Welcome to Episode Forty-Seven of Lucretius Today. I am your host Cassius, and together with my panelists from the EpicureanFriends.com 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 Epicureanfriends.com for more information. In today’s episode, we will cover roughly lines 830- 930 from Book 3 of the Latin Text. The topic will be that death is nothing to us, as we complete the chapter with a series of arguments that explain how we can reconcile ourselves to the fact of death.
Podcast 47 – Death is nothing to us
Death therefore is nothing, nor is it of the consequence of a rush to us, since the nature of the soul is certainly mortal; and as we were no way concerned at what formerly happened when the Carthaginians mustered their armies on all sides against us, and all the world trembled and shook with the dreadful alarms of war, and it was undecided under the power of which empire the land and the sea, and all things here below should be subjected; so, when we shall be no more, when the separation happens between the soul and the body, which together make up our being, nothing shall befall us when that shall nowhere be, nor affect our sense; not tho’ the earth be swallowed up by the sea, and the sea confounded with the heavens above. But if the nature of the soul, and the powers of it, when divided from the body, had the faculty to think, this would signify nothing to us, who are formed and compounded by a strict and inseparable union of soul and body together. Nay, if time could collect together our scattered particles after death, and reduce them into the same frame they are now in, and the light of life were again bestowed upon us, can all this, if it were done, relate anything to us, when all the memory of past life were interrupted and gone? And now we give ourselves no trouble over what we were formerly, nor are we under any anxiety what persons the time to come will raise from our matter, when it is moulded up again; for when you look back upon that infinite space of time that is past, and consider how various are the agitations of matter, you will easily believe those seeds of ours have been often arranged in the same order they are now in, tho’ we can recollect nothing of what was then transacted; for a pause of life is thrown in between, and the seeds, so variously tossed about, took such motions as were averse and opposite to all sense. For whoever is to become wretched and miserable must exist at that very time when such misfortunes are to fall upon him; but since death puts an end to his being, and hinders the man from feeling those misfortunes which we the living endure, it is plan that we have nothing to fear in death, and none can be unhappy who are not in being; nor is it of the consequence of this whether such a one had ever been born, whose mortal life immortal death had once put an end to.
And then, when you see a man lament himself, because his rotten body shall after death putrefy in the earth, or be consumed by fire, or by the jaws of wild beasts, this man you must observe does not speak out, but has some secret sting concealed at his heart within, tho’ he pretends to say that the whole of him is deprived of life when he dies, but, like a fool, that something of himself remains still. When a man alive torments himself that birds or beasts will tear his body to pieces after death, he bemoans the misery of his fate, but does not fully distinguish, nor set himself at a proper distance from his dead carcass; he believes himself to be that, and rots with all his senses about him. Hence it is he grieves that he was born mortal, nor sees that in death there can be no other self that can survive, and mourn over him after he is dead, that can stand by him as he lies along, or suffer pain or affliction for him. For if it be an evil to be crushed after death by the teeth and jaws of wild beasts, I do not see why his fate is not equally wretched to be laid upon a burning pile, and consumed to ashes, or to be suffocated with honey, or to be stiff with cold, as he lies upon the top of a bleak rock, or pressed with a heavy weight of earth on him.
But now no more will your glad family welcome you home, nor your best of wives, nor sweet children run to meet you, and strive who shall have the first kiss, and make your heart leap with silent delight; no more shall you be a defense to yourself and your friends by your brave exploits: Ah wretch, thou criest, Ah miserable me! One woeful day has robbed me of so many blessings of my life. But in this case, he never goes on and says that the desire of these things is gone likewise. If men would well consider and accordingly express their complaints, their minds would be free from much anxiety and imaginary fear; for thou, sleeping in the arms of death, shalt lie forever discharged from all sorrow and pain, but we shall never cease to lament thee, reduced to ashes, near they sad urn, and no time shall remove our never-ending grief from our minds. Now I would gladly know, if the matter be no more than sleeping and going to rest, what there is so exceeding bitter in death, that any one should upon that account pine his life away in eternal lamentation?
And yet this the gayest part of mankind do, even when they sit down at their carousells, with bumpers in their hands, and their heads crowned with flowers; they turn serious and cry, “Short is the pleasure of us poor creatures, we can just say it was, and once gone, it will never return more. As if the greatest evil in death to them was that a parching thirst should scorch the wretches, and burn them up, or an insatiable desire of any thing they love should follow them beyond the grave. No man gives himself any concern about himself or his life when the soul and body are sleeping at rest together (tho we were to sleep so eternally); no appetite for any thing we love best would then affect us; and yet when the principles of the soul are alive, and are moved almost with a sensible motion within us, the man roused from his sleep soon recollects and recovers himself; death, therefore, we should imagine, would give us much less anxiety than sleep, if there can be less than what seems nothing at all; for there is in death a wider separation of the seeds, nor does the man every awake, when one the cold pause of life comes upon him.