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Author: Lucretius
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De Rerum Natura (Selections)


Lucretius: On the Nature of Things

Introduction

De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) is a remarkable philosophical poem in six books of Latin hexameters, composed by the poet Titus Lucretius Carus toward the middle of the first century BCE. (Lucretius lived from about 99 to about 55 BCE.) His poem is the fullest extant rendering of the ancient philosophy known as Epicureanism, after its founder, the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who lived in Athens in 341-270 BCE. Only fragments of Epicurus' own writing have survived.

Lucretius expounds "the nature of things," because Epicureans believed that the aim of life is to achieve a calm of mind they called ataraxia; that this calm can best be achieved by avoiding pain and extreme pleasure (which only leads to pain); that the greatest pleasure is intellectual; and that a proper intellectual grasp of the world involves a recognition that consciousness coexists with the body, because the opposite (belief in an afterlife for the soul) causes more pain than pleasure. Lucretius outlines a materialist physics to support these contentions: the universe is made up exclusively of either atoms or emptiness. ("Atom" is a Greek word used by Epicurus, following Democritus; Lucretius uses a Latin equivalent, primordium.) The gods, who are made of the smallest, swiftest, and finest atoms, exist in a state of perfect ataraxia, which prevents their having anything to do with human beings and the imperfect striving for pleasure in which human begins engage.

The selections included here are from the first three books. Lucretius makes clear the link, as he sees it, between understanding the material universe and calm of mind. Like stoics, Epicureans believed that one could do nothing about "the nature of things" because they are predetermined, but Epicureans believed that things are determined not by fate but by the movement of atoms, so Lucretius carefully explains how that movement happens, with an abundance of often ingenious examples (here omitted). Though his explanation falls well short of modern atomic physics, the conclusions he draws about the cosmos frequently coincide with modern understanding: that there are multiple worlds like ours, that motion is not toward the center (as Aristotle and Ptolemy argued), that the conditions that produced the earth are consistent throughout the universe. Lucretius' most famous passage is his argument in Book III that one need have no fear of death because the soul (or consciousness) is made of atoms and perishes with the body. This thought was a source of comfort to Epicureans, because it eliminated worry about the afterlife.

Because of its materialist assumptions, Epicureanism was roundly condemned during the Christian Middle Ages, and suspicion of Epicureanism remained firmly entrenched well into the seventeenth century, when the first English translations were made (one by the Puritan, Lucy Hutchinson). Montaigne knew De Rerum Natura well and quotes it often, but it is not clear that Shakespeare knew Lucretius' poem, and it is not clear either that he even knew Montaigne by 1599, the year he wrote Julius Caesar. Cassius identifies himself as an Epicurean in Plutarch's Life of Brutus, and the materialist explanation Cassius gives for the ghost that Brutus sees would have been enough, in itself, to allow Shakespeare to characterize Cassius's way of thinking as "Epicurean" in the way he does.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura

Translated by William Ellery Leonard.

This text was prepared from the online version created for the Perseus project at Tufts University (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/). Reformatted and reproduced here by permission.

BOOK I

[Lucretius praises Epicurus as his inspiration.]

Whilst human kind
Throughout the lands lay miserably crushed
Before all eyes beneath Religion-who
70Would show her head along the region skies,
Glowering on mortals with her hideous face-
A Greek it was who first opposing dared
Raised mortal eyes that terror to withstand,
Whom nor the fame of Gods nor lightning's stroke
Nor threatening thunder of the ominous sky
Abashed; but rather chafed to angry zest
His dauntless heart to be the first to rend
The crossbars at the gates of Nature old.
And thus his will and hardy wisdom won;
80And forward thus he fared afar, beyond
The flaming ramparts of the world, until
He wandered the unmeasurable All.
Whence he to us, a conqueror, reports
What things can rise to being, what cannot,
And by what law to each its scope prescribed,
Its boundary stone that clings so deep in Time.
Wherefore Religion now is under foot,
And us his victory now exalts to heaven.

[There is nothing to fear about death, because there is no afterlife.]

And there shall come the time when even thou,
Forced by the soothsayer's terror-tales, shalt seek
To break from us. Ah, many a dream even now
Can they concoct to rout thy plans of life,
And trouble all thy fortunes with base fears.
I own with reason: for, if men but knew
Some fixed end to ills, they would be strong
120By some device unconquered to withstand
Religions and the menacings of seers.
But now nor skill nor instrument is theirs,
Since men must dread eternal pains in death.
For what the soul may be they do not know,
Whether 'tis born, or enter in at birth,
And whether, snatched by death, it die with us . . . .
140Then be it ours with steady mind to clasp
The purport of the skies--the law behind
The wandering courses of the sun and moon;
To scan the powers that speed all life below;
But most to see with reasonable eyes
Of what the mind, of what the soul is made,
And what it is so terrible that breaks
On us asleep, or waking in disease,
Until we seem to mark and hear at hand
Dead men whose bones earth bosomed long ago.

. . . .

[Everything is made of invisible atoms, which neither come into being nor pass out of it.]

And now, since I have taught that things cannot
Be born from nothing, nor the same, when born,
To nothing be recalled, doubt not my words,
Because our eyes no primal germs perceive;
For mark those bodies which, though known to be
310In this our world, are yet invisible . . . .

[What is not atoms is void.]

But yet creation's neither crammed nor blocked
About by body: there's in things a void-
Which to have known will serve thee many a turn,
Nor will not leave thee wandering in doubt,
Forever searching in the sum of all,
380And losing faith in these pronouncements mine.
There's place intangible, a void and room.

[The void permits the atoms to move.]

For were it not, things could in nowise move;
Since body's property to block and check
Would work on all and at an times the same.
Thus naught could evermore push forth and go,
Since naught elsewhere would yield a starting place.
But now through oceans, lands, and heights of heaven,
By divers causes and in divers modes,
Before our eyes we mark how much may move,
390Which, finding not a void, would fail deprived
Of stir and motion; nay, would then have been
Nowise begot at all, since matter, then,
Had staid at rest, its parts together crammed.

[The void permits atoms to mingle.]

Then too, however solid objects seem,
They yet are formed of matter mixed with void:
In rocks and caves the watery moisture seeps,
And beady drops stand out like plenteous tears;
And food finds way through every frame that lives;
The trees increase and yield the season's fruit
400Because their food throughout the whole is poured,
Even from the deepest roots, through trunks and boughs;
And voices pass the solid walls and fly
Reverberant through shut doorways of a house;
And stiffening frost seeps inward to our bones.
Which but for voids for bodies to go through
'Tis clear could happen in nowise at all.

[The void explains why things of uniform size differ in weight.]

Again, why see we among objects some
Of heavier weight, but of no bulkier size?
Indeed, if in a ball of wool there be
410As much of body as in lump of lead,
The two should weigh alike, since body tends
To load things downward, while the void abides,
By contrary nature, the imponderable.
Therefore, an object just as large but lighter
Declares infallibly its more of void;
Even as the heavier more of matter shows,
And how much less of vacant room inside.
That which we're seeking with sagacious quest
Exists, infallibly, commixed with things-
420The void, the invisible inane. . . .

[Nothing exists per se except atoms and the void.]

But, now again to weave the tale begun,
480All nature, then, as self-sustained, consists
Of twain of things: of bodies and of void
In which they're set, and where they're moved around.

[Everything that is neither atom nor void is either a property or an accident of them.]

A property is that which not at all
Can be disjoined and severed from a thing
Without a fatal dissolution: such,
Weight to the rocks, heat to the fire, and flow
520To the wide waters, touch to corporal things,
Intangibility to the viewless void.
But state of slavery, pauperhood, and wealth,
Freedom, and war, and concord, and all else
Which come and go whilst nature stands the same,
We're wont, and rightly, to call accidents.
Even time exists not of itself; but sense
Reads out of things what happened long ago,
What presses now, and what shall follow after:
No man, we must admit, feels time itself,
530Disjoined from motion and repose of things.

[Atoms are solid and indestructible.]

Bodies, again,
Are partly primal germs of things, and partly
Unions deriving from the primal germs.
And those which are the primal germs of things
560No power can quench; for in the end they conquer
By their own solidness; though hard it be
To think that aught in things has solid frame . . . .

[All bodies are composed of atoms--not of the traditional four elements (earth, air, fire, and water).]

Thus whosoe'er have held the stuff of things
To be but fire, and out of fire the sum,
830And whosoever have constituted air
As first beginning of begotten things,
And all whoever have held that of itself
Water alone contrives things, or that earth
Createth all and changes things anew
To divers natures, mightily they seem
A long way to have wandered from the truth.

Add, too, whoever make the primal stuff
Twofold, by joining air to fire, and earth
To water; add who deem that things can grow
840Out of the four- fire, earth, and breath, and rain . . .

[The universe is infinite.]

But since I've taught that bodies of matter, made
1130Completely solid, hither and thither fly
Forevermore unconquered through all time,
Now come, and whether to the sum of them
There be a limit or be none, for thee
Let us unfold; likewise what has been found
To be the wide inane, or room, or space
Wherein all things soever do go on,
Let us examine if it finite be
All and entire, or reach unmeasured round
And downward an illimitable profound.

1140

Thus, then, the All that is is limited
In no one region of its onward paths,
For then 'tmust have forever its beyond.
And a beyond 'tis seen can never be
For aught, unless still further on there be
A somewhat somewhere that may bound the same-
So that the thing be seen still on to where
The nature of sensation of that thing
Can follow it no longer. Now because
Confess we must there's naught beside the sum,
1150There's no beyond, and so it lacks all end.
It matters nothing where thou post thyself,
In whatsoever regions of the same;
Even any place a man has set him down
Still leaves about him the unbounded all
Outward in all directions . . . .

[Things do not press toward the center.]

1270

And in these problems, shrink, my Memmius, far
From yielding faith to that notorious talk:
That all things inward to the center press;
And thus the nature of the world stands firm
With never blows from outward, nor can be
Nowhere disparted- since all height and depth
Have always inward to the center pressed
(If thou art ready to believe that aught
Itself can rest upon itself); or that
The ponderous bodies which be under earth
1280Do all press upwards and do come to rest
Upon the earth, in some way upside down,
Like to those images of things we see
At present through the waters. They contend,
With like procedure, that all breathing things
Head downward roam about, and yet cannot
Tumble from earth to realms of sky below,
No more than these our bodies wing away
Spontaneously to vaults of sky above;
That, when those creatures look upon the sun,
1290We view the constellations of the night;
And that with us the seasons of the sky
They thus alternately divide, and thus
Do pass the night coequal to our days,
But a vain error has given these dreams to fools,
Which they've embraced with reasoning perverse
For center none can be where world is still
Boundless, nor yet, if now a center were,
Could aught take there a fixed position more
Than for some other cause 'tmight be dislodged.
1300For all of room and space we call the void
Must both through center and non-center yield
Alike to weights where'er their motions tend.
Nor is there any place, where, when they've come,
Bodies can be at standstill in the void,
Deprived of force of weight; nor yet may void
Furnish support to any,- nay, it must,
True to its bent of nature, still give way.
Thus in such manner not at all can things
Be held in union, as if overcome
1310By craving for a center. . . .

BOOK II

PROEM

[Philosophy offers serenity in withdrawal from care and pain.]

'Tis sweet, when, down the mighty main, the winds
Roll up its waste of waters, from the land
To watch another's laboring anguish far,
Not that we joyously delight that man
Should thus be smitten, but because 'tis sweet
1360To mark what evils we ourselves be spared;
'Tis sweet, again, to view the mighty strife
Of armies embattled yonder o'er the plains,
Ourselves no sharers in the peril; but naught
There is more goodly than to hold the high
Serene plateaus, well fortressed by the wise,
Whence thou may'st look below on other men
And see them ev'rywhere wand'ring, all dispersed
In their lone seeking for the road of life;
Rivals in genius, or emulous in rank,
1370Pressing through days and nights with hugest toil
For summits of power and mastery of the world.
O wretched minds of men! O blinded hearts!
In how great perils, in what darks of life
Are spent the human years, however brief!-
O not to see that nature for herself
Barks after nothing, save that pain keep off,
Disjoined from the body, and that mind enjoy
Delightsome feeling, far from care and fear!

[Luxurious self-indulgence is the opposite of true pleasure.]

Therefore we see that our corporeal life
1380Needs little, altogether, and only such
As takes the pain away, and can besides
Strew underneath some number of delights.
More grateful 'tis at times (for nature craves
No artifice nor luxury), if forsooth
There be no golden images of boys
Along the halls, with right hands holding out
The lamps ablaze, the lights for evening feasts,
And if the house doth glitter not with gold
Nor gleam with silver, and to the lyre resound
1390No fretted and gilded ceilings overhead,
Yet still to lounge with friends in the soft grass
Beside a river of water, underneath
A big tree's boughs, and merrily to refresh
Our frames, with no vast outlay- most of all
If the weather is laughing and the times of the year
Besprinkle the green of the grass around with flowers.
Nor yet the quicker will hot fevers go,
If on a pictured tapestry thou toss,
Or purple robe, than if 'tis thine to lie
1400Upon the poor man's bedding.

[Luxury offers nothing to the mind.]

Wherefore, since
Treasure, nor rank, nor glory of a reign
Avail us naught for this our body, thus
Reckon them likewise nothing for the mind:
Save then perchance, when thou beholdest forth
Thy legions swarming round the Field of Mars,
Rousing a mimic warfare- either side
Strengthened with large auxiliaries and horse,
Alike equipped with arms, alike inspired;
Or save when also thou beholdest forth
1410Thy fleets to swarm, deploying down the sea:
For then, by such bright circumstance abashed,
Religion pales and flees thy mind; O then
The fears of death leave heart so free of care.
But if we note how all this pomp at last
Is but a drollery and a mocking sport,
And of a truth man's dread, with cares at heels,
Dreads not these sounds of arms, these savage swords
But among kings and lords of all the world
Mingles undaunted, nor is overawed
1420By gleam of gold nor by the splendor bright
Of purple robe, canst thou then doubt that this
Is aught, but power of thinking?- when, besides
The whole of life but labors in the dark.
For just as children tremble and fear all
In the viewless dark, so even we at times
Dread in the light so many things that be
No whit more fearsome than what children feign,
Shuddering, will be upon them in the dark.
This terror then, this darkness of the mind,
1430Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light,
Nor glittering arrows of morning can disperse,
But only nature's aspect and her law. . . .

[Some corollaries of atomic physics.]

Now to true reason give thy mind for us.
Since here strange truth is putting forth its might
To hit thee in thine ears, a new aspect
Of things to show its front. Yet naught there is
2670So easy that it standeth not at first
More hard to credit than it after is;
And naught soe'er that's great to such degree,
Nor wonderful so far, but all mankind
Little by little abandon their surprise.
Look upward yonder at the bright clear sky
And what it holds- the stars that wander o'er,
The moon, the radiance of the splendour-sun:
Yet all, if now they first for mortals were,
If unforeseen now first asudden shown,
2680What might there be more wonderful to tell,
What that the nations would before have dared
Less to believe might be?- I fancy, naught-
So strange had been the marvel of that sight.
The which o'erwearied to behold, to-day
None deigns look upward to those lucent realms.
Then, spew not reason from thy mind away,
Beside thyself because the matter's new,
But rather with keen judgment nicely weigh;
And if to thee it then appeareth true,
2690Render thy hands, or, if 'tis false at last,
Gird thee to combat. For my mind-of-man
Now seeks the nature of the vast Beyond
There on the other side, that boundless sum
Which lies without the ramparts of the world,
Toward which the spirit longs to peer afar,
Toward which indeed the swift elan of thought
Flies unencumbered forth.

[Other worlds exist besides earth.]

Firstly, we find,
Off to all regions round, on either side,
2700Above, beneath, throughout the universe
End is there none- as I have taught, as too
The very thing of itself declares aloud,
And as from nature of the unbottomed deep
Shines clearly forth.

[This must be true, because space is infinite.]

Nor can we once suppose
In any way 'tis likely, (seeing that space
To all sides stretches infinite and free,
And seeds, innumerable in number, in sum
Bottomless, there in many a manner fly,
Bestirred in everlasting motion there),
2710That only this one earth and sky of ours
Hath been create and that those bodies of stuff,
So many, perform no work outside the same;

[Moreover, earth is the product of atoms combining randomly.]

Seeing, moreover, this world too hath been
By nature fashioned, even as seeds of things
By innate motion chanced to clash and cling-
After they'd been in many a manner driven
Together at random, without design, in vain-
And as at last those seeds together dwelt,
Which, when together of a sudden thrown,
2720Should alway furnish the commencements fit
Of mighty things- the earth, the sea, the sky,
And race of living creatures. Thus, I say,
Again, again, 'tmust be confessed there are
Such congregations of matter otherwhere,
Like this our world which vasty ether holds
In huge embrace.

[Because the conditions that produced earth are consistent throughout the universe, other inhabited worlds must exist.]

Besides, when matter abundant
Is ready there, when space on hand, nor object
Nor any cause retards, no marvel 'tis
2730That things are carried on and made complete,
Perforce. And now, if store of seeds there is
So great that not whole life-times of the living
Can count the tale...
And if their force and nature abide the same,
Able to throw the seeds of things together
Into their places, even as here are thrown
The seeds together in this world of ours,
'Tmust be confessed in other realms there are
Still other worlds, still other breeds of men,
2740And other generations of the wild.

[Nothing in the universe is unique.

]

Hence too it happens in the sum there is
No one thing single of its kind in birth,
And single and sole in growth, but rather it is
One member of some generated race,
Among full many others of like kind.
First, cast thy mind abroad upon the living:
Thou'lt find the race of mountain-ranging wild
Even thus to be, and thus the scions of men
To be begot, and lastly the mute flocks
2750Of scaled fish, and winged frames of birds.
Wherefore confess we must on grounds the same
That earth, sun, moon, and ocean, and all else,
Exist not sole and single- rather in number
Exceeding number. Since that deeply set
Old boundary stone of life remains for them
No less, and theirs a body of mortal birth
No less, than every kind which here on earth
Is so abundant in its members found.

[Nature is self-sustaining, not the work of the gods.

]

Which well perceived if thou hold in mind,
2760Then Nature, delivered from every haughty lord,
And forthwith free, is seen to do all things
Herself and through herself of own accord,
Rid of all gods. For- by their holy hearts
Which pass in long tranquillity of peace
Untroubled ages and a serene life!-
Who hath the power (I ask), who hath the power
To rule the sum of the immeasurable,
To hold with steady hand the giant reins
Of the unfathomed deep? Who hath the power
2770At once to roll a multitude of skies,
At once to heat with fires ethereal all
The fruitful lands of multitudes of worlds,
To be at all times in all places near,
To stablish darkness by his clouds, to shake
The serene spaces of the sky with sound,
And hurl his lightnings,- ha, and whelm how oft
In ruins his own temples, and to rave,
Retiring to the wildernesses, there
At practice with that thunderbolt of his,
2780Which yet how often shoots the guilty by,
And slays the honorable blameless ones!

[The earth was produced by atoms from elsewhere in the cosmos.]

Ere since the birth-time of the world, ere since
The risen first-born day of sea, earth, sun,
Have many germs been added from outside,
Have many seeds been added round about,
Which the great All, the while it flung them on,
Brought hither, that from them the sea and lands
Could grow more big, and that the house of heaven
Might get more room and raise its lofty roofs
2790Far over earth, and air arise around.
For bodies all, from out all regions, are
Divided by blows, each to its proper thing,
And all retire to their own proper kinds:
The moist to moist retires; earth gets increase
From earthy body; and fires, as on a forge,
Beat out new fire; and ether forges ether;
Till nature, author and ender of the world,
Hath led all things to extreme bound of growth:
As haps when that which hath been poured inside
2800The vital veins of life is now no more
Than that which ebbs within them and runs off.
This is the point where life for each thing ends;
This is the point where nature with her powers
Curbs all increase. For whatsoe'er thou seest
Grow big with glad increase, and step by step
Climb upward to ripe age, these to themselves
Take in more bodies than they send from selves,
Whilst still the food is easily infused
Through all the veins, and whilst the things are not
2810So far expanded that they cast away
Such numerous atoms as to cause a waste
Greater than nutriment whereby they wax.
For 'tmust be granted, truly, that from things
Many a body ebbeth and runs off;
But yet still more must come, until the things
Have touched development's top pinnacle;
Then old age breaks their powers and ripe strength
And falls away into a worser part.
For ever the ampler and more wide a thing,
2820As soon as ever its augmentation ends,
It scatters abroad forthwith to all sides round
More bodies, sending them from out itself.
Nor easily now is food disseminate
Through all its veins; nor is that food enough
To equal with a new supply on hand
Those plenteous exhalations it gives off.
Thus, fairly, all things perish, when with ebbing
They're made less dense and when from blows without
They are laid low; since food at last will fail
2830Extremest eld, and bodies from outside
Cease not with thumping to undo a thing
And overmaster by infesting blows.

[Like everything else, our earth is also in decay.

]

Thus, too, the ramparts of the mighty world
On all sides round shall taken be by storm,
And tumble to wrack and shivered fragments down.
For food it is must keep things whole, renewing;
'Tis food must prop and give support to all,-
But to no purpose, since nor veins suffice
To hold enough, nor nature ministers
2840As much as needful. And even now 'tis thus:
Its age is broken and the earth, outworn
With many parturitions, scarce creates
The little lives- she who created erst
All generations and gave forth at birth
Enormous bodies of wild beasts of old.
For never, I fancy, did a golden cord
From off the firmament above let down
The mortal generations to the fields;
Nor sea, nor breakers pounding on the rocks
2850Created them; but earth it was who bore-
The same to-day who feeds them from herself.
Besides, herself of own accord, she first
The shining grains and vineyards of all joy
Created for mortality; herself
Gave the sweet fruitage and the pastures glad,
Which now to-day yet scarcely wax in size,
Even when aided by our toiling arms.
We break the ox, and wear away the strength
Of sturdy farm-hands; iron tools to-day
2860Barely avail for tilling of the fields,
So niggardly they grudge our harvestings,
So much increase our labor. Now to-day
The aged ploughman, shaking of his head,
Sighs o'er and o'er that labors of his hands
Have fallen out in vain, and, as he thinks
How present times are not as times of old,
Often he praises the fortunes of his sire,
And crackles, prating, how the ancient race,
Fulfilled with piety, supported life
2870With simple comfort in a narrow plot,
Since, man for man, the measure of each field
Was smaller far i' the old days. And, again,
The gloomy planter of the withered vine
Rails at the season's change and wearies heaven,
Nor grasps that all of things by sure degrees
Are wasting away and going to the tomb,
Outworn by venerable length of life.

BOOK III

PROEM

2880

O thou who first uplifted in such dark So clear a torch aloft, who first shed light Upon the profitable ends of man, O thee I follow, glory of the Greeks, And set my footsteps squarely planted now Even in the impress and the marks of thine- Less like one eager to dispute the palm, More as one craving out of very love That I may copy thee!- for how should swallow Contend with swans or what compare could be 2890In a race between young kids with tumbling legs And the strong might of the horse? Our father thou, And finder-out of truth, and thou to us Suppliest a father's precepts; and from out Those scriven leaves of thine, renowned soul (Like bees that sip of all in flowery wolds), We feed upon thy golden sayings all- Golden, and ever worthiest endless life. For soon as ever thy planning thought that sprang From god-like mind begins its loud proclaim 2900Of nature's courses, terrors of the brain Asunder flee, the ramparts of the world Dispart away, and through the void entire I see the movements of the universe. Rises to vision the majesty of gods, And their abodes of everlasting calm Which neither wind may shake nor rain-cloud splash, Nor snow, congealed by sharp frosts, may harm With its white downfall: ever, unclouded sky O'er roofs, and laughs with far-diffused light. 2910And nature gives to them their all, nor aught May ever pluck their peace of mind away. But nowhere to my vision rise no more The vaults of Acheron, though the broad earth Bars me no more from gazing down o'er all Which under our feet is going on below Along the void. O, here in these affairs Some new divine delight and trembling awe Takes hold through me, that thus by power of thine Nature, so plain and manifest at last, 2920Hath been on every side laid bare to man!

[Because atoms truly account for what we think of as mind and soul, fear of the afterlife is the principal threat to ataraxia.

]

And since I've taught already of what sort The seeds of all things are, and how, distinct In divers forms, they flit of own accord, Stirred with a motion everlasting on, And in what mode things be from them create, Now, after such matters, should my verse, meseems, Make clear the nature of the mind and soul, And drive that dread of Acheron without, Headlong, which so confounds our human life. . . .

[Fear of death and the afterlife causes avarice and ambition.

]

And greed, again, and the blind lust of honors Which force poor wretches past the bounds of law, And, oft allies and ministers of crime, To push through nights and days of the hugest toil To rise untrammeled to the peaks of power- 2960These wounds of life in no mean part are kept Festering and open by this fright of death. For ever we see fierce Want and foul Disgrace Dislodged afar from secure life and sweet, Like huddling Shapes before the doors of death. And whilst, from these, men wish to scape afar, Driven by false terror, and afar remove, With civic blood a fortune they amass, They double their riches, greedy, heapers-up Of corpse on corpse they have a cruel laugh 2970For the sad burial of a brother-born, And hatred and fear of tables of their kin. Likewise, through this same terror, envy oft Makes them to peak because before their eyes That man is lordly, that man gazed upon Who walks begirt with honor glorious, Whilst they in filth and darkness roll around; Some perish away for statues and a name, And oft to that degree, from fright of death, Will hate of living and beholding light 2980Take hold on humankind that they inflict Their own destruction with a gloomy heart- Forgetful that this fear is font of cares, This fear the plague upon their sense of shame, And this that breaks the ties of comradry And oversets all reverence and faith, Mid direst slaughter. For long ere to-day Often were traitors to country and dear parents Through quest to shun the realms of Acheron. For just as children tremble and fear all 2990In the viewless dark, so even we at times Dread in the light so many things that be No whit more fearsome than what children feign, Shuddering, will be upon them in the dark. This terror, then, this darkness of the mind, Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light, Nor glittering arrows of morning sun disperse, But only Nature's aspect and her law.

[The nature and composition of the mind.

]

First, then, I say, the mind which oft we call 3000The intellect, wherein is seated life's Counsel and regimen, is part no less Of man than hand and foot and eyes are parts Of one whole breathing creature. . . .

[The soul is a part of the body, like a limb.

]

Now, for to see that in man's members dwells Also the soul, and body ne'er is wont To feel sensation by a "harmony" Take this in chief: the fact that life remains Oft in our limbs, when much of body's gone; 3030Yet that same life, when particles of heat, Though few, have scattered been, and through the mouth Air has been given forth abroad, forthwith Forever deserts the veins, and leaves the bones. Thus mayst thou know that not all particles Perform like parts, nor in like manner all Are props of weal and safety: rather those- The seeds of wind and exhalations warm- Take care that in our members life remains. Therefore a vital heat and wind there is 3040Within the very body, which at death Deserts our frames. . . .

[Mind is inseparable from the soul, which is part of the body.

]

Mind and soul, 3050I say, are held conjoined one with other, And form one single nature of themselves; But chief and regnant through the frame entire Is still that counsel which we call the mind, And that cleaves seated in the midmost breast. Here leap dismay and terror; round these haunts Be blandishments of joys; and therefore here The intellect, the mind. The rest of soul, Throughout the body scattered, but obeys- Moved by the nod and motion of the mind. 3060This, for itself, sole through itself, hath thought; This for itself hath mirth, even when the thing That moves it, moves nor soul nor body at all. And as, when head or eye in us is smit By assailing pain, we are not tortured then Through all the body, so the mind alone Is sometimes smitten, or livens with a joy, Whilst yet the soul's remainder through the limbs And through the frame is stirred by nothing new. But when the mind is moved by shock more fierce, 3070We mark the whole soul suffering all at once Along man's members: sweats and pallors spread Over the body, and the tongue is broken, And fails the voice away, and ring the ears, Mists blind the eyeballs, and the joints collapse,- Aye, men drop dead from terror of the mind. Hence, whoso will can readily remark That soul conjoined is with mind, and, when 'Tis strook by influence of the mind, forthwith In turn it hits and drives the body too. . . .

[The atoms of mind are smaller and finer and move faster than those of the body.

]

So nature of mind must be corporeal, since From stroke and spear corporeal 'tis in throes. Now, of what body, what components formed Is this same mind I will go on to tell. 3100First, I aver, 'tis superfine, composed Of tiniest particles- that such the fact Thou canst perceive, if thou attend, from this: Nothing is seen to happen with such speed As what the mind proposes and begins; Therefore the same bestirs itself more swiftly Than aught whose nature's palpable to eyes. But what's so agile must of seeds consist Most round, most tiny, that they may be moved, When hit by impulse slight. . . .

[The tiny atoms of the soul make no difference to the body's weight and appearance, as we can see in death.

]

Now, then, Since nature of mind is movable so much, Consist it must of seeds exceeding small And smooth and round. Which fact once known to thee, Good friend, will serve thee opportune in else. This also shows the nature of the same, 3130How nice its texture, in how small a space 'Twould go, if once compacted as a pellet: When death's unvexed repose gets hold on man And mind and soul retire, thou markest there From the whole body nothing ta'en in form, Nothing in weight. Death grants ye everything, But vital sense and exhalation hot. Thus soul entire must be of smallmost seeds, Twined through the veins, the vitals, and the thews, Seeing that, when 'tis from whole body gone, 3140The outward figuration of the limbs Is unimpaired and weight fails not a whit. Just so, when vanished the bouquet of wine, Or when an unguent's perfume delicate Into the winds away departs, or when From any body savor's gone, yet still The thing itself seems minished naught to eyes, Thereby, nor aught abstracted from its weight- No marvel, because seeds many and minute Produce the savors and the redolence 3150In the whole body of the things. . . .

[The soul is mortal.

]

Now come: that thou mayst able be to know That minds and the light souls of all that live Have mortal birth and death, I will go on 3380Verses to build meet for thy rule of life, Sought after long, discovered with sweet toil. . . .

[The atoms of the soul disperse at death, just as the atoms of the body do.

]

Now, then, since thou seest, Their liquids depart, their waters flow away, When jars are shivered, and since fog and smoke 3400Depart into the winds away, believe The soul no less is shed abroad and dies More quickly far, more quickly is dissolved Back to its primal bodies, when withdrawn From out man's members it has gone away. For, sure, if body (container of the same Like as a jar), when shivered from some cause, And rarefied by loss of blood from veins, Cannot for longer hold the soul, how then Thinkst thou it can be held by any air- 3410A stuff much rarer than our bodies be?

[The mind comes into being with the body and matures with it.

]

Besides we feel that mind to being comes Along with body, with body grows and ages. For just as children totter round about With frames infirm and tender, so there follows A weakling wisdom in their minds; and then, Where years have ripened into robust powers, Counsel is also greater, more increased The power of mind; thereafter, where already The body's shattered by master-powers of eld, 3420And fallen the frame with its enfeebled powers, Thought hobbles, tongue wanders, and the mind gives way;

[The mind similarly ceases with the body.

]

All fails, all's lacking at the selfsame time. Therefore it suits that even the soul's dissolved, Like smoke, into the lofty winds of air; Since we behold the same to being come Along with body and grow, and, as I've taught, Crumble and crack, therewith outworn by eld.

[The mind suffers, just as the body does.

]

Then, too, we see, that, just as body takes Monstrous diseases and the dreadful pain, 3430So mind its bitter cares, the grief, the fear; Wherefore it tallies that the mind no less Partaker is of death; for pain and disease Are both artificers of death. . . .

Thus, since within the body itself of man The mind and soul are by such great diseases Shaken, so miserably in labor distraught, Why, then, believe that in the open air, Without a body, they can pass their life, Immortal, battling with the master winds?

[The mind has a fixed place in the body, like a limb, and cannot exist without the body.

]

And since the mind is of a man one part, Which in one fixed place remains, like ears, And eyes, and every sense which pilots life; And just as hand, or eye, or nose, apart, Severed from us, can neither feel nor be, But in the least of time is left to rot, Thus mind alone can never be, without The body and the man himself, which seems, As 'twere the vessel of the same- or aught 3520Whate'er thou'lt feign as yet more closely joined: Since body cleaves to mind by surest bonds.

[The mind disperses, just as the body decays.

]

Once more, since body's unable to sustain Division from the soul, without decay And obscene stench, how canst thou doubt but that The soul, uprisen from the body's deeps, Has filtered away, wide-drifted like a smoke, Or that the changed body crumbling fell With ruin so entire, because, indeed, Its deep foundations have been moved from place, 3560The soul out-filtering even through the frame, And through the body's every winding way And orifice? . . .

[If the soul exists after the body, it must have five senses.

]

Besides, if nature of soul immortal be, And able to feel, when from our frame disjoined, The same, I fancy, must be thought to be Endowed with senses five,- nor is there way But this whereby to image to ourselves How under-souls may roam in Acheron. Thus painters and the elder race of bards 3620Have pictured souls with senses so endowed. But neither eyes, nor nose, nor hand, alone Apart from body can exist for soul, Nor tongue nor ears apart. And hence indeed Alone by self they can nor feel nor be. . . .

[The mind belongs to the body, just as other visible things belong to a particular environment.

]

Again, in ether can't exist a tree, Nor clouds in ocean deeps, nor in the fields Can fishes live, nor blood in timber be, 3840Nor sap in boulders: fixed and arranged Where everything may grow and have its place. Thus nature of mind cannot arise alone Without the body, nor exist afar From thews and blood. But if 'twere possible, Much rather might this very power of mind Be in the head, the shoulders or the heels, And, born in any part soever, yet In the same man, in the same vessel abide. . . .

[Mortal things cannot be joined to immortal things.

]

For, verily, the mortal to conjoin With the eternal, and to feign they feel Together, and can function each with each, Is but to dote: for what can be conceived Of more unlike, discrepant, ill-assorted, Than something mortal in a union joined 3860With an immortal . . . ?

[The fear of death is therefore foolish.

]

Therefore death to us Is nothing, nor concerns us in the least, Since nature of mind is mortal evermore. . . .

[Feeling is impossible for something that does not exist.

]

For if woe and ail Perchance are toward, then the man to whom 3940The bane can happen must himself be there At that same time. But death precludeth this, Forbidding life to him on whom might crowd Such irk and care; and granted 'tis to know: Nothing for us there is to dread in death, No wretchedness for him who is no more, The same estate as if ne'er born before, When death immortal hath ta'en the mortal life. . . .

[Death should be of no greater concern than sleep.

]

But ask the mourner what's the bitterness 4000That man should waste in an eternal grief, If, after all, the thing's but sleep and rest? For when the soul and frame together are sunk In slumber, no one then demands his self Or being. Well, this sleep may be forever, Without desire of any selfhood more, For all it matters unto us asleep. Yet not at all do those primordial germs Roam round our members, at that time, afar From their own motions that produce our senses- 4010Since, when he's startled from his sleep, a man Collects his senses. Death is, then, to us Much less- if there can be a less than that Which is itself a nothing: for there comes Hard upon death a scattering more great Of the throng of matter, and no man wakes up On whom once falls the icy pause of life. This too, O often from the soul men say, Along their couches holding of the cups, With faces shaded by fresh wreaths awry: 4020"Brief is this fruit of joy to paltry man, Soon, soon departed, and thereafter, no, It may not be recalled."- As if, forsooth, It were their prime of evils in great death To parch, poor tongues, with thirst and arid drought, Or chafe for any lack. . . .

[Old age is no reason to complain.

]

Yet should one complain, Riper in years and elder, and lament, Poor devil, his death more sorely than is fit, Then would she not, with greater right, on him Cry out, inveighing with a voice more shrill: "Off with thy tears, and choke thy whines, buffoon! Thou wrinklest- after thou hast had the sum 4060Of the guerdons of life; yet, since thou cravest ever What's not at hand, condemning present good, That life has slipped away, unperfected And unavailing unto thee. And now, Or ere thou guessed it, death beside thy head Stands- and before thou canst be going home Sated and laden with the goodly feast. But now yield all that's alien to thine age,- Up, with good grace! make room for sons: thou must." Justly, I fancy, would she reason thus, 4070Justly inveigh and gird: since ever the old Outcrowded by the new gives way, and ever The one thing from the others is repaired. Nor no man is consigned to the abyss Of Tartarus, the black. For stuff must be, That thus the after-generations grow, Though these, their life completed, follow thee; And thus like thee are generations all- Already fallen, or some time to fall. So one thing from another rises ever; 4080And in fee-simple life is given to none, But unto all mere usufruct. Look back: Nothing to us was all fore-passed eld Of time the eternal, ere we had a birth. And Nature holds this like a mirror up Of time-to-be when we are dead and gone. And what is there so horrible appears? Now what is there so sad about it all? Is't not serener far than any sleep?

[Understanding the nature of things is the only way to live life and face death.

]

If men, in that same way as on the mind They feel the load that wearies with its weight, Could also know the causes whence it comes, And why so great the heap of ill on heart, O not in this sort would they live their life, As now so much we see them, knowing not What 'tis they want, and seeking ever and ever 4190A change of place, as if to drop the burden. The man who sickens of his home goes out, Forth from his splendid halls, and straight returns, Feeling i'faith no better off abroad. He races, driving his Gallic ponies along, Down to his villa, madly,- as in haste To hurry help to a house afire.- At once He yawns, as soon as foot has touched the threshold, Or drowsily goes off in sleep and seeks Forgetfulness, or maybe bustles about 4200And makes for town again. In such a way Each human flees himself- a self in sooth, As happens, he by no means can escape; And willy-nilly he cleaves to it and loathes, Sick, sick, and guessing not the cause of ail. Yet should he see but that, O chiefly then, Leaving all else, he'd study to divine The nature of things, since here is in debate Eternal time and not the single hour, Mortal's estate in whatsoever remains 4210After great death. And too, when all is said, What evil lust of life is this so great Subdues us to live, so dreadfully distraught In perils and alarms? one fixed end Of life abideth for mortality; Death's not to shun, and we must go to meet. Besides we're busied with the same devices, Ever and ever, and we are at them ever, And there's no new delight that may be forged 4220By living on. But whilst the thing we long for Is lacking, that seems good above all else; Thereafter, when we've touched it, something else We long for; ever one equal thirst of life Grips us agape. And doubtful 'tis what fortune The future times may carry, or what be That chance may bring, or what the issue next Awaiting us. Nor by prolonging life Take we the least away from death's own time, Nor can we pluck one moment off, whereby 4230To minish the aeons of our state of death. Therefore, O man, by living on, fulfill As many generations as thou may: Eternal death shall there be waiting still; And he who died with light of yesterday Shall be no briefer time in death's No more Than he who perished months or years before.