Lucretius Today Episode 083 – Meteorology: Thunder and Lightning Part One

Listen to “Episode 083 – Meteorology: Thunder and Lightning Part One” on Spreaker.

Welcome to Episode Eighty-Three 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 83 we will read approximately Latin lines 68 through 164 as we continue to open Book Six and discuss meteorological issues such as thunder and lightning. Now let’s join Martin reading today’s text.

Browne 1743

[68] Unless you purge your mind of such conceits, and banish them from your breast, and forebear to think unworthily of the gods, by charging them with things that break their peace, those sacred deities you will believe are always angry and offended with you; not that the supreme power of the gods can be so ruffled as to be eager to punish severely in their resentments, but because you fancy those beings, who enjoy a perfect peace in themselves, are subject to anger and the extravagances of revenge: and therefore you will no more approach their shrines with an easy mind, no more in tranquility and peace will you be able to receive the images, the representations of their divine forms, that form from their pure bodies and strike powerfully upon the minds of men: From hence you may collect what a wretched life you are to lead.

[80] That the rules therefore of right reason may keep these evils at the greatest distance from us, though I have offered many things upon this subject before, yet much still remains to be observed, which I shall adorn with the smoothest verse. And first, the nature and phenomenons of the heavens must be explained. And now I sing of tempests, and the flaming blasts of lightning; how they fly and from what cause they dart through all the air, lest, when you view the several parts of heaven, you tremble and, mad with superstitions, ask whence comes this winged fire, and to what quarter of heaven does it direct its course; how does it pierce through walls of stone, and having spent its rage goes out again? The causes of which events, since men cannot assign by the laws of reason, they must, they suppose, be effected by the power of the gods.

[92] And thou Calliope, my skillful muse, the joy of men and pleasure of the gods, lead on the course and guide me to the goal, that by thy conduct I may gain a crown and end the race with glory.

[96] First, the blue arch of heaven is shaken with thunder because the airy clouds, flying aloft, are forced by adverse winds and strike together; for where the sky is clear you hear no noise; but where the clouds are thick and drive in troops, thence comes the louder sound and murmur through the air. Besides, the clouds are not so solid in their contexture as stones and wood, nor so thin as mists and flying smoke, for then, depressed by their own weight, they would either fall abruptly down as stones, or like smoke they would disperse, and not be able to keep in the chilling snow and showers of hail.

[108] They give the crack through the wide space of heaven, as curtains strained upon the posts and beams in lofty theatres, when ruffled by the boisterous winds and blown to pieces, they make a rattling noise like paper torn. This thunder, you observe, will sound like cloths spread out, or flying sheets, when tossed by strokes of wind they roll and flutter through the sky. And sometimes the clouds will not directly meet, and engage front to front, but in their different motions will rudely shock the sides of one another as they pass. Hence comes that dry crashing sound we hear that lasts for some time before it breaks its close prison and roars out.

[121] All things, you see from hence, will shake and tremble at the dreadful clap. And the heavens (the mighty walls of this wide world) are torn and burst asunder in a moment when a collected force of restless wind gets suddenly within a cloud, and there enclosed it rolls furiously about, and stretches the hollow space, still more and more, until the sides grow thick and are condensed, and when it summons its whole strength, and rages to get free, then comes the frightful break; it flies abroad with horrid noise. Nor is this strange when a small bladder full of wind will likewise give a mighty crack when it is suddenly burst.

[132] When the winds strike violently upon the clouds this may produce a noise, for we see the branched clouds, with their rough edges, are driven about in various manners, as the blasts of south-west winds, blowing hard upon the thick woods, the boughs give a sound and the branches rattle through the air.

[137] And sometimes the violent force of a fierce wind will beat directly, with all its rage, upon a cloud, and cut it asunder. That the winds will shatter the clouds is evident by experience, for here below, where their power is much weaker, they will overturn the strongest trees and tear them up by the roots.

[142] And then the clouds, like waves, roll about in the wide ocean of the air, and cause a roaring noise by dashing together. The same happens in large rivers, and in the wide sea, when it is broken and rages with the tide.

[145] And sometimes the fiery force of lightning falls from one cloud into another. If a cloud full of moisture receives this fire it extinguishes it with great noise, as a red-hot iron, just taken out of the glowing heat, hisses when we plunge it hastily into cold water. But if a dry cloud receives the flame, it takes fire instantly, and rattles in the air, as when a fire, raging with mighty force, is driven by rushing winds upon a hill covered with laurels, and sets all in a blaze. For nothing burns with a more dreadful noise and crackling flame than the leaves of the Delphic Laurel, sacred to Apollo.

[159] And lastly, pieces of ice and showers of hail, enclosed in mighty clouds, will often sound like thunder, for the winds have driven and pressed them close; these mountainous clouds, being condensed, will burst and discharge their weight of ice and hail.

[160] It lightens when the clouds, by violent strokes in meeting, beat out many seeds of fire and strike as flint and steel, or stone and stone; for then the light leaps out and scatters shining sparks of fire.

[164] But we never hear the thunderclap til we have seen the lightning, for the images of things approach our ears much slower than they reach our eyes. This you prove when you observe a fellow at a distance is cutting down a tree; you see the blow struck before you hear the stroke. And so we see the lightning before we hear the thunder, though the noise and flame fly out together, and proceed from the same cause, the same shock and bursting of the clouds.

Previous Article
Next Article