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  • Title: De Rerum Natura (Selections)
  • Editor: John D. Cox

  • Copyright John D. Cox. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Lucretius
    Editor: John D. Cox
    Not Peer Reviewed

    De Rerum Natura (Selections)

    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
    75Nor 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,
    85And 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
    115To 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,
    125Whether '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
    145Of 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.
    385Thus 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,
    395They 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.
    405Which 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
    415Declares 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,
    525We'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
    835To 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
    1135To 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.


    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
    1145A 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
    1155Outward in all directions . . . .

    [Things do not press toward the center.]


    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
    1275Nowhere 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
    1285Head 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,
    1295Which 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,
    1305Deprived 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. . . .