Welcome to Episode Forty-Nine 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 Latin lines 1024 to 1094, the end of Book Three.
Besides, Cerberus and the Furies, and Hell void of light, belching flames from its jaws; there are no such things in nature, nor ever can be; but the fear of sore punishment in this life for distinguished crimes, and the rewards of villainy affright us. The prison, the terrible fall from the Tarpeian Rock, stripes, executioners, the gallows, melted pitch, saws, and suffocating smoke; and if there be none of these, yet the mind, conscious of guilt, is ever in dread of these tortures, it stings us to the heart, and lashes us with rods not to be endured. Nor has the wretch a prospect of any end to the miseries he suffers, nor what can set limits to his punishment, and he fears lest these tortures should fall the heavier upon him in death, so that the fools live as deplorable a life as if they were really in Hell. Thus you may justly reason with yourself: The good King Ancus has long-since bid adieu to life, a better man by much than such a wretch as thou, and so have many kings and potentates of the earth who ruled over mighty nations. Consider, even He that He himself who formerly made a road over the wide sea, gave a passage to his legions to march over it, and taught them to walk upon the salt Deep; who despised and insulted the waves and the roarings of the ocean: This Xerxes, covered with darkness, has breathed his soul out of his body long ago. Scipio, that thunderbolt of war and dread of Carthage, has given up his bones to the Earth, as if he had been the meanest of slaves. Add to these the founders of Arts, and the inventers of Verse; and further the companions of the Muses, the mighty Homer, the sole sovereign of them all – he sleeps quietly in the same grave with the rest. Besides, when a ripe old age gave Democritus warning that the strength of his mind decayed, he met death half-way, and cheerfully obeyed the summons. Epicurus himself, who excelled the whole world in wisdom, and darkened all about him with his superior lustre, as far as the bright mid-day sun outshines the stars, is dead, and his light of life run out. Shalt thou then repine and grieve to die, whose life is little more than a scene of death whilst thou livest with thy eyes open? Who wearest the greater part of thy life away in sleep, who snorest and art ever dreaming whilst thou art awake, and hast thy mind always tormented with empty fear, nor art able to find what is the malady that troubles thee, when thou reelest about, born down on all sides by the severest of misery, and wanderest in the uncertain mazes of doubt and error?
But if men would really consider, as they would be thought to do, that they are pressed down by the natural weight of their own minds, and find out the causes whence this proceeds, and whence so heavy a load of evils torment their breast, they would not spend their lives as we now see they do, not knowing their own desires, but every one striving to change his situation, as if that was the way to ease him of his burden. One, tired at home, leaves his noble seat, and goes often abroad, but returns suddenly again; for he finds no relief by shifting his place. Another hurries and drives full-speed to his country house, as if was all on fire and he came to extinguish it; he no sooner sets his foot within the doors but he presently begins to yawn, or falls heavily to sleep, and strives to forget himself, or else posts as hard back and returns to town again. Thus he tries all ways to fly himself, but that self it is, as it must be, out of his power to escape; he sticks close to him against his will, and sorely torments him. The restless fool does not know the cause of his disease; if he thoroughly did, every one would give up all other pursuits and apply chiefly to search into the nature of things; I do not mean to trouble himself about the events of the present hour, but inquire into the doubtful state of eternity after death, which is everyone’s concern, and which must be the lot of all mankind.
Lastly, how many evils does a fond desire of life oblige us so much to apprehend though they may never happen? But there is a boundary fixed to the age of man; we cannot avoid the stroke of death; die we must. Besides, we are ever running on in a circle of the same actions, and ever pursuing them; nor does living on afford us any new delight. The pleasure we covet eagerly exceeds everything we enjoyed before, as long as it is absent; but when we have it in possession, we long passionately for another, and the same thirst of life hangs upon us, still gaping for more; and yet we know nothing what the time to come may produce, what chance may happen to us, and how the scene will end. Nor can we, by living forward, take off a moment from the length of death; it will always show as if we had been dead ever so long. Though you live ever so many ages, the state of death will be still eternal, and he that died today is to all purposes as long dead as he that died a thousand years ago.