Welcome to Episode Forty-Eight 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 931-1023 from Book 3 of the Latin Text. In this episode we will hear Nature speak to us about death, and Lucretius will compare the myths of Tityus, Sisyphus, and Tantalus to the tortures that actually exist for some people on Earth. This episode was particularly personal to us as Elayne rejoins the podcast after the recent death of her father.
Now let’s join the discussion with Elayne reading today’s text:
But if the Nature of Things should offer to speak of a sudden, and upbraid the folly of any one of us in a manner like this: Prithee, Man, Why is it that thou indulgest thyself in such sharp sorrow and complaints? Why dost thou groan and weep because thou shalt die? If your life past has been agreeable to you, and all the abundant delights of it did not pass your mind as through a sieve, and perished without pleasure to you, why do not you, as a guest plentifully regaled with life, take your leave – and, fond Fool, enjoy your sweet repose with a cheerful mind? But if the good things thou has received have been idly squandered and are gone, and life is grown a burden to you, why do you covet more, that may come to the same unhappy end, and vainly die away like those that were before, and not rather put a period to thy life and all thy cares? For there is nothing further I can contrive or invent that can please thee more. Things always continue the same; if thy body was not to decay by years, nor thy limbs grow feeble by age, things will ever remain the same, tho’ thou were to go on and live forever, and much more so if thou wert never to die. What could we say but that Nature gave a very just reproof, and set the case in a very proper light?
But the wretch that deplores his death beyond all bounds, may not she deservedly cry out the louder upon such a one, and chide him in sharper note: Get thee gone with thy tears, thou booby, and leave sobbing. If he be an old fellow, and far advanced, that complains: Dost thou fret thyself that hast run through all the delights of life? Because thou are reaching after absent pleasures, thou despisest the present, and so thy life passes away imperfect, and without relish, and death stares thee in the face before thou art aware, before thou has enough, and canst go off the stage satisfied and full of joy. It is high time to take thy leave of everything that does not agree with thy age; come, make way cheerfully for others, there is no help for it.
I think Nature, upon such occasions, would act justly, and, by such a rebuke, use him as he deserves, for old things must be thrust off, and give way as new come, and one thing must needs be repaired by another; but nothing sinks into Hell, or descends into the dark shades. There must still be a stock of matter to produce future generations, all which likewise, when their race is run, shall follow thee, nor did things less pass away in the ages before than they do now, and so shall they do for the ages to come, for beings never cease to rise from the ruins of one another, and life was given to none for a property, but to all for use. Look back, then, how that infinite tract of time that vanished before we were in being, how it has no relation to us; and the nature of all time to come will be of the same concern to us after we are dead. And now does anything show dreadful in death? Has it anything melancholy in its appearance? Is it not more serene than the softest sleep?
And truly, all those dreadful things that are said to be in the shades below are all felt by us whilst we are in this life; nor is there, as they tell us, such a miserable wretch, so stupified with idle fear, as Tantalus, who dreads the fall of the huge impending stone upon him from above; but rather, a vain fear of the gods torments men in this life, and terrifies them with all the ills that Fortune thinks fit to lay upon them. Nor do the vultures dig into the bowels of Tityus, as he lies in Hell, nor can they find in that large breast of his a liver they shall be forever tearing out, tho’ his body were ever so big, tho’ he not only covered nine acres with his expanded limbs, but could spread them over all the Earth; yet he would not be able to bear eternal pains, nor could he furnish an everlasting meal out of his body. But that man is Tityus, whom by love oppressed the birds of prey devour, and piercing sorrow eats through, or any other impetuous passion tears in pieces. Sisyphys walks visibly before us in this life – it is he who sets his heart to court the people for honors, for the rods and cruel axes, and is ever repulsed, and retires sad and disappointed; for in vain to hunt after empty power which is never obtained, and to suffer the hardest labor in the pursuit of it. This is to thrust with all one’s might the stone up the hill, which again tumbles down upon us from the top, and rolls swiftly into the plain below.