Lucretius Today Podcast Episode 080 – The Development of Metallurgy and the Art of War

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Welcome to Episode Eighty 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 where you will find our goals and our ground rules. If you have any questions about those, please be sure to contact us at the forum for more information. In this Episode 80 we will read approximately Latin lines 1226-1341 of Book Five. We will talk in this episode about the development of the art of war.

Now let’s join Don reading today’s text:

Browne 1743

[1226] And when the raging force of a violent storm upon the sea tosses the admiral of a fleet over the waves, with all his elephants and his stout legions about him, does not he fall to praying to the gods for pity? And, trembling upon his knees, begs a peace of the winds, and a prosperous gale? In vain! For he is often snatched up by the violence of the hurricane, and carried with all his devotion to the Stygian ferry. With such contempt does some hidden power continually trample upon human greatness, it treads with scorn upon the gaudy rods and the cruel axes, those ensigns of empire, and makes a sport with them.

[1236] And then, when the whole Earth reels under our feet, and the cities are shaken, and tumble about us, or at least threaten to fall, what wonder if men at such a time despise their own weak selves, and ascribe infinite power and irresistible force to the gods, by which they direct and govern the world?

[1241] And last of all brass, and gold, and iron were discovered, and the value of silver, and the weight of lead. For when the whole forests upon the high hills were consumed by fire, whether it came by lightning from the heavens or men carried on a war among themselves in the woods, and set them in a blaze to terrify their enemies; or whether, induced by the goodness of the soil, they resolved to enlarge their fruitful fields and make pastures for their cattle; or whether it was to destroy the wild beasts and enrich themselves with their spoils (for the first way of taking the game was by pitfalls, and fire before they surrounded the brakes with nets, or hunted with dogs); however it was, or whatever was the cause of this raging fire, that burnt up the woods to the very roots with frightful noise, and set the Earth a boiling with its heat – Then streams of silver and gold, of brass and lead, flowed out of the burning veins into hollow places of the Earth that were proper for them. And when the metal grew hard, and men observed it looking beautifully and shining bright upon the ground, they were charmed with its gay and sparkling luster, and dug it up. And finding that it received the exact shape of the hollow molds in which it lay, they concluded, when it was melted by the heat, it would run into any form and figure they pleased, and they might draw it into a sharp point or a fine edge, and make themselves tools to cut down the woods, to smooth, to square, and to plane timber, to pierce, to hollow, and to bore. These instruments they attempted to make of silver and gold, no less, than by powerful blows to form the stronger brass; but in vain! For the soft quality of those metals gave way, and could not bear the force and violence of the stroke; and so brass was in most value, and gold was neglected, as a blunt useless metal that would not hold an edge. But now brass is in no esteem, and gold succeeds to all its honors. And thus a course of flowing time changes the dignity of things. What was highly prized is now treated with contempt, and what was despised comes into its place, and is every day more eagerly pursued, is cried up with the greatest applause, and receives the respect and admiration of mankind.

[1281] And now, my Memmius, you may easily, of yourself, perceive by what means the force of iron was discovered. The first weapons were hands, and nails, and teeth, and stones, and the broken boughs of trees; and then they learned to fight with fire and flame, and afterwards was the strength of iron and brass found out. But the use of brass was known before the benefit of iron was understood, for it was a metal more easy to work, and in greater plenty. With brazen shares they ploughed the ground, with arms of brass they carried on the rage of war, and dealt deep wounds about, and seized upon their neighbors cattle and their fields, for everything naked and unarmed was easily forced to give way. But the iron sword came gradually into use, and instruments of brass were laid aside with contempt. And now they began to plough with iron, and with weapons of iron to engage in the doubtful events of war.

[1297] And men first learned to mount the horse, with their left hand to manage the reins, and they fought with their right, before they tried the dangers of war in a chariot drawn by two. They first used a chariot with a pair, and then they harnessed four, before they knew how to engage in chariots armed with scythes. The Carthaginians taught the Libyan elephants, with their serpentine proboscis and towers upon their backs, to bear the smart of wounds, and to disorder the embattled ranks of the enemy. And thus the rage of discord found out one art of slaughter after another, as the dreadful scourges of mankind, and increased the terrors of war every day.

[1308] They tried the fury of bulls in their battles, and drove boars against their cruel enemies. The Parthians placed roaring lions before their ranks, with their armed keepers, and fierce leaders, to govern their rage and hold them in chains. In vain! For growing hot with the mixed blood they had tasted, they broke in their fury through the troops of friends and enemies without distinction, shaking their dreadful manes on every side. Nor could the horsemen cool their frightened horses, distracted with the roaring of the beasts, or turn them with reins against the foe. The lions with rage sprung out, and threw their bodies every way, and flew upon the faces that they met. Others they suddenly fell on behind, and clasped with their paws, and with sore wounds overcome, they flung them to the ground, and held them down with their strong teeth and with their crooked claws. The bulls would toss the boars and crush them with their feet, and with their horns would gore the sides and bellies of the horses, and in their rage bear them to the earth. The bears with their strong teeth destroyed their friends (and cruelly stained the darts unbroken, with their master’s blood, the darts that broke upon themselves were stained with their own) and brought confused ruin upon man and horse; for though the horse, by leaping aside, would strive to fly the cruel biting of their teeth, or, rearing up, pawed with their feet the yielding air; yet all in vain! You would see them, hamstrung by the beasts, fall down and with their heavy weight would shake the ground. These creatures therefore that men saw were tame at home, now brought into the war grew mad with wounds, with noise, with flying, with terror, and the tumult of the battle; nor could they by any means be brought back or cooled again, but every kind flew wildly over the plains; as when a bull, not rightly struck by the priest’s sacrificing axe, breaks loose, after much mischief done to all about him.

[1341] These were the first arts of war; yet I cannot believe but the first inventors must consider and foresee the common evils and sad calamities they must occasion. This, it is safer to say, was the case in general in some of all the worlds that were created in various manners, than to be particular and fix it upon one only. But they made use of beasts in their wars not so much from a hope of victory as to annoy and torment their enemies; being themselves sure to die because they distrusted their numbers and were unskilled in the use of arms.

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