Lucretius Today Podcast Episode 050 – The Opening of Book Four – Images

Welcome to Episode Fifty 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 begin Book Four with Latin lines 1-109:

Browne 1743

Inspired, I wander over the Muses seats, of difficult access, and yet untrod; I love to approach the purest springs, and thence to draw large draughts; I love to crop fresh flowers and make a noble garland for my head from thence, where yet the Muses never bound another’s temples with a crown like mine. And first I write of lofty things, and strive to free the mind from the severest bonds of what men call religion; then my verse I frame so clear, although my theme be dark; seasoning my lines with the poetic sweets of fancy, and reason justifies the method; for as physicians when they would prevail on children to take down a bitter draught of wormwood, first tinge the edges of the cup with sweet and yellow honey, that so the children’s unsuspecting age, at least their lips, may be deceived, and take the bitter juice; thus harmlessly betrayed, but not abused, by tasting thus they rather have their health restored: So I, because this system seems severe and harsh to such who have not yet discerned its truth, and the common herd are utterly averse to this philosophy, I thought it fit to show these rigid principles in verse, smooth and alluring, and tinge them, as it were, with sweet poetic honey, thus to charm your mind with my soft numbers till you view the nature of all things clearly, and perceive the usefulness and order they display.

Now since I taught what are the first principles of all things, and how they differ in their figures, and wander of their own accord, urged on by an eternal motion, and how of them all beings are first formed, and I have shown the nature of the mind, of what seeds composed, and how it exerts itself united with the body, and separated from it, how it returns to its first principles again: I shall now begin to explain what is of the nearest concern to these inquiries, and prove that there are what we call the images of things, which, like membranes, or films, flowing from the surface of bodies, fly every way abroad through the air. These, while we are awake, often rush upon our minds and terrify us, and likewise sleeping, when we think we see strange phantoms and specters of the dead, which shake us horribly when fast asleep. For sure we are not to imagine that the souls are broke loose out of Hell, or that the ghosts hover and play about the living, or that any part of us remains after death; since the soul and body, once dissolved, return severally to their first seeds from whence they were produced.

I say then that images or tenuous figures are always flowing, or sent out from the surface of bodies, which may be called the membranes of the bark of things; and these several images bear the same shape and form as the particular body from whence they flow. This requires no extraordinary apprehension to conceive, for to give a plan instance, many things emit bodies from themselves, some more rare and diffused, as wood discharges smoke and fire a vapour; others more dense and compact, as when grasshoppers in summer cast their old coats, and calves new-born drop the pellicules in which they are enclosed; or as the winding snake leaves his skin among the thorns, for the briers we often see adorned with their light spoils. This being so, it follows that a very subtle image may fly off from the utmost surface of bodies; for there can be no reason given why these, and not others more thin than these, may not fall off and be discharged; especially since in every surface there are many minute corpuscles that may be cast off in the very same order they are ranged in the body, and so preserve their old form and figure; and they are the readier to fly off because they are small, and not so liable to be stopped, and are placed likewise upon the utmost surface.

For it is certain that many particles are not sent out and get loose only from the middle and inward parts, as we said before, but color itself is discharged from the surface of bodies. And so curtains, yellow, of a deep red, or blue (as they hang in lofty theatres, waving expanded on the beams, and flowing on the pillars with the wind) do this; for they stain the stage, and scenes, and audience, senators, matrons, and the images of the gods; and cause them to wave in their own gaudy dye; and the more the walls of the theatre are darkened, and the daylight shut out, every thing which is spread over and shines out with a brighter luster. Since therefore these curtains discharge their colors from the surface, all things, by the same rule, may emit subtle images, for those are thrown off from the surface as well as these. There are therefore certain images of things, of a fine and subtle contexture, that are always flying about, and are impossible severally to be discovered by the eye. Besides, all smell, smoke, vapour, and other such things fly off from bodies in a diffused and scattered manner, because as they pass to the outside of bodies from within they are broken and divided by the crooked pores they must make their way through; the road they are to take is full of windings, as they attempt to rise and fly out; but, on the contrary, when the membrane of color is thrown off, there is nothing to disorder it, because it lies disentangled upon the very surface. And then since the forms that appear to us in looking-glass, in water, and all polished bodies are exactly like the things whose images they are, they must necessarily be composed of the images that flow from the substance of the things themselves, for why those particles should fall away and be discharged from bodies which are discovered by the eye rather than these that are more thin and subtle no reason can properly be assigned.