Lucretius Today Podcast 41 – The Nature of the Mind and Spirit Is Complex; that sense is Not a Property of The Elements That Make Them, But Rather an Event of Their Combination And Motions

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Welcome to Episode Forty-One 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.

Starting with today’s Episode, we’ll jump right into the discussion, and we’ll refer everyone who is not familiar with our podcast back to Episode One for a discussion of our goals and our ground rules. If you have any question about that, please be sure to contact us at for more information.

Today we will cover roughly lines 258 through lines 357 from Book 3 of the Latin text, and we will discuss topics that include how the Nature of the Mind and Spirit Is Complex; that sense is Not a Property of The Elements That Make Them, But Rather an Event of Their Combination And Motions. As always please ask any questions in the thread below and be sure to subscribe for future episodes in your podcast app.

Now let’s join today’s discussion, with Martin and Charles reading the text:

Latin Text Location 258 – 357


Yet we are not to suppose this nature of the mind to be simple and unmixed; for a thin breath mingled with a warm vapor, forsakes the bodies of dying men; and this vapor draws the air along with it, for there can be no heat without air intermixed, and heat being in its nature rare, must needs have some seeds of air united with it. We find then the mind consists of three principles: of vapor, air, and heat; yet all these are not sufficient to produce sense: For we cannot conceive that either of these, or all of them united, can be the cause of sensible motions that may produce reason and thought. And therefore a fourth nature must needs be added to these (and this indeed has no name at all) but nothing can be more apt to move, nothing more subtle than this, nor consist more of small smooth seeds; and this is what first raises a sensible motion through the body: this, as it is formed of the minutest particles, is first put into motion, then the heat, and the unseen vapor receive a motion from it, and then we are and so all the limbs are set a-going; then is the blood agitated, and all the bowels become sensible, and last of all, pleasure or pain is communicated to the bones and marrow. But no pain or any violent evil can pierce so far without disordering and setting the whole into confusion, so that there is no more place for life, and the parts of the soul fly away through the pores of the body. But this motion often stops upon the surface of the body, and then the soul remains whole, and the life is preserved.

Now, how these four principles are mixed, and in what matter they subsist, I am very desirous to explain, but the poorness of the Latin tongue prevents me, against my will; yet, as far as that permits, I will endeavor briefly to touch upon this subject. The seeds then of these principles move so confusedly among themselves, that no one of them can be separated from another, nor is there any place severally allotted to each, where anyone can act by itself; but they are, as it were, many powers of the same body. As in a piece of any animal there is smell, and heat, and taste, and out of all these one perfect body is composed; so heat, air, and the invisible vapor, and that fourth active quality, (which is the principle of motion to the other three), and from which all sensible motion rises through the limbs) compose by their mixture one subtle substance, or one Nature. This fourth something is deeply fixed in the inmost recesses of the body, nor is there anything in the whole body more secretly and inwardly placed; it is, as it were, the very soul of the soul itself: For as in the limbs, and through all the body, the united force and power of the mind and soul are hid and unseen, because they are formed of small and few seeds, so this something without a name, being composed of minute principals, lies deep and concealed; it is the very soul of the whole soul itself, and governs the whole body.

By the same rule, it is necessary that the vapor, the air, and the heat be so properly mingled through the limbs, and be disposed either higher or lower than one another, that one certain nature may be formed from all; lest the power of the heat, the vapor, and the air, being divided and separately placed, might destroy the sense, and prevent its operation. Heat prevails in the mind when the creature is enraged, grows hot, and fire sparkles from its glowing eyes. Much vapor is cold, and the companion of fear, it excites horror in the body, and shakes the limbs; but air is of a calm and mild quality, it resides in a quiet breast, and a serene countenance. But those have most heat whose hearts are fierce, and whose angry mind are soon inflamed into passion. of this sort, in the first place, is the distracted Fury of lions, who, roaring, often burst their very breast, and are unable to contain the torrent of Rage that swells within. The cold temperature of the deer has more of vapor, and sooner incites a chillness in the limbs, which causes a trembling motion through the whole body. But the nature of the ox consists more of soft air, nor does the smoky firebrand of anger (that spreads a shade of black darkness over the mind) too much inflame him, nor is he stupefied by the darts of chilling fear, but his nature is placed between both, between the fierce lion and the deer. The mind of man is formed of the same principles; though the discipline of philosophy may polish and correct some, yet it leaves behind the marks of the original nature of the mind, nor are we to think that the seeds of vice can be wholly rooted out. One man, we see, runs more rashly into passion, another is more disposed to fear, and a third is apt to be more merciful than just; It is impossible but the various tempers of mankind, and actions that follow them, must differ in many other instances, the reasons of which are at present out of my power to explain; nor can I find words to express that variety of figures by which the seeds are distinguished, and from which this variety of disposition is produced. This, however, may justly be asserted on this occasion: that the traces of original nature which cannot be corrected by the rules of reason are so very small that nothing hinders us from leading a life worthy of the Gods.

This nature therefore of the soul is contained by the whole body; it is the keeper of the body, and the cause of its safety: for they are both united closely together by mutual bonds, nor can they be torn asunder but by the destruction of both. As it is impossible to separate the odor from a lump of Frankincense, but the nature of both must perish, so it is equally difficult to part the mind and soul from the whole body, but they must all be dissolved. Of such interwoven principles are they formed, from their very beginning, that they enjoy a common life, nor have either of them, either the mind or the body in a separate state, the power of sense without the assistance of each other, but sense is incited in us by the nerves, from the common motions of both, and by their joint operations. Besides, the body is never born alone, nor does it grow or continue after the soul is fled, for the water throws off of vapor when it is made hot, yet it is not by that means destroyed, but remains entire. The limbs I say, cannot with the same safety bear the separation of the soul when it retires from them, but thus divided, they must all perish and rot together. For the mutual conjunction of the soul and body from the very beginning, even as they lie in the womb of the mother, does so jointly promote the vital motions, that no separation can be made without death and dissolution; from hence you learn that, since their preservation so much depends upon each other, their Natures also are inseparably joined and united together. But further, if anyone denies that the body has sense, and believes that the soul diffused through the whole body is only capable of that motion we call sense, he opposes the plainest evidence, and the truth of all experience; for who would ever pretend to say that the body has sense if the thing itself did not fully prove, and convince us of it? But it is plain, you’ll say, that the body is void of all sense when the soul is gone: True, for this faculty is not peculiar to the body alone, but to the soul and body united; and we know the sense becomes weaker, and decays, as the body and soul grow old together.