Lucretius Today Podcast Episode 076 – The Rise of Human Society

Listen to “Episode 076 – Early Humans and Their Society” on Spreaker.

Welcome to Episode Seventy-Six 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 check back to Episode One for a discussion of our goals and our ground rules. If you have any questions about those, please be sure to contact us at for more information. In this Episode 76 we will read approximately Latin line 925-1027 of Book Five. We will talk about the initial forms of human life, and the early stages of human society. Now let’s join Martin reading today’s text:

Browne 1743

[907] And therefore those who pretend that this new Earth and vigorous Aether could produce such creatures as these, and support their fictions only upon the empty argument of their being new, may with the same reason put upon us other fables. They may as well tell us that golden rivers flow through the earth, that trees blossom with diamonds, that men were made with such mighty strength and bulk of limbs that they could stride with their feet over wide seas, and whirl about the body of the heavens with their hands. For though there were many seeds of things in the womb of the earth when she first began the production of living creatures, this is no rule that animals could be formed of a mixed nature, and compounded of different bodies. The various products of the earth, which are in great abundance – the herbs, the fruits, and pleasant trees – never blended in such confusion together; every thing proceeds in its own proper order, and preserves its distinct kind by the established laws of Nature.

[925] And the first race of men were much hardier upon the earth, as ’twas fit they should, for the hard earth bore them. They were built within upon larger and more solid bones, and their limbs were strained with stronger nerves, nor did they easily feel the inclemency of heat and cold, or were affected with the strangeness of their food or any weakness of body. They led a long life of many rolling years, and wandered about like wild beasts. There was no husbandman to guide the plow, or that knew how to cultivate the fields; none to plant young stocks in the ground, or with pruning-hooks to lop the old branches from the high trees. What the sun, the rain, and the earth voluntarily produced, that bounty satisfied their grateful hearts. They commonly refreshed their bodies with acorns among the oaks, and with those wild apples which you see ripen in winter, of a red color, which the earth then bore in abundance, and of a larger size. Many other excellent fruits the new earth, fresh and in her prime, produced in great plenty for her wretched offspring.

[945] But the rivers and springs invited them to cool their thirst, as the fall of waters from the high hills call now upon the thirsty race of beasts; and wandering in the night, they rested in hollow caves, the Sylvan temples of the nymphs, when flowed a running stream that washed the slippery stones with its large current; among the slippery stones, covered with mossy green, it found its way, and some of its little tide broke out and spread into the plain below.

[953] As yet they knew nothing of fire to dress their foods, nor the use of skins, or how to cover their bodies with the spoils of beasts; but inhabited the groves, the hollow mountains and the woods, and hid their naked bodies among the shrubs; this they did to avoid the rains and the blasts of wind.

[958] They had no regard for the common good; they had no order among them; or the use of laws; every man seized for his own what fortune gave into his power; every one consulted his own safety, and took care of himself.

[962]Their amours were consummated in the woods; either the ladies were urged on by their mutual heat, or they were overcome by the superior force and raging fire of their gallants, or were softened by presents, a dish of acorns, of apples, or of choice pears.

[966] These unpolished mortals, relying on the mighty strength of their arms and the swiftness of their feet, pursued the wild beasts through the woods, with missive stones and heavy clubs.

[970] Many they hunted down, some secured themselves in the thick brakes; when night overtook them, like bristly hogs, they through their rough bodies naked upon the ground, and rolled themselves up in leaves and grass; nor did they run howling about the fields, frightened that the day was gone and the sun was set, or wandered about in the darkness of the night, but they waited without complaint, and lay buried in soft sleep, till the sun with his rosy beams should again spread light over the heavens. For, from their very infancy, they had been used to observe that there was a regular succession of light and darkness, and therefore they did not think it possible, they never feared or distrusted, that an eternal night could cover the earth, or that the light of the sun would never more return. But what disturbed them most was that the wild beasts often surprised and destroyed them when they were asleep. They were forced to quit their haunts, and fly out of the caverns of the rocks at the approach of the rough boar or the strong lion; and trembling, in the dead of night, to give up their beds of leaves to their cruel guests.

[988] And yet in those times fewer died than do now, for then the one unhappy wretch that was seized was sure to be devoured alive between their cruel teeth, and therefore he filled the groves, the mountains, and the woods with his cries, as he saw his reeking bowels buried in a living grave. But those who saved themselves by flight, with their bodies torn and covering their smarting wounds with trembling hands, called upon death in dreadful accents, till gnawing worms put an end to their life, for they were unskilled in medicine, and ignorant what to apply to their gaping sores. But then many thousands did not fall in battle in one day; no boisterous waves dashed ships and men against the rocks. The sea then, and its swelling tides, raged in vain, and to no purpose, and laid aside its empty threats, and grew calm again; nor could the deceitful flattery of its smooth waters cheat any one into the deceit, or tempt him to venture upon the smiling surface. The dangerous art of sailing was then unknown. Many then languished and died wretchedly for want of food, but now plenty is the destruction of mankind. Some then, through ignorance, would mix poison for themselves; now they study the art, and give it to others.

[1011] But when they began to build huts, and provide themselves with skins and fire; when one to one was joined for life together, and the chaste sweet delights of constant love were now first felt, and they saw a lovely train of children of their own; then this hardy race first began to soften, for being used to fire, their tender bodies could not bear so well the cold of the open air; and love impaired their strength, and children, by their little acts of fondness, easily softened the haughty temper of their parents. Then those who lived together began to cultivate a friendship, and agreed not to hurt or injure one another. They undertook the protection of children and women, and declared, by signs and broken words, that the weaker should be understood as proper objects of compassion. This mutual amity, though it did not prevail among them all, yet the greater and better part kept their faith, and lived peaceably together; otherwise the whole race of men had been soon destroyed, and the species could never have been preserved to this time.

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