I ask, is it wrested from fate, this will whereby we move forward, where pleasure leads each one of us, and swerve likewise in our motions neither at determined times nor in a determined direction of place,

It starts from the will and then passes through all the limbs.

but just where our mind has carried us? For without doubt it is his own will which gives to each one a start for this movement, and from the will the motions pass flooding through the limbs. Do you not see too how, when the barriers are flung open, yet for an instant of time the eager might of the horses cannot burst out so suddenly as their mind itself desires? For the whole store of matter throughout the whole body must be roused to movement, that then aroused through every limb it may strain and follow the eager longing of the mind; so that you see a start of movementn is brought to pass from the heart, and comes forth first of all from the will of the mind, and then afterwards is spread through all the body and limbs.

It is very different from motion under compulsion.

Nor is it the same as when we move forward impelled by a blow from the strong might and strong constraint of another. For then it is clear to see that all the matter of the body moves and is hurried on against our will, until the will has reined it back throughout the limbs. Do you not then now see that, albeit a force outside pushes many men and constrains them often to go forward against their will and to be hurried away headlong, yet there is something in our breast, which can fight against it and withstand it? And at its bidding too the store of matter is constrained now and then to turn throughout the limbs and members, and, when pushed forward, is reined [75] back and comes to rest again.

It is due to the second cause of motion, the swerve of the atoms.

Wherefore in the seeds too you must needs allow likewise that there is another cause of motion besides blows and weights, whence comes this power born in us, since we see that nothing can come to pass from nothing. For weight prevents all things coming to pass by blows, as by some force without. But that the very mind feels not some necessity within in doing all things, and is not constrained like a conquered thing to bear and suffer, this is brought about by the tiny swerve of the first-beginnings in no determined direction of place and at no determined time.

The sum of motion, like that of matter, is unchangeable.

Nor was the store of matter ever more closely packed nor again set at larger distances apart. For neither does anything come to increase it nor pass away from it. Wherefore the bodies of the first-beginnings in the ages past moved with the same motion as now, and hereafter will be borne on for ever in the same way; such things as have been wont to come to being will be brought to birth under the same law, will exist and grow and be strong and lusty, inasmuch as is granted to each by the ordinances of nature. Nor can any force change the sum of things; for neither is there anything outside, into which any kind of matter may escape from the universe, nor whence new forces can arise and burst into the universe and change the whole nature of things and alter its motions.

Though a whole body seems at rest, the atoms are in unseen motion.

Herein we need not wonder why it is that, when all the first-beginnings of things are in motion, yet the whole seems to stand wholly at rest, except when anything starts moving with its entire body. For all the nature of the first-bodies lies far away from our senses, below their purview; wherefore, since you cannot reach to look upon them, they must needs steal away their motions [76] from you too; above all, since such things as we can look upon, yet often hide their motions, when withdrawn from us on some distant spot.

Parallels in experience.

For often the fleecy flocks cropping the glad pasture on a hill creep on whither each is called and tempted by the grass bejewelled with fresh dew, and the lambs fed full gambol and butt playfully; yet all this seems blurred to us from afar, and to lie like a white mass on a green hill. Moreover, when mighty legions fill the spaces of the plains with their chargings, awaking a mimic warfare, a sheen rises there to heaven and all the earth around gleams with bronze, and beneath a noise is roused by the mighty mass of men as they march, and the hills smitten by their shouts turn back the cries to the stars of the firmament, and the cavalry wheel round and suddenly shake the middle of the plains with their forceful onset, as they scour across them. And yet there is a certain spot on the high hills, whence all seems to be at rest and to lie like a glimmering mass upon the plains.

B.: The Forms of the Atoms and their Effects in Combination

B. The shapes of the atoms. Their variety,

Now come, next in order learn of what kind are the beginnings of all things and how far differing in form, and how they are made diverse with many kinds of shapes; not that but a few are endowed with a like form, but that they are not all alike the same one with another.

which arises from the infinite number of the atoms,

Nor need we wonder; for since there is so great a store of them, that neither have they any limit, as I have shown, nor any sum, it must needs be, we may be sure, that they are not all of equal bulk nor possessed of the same shape.

and is the cause of the distinction of individuals in the same species.

Moreover, the race of men, and the dumb shoals of scaly creatures which swim the seas, and the glad herds and wild beasts, and the diverse birds, which throng the gladdening watering-places all around the [77] riverbanks and springs and pools, and those which flit about and people the distant forests; of these go and take any single one you will from among its kind, yet you will find that they are different in shape one from another. Nor in any other way could the offspring know its mother, or the mother her offspring; yet we see that they can, and that they are clearly not less known to one another than men.

Illustrations: the cow and her calf;

For often before the sculptured shrines of the gods a calf has fallen, slaughtered hard by the altars smoking with incense, breathing out from its breast the hot tide of blood. But the mother bereft wanders over the green glades and seeks1 on the ground for the footprints marked by those cloven hoofs, scanning every spot with her eyes, if only she might anywhere catch sight of her lost young, and stopping fills the leafy grove with her lament: again and again she comes back to the stall, stabbed to the heart with yearning for her lost calf, nor can the tender willows and the grass refreshed with dew and the loved streams, gliding level with their banks, bring gladness to her mind and turn aside the sudden pang of care, nor yet can the shapes of other calves among the glad pastures turn her mind to new thoughts or ease it of its care: so eagerly does she seek in vain for something she knows as her own.

kids and lambs and their mothers;

Moreover, the tender kids with their trembling cries know their horned dams and the butting lambs the flocks of bleating sheep: so surely, as their nature needs, do they run back always each to its own udder of milk.

grains of corn;

Lastly, take any kind of corn, you will not find that every grain is like its fellows, each in its several kind, but that there runs through all [78] some difference between their forms. And in like manner we see the race of shells painting the lap of earth,


where with its gentle waves the sea beats on the thirsty sand of the winding shore. Wherefore again and again in the same way it must needs be, since the first-beginnings of things are made by nature and not fashioned by hand to the fixed form of one pattern, that some of them fly about with shapes unlike one another.

It is owing to this variety that some things pass through, where others are checked.

It is very easy by reasoning of the mind for us to read the riddle why the fire of lightning is far more piercing than is our fire rising from pine-torches on earth. For you might say that the heavenly fire of lightning is made more subtle and of smaller shapes, and so passes through holes which our fire rising from logs and born of the pine-torch cannot pass. Again light passes through horn-lanterns, but the rain is spewed back. Why? unless it be that those bodies of light are smaller than those of which the quickening liquid of water is made. And we see wine flow through the strainer as swiftly as you will; but, on the other hand, the sluggish olive-oil hangs back, because, we may be sure, it is composed of particles either larger or more hooked and entangled one with the other, and so it comes about that the first-beginnings cannot so quickly be drawn apart, each single one from the rest, and so ooze through the single holes of each thing.

To it are due differences of taste,

There is this too that the liquids of honey and milk give a pleasant sensation of the tongue, when rolled in the mouth; but on the other hand, the loathsome nature of wormwood and biting centaury set the mouth awry by their noisome taste; so that you may easily know that those things which can touch the senses pleasantly are made of smooth and round bodies, but [79] that on the other hand all things which seem to be bitter and harsh, these are held bound together with particles more hooked, and for this cause are wont to tear a way into our senses, and at their entering in to break through the body.

and all differences of sensation in hearing,

Lastly, all things good or bad to the senses in their touch fight thus with one another, because they are built up of bodies of different shape; lest by chance you may think that the harsh shuddering soundn of the squeaking saw is made of particles as smooth as are the melodies of music which players awake, shaping the notes as their fingers move nimbly over the strings;


nor again, must you think that first-beginnings of like shape pierce into men’s nostrils, when noisome carcasses are roasting, and when the stage is freshly sprinkled with Cilician saffron, and the altar hard by is breathing the scent of Arabian incense;

and sight.

nor must you suppose that the pleasant colours of things, which can feed our eyes, are made of seeds like those which prick the pupil and constrain us to tears, or look dreadful and loathly in their hideous aspect. For every shape, which ever charms the senses,

Pleasure and pain are determined by the shapes of the particles;

has not been brought to being without some smoothness in the first-beginnings; but, on the other hand, every shape which is harsh and offensive has not been formed without some roughness of substance. Other particles there are, moreover, which cannot rightly be thought to be smooth nor altogether hooked with bent points, but rather with tiny angles standing out a little, insomuch that they can tickle the senses rather than hurt them; and of this kind is lees of wine and the taste of endive. Or again, that hot fires and cold frost have particles fanged in different ways to prick the senses of the body, is proved [80] to us by the touch of each.

for touch is the ultimate cause of all sensation.

For touch, yea touch, by the holy powers of the gods, is the sense of the body, either when something from without finds its way in, or when a thing which is born in the body hurts us, or gives pleasure as it passes out, or else when the seeds after collision jostle within the body itself and, roused one by another, disturb our sense: as if by chance you should with your hand strike any part of your own body and so make trial. Therefore the first-beginnings must needs have forms far different, which can produce such diverse feelings.

Further differences and the atomic shapes which cause them: hard things;

Or, again, things which seem to us hard and compact, these, it must needs be, are made of particles more hooked one to another, and are held together close-fastened at their roots, as it were by branching particles. First of all in this class diamond stones stand in the forefront of the fight, well used to despise all blows, and stubborn flints and the strength of hard iron, and brass sockets, which scream aloud as they struggle against the bolts.

liquid things;

Those things indeed must be made of particles more round and smooth, which are liquid with a fluid body: for indeed a handful of poppy-seed moves easily just as a draught of water; for the several round particles are not checked one by the other, and when struck, it will roll downhill just like water.

pungent and evanescent things;

Lastly, all things which you perceive flying asunder, like smoke, clouds and flames, it must needs be that even if they are not made entirely of smooth and round particles, yet they are not hampered by particles closely linked, so that they can prick the body, and pass into rocks, and yet not cling one to another: so that you can easily learn that, whatever we see <borne asunder by the [81] tearing winds and> meeting our senses <as poison>,1 are of elements not closely linked but pointed.

liquid but bitter things.

But because you see that some things which are fluid, are also bitter, as is the brine of the sea, count it no wonder. For because it is fluid, it is of smooth and round particles, and many rugged bodies mingled in it give birth to pain; and yet it must needs be that they are not hooked and held together: you must know that they are nevertheless spherical, though rugged, so that they can roll on together and hurt the senses. And that you may the more think that rough are mingled with smooth first-beginnings, from which is made the bitter body of the sea-god, there is a way of sundering them and seeing how, apart from the rest, the fresh water, when it trickles many a time through the earth, flows into a trench and loses its harshness; for it leaves behind up above the first-beginnings of its sickly saltness, since the rough particles can more readily stick in the earth.2

Differences of shapes of atoms limited in number. Otherwise 1. some atoms would be of vast size;

And since I have taught this much, I will hasten to link on a truth which holds to this and wins belief from it, that the first-beginnings of things are limited in the tale of their varying shapes. If it were not to be so, then once again certain seeds must needs be of unbounded bulk of body. For, within the same tiny frame of any one single seed, the shapes of the body cannot be very diverse. For suppose the first-bodiesn to be of three [82] least parts, or if you will, make them larger by a few more; in truth when you have tried all those parts of one body in every way, shifting top and bottom, changing right with left, to see what outline of form in that whole body each arrangement gives, beyond that, if by chance you wish to make the shapes different, you must needs add other parts; thence it will follow that in like manner the arrangement will ask for other parts, if by chance you still wish to make the shapes different: and so greater bulk in the body follows on newness of forms. Wherefore it is not possible that you can believe that there are seeds with unbounded difference of forms, lest you constrain certain of them to be of huge vastness, which I have taught above cannot be approved.1

2. all extremes in our experience would be surpassed.

At once you would see barbaric robes and gleaming Meliboean purple, dyed with the colour of Thessalian shells, and the golden tribes of peacocks, steeped in smiling beauty, lie neglected and surpassed by the new colours in things; and the smell of myrrh and the taste of honey would be despised, and the swan’s song and the many-toned melodies on Phoebus’s strings would in like manner be smothered and mute: for something more excellent than all else would ever be arising. Likewise, all things would sink back on the worse side, just as we have told that they would rise towards the better. For, on the other hand, something would be more loathly too than all else to nostrils and ears and eyes, and the taste of the mouth.

As it is, there are fixed limits.

And since these things are not so, [83] but a fixed limit to things marks the extreme on either side, you must needs confess that the first-matter too has a limited difference in shapes. Again from fire right on to the icy frost of winter1 is but a limited way, and in like manner is the way measured back again. For all heat and cold and tepid warmths in the middle lie between the two, filling up the sum in due order. And so they are brought to being differing with limited degrees, since they are marked off at either end by the twin points, beset on this side by flames, on that by stiffening frosts.

The atoms of any one shape are infinite in number.

And since I have taught this much, I will hasten to link on a truth which holds to it and wins belief from it, that the first-beginnings of things, which are formed with a shape like to one another, are in number infinite. For since the difference of forms is limited, it must needs be that those which are alike are unlimited, or else that the sum of matter is created limited, which I have proved not to be,

Otherwise, the sum of matter would be limited.

showing2 in my verses that the tiny bodies of matter from everlasting always keep up the sum of things, as the team of blows is harnessed on unbroken on every side. For in that you seen that certain animals are more rare, and perceive that nature is less fruitful in them, yet in another quarter and spot, in some distant lands, there may be many in that kind,

Animals rare in one place are common in another.

and so the tale is made up; even as in the race of four-footed beasts we see that elephants with their snaky hands come first of all, by whose many thousands India is embattled with a bulwark of ivory, so that no way can be found into its inner parts: so great is the multitude of those beasts, whereof we see but a very few samples. But still, let me grant this too, let there be, if you will,

Even a unique thing would imply infinite atoms of the required kind.

some one thing unique, alone in the body of its birth, to which there is not [84] a fellow in the whole wide world; yet unless there is an unlimited stock of matter, from which it might be conceived and brought to birth, it will not be able to be created, nor, after that, to grow on and be nourished. Nay, in very truth, if I were to suppose this too, that the bodies creative of one single thing were limited as they tossed about the universe, whence, where, by what force,

If limited in number, they might be tossed about the universe and never meet.

in what manner will they meet and come together in that vast ocean, that alien turmoil of matter? They have not, I trow, a plan for union, but as, when many a great shipwreck has come to pass, the great sea is wont to cast hither and thither benches, ribs, yards, prow, masts and swimming oars, so that along all the coasts of the lands floating stern-pieces are seen, giving warning to mortals, to resolve to shun the snares of the sea and its might and guile, nor trust it at any time, when the wiles of the windless waves smile treacherous; even so, if you once suppose that the first-beginnings of a certain kind are limited, then scattered through all time they must needs be tossed hither and thither by the tides of matter, setting towards every side, so that never can they be driven together and come together in union, nor stay fixed in union, nor take increase and grow; yet that each of these things openly comes to pass, fact proves for all to see, that things can be brought to birth and being born can grow. It is manifest then that there are, in any kind of things you will, infinite first-beginnings, by which all things are supplied.

Creation and destruction wage equal warfare.

And so, neither can the motions of destruction prevail for ever, and bury life in an eternal tomb, nor yet can the motions of creation and increase for ever bring things to birth and preserve them. So war waged from time [85] everlasting is carried on by the balanced strife of the first-beginnings. Now here, now there, the vital forces of things conquer and are conquered alike. With the funeral mingles the wailing which babies raise as they come to look upon the coasts of light; nor has night ever followed on day, or dawn on night, but that it has heard mingled with the baby’s sickly wailings, the lament that escorts death and the black funeral.

Nothing is created of one single kind of atoms.

Herein it is right to have this truth also surely sealed and to keep it stored in your remembering mind, that there is not one of all the things, whose nature is seen before our face, which is built of one kind of first-beginnings, nor anything which is not created of well-mingled seed; and whatever possesses within it more forces and powers, it thus shows that there are in it most kinds of first-beginnings and diverse shapes.

Earth has every kind,

First of all the earth holds within it the first-bodies, by which the springs welling out coldness ever and anon renew the measureless sea, it holds those whence fires are born. For in many places the surface of the earth is kindled and blazes, but the outburst of Aetna rages with fire from its lowest depths. Then further, it holds those whence it can raise for the races of men the smiling crops and glad trees, whence too it can furnish to the tribe of wild beasts, which ranges the mountains, streams, leaves and glad pastures.

and is therefore called Mother.

Wherefore earth alone has been called the Great Mother of the gods,n and the mother of the wild beasts, and the parent of our body.
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Re: On the Nature of Things, by Titus Lucretius Carus

Postby admin » Sun Jun 21, 2015 11:25 pm


The worship of Mother Earth as Cybele. The meaning of her attributes: the lions; the mural crown;

Of her in days of old the learned poets of the Greeks sang that <borne on from her sacred>1 shrine in her car she [86] drove a yoke of lions, teaching thereby that the great earth hangs in the space of air nor can earth rest on earth. To the car they yoked wild beasts, because, however wild the brood, it ought to be conquered and softened by the loving care of parents. The top of her head they wreathed with a battlemented crown, because embattled on glorious heights she sustains towns; and dowered with this emblem even now the image of the divine mother is carried in awesome state through lands far and wide. On her the diverse nations in the ancient rite of worship call as the Mother of Ida,

the Phrygian escort;

and they give her Phrygian bands to bear her company, because from those lands first they say corn began to be produced throughout the whole world. The mutilated priests they assign to her,

the Galli;

because they wish to show forth that those who have offended the godhead of the Mother, and have been found ungrateful to their parents, must be thought to be unworthy to bring offspring alive into the coasts of light. Taut timbrels thunder in their hands,


and hollow cymbals all around, and horns menace with harsh-sounding bray, and the hollow pipe goads their minds in the Phrygian mode,

and weapons;

and they carry weapons before them, the symbols of their dangerous frenzy, that they may be able to fill with fear of the goddess’s power the thankless minds and unhallowed hearts of the multitude. And so as soon as she rides on through great cities, and silently blesses mortals with unspoken salutation, with bronze and silver they strew all the path of her journey, enriching her with bounteous alms, and snow rose-blossoms over her, overshadowing the Mother and the troops of her escort.

the Curetes.

Then comes an armed band,n whom the Greeks call by name the Curetes of Phrygia, and because now and again [87] they join in mock conflict of arms and leap in rhythmic movement, gladdened at the sight of blood and shaking as they nod the awesome crests upon their heads, they recall the Curetes of Dicte, who are said once in Crete to have drowned the wailing of the infant Jove, while, a band of boys around the baby boy, in hurrying dance all armed, they beat in measured rhythm brass upon brass, that Saturn might not seize and commit him to his jaws, and plant an everlasting wound deep in the Mother’s heart. For this cause in arms they escort the Great Mother, or else because they show forth that the goddess preaches that they should resolve with arms and valour to defend their native land and prepare to be a guard and ornament to their parents.

Yet all this is false.

Yet all this, albeit well and nobly set forth and told, is nevertheless far removed from true reasoning. For it must needs be that all the nature of the gods enjoys life everlasting in perfect peace,

The gods live a placid life apart from the world.

sundered and separated far away from our world. For free from all grief, free from danger, mighty in its own resources, never lacking aught of us, it is not won by virtuous service nor touched by wrath. Verily, the earth is without feeling throughout all time, and ’tis because it has possession of the first-beginnings of many things, that it brings forth many in many ways into the light of the sun. Herein, if any one is resolved to call the sea Neptune and corn Ceres, and likes rather to misuse the title of Bacchus than to utter the true name of the vine-juice, let us grant that he may proclaim that the world is the Mother of the gods, if only in very truth he forbear to stain his own mind with shameful religious awe.

And so often fleecy flocks and the warrior brood of [88] horses and horned herds,

The same food may nourish different animals

cropping the grass from one field beneath the same canopy of heaven, and slaking their thirst from one stream of water, yet live their life with different aspect, and keep the nature of their parents and imitate their ways each after his own kind. So great is the difference of matter in any kind of grass you will,

Their flesh, bones, &c., are different.

so great in every stream. Moreover, any one living creature of them all is made of bones, blood, veins, heat, moisture, flesh and sinews: and they as well are far different, formed as they are with first-beginnings of unlike shape. Then once again, all things that are set ablaze and burnt up by fire,

Different bodies contain the seeds of fire.

store in their body, if nothing else, yet at least those particles, from which they may be able to toss fire abroad and shoot out light, and make sparks fly, and scatter cinders far and wide. Traversing all other things with the like reasoning of your mind, you will find then that they hide in their body the seeds of many things and contain diverse shapes. Again,

The same thing can stir different senses.

you see many things to which both colour and taste are given together with smell. First of all, most of the offerings <burnt on the altars of the gods>:1 these then must needs be made of diverse shapes; for the burning smell pierces, where the hue passes not into the limbs, even so the hue in one way, the taste in another, finds its way into our senses; so that you may know that they differ in the shapes of their first-bodies.

All things then contain atoms of various shapes.

So different forms come together into one mass and things are made with mingled seeds. Nay, more, everywhere in these very verses of mine you see many letters common to many words, and yet you must needs grant that verses and words are formed of different letters, one from [89] another; not that but a few letters run through them in common, or that no two of them are made of letters all the same, but that they are not all alike the same one with another.

There are common elements, but the sums are different.

So in other things likewise since there are first-beginnings common to many things, yet they can exist with sums different from one another: so that the human race and corn and glad trees are rightly said to be created of different particles.

But not all combinations are possible.

And yet we must not think that all particles can be linked together in all ways, for you would see monstersn created everywhere, forms coming to being half man, half beast, and sometimes tall branches growing out from a living body, and many limbs of land-beasts linked with beasts of the sea, and nature too throughout the lands, that are the parents of all things, feeding Chimaeras breathing flame from their noisome mouths.

Each thing has its appropriate seeds, food, and movements.

But it is clear to see that none of these things comes to be, since we see that all things are born of fixed seeds and a fixed parent, and can, as they grow, preserve their kind. You may be sure that that must needs come to pass by a fixed law. For its own proper particles separate from every kind of food and pass within into the limbs of everything, and are there linked on and bring about the suitable movements. But, on the other hand, we see nature cast out alien matter on to the ground, and many things with bodies unseen flee from the body, driven by blows, which could not be linked to any part nor within feel the lively motions in harmony with the body and imitate them.

This is true of inanimate as well as living things.

But lest by chance you should think that living things alone are bound by these laws, the same condition sets a limit to all things. For even [90] as all things begotten are in their whole nature unlike one to the other, so it must needs be that each is made of first-beginnings of a different shape; not that but a few are endowed with a like form, but that they are not all alike the same one with another. Moreover, since the seeds are different, there must needs be a difference in their spaces, passages, fastenings, weights, blows, meetings, movements, which not only sunder living things, but part earth and the whole sea, and hold all the sky away from the earth.

C.: The Atoms are without Secondary Qualities

C. The atoms have no colour,

Come now, listen to discourse gathered by my joyful labour, lest by chance you should think that these white things, which you perceive shining bright before your eyes are made of white first-beginnings, or that things which are black are born of black seeds; or should believe that things which are steeped in any other colour you will, bear this colour because the bodies of matter are dyed with a colour like it. For the bodies of matter have no colour at all, neither like things nor again unlike them.

though the mind can well conceive them.

And if by chance it seems to you that the mind cannot project itselfn into these bodies, you wander far astray. For since those born blind, who have never descried the light of the sun, yet know bodies by touch, never linked with colour for them from the outset of their life, you may know that for our mind too, bodies painted with no tint may become a clear concept.n Again, we ourselves feel that whatever we touch in blind darkness is not dyed with any colour. And since I convince you that this may be, I will now teach you that <the first-beginnings> are <deprived of all colour>.1

1. Colour changes, but the atoms must be unchangeable.

For any colour, whatever it be, changes into any other; [91] but the first-beginnings ought in no wise to do this. For it must needs be that something abides unchangeable, that all things be not utterly brought to naught. For whenever a thing changes and passes out of its own limits, straightway this is the death of that which was before. Therefore take care not to dye with colour the seeds of things, lest you see all things altogether pass away to naught.

2. If atoms are colourless, their varieties of shape, &c., will account for the different colours of things.

Moreover, if the nature of colour has not been granted to the first-beginnings, and yet they are endowed with diverse forms, out of which they beget and vary colours of every kind, forasmuch as it is of great matter with what others all the seeds are bound up, and in what position, and what movements they mutually give and receive, you can most easily at once give account, why those things which were a little while before of black colour, are able of a sudden to become of marble whiteness; as the sea, when mighty winds have stirred its level waters, is turned into white waves of shining marble. For you might say that when the substance of that which we often see black has been mingled up, and the order of its first-beginnings changed and certain things added and taken away,

But (a) if they are of the colour of the things they compose, change is impossible, and (b) if they are of all colours, the separate colours would be seen,

straightway it comes to pass that it is seen shining and white. But if the level waters of the ocean were made of sky-blue seeds, they could in no wise grow white. For in whatever way you were to jostle together seeds which are sky-blue, never can they pass into a marble colour. But if the seeds which make up the single unmixed brightness of the sea are dyed with this colour and that, even as often out of different forms and diverse shapes some square thing is made up with a single shape, then it were natural that, as in the square we perceive that there are unlike forms, so we [92] should perceive in the water of the ocean, or in any other single and unmixed brightness, colours far different and diverse one from another.

and the whole could not be uniform in colour;

Moreover, the unlike shapes do not a whit thwart and hinder the whole from being square in its outline; but the diverse colours in things do check and prevent the whole thing being of a single brightness. Then, further, the reason which leads us on and entices us sometimes to assign colours to the first-beginnings of things,

further, this contradicts our reason for thinking atoms might have colour.

is gone, since white things are not made of white, nor those which are seen black of black, but of diverse colours. And in very truth much more readily will white things be born and rise up out of no colour than out of black, or any other colour you will which fights with it and thwarts it.

3. Colour needs light, with which the atoms have no relation.

Moreover, since colours cannot be without light nor do the first-beginnings of things come out into the light, you may know how they are not clothed with any colour. For what colour can there be in blind darkness? Nay even in the light it changes according as it shines brightly, struck with a straight or slanting beam of light; even as the plumage of doves, which is set about their throats and crowns their necks, is seen in the sunshine; for anon it comes to pass that it is red with bright garnet,

4. The perception of colour is due to a blow on the eye: and for touch it is shape, not colour which matters.

sometimes in a certain view it comes to pass that it seems to mingle green emeralds among coral. And the tail of the peacock, when it is bathed in bounteous light, in like manner changes its colours as it moves round; and since these colours are begotten by a certain stroke of light, you may know that we must not think that they could come to be without it. And since the pupil of the eye receives in itself a certain kind of blow, when it is said to perceive white colour, and another again, when it perceives black [93] and the rest, nor does it matter with what colour things you touch may choose to be endowed, but rather with what sort of shape they are fitted, you may know that the first-beginnings have no need of colours, but by their diverse forms produce diverse kinds of touch.

5. Colour and shape not being connected, if atoms have colour, we should have individuals of different colours in the same species.

Moreover, since no fixed nature of colour belongs to fixed shapes, and all conformations of first-beginnings may exist in any hue you will, why on like grounds are not those things which are made out of them steeped with every kind of colour in every kind? For it were natural that often flying crows too should throw off white colour from white wings, and that black swans should be made of black seeds or of any other colour you will, simple or diverse.

Nay again, the more each thing is pulled asunder into tiny parts, the more can you perceive colour little by little fading away and being quenched:

6. The smaller a body, the less colour it has.

as comes to pass when purple is plucked apart into small pieces: when it has been unravelled thread by thread, the dark purple or the scarlet, by far the brightest of colours, is utterly destroyed; so that you can know from this that the tiny shreds dissipate all their colour before they are sundered into the seeds of things.

7. Just as some things have not smell or sound, so the atoms are without colour

Lastly, since you do not allow that all bodies send out sound or smell, it comes to pass, therefore, that you do not assign sound and smell to them. Even so, since we cannot with the eyes descry all things, you may know that some things are made bereft of colour, just as some are without any smell and far parted from sound, yet that the keen mind can come to know them no less than it can mark those devoid of other things.


The atoms are also without heat, sound, taste or smell,

But lest by chance you think that the first-bodies abide bereft only of colour, they are also sundered altogether from warmth and cold, and fiery heat, and are carried along barren of sound and devoid of taste, nor do they give off any scent of their own from their body. Even as when you set about to make the delicious liquid of marjoram or myrrh, or scent of nard, which breathes nectar to the nostrils, first of all it is right to seek, in so far as you may and can find it, the nature of scentless oil, which may send off no breath of perfume to the nostrils, so that it may as little as possible taint and ruin with its own strong smell the scents mingled in its body and boiled along with it.

for they cannot emit anything from their body.

Therefore after all the first-beginnings of things are bound not to bring to the begetting of things their own scent or sound, since they cannot give anything off from themselves, nor in the same way acquire any taste at all, nor cold, nor once more warm and fiery heat … and the rest:1 yet since they are such as to be created mortal, the pliant of soft body, the brittle of crumbling body, the hollow of rare, they must needs all be kept apart from the first-beginnings, if we wish to place immortal foundations beneath things, on which the sum of life may rest; lest you see all things pass away utterly into nothing.

Neither have atoms sense.

It must needs ben that you should admit that all things which we see have sense are yet made of insensible first-beginnings. The clear facts, which are known for all to see, neither refute this nor fight against it, but [95] rather themselves lead us by the hand and constrain us to believe that, as I say, living things are begotten of insensible things.

1. We see the sensible created elsewhere from the senseless. 2. Inanimate food makes animate bodies.

Why we may see worms come forth alive from noisome dung, when the soaked earth has gotten muddiness from immeasurable rains; moreover, we may see all things in like manner change themselves. Streams, leaves, and glad pastures change themselves into cattle, cattle change their nature into our bodies, and from our bodies the strength of wild beasts often gains increase, and the bodies of birds strong of wing. And so nature changes all foods into living bodies, and out of food brings to birth all the senses of living things, in no far different way than she unfolds dry logs into flames and turns all things into fires. Do you not then see now that it is of great matter in what order all the first-beginnings of things are placed, and with what others mingled they give and receive motions?

3. The fact that sensible things do not normally arise from the insensible is no objection.

Next then, what is it, that strikes on the very mind, which stirs it and constrains to utter diverse thoughts, that you may not believe that the sensible is begotten of the insensible? We may be sure it is that stones1 and wood and earth mixed together yet cannot give out vital sense. Herein it will be right to remember this, that I do not say that sensations are begotten at once from all and every of the things which give birth to sensible things, but that it is of great matter,

All depends on the size, position, arrangements, and motions of the atoms.

first of what size are these bodies, which create the sensible, and with what form they are endowed, then what they are in their motions, arrangements and positions. And [96] none of these things can we perceive in logs and sods; and yet, when they are, as it were, made muddy through the rains, they give birth to little worms, because the bodies of matter stirred by the newcomer from their old arrangements are brought into union in the way in which living things are bound to be begotten.

4. Sensible seeds would be soft and therefore mortal.

Next, those who thinkn that the sensible could be created out of sensible bodies which in turn were used to owe their sense to others, <these make the seeds of their own sense mortal>,1 when they make them soft. For all sensation is linked to flesh, sinews and veins, which we see are always soft in nature built up of mortal body.

5. If everlasting, they must either (a) feel as a part of the whole, or (b) as an independent whole. But (a) a part does not feel by itself;

But still let us grant now that these can abide for ever: still doubtless they must either haven the sense proper to a part, or be thought to be of a sense like to that of whole living things. But it must needs be that the parts cannot have sense by themselves; for all sensation in the limbs depends on us, nor severed from us can the hand nor any part of the body at all keep sensation by itself. It remains that they are made like whole living things. Thus it must needs be that they feel likewise what we feel, so that they may be able to share with us in every place in the vital sensations.

(b) (1) they could not be eternal;

How then will they be able to be called the first-beginnings of things and to shun the paths of death, since they are living things, and living things are one and the same with mortal things?

(2) they would only make a confused mass of sentient beings; (3) if in the body they lose their sense, why give it them? But our previous examples are enough.

Yet grant that they can, still by their meeting and union, they will make nothing besides a crowd and mob of living things, even as, as you may [97] know, men, herds of cattle and wild beasts could not beget anything by coming together with one another. But if by chance they lose their own sense, when inside a body, and receive another, what good was it that that should be assigned to them which is taken away? Then, moreover, as we saw before, inasmuch as we perceive the eggs of birds turn into living chicknes, and worms swarm out when mud has seized on the earth owing to immoderate rains, we may know that sensations can be begotten out of that which is not sensation.

6. Sensation cannot arise from the insensate by change or birth; for both imply union. (a) A body cannot have sensation before the union of its substance.

But if by chance any one shall sayn that sensation can in any case arise from not-sensation by change of substance or, as it were, by a kind of birth, by which it is thrust out into being, it will be enough to make clear and prove to him that birth cannot come to be, unless when a union has been formed before, nor is anything changed except after union. First of all, no body at all can have sensation before the nature of the living thing is itself begotten, because, we may be sure, its substance is scattered abroad and is kept in the air, in streams, in earth and things sprung from earth, nor has it come together in appropriate way and combined with one another the vital motions, whereby the all-seeing senses are kindled and see to the safety of each living thing.

(b) A blow puts an end to sensation, because it dissolves unions and stops the vital motions.

Moreover, a heavier blow than its nature can endure, of a sudden fells any living creature, and hastens to stun all the sensations of its body and mind. For the positions of the first-beginnings are broken up and the vital motions are checked deep within, until the substance, after the shock throughout all the limbs, loosens the vital clusters of the soul from the body, scatters it abroad and drives it out through every pore. For what else [98] are we to think that a blow can do when it meets each thing,

Recovery means reunion and motion restarted.

but shake it to pieces and break it up? It comes to pass too, that when a blow meets us with less force, the vital motions that remain are often wont to win, yea, to win and to allay the vast disturbances of the blow and summon each part back again into its proper path, and to shake to pieces the movement of death that now, as it were, holds sway in the body, and to kindle the sensations almost lost. For by what other means could living things gather their wits and turn back to life even from the very threshold of death rather than pass on, whither their race is already almost run, and pass away?

7. Pleasure and pain are caused by the internal movements of atoms: atoms cannot then themselves experience them.

Moreover, since there is pain when the bodies of matter, disturbed by some force throughout the living flesh and limbs, tremble each in their abode within, and when they settle back into their place, comforting pleasure comes to pass, you may know that the first-beginnings cannot be assailed by any pain, and can find no pleasure in themselves: inasmuch as they are not made of any bodies of first-beginnings, through whose newness of movement they may be in pain or find any enjoyment of life-giving delight. They are bound then not to be endowed with any sensation.

8. Reductio ad absurdum. Sensible atoms must themselves laugh and cry and think and dispute.

Again, if, in order that all living things may be able to feel, we must after all assign sensation to their first-beginnings, what of those whereof the race of men has its peculiar increment?n You must think that they are shaken with quivering mirth and laugh aloud and sprinkle face and cheeks with the dew of their tears. And they have the wit to say much about the mingling of things, and they go on to ask what are their first-beginnings; inasmuch as, being made like to whole mortal men, they [99] too must needs be built of other particles in their turn, and those again of others, so that you may never dare to make a stop: nay, I will press hard on you, so that, whatsoever you say speaks and laughs and thinks, shall be composed of other particles which do these same things. But if we perceive this to be but raving madness, and a man can laugh, though he has not the increment of laughing atoms, and can think and give reasons with learned lore, though he be not made of seeds thoughtful and eloquent, why should those things, which, as we see, have feeling, any the less be able to exist, mingled of seeds which lack sense in every way?

Summary Earth is the universal mother.

And so, we are all sprung from heavenly seed; there is the one father of us all, from whom when live-giving earth, the mother, has taken within her the watery drops of moisture, teeming she brings forth the goodly crops and the glad trees and the race of men; she brings forth too all the tribes of the wild beasts, when she furnishes the food, on which all feed their bodies and pass a pleasant life and propagate their offspring; wherefore rightly has she won the name of mother. Even so, what once sprung from earth, sinks back into the earth, and what was sent down from the coasts of the sky, returns again, and the regions of heaven receive it.

Death is not destruction but reformation, and combination produces qualities and sensation.

Nor does death so destroy things as to put an end to the bodies of matter, but only scatters their union. Then she joins anew one with others, and brings it to pass that all things thus alter their forms, and change their colours, and receive sensations, and in an instant of time yield them up again, so that you may know that it matters with what others the first-beginnings of things are bound up and in what position and what motions they mutually give and receive, and [100] may not think that what we see floating on the surface of thingsn or at times coming to birth, and on a sudden passing away, can abide in the possession of eternal first-bodies. Nay, indeed, even in my verses it is of moment with what others and in what order each letter is placed. For the same letters signify sky, sea, earth, rivers, sun, the same too crops, trees, living creatures; if not all, yet by far the greater part, are alike, but it is by position that things sound different. So in things themselves likewise when meetings, motions, order, position, shapes are changed, things too are bound to be changed.

D.: The Infinite Worlds and their Formation and Destruction

D. Other worlds in space. Introduction. Put aside the alarm of novelty,

Now turn your mind, I pray, to a true reasoning. For a truth wondrously new is struggling to fall upon your ears, and a new face of things to reveal itself. Yet neither is anything so easy, but that at first it is more difficult to believe, and likewise nothing is so great or so marvellous but that little by little all decrease their wonder at it. First of all the bright clear colour of the sky, and all it holds within it, the stars that wander here and there, and the moon and the sheen of the sun with its brilliant light; all these, if now they had come to being for the first time for mortals, if all unforeseen they were in a moment placed before their eyes, what story could be told more marvellous than these things, or what that the nations would less dare to believe beforehand? Nothing, I trow: so worthy of wonder would this sight have been. Yet think how no one now, wearied with satiety of seeing, deigns to gaze up at the shining quarters of the sky! Wherefore cease to spew out reason from your mind, struck with terror at mere newness, but rather with eager judgement weigh things, and, if you see them true, lift your hands and yield, or, if it is false, gird yourself to battle. For our mind now seeks to reason, since the sum [101] of space is boundless out beyond the walls of this world,

and inquire what there is beyond our world.

what there is far out there, whither the spirit desires always to look forward, and whither the unfettered projection of our mindn flies on unchecked.

There are other worlds than ours. 1. With infinite atoms meeting in infinite space, chance will form time to time produce them.

First of all, we find that in every direction everywhere, and on either side, above and below, through all the universe, there is no limit, as I have shown, and indeed the truth cries out for itself and the nature of the deep shines clear. Now in no way must we think it likely, since towards every side is infinite empty space, and seeds in unnumbered numbers in the deep universe fly about in many ways driven on in everlasting motion, that this one world and sky was brought to birth, but that beyond it all those bodies of matter do naught; above all, since this world was so made by nature, as the seeds of things themselves of their own accord, jostling from time to time, were driven together in many ways, rashly, idly, and in vain, and at last those united, which, suddenly cast together, might become ever and anon the beginnings of great things, of earth and sea and sky, and the race of living things. Wherefore, again and again, you must needs confess that there are here and there other gatherings of matter, such as is this, which the ether holds in its greedy grip.

2. Matter, space, and nature remaining the same, necessity must produce them.

Moreover, when there is much matter ready to hand, when space is there, and no thing, no cause delays, things must, we may be sure, be carried on and completed. As it is, if there is so great a store of seeds as the whole life of living things could not number, and if the same force and nature abides which could throw together the seeds of things, each into their place in like manner as they are thrown together here, it must needs be that you confess [102] that there are other worlds in other regions, and diverse races of men and tribes of wild beasts.

3. Nothing in nature is unique.

This there is too that in the universe there is nothing single,n nothing born unique and growing unique and alone, but it is always of some tribe, and there are many things in the same race. First of all turn your mind to living creatures; you will find that in this wise is begotten the race of wild beasts that haunts the mountains, in this wise the stock of men, in this wise again the dumb herds of scaly fishes, and all the bodies of flying fowls. Wherefore you must confess in the same way that sky and earth and sun, moon, sea, and all else that exists, are not unique, but rather of number numberless; inasmuch as the deep-fixed boundary-stone of life awaits these as surely, and they are just as much of a body that has birth, as every race which is here on earth, abounding in things after its kind.

Nature is thus seen to work of herself, free of the control of the gods.

And if you learn this surely, and cling to it, nature is seen, free at once, and quit of her proud rulers, doing all things of her own accord alone, without control of gods. For by the holy hearts of the gods, which in their tranquil peace pass placid years, and a life of calm, who can avail to rule the whole sum of the boundless, who to hold in his guiding hand the mighty reins of the deep, who to turn round all firmaments at once, and warm all fruitful lands with heavenly fires, or to be at all times present in all places, so as to make darkness with clouds, and shake the calm tracts of heaven with thunder, and then shoot thunderbolts, and often make havoc of his own temples, or moving away into deserts rage furiously there, plying the bolt, which often passes by the guilty and does to death the innocent and undeserving?


The world in its period of growth was increased by constant additions from without.

And since the time of the world’s birth, and the first birthday of sea and earth, and the rising of the sun, many bodies have been added from without, and seeds added all around, which the great universe in its tossing has brought together; that from them sea and lands might be able to increase, and from them too the mansion of the sky might gain new room and lift its high vault far away from the lands, and the air might rise up. For from all places all bodies are separated by blows each to its own kind, and they pass on to their own tribes;

So all bodies grow, so long as they take in more than they give out.

moisture goes to moisture, with earthy substance earth grows, fires forge fires, and sky sky, until nature, parent of all, with perfecting hand has brought all things on to the last end of growing; as it comes to pass, when there is now no whit more which is sent within the veins of life, than what flows out and passes away. Here the growth of all things must stop, here nature by her powers curbs increase. For whatsoever things you see waxing large with joyful increase, and little by little climbing the steps to full-grown years, take more into themselves than they send out from their body, so long as food is passed easily into all their veins, and so long as the things are not so widely spread that they throw off much, and cause waste greater than that on which their growth feeds. For of a surety you must throw up your hands and grant that many bodies flow away and pass from things; but more must needs be added to them, until they have reached the topmost point of increase.

Then comes the period of decay, when they lose more than they can take in.

Then little by little age breaks their powers and their full-grown strength, and wastes away on the downhill path. For verily the huger a thing is and the wider it is, when once its bulk begins to go, the more bodies now does it scatter abroad and [104] throw off from itself, nor is its food easily dispersed into all its veins, nor is there store enough, whence matter may arise and be supplied to equal the vast ebb which it gives out. With reason then they perish, when all things have been made rare by the ebb, and yield before the blows from without, inasmuch as at last food fails the aged life, nor do bodies from without cease to thump upon it, and wear it away, and to overcome it with hostile blows.

So it will be with the world,

Thus then even the walls of the wide world all round will be stormed and fall into decay and crumbling ruin. For it is food which must needs repair all things and renew them, food must support them, and food sustain all things; yet all is vain, since neither the veins can bear to receive what is enough, nor does nature furnish all that is needful. Yea, even now its life is broken, and the worn-out earth scarce creates tiny animals, though once it created all the tribes, and brought to birth huge bodies of wild beasts. For it was no golden rope,n I trow, which let down the races of living things from heaven above on to the fields, nor did the sea or the waves, that lash the rocks, create them, but the same earth conceived them, which now nourishes them of her substance. Moreover, at first by herself of her own accord she created for mortals the smiling crops and glad vine-plants, herself brought forth sweet fruits and glad pastures;

which even now shows signs of decay.

which now scarce wax great, though aided by our toil: we wear out our oxen and the strength of our husbandmen: we exhaust the iron ploughshare, though scarce supplied by the fields so much do they grudge their produce and increase our toil. And now the aged ploughman shaking his head sighs ever and again that the toil of his hands has perished [105] all for naught, and when he matches the present days against the days of the past, he often praises the fortunes of his father. So too gloomily the planter of the wornout, wrinkled vine rails at the trend of the times, and wearies heaven, and grumbles to think how the generations of old, rich in piety, easily supported life on a narrow plot, since aforetime the limit of land was far less to each man. Nor does he grasp that all things waste away little by little and pass to the grave1 foredone by age and the lapse of life.
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Re: On the Nature of Things, by Titus Lucretius Carus

Postby admin » Sun Jun 21, 2015 11:26 pm


Book III: Deals with the Soul, its Nature, and its Fate


Introduction: praise of Epicurus, who has revealed the universe to man.

Thou, who out of deep darkness didst first avail to raise a torch so clear, shedding light upon the true joys of life, ’tis thee I follow, bright star of the Greek race, and in thy deepset prints firmly now I plant my footsteps, not in eager emulation, but rather because for love I long to copy thee; for how could a swallow rival swans, or what might kids with trembling limbs accomplish in a race to compare with the stout strength of a horse? Thou art our father, thou discoverer of truth, thou dost vouchsafe to us a father’s precepts, and from thy pages, our hero, even as bees in flowery glades sip every plant, we in like manner browse on all thy sayings of gold, yea, of gold, and always most worthy of life for evermore. For as soon as thy philosophy, springing from thy godlike soul, begins to proclaim aloud the nature of things, the terrors of the mind fly away, the walls of the world part asunder, I see things moving on through all the void. The majesty of the gods is revealed, and their peaceful abodes, which neither the winds shaken nor clouds soak with showers, nor does the snow congealed with biting frost besmirch them with its white fall, but an ever cloudless sky vaults them over, and smiles with light bounteously spread abroad. Moreover, nature supplies all they need, nor does anything gnaw at their peace of mind at any time. But on the other hand, the quarters [107] of Acheron are nowhere to be seen, nor yet is earth a barrier to prevent all things being descried, which are carried on underneath through the void below our feet. At these things, as it were, some godlike pleasure and a thrill of awe seizes on me, to think that thus by thy power nature is made so clear and manifest, laid bare to sight on every side.

The nature of the soul.

And since I have shown of what kind are the beginnings of all things, with what diverse shapes they differ, and how of their own accord they fly on, impelled by everlasting motion, and in what manner each several thing can be created out of them; next after this it seems that the nature of the mind and the soul must now be displayed in my verses, and the old fear of Acheron driven headlong away, which utterly confounds the life of men from the very root, clouding all things with the blackness of death, and suffering no pleasure to be pure and unalloyed. For,

False professions of philosophy.

although men often declare that disease and a life of disgrace are more to be feared than the lower realm of death, and that they know that the soul’s nature is of blood, or else of wind,n if by chance their whim so wills it, and that so they have no need at all of our philosophy, you may be sure by this that all is idly vaunted to win praise, and not because the truth is itself accepted.

A crisis reveals the old fear of death,

These same men, exiled from their country and banished far from the sight of men, stained with some foul crime, beset with every kind of care, live on all the same, and, spite of all, to whatever place they come in their misery, they make sacrifice to the dead, and slaughter black cattle and despatch offerings to the gods of the dead, and in their bitter plight far more keenly turn their hearts to religion. Wherefore it is more fitting to watch a man in doubt and [108] danger, and to learn of what manner he is in adversity; for then at last a real cry is wrung from the bottom of his heart: the mask is torn off, and the truth remains behind. Moreover,

which is the cause of many vices and crimes,

avarice and the blind craving for honours, which constrain wretched men to overleap the boundaries of right, and sometimes as comrades or accomplices in crime to struggle night and day with surpassing toil to rise up to the height of power—these sores in life are fostered in no small degree by the fear of death. For most often scorned disgrace and biting poverty are seen to be far removed from pleasant settled life, and are, as it were, a present dallying before the gates of death; and while men, spurred by a false fear, desire to flee far from them, and to drive them far away, they amass substance by civil bloodshed and greedily multiply their riches, heaping slaughter on slaughter. Hardening their heart they revel in a brother’s bitter death, and hate and fear their kinsmen’s board. In like manner, often through the same fear, they waste with envy that he is powerful, he is regarded, who walks clothed with bright renown; while they complain that they themselves are wrapped in darkness and the mire. Some of them come to ruin to win statues and a name; and often through fear of death so deeply does the hatred of life and the sight of the light possess men, that with sorrowing heart they compass their own death, forgetting that it is this fear which is the source of their woes, which assails their honour, which bursts the bonds of friendship, and overturns affection from its lofty throne.1 For often ere now men have betrayed country and beloved parents, [109] seeking to shun the realms of Acheron.

and must be dispelled by science.

For even as children tremble and fear everything in blinding darkness, so we sometimes dread in the light things that are no whit more to be feared than what children shudder at in the dark, and imagine will come to pass. This terror then, this darkness of the mind, must needs be scattered, not by the rays of the sun and the gleaming shafts of day, but by the outer view and the inner law of nature.

A.: Nature and Formation of the Soul

A. Nature of (a) the mind. The mind is a part of the body,

First I say that the mind,n which we often call the understanding, in which is placed the reasoning and guiding power of life, is a part of a man no whit the less than hand and foot and eyes are created parts of the whole living being. <Yet many wise men have thought>1 that the sensation of the mind is not placed in any part determined, but is a certain vital habit of the body, which the Greeks call a harmony,n

not a ‘harmony’.

in that it makes us live with sensation, although in no part does an understanding exist: as when often good health is said to belong to the body, and yet it is not itself any part of a healthy man. In this wise they do not set the sensation of the mind in any part determined; and in this they seem to me to wander very far astray. Thus often the body,

1. Mind and body are independent in pleasure and pain.

which is clear to see, is sick, when, all the same we feel pleasure in some other hidden part; and contrariwise it happens that the reverse often comes to be in turn, when one wretched in mind feels pleasure in all his body; in no other wise than if, when a sick man’s foot is painful, all the while, may be, his head is in no pain. Moreover, when the limbs are given up to soft sleep,

2. In sleep the body is senseless, but the mind active.

and the heavy body lies slack and senseless, yet there is something else in us, which at that very time is stirred in many ways, and admits [110] within itself all the motions of joy and baseless cares of heart. Now that you may be able to learn that the soul too is in the limbs, and that it is not by a harmony that the body is wont to feel,

(b) The soul is in the body, not a harmony: 1. it survives, when much of the body is lost, but 2. the loss of particles of heat and air causes death.

first of all it comes to pass that when a great part of the body is removed yet often the life lingers on in our limbs; and then again, when a few bodies of heat are scattered abroad and some air has been driven out through the mouth, that same life of a sudden abandons the veins and leaves the bones; so that you may be able to know from this that not all kinds of bodies have an equal part to play, nor do all equally support existence, but that rather those, which are the seeds of wind and burning heat, are the cause that life lingers in the limbs. There is then heat and a life-giving wind in the very body, which abandons our dying frame. Wherefore, since the nature of mind and soul has been revealed as a part of man, give up the name of harmony,

The notion of the vital principle as ‘a harmony’ must be abandoned.

which was handed down to musicians from high Helicon: or else they themselves have dragged it forth from some other source, and brought it over to this thing, which then was without a name of its own. Whatever it is, let them keep it: do you listen to the rest of my discourse.

Mind and soul are one nature,

Now I say that mind and soul are held in union one with the other, and form of themselves a single nature, but that the head, as it were, and lord in the whole body is the reason, which we call mind or understanding, and it is firmly seated in the middle region of the breast.

but mind, in the breast, is supreme.

For here it is that fear and terror throb, around these parts are soothing joys; here then is the understanding and the mind. The rest of the soul, spread abroad throughout the body, obeys and is moved at the will and inclination [111] of the understanding.

It has pain and joy by itself,

The mind alone by itself has understanding for itself and rejoices for itself, when no single thing stirs either soul or body. And just as, when head or eye hurts within us at the attack of pain, we are not tortured at the same time in all our body; so the mind sometimes feels pain by itself or waxes strong with joy, when all the rest of the soul through the limbs and frame is not roused by any fresh feeling.

but excessive feeling is shared by the soul and so communicated to the body.

Nevertheless, when the understanding is stirred by some stronger fear, we see that the whole soul feels with it throughout the limbs, and then sweat and pallor break out over all the body, and the tongue is crippled and the voice is choked, the eyes grow misty, the ears ring, the limbs give way beneath us, and indeed we often see men fall down through the terror in their mind; so that any one may easily learn from this that the soul is linked in union with the mind; for when it is smitten by the force of the mind, straightway it strikes the body and pushes it on.

Mind and soul are corporeal. For mind acts on body by touch,

This same reasoning shows that the nature of mind and soul is bodily. For when it is seen to push on the limbs, to pluck the body from sleep, to change the countenance, and to guide and turn the whole man—none of which things we see can come to pass without touch, nor touch in its turn without body—must we not allow that mind and soul are formed of bodily nature? Moreover, you see that our mind suffers along with the body, and shares its feelings together in the body.

and is affected by the body’s wounds.

If the shuddering shock of a weapon, driven within and laying bare bones and sinews, does not reach the life, yet faintness follows, and a pleasant swooning to the ground, and a turmoil of mind which comes to pass on the ground, [112] and from time to time, as it were, a hesitating will to rise. Therefore it must needs be that the nature of the mind is bodily, since it is distressed by the blow of bodily weapons.

Mind and soul are formed of very minute particles:

Now of what kind of body this mind is, and of what parts it is formed, I will go on to give account to you in my discourse. First of all I say that it is very fine in texture, and is made and formed of very tiny particles. That this is so, if you give attention, you may be able to learn from this.

1. because they are so mobile;

Nothing is seen to come to pass so swiftly as what the mind pictures to itself coming to pass and starts to do itself. Therefore the mind bestirs itself more quickly than any of the things whose nature is manifest for all to see. But because it is so very nimble, it is bound to be formed of exceeding round and exceeding tiny seeds, so that its particles may be able to move when smitten by a little impulse. For so water moves and oscillates at the slightest impulse, seeing it is formed of little particles, quick to roll. But, on the other hand, the nature of honey is more stable, its fluid more sluggish, and its movement more hesitating; for the whole mass of its matter clings more together, because, we may be sure, it is not formed of bodies so smooth, nor so fine and round. For a light trembling breath can constrain a high heap of poppy-seed to scatter from top to bottom before your eyes: but, on the other hand, a pile of stones or corn-ears it can by no means separate. Therefore, in proportion as bodies are tinier and smoother, so they are gifted with nimbleness. But, on the other hand, all things that are found to be of greater weight or more spiky, the more firm set they are. Now, therefore, since the nature of the mind has been found nimble beyond the rest, it [113] must needs be formed of bodies exceeding small and smooth and round. And this truth, when known to you, will in many things, good friend, prove useful, and will be reckoned of service.

2. because their departure at death makes no change in appearance or weight.

This fact, too, declares the nature of the mind, of how thin a texture it is formed, and in how small a place it might be contained, could it be gathered in a mass; that as soon as the unruffled peace of death has laid hold on a man, and the nature of mind and soul has passed away, you could discern nothing there, that sight or weight can test, stolen from the entire body; death preserves all save the feeling of life, and some warm heat. And so it must needs be that the whole soul is made of very tiny seeds, and is linked on throughout veins, flesh, and sinews; inasmuch as, when it is all already gone from the whole body, yet the outer contour of the limbs is preserved unbroken, nor is a jot of weight wanting. Even so it is, when the flavour of wine has passed away or when the sweet breath of a perfume is scattered to the air, or when its savour is gone from some body; still the thing itself seems not a whit smaller to the eyes on that account, nor does anything seem withdrawn from its weight, because, we may be sure, many tiny seeds go to make flavours and scent in the whole body of things. Wherefore once and again you may know that the nature of the understanding and the soul is formed of exceeding tiny seeds, since when it flees away it carries with it no jot of weight.

Composition of the soul: wind, beat, air;

Nevertheless we must not think that this nature is simple. For it is a certain thin breath that deserts the dying, mingled with heat, and heat moreover draws air with it; nor indeed is there any heat, that has not air too mixed with it. For because its nature is rare, it [114] must needs be that many first-beginnings of air move about in it. Already then we have found the nature of the soul to be triple; and yet all these things are not enough to create sensation, since the mind does not admit that any of these can create the motions that bring sensation <or the thoughts of the mind>.1 It must needs be then that some fourth naturen too be added to these.

the fourth nature.

But it is altogether without name; than it there exists nothing more nimble, nothing more fine, nor made of smaller or smoother particles.

The course of sensation.

It first sends abroad the motions that bring sensation among the limbs: for it is first stirred, being made up of small shapes; then heat receives the motions and the hidden power of wind, and then air; then all things are set moving, the blood receives the shock and all the flesh feels the thrill; last of all it passes to the bones and marrow, be it pleasure or the heat of opposite kind. Yet not for naught can pain pierce thus far within, nor any biting ill pass through, but that all things are so disordered that there is no more place for life, and the parts of the soul scatter abroad through all the pores of the body. But for the most part a limit is set to these motions, as it were, on the surface of the body: and by this means we avail to keep our life.

The combination of the elements in the soul.

Now, as I long to give account in what way these parts are mingled one with another, and in what manner bound together so that they can act, against my will the poverty of my country’s tongue holds me back; yet, despite that, I will touch the theme, as best I can in brief. For the first-beginnings course to and fro among themselves with the motions of first-beginnings,n so that no single one can be put apart, nor can its powers be set in play divided [115] from others by empty space, but they are, as it were, the many forces of a single body. Even as in the flesh of any living creature anywhere there is smell and a certain heat and savour, and yet of all these is made up the bulk of a single body. Thus heat and air and the hidden power of wind mingled create one nature together with that nimble force, which sends among them from itself the beginning of motion, whence the motion that brings sensation first arises throughout the flesh.

The hidden fourth nature.

For right deep within this nature lies hid far below, nor is there anything further beneath than this in our bodies, and it is moreover the very soul of the whole soul. Even as in our limbs and our whole body the force of the mind and the power of the soul is secretly immingled, because it is formed of small and rare bodies. So, you see, this force without a name, made of tiny bodies, lies concealed, and is moreover, as it were, the very soul of the whole soul and holds sway in the whole body.

The other elements.

In like manner it must needs be that wind and air and heat act mingled together throughout the limbs, and one is more above or below the rest, yet so that one single thing is seen to be composed of all; lest heat and wind apart, and apart from them the power of air, should put an end to sensation, and by their separation break it up.

Heat causes anger;

Moreover the mind possesses that heat, which it dons when it boils with rage, and the fire flashes more keenly from the eyes. Much cold breath too it has, which goes along with fear,

wind fear;

and starts a shuddering in the limbs and stirs the whole frame.

air calmness.

And it has too that condition of air lulled to rest, which comes to pass when the breast is calm and the face unruffled. But those creatures have more of heat, whose fiery heart and passionate mind easily boils up in [116] anger.

Illustrations from animals

Foremost in this class is the fierce force of lions, who often as they groan break their hearts with roaring, and cannot contain in their breast the billows of their wrath. But the cold heart of deer is more full of wind, and more quickly it rouses the chilly breath in its flesh, which makes a shuddering motion start in the limbs. But the nature of oxen draws its life rather from calm air, nor ever is the smoking torch of anger set to it to rouse it overmuch, drenching it with the shadow of murky mist, nor is it pierced and frozen by the chill shafts of fear: it has its place midway between the two, the deer and the raging lions.

and from men.

So is it with the race of men. However much training gives some of them an equal culture, yet it leaves those first traces of the nature of the mind of each. Nor must we think that such maladies can be plucked out by the roots, but that one man will more swiftly fall into bitter anger, another be a little sooner assailed by fear, while a third will take some things more gently than is right.

The power of philosophy to overcome natural habits.

And in many other things it must needs be that the diverse natures of men differ, and the habits that follow thereon; but I cannot now set forth the secret causes of these, nor discover names for all the shapes of the first atoms, whence arises this variety in things. One thing herein I see that I can affirm, that so small are the traces of these natures left, which reason could not dispel for us, that nothing hinders us from living a life worthy of the gods.

Union of soul and body is the cause of life.

This nature then of the souln is protected by the whole body, and is itself the guardian of the body, and the cause of its life; for the two cling together by common roots, and it is seen that they cannot be torn asunder without destruction. Even as it is not easy to tear out the scent [117] from lumps of frankincense, but that its nature too passes away. So it is not easy to draw out the nature of mind and soul from the whole body, but that all alike is dissolved.

Each is necessary to the other,

With first-beginnings so closely interlaced from their very birth are they begotten, endowed with a life shared in common, nor, as is clear to see, can the power of body or mind feel apart, either for itself without the force of the other, but by the common motions of the two on this side and on that is sensation kindled and fanned throughout our flesh.

and cannot exist without it.

Moreover, the body is never begotten by itself, nor grows alone, nor is seen to last on after death. For never, as the moisture of water often gives off the heat, which has been lent to it, and is not for that reason torn asunder itself, but remains unharmed, never, I say, in this way can the abandoned frame bear the separation of the soul, but it utterly perishes torn asunder and rots away. So from the beginning of existence body and soul, in mutual union, learn the motions that give life, yea, even when hidden in the mother’s limbs and womb, so that separation cannot come to pass without hurt and ruin; so that you can see, since the cause of their life is linked together, that their natures too must be linked in one.

The body itself feels owing to its combination with soul.

For the rest, if any one is for proving that the body does not feel, and believes that it is the soul mingled with the whole body that takes up this motion, which we call sensation, he is fighting even against plain and true facts. For who will ever tell us what the feeling of the body is, if it be not what the clear fact itself has shown and taught us? ‘But when the soul has passed away the body is utterly deprived of sensation.’ Yes, for it loses that which was not its own in life, and many other things besides it loses, when it is driven out of life.


Example: the eyes themselves see and are not ‘doors to the soul’.

To say, moreover, that the eyes can see nothing, but that the mind looks out through them as when doors are opened, is hard, seeing that the feeling in the eyes leads us the other way; for that feeling drags us on and forces us to the very pupils;1 yea, for often we cannot see bright things, because our sight is thwarted by the light. But that does not happen with doors; for the doors, through which we see, do not suffer any pain when they are opened. Moreover, if our eyes are as doors,n then the mind, it is clear, ought to discern things better if the eyes were taken out and removed, door-posts and all.

Soul and body atoms do not alternate.

Herein you could by no means accept the teaching, which the judgement of the holy man, Democritus,n sets before us, that the first-beginnings of soul and body alternate, set each next each, first one and then the other, and so weave the web of our limbs.

Soul atoms are set at intervals.

For, as the particles of soul are far smaller than those of which our body and flesh are composed, so too they are less in number, and only here and there are scattered through our frame; so that you may warrant this: that the first-beginnings of soul preserve distances apart as great as are the smallest bodies which, when cast upon us, can first start the motions of sensation in the body.

Proof from things which we do not feel when they touch the body.

For sometimes we do not feel the clinging of dust on the body, nor know that chalk has been shaken on us and settled on our limbs, nor do we feel a mist at night, nor the slender threads of the spider that strike against us, when we are caught in its meshes as we move, nor know that his twisted web has fallen on our head, or the feathers of birds or the flying down from plants, which from its exceeding lightness, [119] for the most part falls not lightly; nor do we feel the passage of every kind of crawling creature nor each single footstep, which gnats and other insects plant upon our body. Indeed, so many things must first be stirred in us, before the seeds of soul mingled with our bodies throughout our frame feel that the first-beginnings have been shaken, and before they can by jostling in these spaces set between, rush together, unite and leap back in turn.

The mind is more essential for life than the soul.

Now the mind is more the keeper of the fastnesses of life, more the monarch of life than the power of the soul. For without the mind and understanding no part of the soul can hold out in the frame for a tiny moment of time, but follows in its train without demur, and scatters into air, and deserts the chill frame in the frost of death. Yet one, whose mind and understanding have abode firm, abides in life. However much the trunk is mangled with the limbs hewn all around, though the soul be rent from him all around and wrested from his limbs, he lives and draws in the breath of heaven to give him life. Robbed, if not of all, yet of a great part of his soul, still he lingers on and clings to life.

Illustration from the pupil of the eye.

Even as, when the eye is mangled all around, if the pupil has abode unharmed, then the living power of sight stands firm, if only you do not destroy the whole ball of the eye, and cut all round the pupil, and leave it by itself: for that will not be done without the destruction of the eyes too. But if that tiny part in the middle of the eye is eaten away, at once light is gone, and darkness follows on, however much the bright ball is in other places unharmed. In such a compact are soul and mind ever bound together.

B.: Proofs of the Mortality of the Soul

B. The soul is mortal.

Come now, that you may be able to learn that the [120] minds and the light soulsn of living things have birth and death, I will hasten to set forth verses long sought out and found with glad effort, worthy to guide your life. Be it yoursn to link both of these in a single name, and when, to choose a case, I continue to speak of the soul, proving that it is mortal, suppose that I speak of mind as well, inasmuch as they are at one each with the other and compose a single thing.

Proofs. 1. It is mobile and made of minute atoms:

First of all, since I have shown that it is finely made of tiny bodies and of first-beginnings far smaller than the liquid moisture of water or cloud or smoke—for it far surpasses them in speed of motion, and is more prone to move when smitten by some slender cause; for indeed it is moved by images of smoke and cloud:n even as when slumbering in sleep we see altars breathing steam on high, and sending up their smoke; for beyond all doubt these are idols that are borne to us:—now therefore, since, when vessels are shattered, you behold the water flowing away on every side, and the liquid parting this way and that, and since cloud and smoke part asunder into air,

therefore it cannot be held together in air when it has left the body.

you must believe that the soul too is scattered and passes away far more swiftly, and is dissolved more quickly into its first-bodies, when once it is withdrawn from a man’s limbs, and has departed. For indeed, since the body, which was, as it were, the vessel of the soul, cannot hold it together, when by some chance it is shattered and made rare, since the blood is withdrawn from the veins, how could you believe that the soul could be held together by any air, which is more rare than our body <and can contain it less>?1

2. It is born, grows, and ages with the body:

Moreover, we feel that the understanding is begotten along with the body, and grows together with it, and [121] along with it comes to old age. For as children totter with feeble and tender body, so a weak judgement of mind goes with it. Then when their years are ripe and their strength hardened, greater is their sense and increased their force of mind. Afterward, when now the body is shattered by the stern strength of time, and the frame has sunk with its force dulled, then the reason is maimed, the tongue raves, the mind stumbles, all things give way and fail at once.

therefore it is dissolved with it.

And so it is natural that all the nature of the mind should also be dissolved, even as is smoke, into the high breezes of the air; inasmuch as we see that it is born with the body, grows with it, and, as I have shown, at the same time becomes weary and worn with age.

3. The mind, like the body, has pains.

Then follows this that we see that, just as the body itself suffers wasting diseases and poignant pain, so the mind too has its biting cares and grief and fear; wherefore it is natural that it should also share in death. Nay more, during the diseases of the body the mind often wanders astray;

4. The diseases of the body affect the mind.

for it loses its reason and speaks raving words, and sometimes in a heavy lethargy is carried off into a deep unending sleep, when eyes and head fall nodding, in which it hears not voices, nor can know the faces of those who stand round, summoning it back to life, bedewing face and cheeks with their tears. Therefore you must needs admit that the mind too is dissolved, inasmuch as the contagion of disease pierces into it. For both pain and disease are alike fashioners of death, as we have been taught ere now by many a man’s decease. Again,

5. Intoxication affects body and mind alike.

when the stinging strength of wine has entered into a man, and its heat has spread abroad throughout his veins, why is it that there follows a heaviness in the limbs, his legs are entangled as he staggers, his tongue is sluggish, [122] and his mind heavy, his eyes swim, shouting, sobbing, quarrelling grows apace, and then all the other signs of this sort that go along with them; why does this come to pass, except that the mastering might of the wine is wont to confound the soul even within the body? But whenever things can be so confounded and entangled, they testify that, if a cause a whit stronger shall have made its way within, they must needs perish, robbed of any further life.

6. Still more does epilepsy, which tears and rends the soul.

Nay more, some man, often before our very eyes, seized suddenly by violent disease, falls, as though by a lightning-stroke, and foams at the mouth; he groans and shivers throughout his frame, he loses his wits, his muscles grow taut, he writhes, he breathes in gasps, and tossing to and fro wearies his limbs. Because, you may be sure, his soul rent asunder by the violence of disease throughout his frame,1 is confounded, and gathers foam, as on the salt sea the waters boil beneath the stern strength of the winds. Further, the groaning is wrung from him, because his limbs are racked with pain, and more than all because the particles of voice are driven out, and are carried crowding forth from his mouth, along the way they are wont, where is their paved path. Loss of wits comes to pass, because the force of mind and soul is confounded, and, as I have shown, is torn apart and tossed to and fro, rent asunder by that same poison. Thereafter, when by now the cause of malady has ebbed, and the biting humours of the distempered body return to their hiding-places, then, as it were staggering, he first rises, and little by little returns to all his senses, and regains his soul. When mind and soul then even within the body are tossed by such great maladies, and in wretched plight [123] are rent asunder and distressed, why do you believe that without the body in the open air they can continue life amid the warring winds?

7. Mind, like body, can be cured by medicine.

And since we perceive that the mind is cured, just like the sick body, and we see that it can be changed by medicine, this too forewarns us that the mind has a mortal life. For whosoever attempts and essays to alter the mind, or seeks to change any other nature, must indeed add parts to it or transfer them from their order, or take away some small whit at least from the whole. But what is immortal does not permit its parts to be transposed, nor that any whit should be added or depart from it. For whenever a thing changes and passes out of its own limits, straightway this is the death of that which was before. And so whether the mind is sick, it gives signs of its mortality, as I have proved, or whether it is changed by medicine. So surely is true fact seen to run counter to false reasoning, and to shut off retreat from him who flees, and with double-edged refutation to prove the falsehood.

8. In cases of mortification, the soul perishes bit by bit with the body.

Again, we often behold a man pass away little by little and limb by limb lose the sensation of life; first of all the toes and nails on his feet grow livid, then the feet and legs die, thereafter through the rest of his frame, step by step, pass the traces of chill death. Since this nature of the soul is severed nor does it come forth all intact at one moment, it must be counted mortal.

It cannot contract into one place,

But if by chance you think that it could of its own power draw itself inwards through the frame, and contract its parts into one place, and so withdraw sensation from all the limbs, yet nevertheless that place, to which so great abundance of soul is gathered together, must needs be [124] seen possessed of greater sensation; but since such place is nowhere found, you may be sure, as we said before, it is rent in pieces and scattered abroad, and so perishes. Nay more, if it were our wish to grant what is false, and allow that the soul could be massed together in the body of those,

or if it does, still it perishes.

who as they die leave the light of day part by part, still you must needs confess that the soul is mortal, nor does it matter whether it passes away scattered through the air, or is drawn into one out of all its various parts and grows sottish, since sense more and more in every part fails the whole man, and in every part less and less of life remains.

9. The mind, like any other organ of sense, cannot exist without the body.

And since the mind is one part of man,n which abides rooted in a place determined, just as are ears and eyes and all the other organs of sense which guide the helm of life; and, just as hand and eye or nostrils, sundered apart from us, cannot feel nor be, but in fact are in a short time melted in corruption, so the mind cannot exist by itself without the body and the very man, who seems to be, as it were, the vessel of the mind, or aught else you like to picture more closely bound to it, inasmuch as the body clings to it with binding ties.

10. Soul and body live by their mutual union.

Again, the living powers of body and mind prevail by union, one with the other, and so enjoy life; for neither without body can the nature of mind by itself alone produce the motions of life, nor yet bereft of soul can body last on and feel sensation. We must know that just as the eye by itself, if torn out by the roots, cannot discern anything apart from the whole body, so, it is clear, soul and mind by themselves have no power. Doubtless because in close mingling throughout veins and flesh, throughout sinews and bones, their first-beginnings are held close [125] by all the body, nor can they freely leap asunder with great spaces between; and so shut in they make those sense-giving motions, which outside the body cast out into the breezes of air after death they cannot make,

In the air the soul could not be held together or produce the vital motions.

because they are not in the same way held together. For indeed air will be body, yea a living thing, if the soul can hold itself together, and confine itself to those motions, which before it made in the sinews and right within the body. Wherefore, again and again, when the whole protection of the body is undone and the breath of life is driven without, you must needs admit that the sensations of the mind and the soul are dissolved, since the cause of life in soul and body is closely linked.

11. The gradual decay of the body testifies to the breaking up of the soul before departure.

Again, since the body cannot endure the severing of the soul, but that it decays with a foul stench, why do you doubt that the force of the soul has gathered together from deep down within, and has trickled out, scattering abroad like smoke, and that the body has changed and fallen crumbling in such great ruin, because its foundations have been utterly moved from their seat, as the soul trickles forth through the limbs, and through all the winding ways, which are in the body, and all the pores? So that in many ways you may learn that the nature of the soul issued through the frame sundered in parts, and that even within the body it was rent in pieces in itself, before it slipped forth and swam out into the breezes of air. Nay more,

12. A great shock, not resulting in death, shows the same disturbance of the soul.

while it moves still within the limits of life, yet often from some cause the soul seems to be shaken and to move, and to wish to be released from the whole body; the face seems to grow flaccid, as at the hour of death, and all the limbs to fall limp on the bloodless trunk. Even so it is, when, as men [126] say, the heart has had a shock, or the heart has failed;n when all is alarm, and one and all struggle to clutch at the last link to life. For then the mind is shaken through and through, and all the power of the soul, and both fall in ruin with the body too; so that a cause a whit stronger might bring dissolution. Why do you doubt after all this but that the soul, if driven outside the body, frail as it is, without in the open air, robbed of its shelter, would not only be unable to last on through all time, but could not hold together even for a moment?

For no dying man feels his soul depart all at once.

For it is clear that no one, as he dies, feels his soul going forth whole from all his body, nor coming up first to the throat and the gullet up above, but rather failing in its place in a quarter determined; just as he knows that the other senses are dissolved each in their own place. But if our mind were immortal, it would not at its death so much lament that it was dissolved, but rather that it went forth and left its slough, as does a snake.
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Re: On the Nature of Things, by Titus Lucretius Carus

Postby admin » Sun Jun 21, 2015 11:26 pm


13. The mind has its fixed place, like any other perishable thing.

Again, why is the understanding and judgement of the mind never begotten in head or feet or hands, but is fixed for all men in one abode in a quarter determined, except that places determined are assigned to each thing for its birth, and in which each several thing can abide when it is created,1 that so it may have its manifold parts arranged that never can the order of its limbs be seen reversed? So surely does one thing follow on another, nor is flame wont to be born of flowing streams, nor cold to be conceived in fire.

Moreover, if the nature of the soul is immortal and [127] can feel when sundered from our body, we must, I trow,

14. An immortal soul must have senses of its own:

suppose it endowed with five senses. Nor in any other way can we picture to ourselvesn the souls wandering in the lower world of Acheron. And so painters and the former generations of writers have brought before us souls thus endowed with senses.

but they cannot exist apart from body.

Yet neither eyes nor nose nor even hand can exist for the soul apart from body, nor again tongue apart or ears; the souls cannot therefore feel by themselves or even exist.

15. When the body is cut, bits of soul survive in the severed parts, so that it cannot be immortal. Examples: limbs hewn off in battle;

And since we feel that the sensation of life is present in the whole body, and we see that the whole is a living thing, if some force suddenly hew it in the middle with swift blow, so that it severs each half apart, beyond all doubt the force of the soul too will be cleft in twain, torn asunder and riven together with the body. But what is cleft and separates into any parts, disclaims, assuredly, that its nature is everlasting. They tell how often scythe-bearing chariots, glowing in the mellay of slaughter, so suddenly lop off limbs, that the part which falls lopped off from the frame is seen to shiver on the ground, while in spite of all the mind and spirit of the man cannot feel the pain, through the suddenness of the stroke, and at the same time, because his mind is swallowed up in the fervour of the fight; with the body that is left him he makes for the fight and the slaughter, and often knows not that his left arm with its shield is gone, carried away by the wheels among the horses and the ravening scythes; and another sees not that his right arm has dropped, while he climbs up and presses onward. Then another struggles to rise when his leg is lost, while at his side on the ground his dying foot twitches its toes. And the head lopped off from the warm living trunk keeps on the [128] ground the look of life and the wide-open eyes, until it has yielded up all the last vestiges of soul. Nay more,

a snake chopped into bits;

if you should choose to chop into many parts with an axe the body1 of a snake with quivering tongue, angry tail, and long body, you will then perceive all the hewn parts severally writhing under the fresh blow, and scattering the ground with gore, and the fore part making open-mouthed for its own hinder part, in order that, smitten by the burning pain of the wound, it may quench it with its bite. Shall we say then that there is a whole soul in all those little parts? But by that reasoning it will follow that one living creature had many souls in its body.

in each case the soul is divided.

And so that soul which was one together with the body has been severed; wherefore both body and soul must be thought mortal, since each alike is cleft into many parts.

16. If the soul is eternal, we ought to remember a previous existence.

Moreover, if the nature of the soul is immortal, and it enters into the body at our birth, why can we not remember also the part of our life already gone, why do we not preserve traces of things done before? For if the power of the mind is so much changed that all remembrance of things past is lost to it, that state is not, I trow, a far step from death; wherefore you must needs admit that the soul, which was before, has passed away, and that that which now is, has now been created.

17. If the soul entered the body from without, it could not be so closely connected with it.

Moreover, if when our bodyn is already formed the living power of the mind is wont to be put in just when we are born, and when we are crossing the threshold into life, it would not then be natural that it should be seen to grow with the body, yea, together with the limbs in the very blood, but ’tis natural that it should live all alone by itself as in a den, yet so that the whole body [129] nevertheless is rich in sensation. Wherefore, again and again, we must not think that souls are without a birth, or released from the law of death. For neither can we think that they could be so closely linked to our bodies if they were grafted in them from without—but that all this is so, plain fact on the other hand declares: for the soul is so interlaced through veins, flesh, sinews, and bones that the teeth, too, have their share in sensation; as toothache shows and the twinge of cold water, and the biting on a sharp stone if it be hid in a piece of bread—nor, when they are so interwoven, can they, it is clear, issue forth entire, and unravel themselves intact from all the sinews and bones and joints.

18. If it enters and is then distributed, it must perish in the operation.

But if by chance you think that the soul is wont to be grafted in us from without, and then permeate through our limbs, all the more will it perish as it fuses with the body. For that which permeates dissolves, and so passes away. For even as food parcelled out among all the pores of the body, when it is sent about into all the limbs and members, perishes and furnishes a new nature out of itself, so soul and mind, however whole they may pass into the fresh-made body, still are dissolved as they permeate, while through all the pores there are sent abroad into the limbs the particles, whereof this nature of the mind is formed, which now holds sway in our body, born from that which then perished, parcelled out among the limbs. Wherefore it is seen that the nature of the soul is neither without a birthday nor exempt from death.

19. If soul atoms are left in the body, the soul must be broken up: if not, how account for the generation of worms in a corpse? Their souls cannot come from without,

Moreover, are seeds of soul left or not in the lifeless body? For if they are left and are still there, it will follow that it cannot rightly be held immortal, since it [130] has left the body maimed by the loss of some parts. But if it has been removed and fled from the limbs while still entire, so that it has left no part of itself in the body, how is it that corpses, when the flesh is now putrid, teem with worms, and how does so great a store of living creatures, boneless and bloodless, swarm over the heaving frame? But if by chance you believe that the souls are grafted in the worms from without, and can pass severally into their bodies, and do not consider why many thousands of souls should gather together, whence one only has departed, yet there is this that seems worth asking and putting to the test, whether after all those souls go hunting for all the seeds of the little worms, and themselves build up a home to live in, or whether they are, as it were, grafted in bodies already quite formed.

or (a) they could not fashion bodies for themselves

But there is no ready reason why they should make the bodies themselves, why they should be at such pains. For indeed, when they are without a body, they do not flit about harassed by disease and cold and hunger. For the body is more prone to suffer by these maladies, and ’tis through contact with the body that the mind suffers many ills. But still grant that it be ever so profitable for them to fashion a body wherein to enter; yet there seems to be no way whereby they could. Souls then do not fashion for themselves bodies and frames.

nor (b) enter bodies already formed.

Nor yet can it be that they are grafted in bodies already made; for neither will they be able to be closely interwoven, nor will contact be made by a sharing of sensation.

20. Races of animals can only keep their characteristics because their soul is determined by and grows with their body.

Again, why does fiery passionn go along with the grim brood of lions and cunning with foxes; why is the habit of flight handed on to deer from their sires, so that their father’s fear spurs their limbs? And indeed all other habits of this sort, why are they always implanted in the [131] limbs and temper from the first moment of life, if it be not because a power of mind determined by its own seed and breed grows along with the body of each animal? But if the soul were immortal and were wont to change its bodies, then living creatures would have characters intermingled; the dog of Hyrcanian seed would often flee the onset of the horned hart,

21. If immortal souls entered their bodies, animals would be of miscellaneous characters. For an immortal soul could not change in passing from one body to another.

and the hawk would fly fearful through the breezes of air at the coming of the dove; men would be witless, and wise the fierce tribes of wild beasts. For it is argued on false reasoning, when men say that an immortal soul is altered, when it changes its body: for what is changed, is dissolved, and so passes away. For the parts are transferred and shift from their order; wherefore they must be able to be dissolved too throughout the limbs, so that at last they may all pass away together with the body. But if they say that the souls of men always pass into human bodies, still I will ask why a soul can become foolish after being wise, why no child has reason, why the mare’s foal is not as well trained as the bold strength of a horse.

22. Even if human souls only pass into men, they change from old to young.

We may be sure they will be driven to say that in a weak body the mind too is weak. But if that indeed comes to pass, you must needs admit that the soul is mortal, since it changes so much throughout the frame, and loses its former life and sense. Or in what manner will the force of mind be able along with each several body to wax strong and attain the coveted bloom of life,

23. The soul cannot grow with the body, unless born with it.

unless it be partner too with the body at its earliest birth? Or why does it desiren to issue forth abroad from the aged limbs? does it fear to remain shut up in a decaying body,

24. An immortal soul would not wish to leave the body in old age.

lest its home, worn out with the long spell of years, fall on it? But an immortal thing knows no dangers.


25. Think of the immortal souls wrangling for their mortal body!

Again, that the souls should be present at the wedlock of Venus and the birth of wild beasts, seems to be but laughable; that immortal souls should stand waiting for mortal limbs in numbers numberless, and should wrangle one with another in hot haste, which first before the others may find an entrance; unless by chance the souls have a compact sealed, that whichever arrives first on its wings, shall first have entrance, so that they strive not forcibly at all with one another.

26. Soul and mind, like all other things, have their appointed place, apart from which they cannot exist.

Again, a tree cannot exist in the sky,n nor clouds in the deep waters, nor can fishes live in the fields, nor blood be present in wood, nor sap in stones. It is determined and ordained where each thing can grow and have its place. So the nature of the mind cannot come to birth alone without body, nor exist far apart from sinews and blood. But if this could be, far sooner might the force of mind itself exist in head or shoulders, or right down in the heels, and be wont to be born in any part you will, but at least remain in the same man or the same vessel. But since even within our body it is determined and seen to be ordained where soul and mind can dwell apart and grow, all the more must we deny that it could continue or be begotten outside the whole body. Wherefore, when the body has perished, you must needs confess that the soul too has passed away, rent asunder in the whole body. Nay,

27. The union of mortal and immortal is absurd.

indeed, to link the mortal with the everlasting, and to think that they can feel together and act one upon the other, is but foolishness. For what can be pictured more at variance, more estranged within itself and inharmonious, than that what is mortal should be linked in union with the immortal and everlasting to brave raging storms? Moreover, if ever things abide for everlasting,n it must [133] needs be either that, because they are of solid body,

28. The soul does not fulfil any of the conditions of immortality.

they beat back assaults, nor suffer anything to come within them which might unloose the close-locked parts within, such as are the bodies of matter whose nature we have declared before; or that they are able to continue throughout all time, because they are exempt from blows, as is the void, which abides untouched, nor suffers a whit from assault; or else because there is no supply of room all around, into which, as it were, things might part asunder and be broken up—even as the sum of sums is eternal—nor is there any room without into which they may scatter, nor are there bodies which might fall upon them and break them up with stout blow. But if by chance the soul is rather to be held immortal for this reason, because it is fortified and protected from things fatal to life, or because things harmful to its life come not at all, or because such as come in some way depart defeated before we can feel what harm they do us <clear facts show us that this is not so>.1 For besides that it falls sick along with the diseases of the body, there comes to it that which often torments it about things that are to be, and makes it ill at ease with fear, and wears it out with care; and when its evil deeds are past and gone, yet sin brings remorse. There is too the peculiar frenzy of the mind and forgetfulness of the past, yes, and it is plunged into the dark waters of lethargy.

C.: The folly of the Fear of Death

C. Death is nothing to us. We shall not be conscious after death any more than we were before birth.

Death, then, is naught to us,n nor does it concern us a whit, inasmuch as the nature of the mind is but a mortal possession. And even as in the time gone by we felt no ill, when the Poeni came from all sides to the shock of battle, when all the world, shaken by the hurrying turmoil [134] of war, shuddered and reeled beneath the high coasts of heaven, in doubt to which people’s sway must fall all human power by land and sea; so, when we shall be no more, when there shall have come the parting of body and soul, by whose union we are made one, you may know that nothing at all will be able to happen to us, who then will be no more, or stir our feeling; no, not if earth shall be mingled with sea, and sea with sky.

Even if the soul could feel alone, it would not concern us. If time should reunite the same atoms that now form us, still it would not affect us.

And even if the nature of mind and the power of soul has feeling, after it has been rent asunder from our body, yet it is naught to us, who are made one by the mating and marriage of body and soul. Nor, if time should gather together our substance after our decease and bring it back again as it is now placed, if once more the light of life should be vouchsafed to us, yet, even were that done, it would not concern us at all, when once the remembrance of our former selves were snapped in twain. And even now we care not at all for the selves that we once were, not at all are we touched by any torturing pain for them. For when you look back over all the lapse of immeasurable time that now is gone, and think how manifold are the motions of matter, you could easily believe this too, that these same seeds, whereof we now are made, have often been placed in the same order as they are now; and yet we cannot recall that in our mind’s memory; for in between lies a break in life, and all the motions have wandered everywhere far astray from sense.

Grief and pain necessitate a percipient: but death prevents our feeling.

For, if by chance there is to be grief and pain for a man, he must needs himself too exist at that time, that ill may befall him. Since death forestalls this, and prevents the being of him, on whom these misfortunes might crowd, we may know that we have naught to fear in death, and that he who is no [135] more cannot be wretched, and that it were no whit different if he had never at any time been born, when once immortal death hath stolen away mortal life.

A professed believer in the mortality of the soul is often insincere.

And so, when you see a man chafing at his lot, that after death he will either rot away with his body laid in earth, or be destroyed by flames, or the jaws of wild beasts, you may be sure that his words do not ring true, and that deep in his heart lies some secret pang, however much he deny himself that he believes that he will have any feeling in death. For he does not, I trow, grantn what he professes, nor the grounds of his profession, nor does he remove and cast himself root and branch out of life, but all unwitting supposes something of himself to live on.

He imagines a self surviving to grieve at the fate of the body.

For when in life each man pictures to himself that it will come to pass that birds and wild beasts will mangle his body in death, he pities himself; for neither does he separate himself from the corpse, nor withdraw himself enough from the outcast body, but thinks that it is he, and, as he stands watching, taints it with his own feeling. Hence he chafes that he was born mortal, and sees not that in real death there will be no second self, to live and mourn to himself his own loss, or to stand there and be pained that he lies mangled or burning.

Yet one treatment of it will hurt him no more than another.

For if it is an evil in death to be mauled by the jaws and teeth of wild beasts, I cannot see how it is not sharp pain to be laid upon hot flames and cremated, or to be placed in honey and stifled, and to grow stiff with cold,n lying on the surface on the top of an icy rock, or to be crushed and ground by a weight of earth above.

The dead has no more desire for the joys of life.

‘Now no more shall thy glad home welcome thee, nor thy good wife and sweet children run up to snatch the first kisses, and touch thy heart with a silent thrill of [136] joy. No more shalt thou have power to prosper in thy ways, or to be a sure defence to thine own. Pitiful thou art,’ men say, ‘and pitifully has one malignant day taken from thee all the many prizes of life.’ Yet to this they add not: ‘nor does there abide with thee any longer any yearning for these things.’ But if they saw this clearly in mind, and followed it out in their words, they would free themselves from great anguish and fear of mind. ‘Thou,

and the living should not grieve at his entering into rest.

indeed, even as thou art now fallen asleep in death, shalt so be for all time to come, released from every pain and sorrow. But ’tis we who have wept with tears unquenchable for thee, as thou wert turned to ashes hard by us on the awesome place of burning, and that unending grief no day shall take from our hearts.’ But of him who speaks thus we should ask, what there is so exceeding bitter, if it comes at the last to sleep and rest, that any one should waste away in never-ending lamentation.

Men say: ‘Let us drink, for to-morrow we die’: but in death they will have no thirst.

This too men often do, when they are lying at the board, and hold their cups in their hands, and shade their faces with garlands: they say from the heart, ‘Brief is this enjoyment for us puny men: soon it will be past, nor ever thereafter will it be ours to call it back.’ As though in death this were to be foremost among their ills, that thirst would burn the poor wretches and parch them with its drought, or that there would abide with them a yearning for any other thing.

In sleep we have no desire for life, much less in death.

For never does any man long for himself and life, when mind and body alike rest in slumber. For all we care sleep may then be never-ending, nor does any yearning for ourselves then beset us. And yet at that time those first-beginnings stray not at all far through our frame away from the motions that bring sense, when a man springs up from [137] sleep and gathers himself together. Much less then should we think that death is to us, if there can be less than what we see to be nothing; for at our dying there follows a greater turmoil and scattering abroad of matter, nor does any one wake and rise again, whom the chill breach of life has once overtaken.

Nature may justly rebuke us for lamenting our death.

Again, suppose that the nature of things should of a sudden lift up her voice, and thus in these words herself rebuke some one of us: ‘Why is death so great a thing to thee, mortal, that thou dost give way overmuch to sickly lamentation? why groan and weep at death? For if the life that is past and gone has been pleasant to thee, nor have all its blessings, as though heaped in a vessel full of holes,n run through and perished unenjoyed, why dost thou not retire like a guest sated with the banquet of life, and with calm mind embrace, thou fool, a rest that knows no care? But if all thou hast reaped hath been wasted and lost, and life is a stumbling-block, why seek to add more, all to be lost again foolishly and pass away unenjoyed; why not rather make an end of life and trouble? For there is naught more, which I can devise or discover to please thee: all things are ever as they were. If thy body is not yet wasted with years, nor thy limbs worn and decayed, yet all things remain as they were, even if thou shouldst live on to overpass all generations, nay rather, if thou shouldst never die.’ What answer can we make, but that nature brings a just charge against us, and sets out in her pleading a true plaint? But if now some older man, smitten in years,

Especially when an old man grieves to die.

should make lament, and pitifully bewail his decease more than is just, would she not rightly raise her voice and chide him in sharp tones? ‘Away with tears henceforth, thou [138] rogue, set a bridle on thy laments. Thou hast enjoyed all the prizes of life and now dost waste away. But because thou yearnest ever for what is not with thee, and despisest the gifts at hand, uncompleted and unenjoyed thy life has slipped from thee, and, ere thou didst think it, death is standing by thy head, before thou hast the heart to depart filled and sated with good things. Yet now give up all these things so ill-fitted for thy years, and with calm mind,

He should be glad to make room for future generations.

come, yield them to thy sons:1 for so thou must.’ She would be right, I trow, in her plea, right in her charge and chiding. For the old ever gives place thrust out by new things, and one thing must be restored at the expense of others: nor is any one sent down to the pit and to black Tartarus. There must needs be substance that the generations to come may grow; yet all of them too will follow thee, when they have had their fill of life; yea, just as thyself, these generations have passed away before, and will pass away again. So one thing shall never cease to rise up out of another, and life is granted to none for freehold, to all on lease.n

The future, after our death, will be no more to us than the past before our birth.

Look back again to see how the past ages of everlasting time, before we are born, have been as naught to us. These then nature holds up to us as a mirror of the time that is to come, when we are dead and gone. Is there aught that looks terrible in this, aught that seems gloomy? Is it not a calmer rest than any sleep?

The mythical tortures of the lower world are allegories of the miseries of this life. Tantalus is the man oppressed by the terrors of religion; Tityos the careworn lover;

Yea, we may be sure, all those things, of which stories tell us in the depths of Acheron, are in our life. Neither does wretched Tantalus fear the great rock that hangs [139] over him in the air, as the tale tells, numbed with idle terror; but rather ’tis in life that the vain fear of the gods threatens mortals; they fear the fall of the blow which chance may deal to each. Nor do birds make their way into Tityos, as he lies in Acheron, nor can they verily in all the length of time find food to grope for deep in his huge breast. However vast the mass of his outstretched limbs, though he cover not only nine acres with his sprawling limbs, but the whole circle of earth, yet he will not be able to endure everlasting pain, nor for ever to supply food from his own body. But this is our Tityos, whom as he lies smitten with love the birds mangle, yea, aching anguish devours him, or care cuts him deep through some other passion.

Sisyphus the unsuccessful public man;

The Sisyphus in our life too is clear to see, he who open-mouthed seeks from the people the rods and cruel axes, and evermore comes back conquered and dispirited. For to seek for a power, which is but in name, and is never truly given, and for that to endure for ever grinding toil, this is to thrust uphill with great effort a stone, which after all rolls back from the topmost peak, and headlong makes for the levels of the plain beneath.

the Danaids the discontented.

Then to feed for ever the ungrateful nature of the mind, to fill it full with good things, yet never satisfy it, as the seasons of the year do for us, when they come round again, and bring their fruits and their diverse delights, though we are never filled full with the joys of life, this, I trow, is the story of the maidens in the flower of youth, who pile the water into the vessel full of holes, which yet can in no way be filled full. Cerberus and the furies, moreover, and the lack of light, Tartarus, belching forth awful vapours from his jaws,


1 which are not anywhere,

Hell is the fear of punishment in this life.

nor verily can be. But it is fear of punishment for misdeeds in life—fear notable as the deeds are notable—and the atonement for crime, the dungeon and the terrible hurling down from the rock, scourgings, executioners, the rack, pitch, the metal plate, torches; for although they are not with us, yet the conscious mind, fearing for its misdeeds, sets goads to itself, and sears itself with lashings, nor does it see meanwhile what end there can be to its ills, or what limit at last to punishment, yea, and it fears that these same things may grow worse after death. Here after all on earth the life of fools becomes a hell.

Think of those who have died before you, the kings,

This too you might say to yourself from time to time: ‘Even Ancus the goodn closed his eyes on the light of day, he who was a thousand times thy better, thou knave. And since him many other kings and rulers of empires have fallen, who held sway over mighty nations. Even he himself, who oncen paved a way over the great sea, and made a path for his legions to pass across the deep, and taught them on foot to pass over the salt pools, and made naught of the roarings of ocean, prancing upon it with his horses, yet lost the light of day, and breathed out his soul from his dying body.

and heroes,

The son of the Scipios, thunderbolt of war, terror of Carthage, gave his bones to earth, even as though he had been the meanest houseslave.

and poets,

Yes, and the inventors of sciences and delightful arts, yes and the comrades of the sisters of Helicon: among whom Homer, who sat alone, holding his sceptre, has fallen into the same sleep as the rest.

and philosophers.

Again, after a ripe old age warned Democritus that the mindful motions of his memory were waning, of his own will he met death [141] and offered her up his head. Epicurus himself died, when he had run his course in the light of life, Epicurus, who surpassed the race of men in understanding and quenched the light of all, even as the sun rising in the sky quenches the stars.

You must not hesitate to die, whose life is a waking sleep.

Wilt thou then hesitate and chafe to meet thy doom? thou, whose life is wellnigh dead while thou still livest and lookest on the light, who dost waste in sleep the greater part of thy years, and snore when wide awake, nor ever cease to see dream-visions, who hast a mind harassed with empty fear, nor canst discover often what is amiss with thee, when like a sot thou art beset, poor wretch, with countless cares on every side, and dost wander drifting on the shifting currents of thy mind.’

If men knew the cause of their cares, they would not lead restless lives, as they do now,

If only men, even as they clearly feel a weight in their mind, which wears them out with its heaviness, could learn too from what causes that comes to be, and whence so great a mass, as it were, of ill lies upon their breast, they would not pass their lives, as now for the most part we see them; knowing not each one of them what he wants, and longing ever for change of place, as though he could thus lay aside the burden. The man who is tired of staying at home, often goes out abroad from his great mansion, and of a sudden returns again, for indeed abroad he feels no better. He races to his country home, furiously driving his ponies, as though he were hurrying to bring help to a burning house; he yawns at once, when he has set foot on the threshold of the villa, or sinks into a heavy sleep and seeks forgetfulness, or even in hot haste makes for town, eager to be back.

struggling to escape from self,

In this way each man struggles to escape himself: yet, despite his will he clings to the self, which, we may be sure, in fact [142] he cannot shun, and hates himself, because in his sickness he knows not the cause of his malady; but if he saw it clearly,

but would study nature, to learn their condition after death.

every man would leave all else, and study first to learn the nature of things, since it is his state for all eternity, and not for a single hour, that is in question, the state in which mortals must expect all their being, that is to come after their death.

Our craving for life is fruitless.

Again, what evil craving for life is this which constrains us with such force to live so restlessly in doubt and danger? Verily, a sure end of life is ordained for mortals, nor can we avoid death, but we must meet it. Moreover, we move ever, we spend our time amid the same things, nor by length of life is any new pleasure hammered out.

A longer life could give us no new pleasure,

But so long as we have not what we crave, it seems to surpass all else; afterward, when that is ours, we crave something else, and the same thirst for life besets us ever, open-mouthed. It is uncertain too what fortune time to come may carry to us, or what chance may bring us, or what issue is at hand.

nor could it diminish the period of death.

Nor in truth by prolonging life do we take away a jot from the time of death, nor can we subtract anything whereby we may be perchance less long dead. Therefore you may live on to close as many generations as you will: yet no whit the less that everlasting death will await you, nor will he for a less long time be no more, who has made an end of life with to-day’s light, than he who perished many months or years ago.
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Re: On the Nature of Things, by Titus Lucretius Carus

Postby admin » Sun Jun 21, 2015 11:27 pm


Book IV: Deals Mainly with the Psychology of Sensation and thought, and also with certain biological functions


Introduction: Lucretius’s mission.

I traverse the distant hauntsn of the Pierides, never trodden before by the foot of man. ’Tis my joy to approach those untasted springs and drink my fill, ’tis my joy to pluck new flowers and gather a glorious coronal for my head from spots whence before the muses have never wreathed the forehead of any man. First because I teach about great things, and hasten to free the mind from the close bondage of religion, then because on a dark theme I trace verses so full of light, touching all with the muses’ charm. For that too is seen to be not without good reason; for even as healers, when they essay to give loathsome wormwood to children, first touch the rim all round the cup with the sweet golden moisture of honey, so that the unwitting age of children may be beguiled as far as the lips, and meanwhile may drink the bitter draught of wormwood, and though charmed may not be harmed, but rather by such means may be restored and come to health; so now, since this philosophy full often seems too bitter to those who have not tasted it, and the multitude shrinks back away from it, I have desired to set forth to you my reasoning in the sweet-tongued song of the muses, and as though to touch it with the pleasant honey of poetry, if perchance I might avail by such means to keep your mind set upon my verses, while you take in the whole nature of things, and are conscious of your profit.

A.: Existence and Nature of the ‘Idols’

A. The Idols.

But since I have taught of what manner are the [144] beginnings of all things, and how, differing in their diverse forms, of their own accord they fly on, spurred by everlasting motion; and in what way each several thing can be created from them; and since I have taught what was the nature of the mind, and whereof composed it grew in due order with the body, and in what way rent asunder it passed back into its first-beginnings:

The images which are the cause of vision.

now I will begin to tell you what exceeding nearly concerns this theme, that there are what we call idolsn of things; which, like films stripped from the outermost body of things, fly forward and backward through the air; and they too when they meet us in waking hours affright our minds, yea, and in sleep too, when we often gaze on wondrous shapes, and the idols of those who have lost the light of day, which in awful wise have often roused us, as we lay languid, from our sleep; lest by chance we should think that souls escape from Acheron, or that shades fly abroad among the living, or that something of us can be left after death, when body alike and the nature of mind have perished and parted asunder into their several first-beginnings.

The existence of such images is proved by parallels in the visible world.

I say then that likenesses of things and their shapes are given off by things from the outermost body of things, which may be called, as it were, films or even rind, because the image bears an appearance and form like to that, whatever it be, from whose body it appears to be shed, ere it wanders abroad. That we may learn from this, however dull be our wits. First of all,

1. Things throw off films, either loose, like smoke, &c., or more compact like the slough of snakes, &c.

since among things clear to see many things give off bodies, in part scattered loosely abroad, even as wood gives off smoke and fires heat, and in part more closely knit and packed together, as when now and then the grasshoppers lay [145] aside their smooth coats in summer, and when calves at their birth give off a caul from their outermost body, and likewise when the slippery serpent rubs off its vesture on the thorns; for often we see the brambles laden with these wind-blown spoils from snakes. And since these things come to pass,

So images can be thrown off, because there are unimpeded atoms on the surface ready to part.

a thin image from things too must needs be given off from the outermost body of things. For why these films should fall and part from things any more than films that are thin, none can breathe a word to prove; above all, since on the surface of thingsn there are many tiny bodies, which could be cast off in the same order wherein they stood, and could preserve the outline of their shape, yea, and be cast the more quickly, inasmuch as they can be less entangled, in that they are few, and placed in the forefront.

2. Colour is thrown off from the surface of things, as from the awnings of a theatre.

For verily we see many things cast off and give out bodies in abundance, not only from deep beneath, as we said before, but often too from the surface, such as their own colour. And commonly is this done by awnings, yellow and red and steely-blue, when stretched over great theatres they flap and flutter, spread everywhere on masts and beams. For there they tinge the assembly in the tiers beneath, and all the bravery of the stage and the gay-clad company of the elders,1 and constrain them to flutter in their colours. And the more closely are the hoardings of the theatre shut in all around, the more does all the scene within laugh, bathed in brightness, as the light of day is straitened. Since then the canvas gives out this hue from its outermost body, each several thing also must needs give out thin likenesses, since in either case they are throwing off from the surface. There are then sure traces of forms, which fly about everywhere, [146] endowed with slender bulk, nor can they be seen apart one by one.

Nor is colour hindered like the other effluences which come from deep beneath.

Moreover, all smell, smoke, heat, and other like things stream forth from things, scattering loosely, because while they arise and come forth from deep within, they are torn in their winding course, nor are there straight outlets to their paths, whereby they may hasten to issue all in one mass. But, on the other hand, when the thin film of surface-colour is cast off, there is nothing which can avail to rend it, since it is ready at hand,

3. Mirrors, &c., return a constant succession of images of things.

and placed in the forefront. Lastly, whenever idols appear to us in mirrors, in water, and in every shining surface, it must needs be, seeing that they are endowed with an appearance like the things, that they are made of the images of things given off. There are then thin shapes of things and likenesses, which, although no one can see them one by one, yet thrown back with constant and ceaseless repulse, give back a picture from the surface of the mirrors, and it is seen that they cannot by any other means be so preserved that shapes so exceeding like each several thing may be given back.

Fineness of texture of the images.

Come now and learn of how thin a nature this image is formed. And to begin with, since the first-beginnings are so far beneath the ken of our senses, and so much smaller than the things which our eyes first begin to be unable to descry, yet now that I may assure you of this too,

1. Think of the fineness of the atoms of which they are composed.

learn in a few words how fine in texture are the beginnings of all things. First of all there are living things sometimes so small that a third part of them could by no means be seen. Of what kind must we think any one of their entrails to be? What of the round ball of their heart or eye? what of their members? what of their limbs? how small are they? still more,

(a) They are much smaller than the smallest part of the smallest living thing we can see.

what of the [147] several first-beginnings whereof their soul and the nature of their mind must needs be formed? do you not see how fine and how tiny they are? Moreover, whatever things breathe out a pungent savour from their body, panacea, sickly wormwood, and strongly-smelling abrotanum, and bitter centaury; if by chance <you press> any one of these lightly between two1 <fingers, the scent will for long cling to your fingers, though never will you see anything at all:

(b) Things can leave a strong scent on you when you touch them, and yet you can see nothing. [2.]

so that you may know how fine is the nature of the first-beginnings, whereof the scent is formed …> … and not rather learn that many idols of things wander abroad in many ways with no powers, unable to be perceived?

There are other idols, too, which form in the sky, everchanging, like the masses of clouds.

But that you may not by chance think that after all only those idols of things wander abroad, which come off from things, there are those too which are begotten of their own accord, and are formed of themselves in this sky which is called air; which moulded in many ways are borne along on high, and being fluid cease not to change their appearance, and to turn it into the outline of forms of every kind; even as from time to time we see clouds lightly gathering together in the deep sky, and staining the calm face of the firmament, caressing the air with their motion. For often the faces of giants are seen to fly along and to trail a shadow far and wide, and sometimes mighty mountains and rocks torn from the mountains are seen to go on ahead and to pass before the sun; and then a huge beast seems to draw on and lead forward the storm clouds.

These images are very swiftly formed.

Come now, in what swift and easy ways those idols are begotten, and flow unceasingly from things and fall off [148] and part from them, <I will set forth …>.1 For ever the outermost surface is streaming away from things, that so they may cast it off. And when this reaches some things,

1. The surface of things is ever quick to stream away.

it passes through them, as above all through glass: but when it reaches rough stones or the substance of wood, there at once it is torn, so that it cannot give back any idol. But when things that are formed bright and dense are set athwart its path, such as above all is the mirror, neither of these things comes to pass. For neither can they pass through, as through glass, nor yet be torn; for the smoothness is careful to ensure their safety. Wherefore it comes to pass that the idols stream back from it to us.

2. The quick formation of the image in the mirror gives us an example.

And however suddenly, at any time you will, you place each several thing against the mirror, the image comes to view; so that you may know that from the outermost body there flow off unceasingly thin webs and thin shapes of things. Therefore many idols are begotten in a short moment, so that rightly is the creation of these things said to be swift.

3. So does the constant succession of light from the sun.

And just as the sun must needs shoot out many rays of light in a short moment, so that the whole world may unceasingly be filled, so too in like manner from things it must needs be that many idols of things are borne off in an instant of time in many ways in all directions on every side; inasmuch as to whatever side we turn the mirror to meet the surface of things, things in the mirror answer back alike in form and colour. Moreover,

4. Clouds form in the sky in a moment; how much quicker the little images!

even when the weather in the sky has but now been most clear, exceeding suddenly it becomes foully stormy, so that on all sides you might think that all darkness has left Acheron, and filled the great vault of the sky; so terribly, when the noisome night of clouds [149] has gathered together, do the shapes of black fear hang over us on high; yet how small a part of these is an idol, there is no one who could say or give an account of this in words.

Swiftness of motion of idols.

Come now, with what swift motion the idols are carried on, and what speed is given them as they swim through the air, so that a short hour is spent on a long course, towards whatever place they each strain on with diverse impulse, I will proclaim in verses of sweet discourse rather than in many; even as the brief song of a swan is better than the clamour of cranes, which spreads abroad among the clouds of the south high in heaven.

1. Proof from analogy. Light bodies of rare texture usually move fast: e.g. the light particles of the sun.

First of all very often we may see that light things made of tiny bodies are swift. In this class there is the light of the sun and his heat, because they are made of tiny first-particles, which, as it were, are knocked forward, and do not pause in passing on through the space of air between, smitten by the blow from those that follow. For in hot haste the place of light is taken by light, and as though driven in a team, one flash is goaded by another flash. Wherefore in like manner it must needs be that the idols can course through space unthinkable in an instant of time, first because it is a tiny cause,n far away behind which drives and carries them forward, and after that, in that they are borne on with so swift a lightness of bulk; and then because they are given off endowed with texture so rare that they can easily pass into anything you will, and as it were ooze through the intervening air. Moreover,

2. Proof from theory. Bodies starting from the surface of things move quicker than those rising from within.

when particles of thingsn are given out abroad from deep within, like the sun’s light and heat, these are seen to fall in a moment of time and spread themselves over the whole expanse of heaven, and to fly over sea and earth and flood the sky. What then of those things which are ready at [150] once in the forefront? When they are cast off and nothing hinders their discharge, do you not see that they must needs move swifter and further, and course through many times the same expanse of space in the same time in which the rays of the sun crowd the sky?

3. Proof from experience. The immediate reflection of the heavens shows the pace of movement of the idols.

This, too, more than all seems to show forth truly in what swift motion the idols of things are borne on, that as soon as a bright surface of water is placed beneath the open sky, when the heaven is starry, in a moment the calm beaming stars of the firmament appear in answer in the water. Do you not then see now in how short an instant of time the image falls from the coasts of heaven to the coasts of earth? Wherefore more and more you must needs confess that bodies are sent off such as strike the eyes and awake our vision.

B. These idols are the cause of sight.

And from certain things scents stream off unceasingly; just as cold streams off from rivers, heat from the sun, spray from the waves of the sea, which gnaws away walls all around the shores. Nor do diverse voices cease to fly abroad through the air.

1. Our other senses are affected by similar effluences.

Again, often moisture of a salt savour comes into our mouth, when we walk by the sea, and on the other hand, when we watch wormwood being diluted and mixed, a bitter taste touches it. So surely from all things each several thing is carried off in a stream, and is sent abroad to every quarter on all sides, nor is any delay or respite granted in this flux, since we feel unceasingly, and we are suffered always to descry and smell all things, and to hear them sound.


B.: Sensation and Thought

2. Touch and sight give us the same information: they must be affected by similar causes.

Moreover, since a shape felt by the hands in the darkness is known to be in some way the same as is seen in the light and the clear brightness, it must needs be that touch and sight are stirred by a like cause. If then we handle a square thing, and it stirs our touch in the darkness, what square thing can fall upon our sight in the light, except its image? Wherefore it is clear that the cause of seeing lies in the images, nor without them can anything be seen.

The idols meet our eyes wherever we turn.

Next those things which I call the idols of things are borne everywhere, and are cast off and meted out to every side. But because we can see them onlyn with our eyes, for that cause it comes to pass that, to whatever side we turn our sight, all things there strike against it with their shape and hue.

They drive before them a current of air, by whose length we can judge the distance of the object.

And how far each thing is away from us, the image causes us to see and provides that we distinguish. For when it is given off,n straightway it pushes and drives before it all the air that has its place between it and the eyes, and thus it all glides through our eyeballs, and, as it were, brushes through the pupils, and so passes on. Therefore it comes to pass that we see how far away each thing is. And the more air is driven on in front, and the longer the breeze which brushes through our eyes, the further each thing is seen to be removed. But you must know that these things are brought to pass by means exceeding quick, so that we see what it is and at the same time how far it is away.

We do not perceive the separate idols, but the whole object.

Herein by no means must we deemn there is cause to wonder why the idols which strike the eyes cannot be seen one by one, but the whole things are descried. For when wind too lashes us little by little, [152] and when piercing cold streams on us,

So we do not feel individual particles of wind or cold, and though we strike only the surface of a stone, we feel the resistance of the whole.

we are not wont to feel each separate particle of that wind and cold, but rather all at once, and then we perceive blows coming to pass on our body, just as if something were lashing us and giving us the feeling of its body without. Moreover, when we strike a stone with our finger, we touch the very outside of the rock and its colour on the surface, yet we do not feel the colour with our touch, but rather we feel the very hardness of the rock deep down beneath.

Peculiarities of the mirror.

Come now and learn why the image is seen beyond the mirror; for indeed it seems removed far within. It is even as those things which in very truth are seen outside a door, when the door affords an unhindered sight through it, and lets many things out of doors be seen from the house.

1. The image seems to be behind the mirror, because, as with things seen through doors, we receive first a current of air, then the image of the mirror, then another current, and finally the image of the object.

For that vision too is brought to pass by two twin airs. For first the air on our side of the jambs is seen in such a case, then follow the folding doors themselves on right and left, afterwards the light outside brushes through the eyes, and a second air, and then those things which in very truth are seen without the doors. So when first the image of the mirror has cast itself adrift, while it is coming to our pupils, it pushes and drives before it all the air which has its place between it and our eyes, and so makes us able to perceive all this air before the mirror. But when we have perceived the mirror itself too, straightway the image which is borne from us passes to the mirror, and being cast back returns to our eyes and drives on and rolls in front of it another air, and makes us see this before itself, and therefore seems to be just so much distant from the mirror. Wherefore, again and again, it is not right at all that we should wonder [153] <that this appearance comes to be both for those things which are really seen out of doors, and also>1 for those things which send back a vision from the level surface of the mirrors; since in either case it is brought about by the two airs.

2. Right hand and left are changed in the mirror, because the image is turned straight back, like a plaster mask dashed against a post.

Next it comes to pass that the part of our limbs which is on the right is seen in mirrors on the left, because when the image comes to the plane of the mirror and strikes against it, it is not turned round unchanged, but is dashed back straight; just as if one were to dash a plaster mask, before it is dry, against a pillar or a beam, and it at once were to preserve its shape turned straight to meet us, and were to mould again its own features dashed back towards us.

3. Images may be reflected from mirror to mirror, changing their cheirality each time.

Thus it will come to pass that what was before the right eye, now in turn is the left, and the left in exchange is now the right. It comes to pass too that the image is handed on from mirror to mirror, so that even five or six idols are wont to be made. For even when things are hidden far back in an inner part of the room, yet, however far distant from the sight along a twisting path, it may be that they will all be brought out thence by winding passages, and, thanks to the several mirrors, be seen to be in the house. So surely does the image reflect from mirror to mirror, and when a left hand is presented, it comes to pass that it is changed to the right,

4. Curved horizontal mirrors return images with the right cheirality.

and then once again it is changed about and returns to where it was before. Moreover, all flank-curved mirrors,n endowed with a curve like to our flanks, send back to us right-handed idols, either because the image is borne across from one part of the mirror to [154] another, and then flies towards us, twice dashed back, or else because the imagen is twisted around, when it has arrived, because the curved shape of the mirror teaches it to turn round towards us.

5. The image in the mirror keeps step with us.

Moreover, you would believe that idols walk step by step and place their feet as we do, and imitate our gait, just because, from whatever part of the mirror you retire, straightway the idols cannot be turned back from it, inasmuch as naturen constrains all things to be carried back, and leap back from things, sent back at equal angles.

Peculiarities of vision.

Bright things moreover the eyes avoid, and shun to look upon. The sun, too, blinds, if you try to raise your eyes to meet him, because his own power is great, and the idols from him are borne through the clear air, sinking heavily into the deep, and strike upon the eyes, disordering their texture.

1. Bright things blind and burn the eyes, because of the seeds they contain.

Moreover, any piercing brightness often burns the eyes for the reason that it contains many seeds of fire, which give birth to pain in the eyes, finding their way in. Moreover, whatever the jaundiced look upon becomes sickly-yellow, because many seeds of yellow stream off from their bodies to meet the idols of things,

2. Jaundiced persons infect the images with their own yellow.

and many also are mixed in their eyes, which by their infection tinge all things with their pallor.

Now we see things that are in the light out of the darkness, because, when the black air of the gloom, which is nearer, first enters and seizes on the open eyes,

3. We can see things in the light out of darkness, because the light clears the eyes; but not in the darkness out of light, because the darkness chokes the eyes.

there follows in hot haste a bright air full of light, which, as it were, cleanses the eyes and scatters abroad the dark shadows of the former air. For the latter is many times more nimble, many times finer and more potent. And as soon as it has filled the passages of the eyes with light, and opened up those which before the black air had [155] beleaguered, straightway follow the idols of the things which are lying in the light, and excite our eyes so that we see. But, on the other hand, we cannot do this in the darkness out of the light, because the air of the gloom, which is denser, comes on afterwards, and fills all the channels and beleaguers the passages of the eyes, so that none of the idols of things can be cast upon them and stir them.

4. Square towers look round from a distance, because the angles are worn off the images in transit.

And when we see from afar offn the square towers of a town, it comes to pass for this cause that they often look round, because every angle from a distance is seen flattened, or rather it is not seen at all, and the blow from it passes away, nor does its stroke come home to our eyes, because, while the idols are being borne on through much air, the air by its frequent collisions constrains it to become blunted. When for this cause every angle alike has escaped our sense, it comes to pass that the structures of stone are worn away as though turned on the lathe; yet they do not look like things which are really round to a near view, but a little resembling them as though in shadowy shape.

5. Our shadow seems to follow us, because, as we move, the light is cut off from successive pieces of the ground.

Likewise our shadow seems to us to move in the sunshine, and to follow our footsteps and imitate our gait; if indeed you believe that air bereft of light can step forward, following the movements and gait of men. For that which we are wont to name a shadow can be nothing else but air devoid of light. But in very truth it is because in certain spots in due order the ground is bereft of the light of the sun wherever we, as we move on, cut it off, and likewise the part of it which we have left is filled again; for this cause it comes to pass that, what was but now the shadow of our body, seems always to follow unaltered straight along with us. For always new rays of light are pouring out, and the former perish, like wool drawn into a flame. [156] Therefore readily is the ground robbed of light, and is likewise filled again and washes away its own black shadows.

In all such cases sensation is not false, but the mind draws a wrong inference.

And yet we do not grant that in this the eyes are a whit deceived. For it is theirs to see in what several spots there is light and shade: but whether it is the same light or not, whether it is the same shadow which was here, that now passes there, or whether that rather comes to pass which I said a little before, this the reasoning of the mind alone must needs determine, nor can the eyes know the nature of things. Do not then be prone to fasten on the eyes this fault in the mind.

1. Stationary objects seen from a moving ship seem to move.

The ship, in which we journey,n is borne along, when it seems to be standing still; another, which remains at anchor, is thought to be passing by. The hills and plains seem to be flying towards the stern, past which we are driving on our ship with skimming sail.

2. The stars seem to be at rest.

All the stars, fast set in the vault of the firmament, seem to be still, and yet they are all in ceaseless motion, inasmuch as they rise and return again to their distant settings, when they have traversed the heaven with their bright body. And in like manner sun and moon seem to abide in their places,

3. Passages between mountains are not seen at a distance.

yet actual fact shows that they are borne on. And mountains rising up afar off from the middle of the waters, between which there is a free wide issue for ships, yet seem united to make a single island. When children have ceased turning round themselves, so sure does it come to appear to them that the halls are turning about, and the pillars racing round,

4. To giddy persons their surroundings seem to spin.

that scarcely now can they believe that the whole roof is not threatening to fall in upon them. And again, when nature begins to raise on high the sunbeam ruddy with twinkling fires, and to lift it above the mountains, [157] those mountains above which the sun seems to you to stand, as he touches them with his own fire,

5. The rising sun seems close to mountains in the east.

all aglow close at hand, are scarce distant from us two thousand flights of an arrow, nay often scarce five hundred casts of a javelin: but between them and the sun lie the vast levels of ocean, strewn beneath the wide coasts of heaven, and many thousands of lands are set between, which diverse races inhabit, and tribes of wild beasts.

6. A tiny pool of no depth can reflect the whole sky.

And yet a pool of water not deeper than a single finger-breadth, which lies between the stones on the paved street, affords us a view beneath the earth to a depth as vast as the high gaping mouth of heaven stretches above the earth; so that you seem to descry the clouds and the heaven and bodies wise hidden beneath the earth—yet in a magic sky. Again,

7. A horse standing in a stream seems to be borne upstream.

when our eager horse has stuck fast amid a river, and we look down into the hurrying waters of the stream, the force seems to be carrying on the body of the horse, though he stands still, athwart the current, and to be thrusting it in hot haste up the stream; and wherever we cast our eyes all things seem to be borne on and flowing forward, as we are ourselves.

8. Perspective.

Though a colonnade runs on straight-set lines all the way, and stands resting on equal columns from end to end, yet when its whole length is seen from the top end, little by little it contracts to the pointed head of a narrow cone, joining roof with floor, and all the right hand with the left, until it has brought all together into the point of a cone that passes out of sight.

9. Sunrise at sea.

It happens to sailors on the sea that the sun seems to rise from the waves, and again to set in the waves, and hide its light; since verily they behold [158] nothing else but water and sky; so that you must not lightly think that the senses waver at every point. But to those who know not the sea,

10. Refraction.

ships in the harbour seem to press upon the water maimed, and with broken poop. For all the part of the oars which is raised up above the salt sea spray, is straight, and the rudders are straight above; but all that is sunk beneath the water, seems to be broken back and turned round, yes, and to turn upwards again and twist back so that it almost floats on the water’s surface.

11. Moving clouds make the stars seem to move.

And when winds in the night season carry scattered clouds across the sky, then the shining signs seem to glide athwart the storm-clouds, and to be moving on high in a direction far different from their true course.

12. A finger on the eyeball makes it see double.

Then if by chance a hand be placed beneath one eye and press it, it comes to pass by a new kind of perception that all things which we look at seem to become double as we look, double the lights of the lamps with their flowery flames, double the furniture throughout the whole house in twin sets, and double the faces of men, double their bodies.

13. Dreams.

Again, when sleep has bound our limbs in sweet slumber, and all the body lies in complete rest, yet then we seem to ourselves to be awake and moving our limbs, and in the blind gloom of night we think to see the sun and the light of day, and, though in some walled room, we seem to pass to new sky, new sea, new streams, and mountains, and on foot to cross over plains, and to hear sounds, when the stern silence of night is set all about us, and to give answer, when we do not speak. Wondrously many other things of this sort we see, all of which would fain spoil our trust in the senses; all in vain, since the greatest part of these things deceives us on account of the opinions of the mind, which [159] we add ourselves, so that things not seen by the senses are counted as seen. For nothing is harder than to distinguish things manifest from things uncertain, which the mind straightway adds of itself.

If the sceptic denies that anything can be known, how can he know that? Where does he get his criterion of truth?

Again, if any one thinksn that nothing is known, he knows not whether that can be known either, since he admits that he knows nothing. Against him then I will refrain from joining issue, who plants himself with his head in the place of his feet. And yet were I to grant that he knows this too, yet I would ask this one question; since he has never before seen any truth in things, whence does he know what is knowing, and not knowing each in turn, what thing has begotten the concept of the true and the false,n what thing has proved that the doubtful differs from the certain?

If the senses are false, he must find a truer standard.

You will find that the concept of the true is begotten first from the senses, and that the senses cannot be gainsaid. For something must be found with a greater surety, which can of its own authority refute the false by the true. Next then, what must be held to be of greater surety than sense?

But (a) reason, resting on sensation, cannot refute the senses; (b) the senses cannot refute one another;

Will reason, sprung from false sensation,n avail to speak against the senses, when it is wholly sprung from the senses? For unless they are true, all reason too becomes false. Or will the ears be able to pass judgement on the eyes, or touch on the ears? or again will the taste in the mouth refute this touch; will the nostrils disprove it, or the eyes show it false? It is not so, I trow. For each sense has its faculty set apart, each its own power, and so it must needs be that we perceive in one way what is soft or cold or hot, and in another the diverse colours of things, and see all that goes along with colour.n Likewise, the taste of the mouth has its power apart; in one way smells [160] arise, in another sounds. And so it must needs be that one sense cannot prove another false.

nor (c) can the senses convict themselves.

Nor again will they be able to pass judgement on themselves, since equal trust must at all times be placed in them. Therefore, whatever they have perceived on each occasion, is true.

Sensation is true. It is better to admit that reason may fail than to impugn the senses, the foundation of all knowledge, and the only guide for life.

And if reason is unable to unravel the cause, why those things which close at hand were square, are seen round from a distance, still it is better through lack of reasoning to be at fault in accounting for the causes of either shape, rather than to let things clear seen slip abroad from your grasp, and to assail the grounds of belief, and to pluck up the whole foundations on which life and existence rest. For not only would all reasoning fall away; life itself too would collapse straightway, unless you chose to trust the senses, and avoid headlong spots and all other things of this kind which must be shunned, and to make for what is opposite to these. Know,

To deny the veracity of sensation is to build a fabric with faulty instruments.

then, that all this is but an empty store of words, which has been drawn up and arrayed against the senses. Again, just as in a building, if the first ruler is awry, and if the square is wrong and out of the straight lines, if the level sags a whit in any place, it must needs be that the whole structure will be made faulty and crooked, all awry, bulging, leaning forwards or backwards, and out of harmony, so that some parts seem already to long to fall, or do fall, all betrayed by the first wrong measurements; even so then your reasoning of things must be awry and false, which all springs from false senses.

The other senses.

Now it is left to explain in what manner the other [161] senses perceive each their own object—a path by no means stony to tread.

1. Hearing is produced when sounds strike the sense. Sound is corporeal: (a) it can strike the sense; (b) shouting makes the throat sore; (c) continued speaking weakens the body.

First of all, every kind of soundn and voice is heard, when they have found their way into the ears and struck upon the sense with their body. For that voice too and sound are bodily you must grant, since they can strike on the senses. Moreover, the voice often scrapes the throat and shouting makes the windpipe over-rough as it issues forth; since, indeed, the first-beginnings of voices have risen up in greater throng through the narrow passage, and begun to pass forth: and then, in truth, when the passages are crammed, the door too is scraped. There is no doubt then that voices and words are composed of bodily elements, so that they can hurt. And likewise it does not escape you how much body is taken away and drawn off from men’s very sinews and strength by speech continued without pause from the glimmer of rising dawn to the shades of dark night, above all if it is poured out with loud shouting. And so the voice must needs be of bodily form, since one who speaks much loses a part from his body.

Roughness or smoothness of sound is due to the form of the component atoms.

Now roughness of voice comes from roughness in its first-beginnings, and likewise smoothness is begotten of their smoothness. Nor do the first-beginnings pierce the ears with like form, when the trumpet bellows deep with muffled tones, and when the barbarous Berecyntian pipe shrieks1 with shrill buzzing sound, and when the swans at night from the cold marches of Helicon lift with mournful voice their clear lament.2

These voices then, when we force them forth from deep [162] within our body,

The voice is formed to words by tongue and lips. At close quarters it keeps its form,

and shoot them abroad straight through our mouth, the pliant tongue, artificer of words, severs apart, and the shaping of the lips in its turn gives them form. Therefore, when it is no long distance from which each single utterance starts and reaches to us, it must needs be that the very words too are clearly heard and distinguished sound by sound. For each utterance preserves its shaping and preserves its form.

but at greater distance is dislocated and becomes indistinct.

But if the space set between be over great, passing through much air the words must needs be jostled together, and the utterance disordered, while it flies across the breezes. And so it comes to pass that you can perceive the sound, yet not distinguish what is the meaning of the words: so confounded and entangled does the utterance come to you.

One voice can travel to many ears,

Again one single word often awakes the ears of all in an assembly, shot out from the crier’s mouth. Therefore one voice flies apart immediately into many voices, since it sunders itself into all the several ears, imprinting on the words a shape and a clear-cut sound.

or else it is scattered abroad.

But that part of the voices which falls not straight upon the ears, passes by and perishes scattered in vain through the air. Some beating upon solid spots are cast back, and give back the sound, and at times mock us with the echo of a word.

Solid things can beat the voice back. Hence the echo,

And when you see this clearly, you could give account to yourself and others, in what manner among solitary places rocks give back the counterparts of words each in due order, when we seek our comrades wandering amid the dark hills, and with loud voice summon them scattered here and there. I have seen places give back even six or seven cries, when you sent forth but one: so surely did one hill beat back to another and repeat the words trained to come back again. Such places the dwellers around [163] fancy to be the haunt of goat-footed satyrs and nymphs,

which gives rise to country stories of fauns, &c.

and they say that there are fauns, by whose clamour spreading through the night and sportive revels they declare that the dumb silence is often broken; and that sounds of strings are awakened, and sweet sad melodies, which the pipe pours forth, stopped by the fingers of players; and that the race of country folk hears far and wide, when Pan, tossing the piny covering of his half-monstrous head, ofttimes with curling lip runs over the open reeds, so that the pipe ceases not to pour forth woodland music. All other marvels and prodigies of this kind they tell, lest by chance they be thought to live in lonely places, deserted even of the gods. Therefore they boast such wonders in discourse, or else are led on in some other way, even as the whole race of man is over greedy of prattling tales.

We hear where we cannot see,

For the rest, we need not wonder by what means voices come and arouse the ears through places, though which the eyes cannot see things clear to view. Often too we see a talk carried on through closed doors, because, we may be sure, voice can pass unharmed through winding pores in things, but idols refuse to pass.

(a) because voices can pass through any kind of pores, the idols of sight only through straight openings;

For they are torn asunder, unless they stream through straight pores, as are those in glass, through which every image can fly. Moreover, a voice is severed in every direction, since voices are begotten one from another, when once one voice has issued forth and sprung apart into many, even as a spark of fire is often wont to scatter itself into its several fires. And so places hidden far from sight are filled with voices;

(b) because voices are multiplied in all directions, the idols only move straight as they start.

they are in a ferment all around, alive [164] with sound. But all idols press on in the direct line, as they have once been started; wherefore no one can see beyond the wall, but can perceive voices outside. And yet even this voice, while it passes through the walls of the house, is dulled, and enters the ear all confounded, and we seem to hear a sound rather than words.
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