Lucretius Today Podcast Episode 059 – The Uses Of The Body Were Not Designed Before They Arose

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Welcome to Episode Fifty-Nine 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. 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 this episode 59 – we will discuss how the uses of the body were not designed before the body arose, and we will continue on the minds use of images.

Our text comes from Latin Lines 823-906 of Book Four.

Now let’s join the discussion with Martin reading today’s text.

Browne 1743

But in subjects of this nature, guard yourself to the utmost of your power against that error, that gross mistake, and never believe that those bright orbs, the eyes, were made that we might see; of that our legs were made upright, and things fixed upon them, and were supported by feet, that we might walk and take large strides; that our arms were braced with strong sinews, and that our hands hung on both sides, to assist us in those offices that are necessary to the support of life. And whatever constructions they put upon other parts of the body, they are all absurd and against reason; for no member of the body was made for any particular use, but after it was made each member found out a use proper to itself; for there was no such thing as to see before the eyes were made, nor to speak before the tongue was formed, but the tongue was rather in being before there was speech, and the ears were made long before any sound was heard. In short, all the members, in my opinion, were in being before their particular uses were set out.

This is so true that, to engage in battle, to mangle the limbs, and to stain the body over with blood, these were in being before any shining darts flew through the air, and nature taught us to avoid a wound before the left hand learnt to oppose a shield in our defense; and so, to commit the body to rest was long before the invention of soft beds, and to quench the thirst was practiced before the use of cups. All these things, we may believe, were invented for common benefit, as they were found proper and convenient for the occasions of life. All things therefore that were in being before the use of them was determined applied themselves afterwards to the office that was most suitable and serviceable to them. Of this kind principally are the senses and members of our bodies, and therefore you are to avoid, upon all accounts, so much as to think that they were at first formed for any particular design or use.

Nor is it wonderful at all that it is the nature of every animal to require meat; for I have told you that a train of effluvia are ever flowing from all bodies, in various manners, but most are discharged from those animals that are most used to motion; many particles forced from within are carried off by sweat, and many exhale through the mouth, when we are fatigued and pant for breath. The body, therefore, by these discharges becomes rarefied, and all nature is falling to pieces, which is attended with great pain. Food therefore is taken to prop up the limbs, and being given from time to time, it renews the strength, and satisfies that gaping desire of eating through the limbs and veins. The cooling drink likewise descends into all the parts that require moisture, and the flowing liquor scatters all that heap of hot particles that set our stomach in a flame, and extinguishes them as fire, so that the heat has no longer power to scorch our bowels, and thus is panting thirst washed away from our bodies, thus our craving hunger is satisfied.

And now attend, and you shall know how it is that we are able to walk when we will, that we have a power to move our limbs as we please, and what it is that thrusts the body forward with all its weight. I say then, that the images of motion first affect and strike the mind, as we observed before. This makes the Will, for we never attempt to do any thing before the mind knows what it is we desire to do, and the image of that thing which occurs to the mind must be present before it. And thus the mind, having moved itself so as to resolve to go forward, strikes immediately upon the soul, which is diffused through the whole body, and this is easily done, because they are both closely joined together. The soul then strikes the body, and so the whole bulk by degrees is thrust forward and put into motion. Besides, the body by this means is rarefied, and the air, which is ever disposed to move, enters the open passages, and pierces through the pores in great abundance, and so is dispersed through every minute part of the body. By these two therefore (by the soul laboring within, and by the air entering from without) the body is moved, as a ship is by oars and wind. Nor is this at all strange, that particles so very small should turn about the bulk of our bodies, and move so great a weight; for the driving wind, formed of so fine and subtle seeds, thrust forward a large ship with mighty force, and one hand can govern it under full sail, by turning one little helm which way it pleases; and an engine with small labor is able, by pulleys and wheels, to move many bodies of a great weight.