Lucretius Today Podcast Episode Eighteen: All Things Are Not Made of Earth, Air, Fire, And Water

Listen to “Episode 018 – All Things Are Not Made of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water” on Spreaker.

Welcome to Episode Eighteen 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. Be aware that none of us are professional philosophers, and everyone here is a self-taught Epicurean. 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.

Before we start with today’s episode let me remind you of our three ground rules.

First: Our aim is to go back to the original text to bring you an accurate presentation of classical Epicurean philosophy as the ancient Epicureans understood it, not simply repeat for you what passes for conventional wisdom about Epicurus today.

Second: We won’t be talking about Epicurus from the point of view of modern political perspectives. Epicurus must be understood on his own, and not in terms of competitive schools which may seem similar to Epicurus, but are fundamentally different and incompatible, such as Stoicism, Humanism, Buddhism, Taoism, Atheism, and Marxism.

Third: We will be approaching Lucretius exactly as he intended, with the goal of understanding the fundamental nature of the universe as the essential base of Epicurean philosophy. From this perspective you will see that , Epicurus taught neither the pursuit of luxury nor the pursuit of simple living, but the pursuit of pleasure, using feeling as the guide to life, and not supernatural gods, idealism, or virtue ethics. As important as anything else, Epicurus taught that there is no life after death, and that any happiness we will ever have must come in THIS life, which is why it is so important not to waste time in confusion.

Remember that our podcast home page is, where you can download a free copy of the versions of the poem we are reading, and our home for discussion of Lucretius and all other aspects of Epicurean philosophy is

Now for today in this Episode 18, we will discuss how just as things are not formed of a single element such as fire, divine or otherwise, all things are also not simply formed from the four classical elements (earth, air, fire, and water).

Daniel Brown 1743 Edition:

[713] And so do those who doubt the first elements of things, and to produce all beings, join the air to fire, the earth to water, or believe that from all four all beings are produced, and spring from air, and water, earth and fire. The chief of these we rank Empedocles of Agrigentum, born in Sicily, the island famed for its three promontories, whose sides the Ionian sea flows all around, with mighty windings, from whose coast the sea, by a narrow Frith, divides the bounds of Italy. Here is the fierce Charybdis, here Aetna roars, and threatens loud to suck in flames of vengeance, with greater force to belch them out again, burst from his jaws, and throw the flashing fire high as the sky. This island, though renowned by men for many things, and worth their sight, rich in the best advantages of life, by mighty men defended, yet produced nothing more glorious than this one great man, nothing more venerable, admired, and dear. Besides his verse, that from his soul divine flows sweetly, so clearly proves, and so explains the noble secrets he has found, he seems scarce born of human race, but from the gods.

[735] Yet he, with others inferior note we named before, remarkably, by great degrees, and much below him, though these have succeeded well in their search, and many things have found as if inspired, and have pronounced their oracles (from the most close recesses of their souls) much more divine, and founded more on reason than Pythia, sacred prophetess, from Tripod, or from Apollo’s laurel ever spoke. Yet they have made sad havoc, when they search into the principles of things and fell with this great man’s mistakes together with him.

[743] And first, because, denying there is void in bodies, they admit of motion, and allow that things are soft or rare; as the air, the sun, the fire, the earth, the creatures, fruits, and yet will mix no empty space in the contexture of bodies that are formed.

[747] And then they set no bounds to bodies being divided, nor will admit an end to blows that break their frame; nor will they grant that such a thing as least is found in bodies, when we plainly see that every being has a part, a point that utmost lies, and obvious to our sense, which is the least of all; and thence conclude, that utmost point is that same least in things too small to be discovered by the sight.

[754] Besides, these men make their principles of things consist in soft seeds, which we see are born, and altogether mortal in their frame; if so, the whole of things must have returned to nothing, and be again from thence restored; how distant both from truth you have heard before. And then such seeds are many times at war among themselves, and poison to each other, and so will perish in the attack, or fly scattered, as in a tempest we observe the thunder, and the showers and wind disperse.

[764] Lastly, if all things from four elements are formed, and into them are finally dissolved, why should they rather the first principles of things be called, than things the principles of them? For they are produced alternately, are ever changing their form and their whole nature mutually into each other; but if by chance you think the body of the fire and earth is joined, that air is joined to water, and this united, each element preserves its nature still entire; nothing from seeds like these could have been formed, not men, nor things inanimate, as trees: for every element in this various heap of matter, ever changing, would display its proper nature still; you’d see air mixed with the earth, and fire and water joined. But the first principles whence things are formed should be in nature close and undiscerned, that nothing might appear which should oppose or jar, and thus prevent the compound body from being uniform, and make it consist of parts dissimilar, confused and void.

[782] Besides, philosophers like these derive their transmutation from celestial fire; and first, they make this fire change to air, from air is water formed, the earth from water; and then again, from earth these elements return, first water, then the air, then last the fire. Nor do these constant changes ever cease among themselves, but still proceed from heaven to earth, from earth to stars, that light the world. But the first seeds of things must by no means be thus disposed; for something immutable must needs remain, lest things should utterly to nothing be reduced: For whatsoever suffers change, by passing over the bounds of its first nature, dies, and is no more what it first was. Those elements therefore, which, as we said above, admit of change, must needs consist of other seeds which never can change at all, lest things should utterly to nothing be reduced: Then rather say, there are some certain principles in nature which are the seeds of fire, suppose, and some of these being taken away, or else by adding more, by changing of their order or their motion, they compose the air, and so all other beings may be produced by changes such as these.

[803] But you say, that common fact does clearly show that all things grow and rise into the air and are supported by the earth; and unless the season, in happy time, indulges rain, and shakes the trees with driving showers, unless the sun, on his part, cherishes and gives his heat, nor fruits, nor trees, nor creatures could increase. ‘Tis true, but these are not first seeds; and we likewise, unless dry food and kindly juice preserve our bodies, they must perish, and every spark of life, out of our nerves and bones, must be extinct. We are upheld, no doubt, and nourished by certain means; and other things are staid by certain others; for many common principles of many things are mixed in each. And therefore, the various kinds of things we find supported in a different manner; but yet it much concerns with what, and in what order, these first seeds unite, and what motion they give and take among themselves; for the same seeds compose heaven, earth, the sea, the rivers, and the sun, the same compose the creatures, fruits, and trees, they differ only as they are moved by others, and as their mixture differs in themselves.

[823] So, in these lines of mine, the many letters you see are common to the make and form of many words; and yet, you must confess, the verses and the words are much unlike in sense and sound: Such is the force of letters, by change of order only. But the first seeds of things being more, must needs admit of changes more different; from whence proceeds that great variety of things we see produced.

Previous Article
Next Article