Lucretius Today Episode 081 – Development of the Arts, and The End of Book Five

Listen to “Episode 081 – Development of the Arts And The End of Book Five” on Spreaker.

Welcome to Episode Eighty-One of Lucretius Today. I am your host Cassius, and together with my panelists from the forum, we’ll walk you through the six books of Lucretius’ poem, and discuss how Epicurean philosophy can apply to you today. We encourage you to study Epicurus for yourself, and we suggest the best place to start is the book, “Epicurus and His Philosophy” by Canadian professor Norman DeWitt. For anyone who is not familiar with our podcast, please visit If you have any questions about the podcast, please be sure to contact us at the forum for more information. In this Episode 81 we will start at approximately Latin line 1350 and we’ll go through the end of Book Five. Now let’s join Martin reading today’s text.

Browne 1743

[1350] Their garments were skins of beasts, pinned together with thorns, before they had learned to weave. The art of weaving came in after the discovery of iron, for their tools were made of that metal; nor could the smooth treadles, the spindles, the shittles, and the ratting beams be formed any other way. But nature at first compelled the men to card and spin, before the women undertook the trade; for men by far exceed the other sex in the invention of arts, and work with greater skill. The sturdy peasants at length reproached these male spinsters, and obliged them to give up the business into the women’s hands; and then they betook themselves to more laborious employments and hardened their limbs and their hands with rougher work.

[1361] But Nature herself (the great mother of all things) first taught men to sow and to graft, for the berries and the acorns that fell from the trees, the observed, produced young shoots underneath in a proper season of the year. And hence they began to graft fruitful slips into boughs, and to plant young stocks over all the fields. Then they tried every other art to improve the kindly soil, and they found the wild fruits grew sweet and large by enriching the earth, and dressing it with greater care. They employed themselves continually in reducing the woods to narrower bounds upon the hills, and to cultivate the lower places for corn and fruits. Thus they had the benefit of meadows, of lakes, of rivers, of corn fields, and pleasant vineyards upon the side of the hills, and in the dales, and of green rows of olives regularly running between upon the rising grounds, and in the valleys, and spread all over the plains. As you see our country farms now laid out in all the variety of beauty, where the sweet apples are intermixed and adorn the scene, and fruitful trees are delightfully planted round all the fields.

[1379] And men attempted to imitate by the mouth the charming voice of birds, before they tried to sing, or to delight the ear with tuneful verse: and the soft murmurs of the reeds, moved by a gentle gale, first taught them how to blow the hollow reed, and by degrees to learn the tender notes: such as the pipe, by nimble fingers pressed, sends out when sweetly sung to; the pipe, that now is heard in all the woods and groves, and all the lawns, where shepherds take their solitary walks, and spend their days in innocence and ease. Thus time by degrees draws everything into use, and skill and ingenuity raise it to perfection.

[1390] Thus music softened and relieved the minds of these rude swains, after their rural feasts; for then the heart’s at ease; and then they sweetly indulge their bodies, as they lie together on the soft grass, hard by a river’s side, under the boughs of some high tree, without a heap of wealth. Chiefly when the spring smiles, and the season of the year sprinkles the verdant herbs with flowery pride; then jests, and smart conceits, and the loud laugh went round; and then the rustic music sung out, and, gay and jocund in their sports, they crowned their heads, and on their shoulders hung garlands of flowers and leaves, and with unequal steps they rudely moved their limbs, and shook their mother earth with their hard feet; and then the laugh began, and pleasant grin, at these strange gambols, never seen before. And thus they kept awake; and, as refreshed bxy comfortable sleep, they spent the night in trolling country songs, and making mouths to many an awkward tune, and running over the reeds with crooked lip. These are the pleasures now our wanton youth pursue, who sit up all the night; they learn to dance in measure, but receive no more delight than did that rustic race of earthborn swains so long ago.

[1412] For while we know no better, and enjoy a present good, it wonderfully pleases and delights us above all things; but when we discover something more agreeable, this destroys and changes the relish of what went before. So acorns became odious to the palate, and the beds of grass and leaves were laid aside; and skins when out of use, and that savage sort of clothing was despised; and yet, I think, he that first wore it raised such envy to himself that he was treacherously slain, he was torn to pieces, and his leathern garment stained with his own blood, nor was he suffered to enjoy the fruit of his own invention. At that time men fought for skins, but now gold and purple employs their cares, and set them together by the ears. And, I think, we are much more to blame of the two, for without the use of skins, the cold would have been very grievous to those earth-born wretches, but we suffer nothing if we go without purple or cloth of gold, embroidered in the richest figures, since a meaner dress would as well secure us against the cold. Wretched therefore, and vain, are the troubles of mankind; they spend their whole life in the pursuit of empty cares, and no wonder, since they fix no limit to what they possess, and know nothing how far the bounds of true pleasure may extend. And this ignorance carries them by degrees into a sea of evils, and raises the most violent storms of war throughout the world.

[1436] But the wakeful sun and moon, surveying with their light the great and rolling skies, have taught men that the seasons of the year are turned about, and that things are carried on by certain rules and in a fixed order.

[1440] And now mankind enclosed themselves and lived in castles; the lands were parted out, and each enjoyed his own; the sea was sailed over by crooked ships, and men joined together for defense, and formed alliances by certain bonds. The poets then began to celebrate in verse the great exploits, and letters were not long before discovered. What was transacted many ages past, those times knew nothing of, but what their reason darkly traced out.

[1448] Use therefore, and the experience of an inquiring mind, led men by degrees into the knowledge of navigation, of agriculture; taught them to build walls, to make laws, arms, public ways, garments, and other things of the same nature; made them acquainted with poetry, painting, and statuary. Thus time gradually produces every thing into use, and reason shows it in a clear light. One art, we observe, is refined and polished by another, till they arrive at the highest point of perfection.

Previous Article
Next Article