Lucretius Today Podcast Episode 75 – The Rise of Life on Earth

Listen to “Episode 075 – The Rise of Life On Earth, And Which Forms Were Possible And Impossible” on Spreaker.

Welcome to Episode Seventy-Five 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 75 we will read approximately Latin line 821-924 of Book Five. We will talk about the initial forms of life on earth, and how we can judge what was possible, and what was not possible, in their arising to life. Now let’s join Charles reading today’s text:

Browne 1743

And that the earth might have some release, and not be always in labor, she at length left off, as a woman worn out and past her prime; for time changes the nature of the whole world, one body continually rises from another, no being remains long like itself, things are in a perpetual flux, one thing decays and grows weak by time, another becomes vigorous and flourishes in its strength. Thus time alters the face of the whole world; and the earth passes from one state to another. She can no more produce the creatures she once did, and now she bears what she could not do before.

The Earth, it may be supposed, was at first delivered of many monstrous births, of a wonderful shape, and of an uncommon size (and some between the two sexes, not properly of both, yet not far removed from either) some without feet, and others without hands, many without a mouth and eyes; some had their limbs growing and sticking together over all their bodies that they could do no office of life, nor move from their place, nor fly what was hurtful, nor receive food to preserve their beings. Many other monsters, and strange productions of this kind, were at first formed, but in vain! For nature was shocked, and would not suffer them to increase; they could not arrive to any maturity of age, nor could they find their food; nor taste the pleasures of love; for many circumstances, we observe, must kindly agree that creatures might be able to propagate their kind. First of all there must be proper food, and then fit organs for the genial seed to flow through from all the limbs; and that the male and female may be closely joined, they must be furnished with those parts that may promote the mutual delights of both.

And therefore many kind of animals must needs be extinct, nor could they all by propagation continue their species, for almost every race of creatures we now see living, either their cunning, or their courage, or their swiftness, have secured and preserved them from the very beginning. And there are many that, from their usefulness to mankind, have recommended themselves to our defense. And first the fierce breed of lions, and their savage race, their courage protected; craft secures the fox, and swiftness the stag. But the watchful and faithful race of dogs, all beasts of burden, the flocks and herds, all these, my Memmius, are committed to the care of man. These fly swiftly from the rage of wild beasts; they love a quiet life, and depend upon us for their fill of provision, without any labor, of their own, which we allow them plentifully, as a reward for the benefits we receive from them. But those creatures on whom Nature has bestowed no such qualities, that cannot support themselves nor afford us any advantage, why should we suffer such a race to be fed by our care, or defended by our protection? These, by the unhappy laws of their nature being destitute of all things, became an easy prey to others till their whole species was at last destroyed.

But never have there been any such things as centaurs, nor could a creature at any time be formed from a doubtful nature, from two bodies, and out of members so different and disagreeable. The limbs and faculties of a man and a horse could never act uniformly together, with all their power; and this is obvious to a very mean apprehension. For a horse at three years old is strong and active; a child is far from being so, at that age he is commonly feeling for the mother’s breast in his sleep; and when the horse’s strength decays by old age, and his feeble limbs fail him at the end of life, then the boy flourishes in the prime of youth, and the beginnings of a beard appear upon his cheeks. Never think, therefore, that there is or ever can be such a creature as a centaur, made up of a human nature and the servile seed of a horse; or that there are any such things as Scyllas, having their loins surrounded with the ravenous bodies of half sea-dogs. Believe nothing of other monsters like these, whose members we observe so opposite and disagreeing, which neither live to the same age, nor grow strong or decay together, which are neither inflamed with the same sort of love, nor have the same dispositions, nor preserve their bodies by the same food; for goats, we see, often grow fat with hemlock, which to men is sharp poison. And since fire will scorch and burn the yellow body of a lion, as well as the bowels of any other creature living with blood in its veins, how could a chimera, with his body of three kinds, with a lion’s head, a dragon’s tail, and the middle like a goat, blow abroad a fierce flame out of his body?

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