Lucretius Today Podcast 43 – The Mind is Born, Grows Old, and Dies With the Body

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Welcome to Episode Forty-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. 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. 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 question about that, please be sure to contact us at for more information.

In today’s episode, we will cover roughly lines 445 – 547 from Book 3 of the Latin Text. The topic will be how the mind is born, grows old, and dies with the body.

Browne 1743 Edition:

Besides, we perceive the soul is born with the body, grows up with it, and both wax old together. For as children are of a weak and tender body, their mind likewise is of the same frail complexion. As their age improves, and their strength is more confirmed, their judgment ripens more, and the powers of their mind are more enlarged. But when the body is shaking by the irresistible stroke of time, and the limbs fail without strength, the understanding grows lame, the tongue and the mind lose their vigor, all the faculties fail, and go away together. The whole nature of the soul therefore must needs be dissolved, and scattered like smoke into the air, since we see it is born with the body, increases together with it, and with it, as I said before, becomes feeble by age, and decays.

Add to this, that the body is subject to violent diseases and tormenting pains, so the mind is affected by sharp cares, by griefs and fear, and therefore must equally partake of death and dissolution with it. And then, in great disorders of the body, the mind frequently grows mad, raves, and talks wildly; sometimes it is sunk into such a profound and never-ending sleep by a heavy lethargy, the eyes shut, and the head nodding, so that neither hears the words, nor is able to distinguish the face of those who stand about bedewing their cheeks with tears, and striving to recall the departing breath. Wherefore you must needs allow that the mind may be dissolved, since the infection of the disease pierces through it; for grief and diseases are both the causes of death, as we are taught by experience in a thousand instances. And again, why is it, when the quick force of wine strikes through a man, and the insinuating heat works in all his veins, why follows a heaviness of the limbs? The legs no longer support the reeling body, the tongue falters, the mind is drowned, the eyes swim; noise, hiccups, brawlings deafen your ears, and many other evils, the consequence of such debauches; how could this be, did not the impetuous force of the wine distract the soul as it lies diffused through the body?

Now whatever can be thus disturbed, and hindered in its operations, would (were the force to grow more violent) be destroyed and utterly deprived of future being. Besides, a person surprised with a sudden fit of a disease drops down before our eyes as if he were thunderstruck. He foams, he groans and trembles all over, he is distracted, stretches his nerves, is distorted; he pants, he tosses and tires his limbs with strange and unnatural postures. The reason is because the force of the disease, driven violently through the limbs, agitates and disturbs the mind, as the foaming waves of the sea are enraged by the strong blast of winds. And then groans are forced from the wretch, because the limbs are tormented with pain, and the seeds of the voice are thrown out from the bottom of the breast, and hurried in confusion, without any distinct accent through the mouth. The man raves, because the powers of the mind and soul are distracted, and their principles, as I said, broken, disjoined, and divided by the violence of the distemper. But when the cause of the disease gives way, and the black humor of the corrupt body retires into some convenient vessel, then the patient begins to rise, feeble and staggering; and by degrees returns to all his senses, and recovers life. Since therefore this soul is so tossed about with such strange disorders, and labors with such agonies in so miserable a manner, as it is enclosed in the body, how do you think it can subsist without the body in the open air, and exposed forever to the raging fury of all the winds?

And since we see the mind can be made sound, and be affected by the powers of medicine, as well as a disordered body, this is a strong evidence that the mind is mortal; for whoever attempts to make any alteration in the mind, or offers to change the nature of any other thing, must either add some new parts to it, or take off some of the old, or else transpose the former order and situation; but what is immortal can have nothing added to it, or taken from it, nor will admit of any change in the order of its parts: for whatever is so altered as to leave the limits of its first nature, is no more what it was, but instantly dies. The mind, therefore, whether it be distempered, or relieved by medicine, shows (as I observed) strong symptoms of its mortality. So evidently does the true matter of fact overthrow all false reasoning, that there is no possibility to escape its force; and the contrary opinion is either way fully refuted.

Besides, we often seen men perish by degrees, and lose their vital sense limb by limb; first, the nails and toes grow black, then the feet and legs rot; at length the traces of cold death proceed on, step by step, over the other parts of the body. Since therefore the soul is divided, and does not at such a time continue whole and entire, you must pronounce it mortal. But if you think the soul retires out of the dying members into the more inward parts of the body, and contracts its seeds into one place, and so withdraws the sense from the rest of the limbs, yet that place to which the soul retreats, and where so much of it is crowded together, ought to enjoy a more lively and brisker sense; but, since there is no such place, it is plain, as we said before, it is scattered piecemeal through the air, and therefore perishes. But suppose we grant which is false in itself, and allow that the soul may be huddled up together in the bodies of those who die one limb after another, yet then the soul must be confessed to be by Nature mortal. For it signifies not whether the soul dies scattered through the air, or perishes with its parts contracted into one place, while the senses steal away from the whole body more and more, and the powers of life by degrees appear less and less.