Lucretius Today Podcast Episode 084 – Thunder and Lightning Part Two

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Welcome to Episode Eighty-Four 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 84 we will read approximately Latin lines 173 through 335 as we continue further into Book Six. Now let’s join Don reading today’s text.

Browne 1743

[173] And so the clouds will blaze with winged fire, and tempests will shine with trembling flame, when the winds get within a cloud, and roll about, and make it hollow (as I said before) til it grows condensed, and then by motion kindles and breaks into a flame. For things made hot by motion, we see, will fall on fire, and leaden bullets, in a long course through the air, have melted as they fled. Therefore this fiery wind, when it has burst the sides of this dark cloud, forces and instantly scatters many seeds of fire, which makes the sudden flash of lightning strike our sight. This happens when the clouds are thick and roll on heaps, one pile above another, with wondrous swiftness through the air. Nor must you think this false because the clouds, to us that stand below, seem rather broad than deep, or raised on heaps; for see how the winds will whirl along the air these rolling clouds, raised mountain-high; and on the mountain-tops the clouds, observe, are higher some than others, and piled on heaps; and, when the winds are still, the higher row will press the lower down. Then you may judge of their prodigious weight, and view their hollow caverns, formed as it were in hanging rocks, where in a tempest the rough winds are shut, and scorn to be confined, and roar with horrid noise, like savage beasts within their dens chained down. They grumble here and there, on every side, within the clouds, and striving to get free, roll every way about, and as they move collect the fiery seeds in great abundance, and in the heated caverns toss them about until the clouds burst, and then they flash in shining flame.

[204] And for this reason, perhaps, the lightning (that swift and golden stream of pure fire) flies down upon the earth, because the clouds must needs contain within themselves plenty of fiery seeds, and such as are without moisture, look bright and of a fiery color, for they must receive many fiery particles from the sun, and therefore cannot but look red, and send out flame. These, when the force of winds have pressed and driven into a narrow space, the fiery seeds, being squeezed, fly out and make that glaring flame to shine abroad.

[214] Or it lightens because the clouds above are rarefied; for when the winds blow on them as they pass, and gently stretch them out, and wear them thin, the seeds of fire that make the light must needs fall out, but then it shines without much noise and terror, and causes no confusion in the sky.

[219] Now of what seeds the lightning is composed its strokes will show, and marks of fire it leaves behind, and steams of stinking sulphur in the air, for these are signs of fire, not wind or rain, for lightning will set on fire whole towns, and with swift flames consume the houses to the ground.

[225] Nature has formed this subtle fire of seeds of heat the most minute, and particles most apt to move, which nothing can resist. It passes forcibly through the walls as voice and sound. It flies through stones and brass, and in a moment melts both brass and gold. It has strange power to draw the liquor out, and leave the vessel whole: This it does by loosening the contexture of the cask, and by widening its pores every way, that so its heat may more easily find a passage through; and by then, by the swiftness of its motion, it dissolves the body of the liquor, scatters its seeds, and forces it out. And this the heat of the sun is not able to do in an age, so much stronger is the force of this bright flame, its motion more swift, and its power more irresistible.

[239] But how these fires are formed, and how they rage with so great force, as by their strokes to beat down towers, to overturn houses, to tear up posts and beams, to shake and tumble down monuments of stone, to strike men dead, and kill whole herds at once; by what power they cause such scenes of ruin, this I shall now explain, as I promised, and keep you no longer in suspense.

[246] You are to observe, then, that thunder is produced from thick clouds, raised high one above another in the air; for the thunder never roars in a clear sky, nor is discharged from clouds that are not thick and condensed; and this is evident from common observation. The clouds thicken every way over all the heavens,. as if the whole mass of darkness had left the shades of Hell, and filled the spacious hollows of the sky; and this dark heap of clouds spreads a dreadful night over our heads, and makes us tremble here below. These are the signs when a tempest is forging thunder in the air.

[256] Besides, a black cloud is often observed at sea, below the dark regions of the clouds that falls from the sky like a stream of flowing pitch into the water; and being full of fire and wind, draws a black tempest with it, loaded with storms and thunder, so that those at land tremble and fly for shelter to their houses. Those clouds then, you must think, are high above our heads. They could not overwhelm the earth with so much darkness were they not raised on heaps above, and driven between us and the sun’s light; nor could they load the earth with so great showers, and make the rivers swell and drown the plains, unless the clouds were raised on heaps in the upper regions of the air.

[269] These clouds are fully charged with wind and fire, and thence the lightnings flash and thunders roar; for, as I said above, these hollow clouds are full of fiery seeds, and many they received from the sun’s rays and borrow from their heat. And when the wind compels them to retreat to a closer room, it drives out many seeds of fire, and mingles with the flame. Then the loud tempest rolls along the sky, and in its heated entrails forms and points the thunder. This wind is set on fire, either by the rapidity of its own motion, or catches from the fiery seeds within the cloud, and when it is raging hot, and in a flame, it collects all its fury, and then the ripened thunder instantly splits and bursts the cloud. The fiery tempest blazes all abroad with the darts of flashing light, followed by frightful noise, as if the temples of the gods above were rent asunder. The earth below trembles dreadfully at the shock, and the loud murmurs scour through all the heavens; for the whole tempest shakes and roars aloud. Then grievous showers in great abundance follow the concussion, as if the skies were all dissolved in rain, and poured down inundations from above. So dreadful is the clap that flies abroad with red-hot lightning, when the clouds burst, and storms of fiery wind rage through the air.

[295] Or else the lightning flies when, from without, a furious wind beats hard upon a cloud, replete with thunder ripe for birth; which, when it bursts the fiery vortex falls (we in our language call it thunder) and makes its way where the strokes most prevailed.

[300] Sometimes a furious wind will burst the cloud before tis set on fire, but kindles as it flies in its long passage through the air; for in its course it throws off the heavy seeds that lay behind, and could not make their way, and brushed and carried off other small seeds from the air, which join and fall on fire as they fly. Just as a ball of lead melts in its course and, throwing off the cold and stubborn sears, takes fire and softens in the air.

[309] And the fury of the stroke, perhaps, may raise a fire, when the force of a cold wind, unkindled, beats hard with all its power; for then the seeds of fire may flow together upon the violence of the stroke, not only from the wind, but from the thing it strikes; as when we strike the flint with steel, the fire flies out; and though the iron be by nature cold, yet when it feels the blow the hot seeds of fire will spread abroad. And thus, whatever the lightning falls upon may easily be set on fire, if it be in its nature fit and disposed to burn. Nor can the wind be supposed to be perfectly cold, since it is discharged from above with so much violence; and if it be not inflamed as it drives through the air, yet it must have some degree of heat when it comes to the earth.

[323] The swiftness and heavy stroke of the thunder, and the violence of its fall, proceed from hence. The wind, shut up within a cloud, rages in all its strength, and struggles hard to get free; and when the cloud can no longer bear the fury of its efforts, it breaks out and flies abroad with mighty force, as stones and darts from mighty engines thrown.

[330] Besides, the thunder is formed of small and smooth seeds, so subtle that nothing can withstand its force. It gets between and pierces through the smallest pores; it meets with nothing that can divert its passage, and therefore flies abroad with the swiftest motion.

[335] And then, since all bodies of weight naturally descend, when blows or outward force is added to their innate gravity, their motion doubles, and the violence of the strokes drives them downwards with greater speed, and consequently they beat through every thing that obstructs their motion much sooner and with more vehemence pursue their course.

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