Welcome to Episode Sixty-Three 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. 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 this Episode 63 we will complete Book Four and our discussion of perils of romantic love. Now let’s join Charles reading today’s text, which comes from Latin Line 1209 to the end of Book Four.
If, in the mixing of the seed, the female draws in and snatches with sudden force the male seed, the child, the female seed is prevailing, is like the mother, as he is like the father if his prevails. But those who, you observe, express jointly the resemblance, and mingle the features of both parents, are formed equally from the juices of both; for then the mutual ardor of the combatants has justly tempered the conflicting seed, which, raised by the stings of Venus, is sent in due proportion through all the limbs. The success of the battle is equal, neither is victor nor vanquished. It happens sometimes that children are like their grandfathers, and resemble the persons of their remote ancestors, because the parents have frequently many seeds concealed and variously mingled in their bodies, which preserve the features of the family, and are delivered down from one to another. These Venus forms into different figures, as the qualities of the seeds require, and represents the complexion, the voice and hair of the progenitors; for these no less arise from proper seeds than the face, the body, or any parts of it. And a female child proceeds partly from the father’s seed, and a male from the mother’s, for the issue always consists of the seed of both; but the greater likeness it bears to the one than to the other, it partakes of more than a just proportion of the seed of that sex, which you easily apprehend, whether the child be male or female.
Nor do divinities above ever destroy the prolific virtue of the seed, or prevent a man’s being called father by a number of sweet children, or curse him all his life with unfruitful love, as some vainly think, and therefore with much concern stain the altars with the blood of many victims, and make them smoke with clouds of incense, to implore a blessing upon the showery seed and promote conception; but to no purpose they tire out the gods and fatigue the oracles, for they are frequently unfruitful because the seed is too thick or too thin. The thin seed will not stay in the parts where it was injected, but soon dissolves and flows back; and the thick has no effect, because it is sent out heavy and condensed, or it does not carry home to the mark, or it cannot rightly penetrate the passages, or if it does, it is not at all disposed to mix kindly with the female juice. For the harmony of love between the sexes is widely different; men are more prolific with some women, and women conceive more readily, and swell with their burden after the embrace of some men than with others. Many women have been barren in a first and second marriage, and been fruitful at last, have borne lusty boys and blessed the family with a sweet offspring; and men, after marrying several times without issue, have at length found out a wife of a constitution agreeable to their own, and supported their old age with many children.
Of so great concern it is that the seed of both should kindly mix and mutually glow with genial heat, that the thick and the thin should incorporate together, and that the woman, in the art of love, should engage with a man whose nature be suitable to her own. And the food we live upon is of no small importance, for the seed increases through the limbs by some meats, and it becomes watery and feeble by others. [1743 TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: “I can translate no further. Dryden, in his Miscelllanies, goes on in full vigor, and keeps up to the original.”] If like importance is the posture, too, in which the genial feat of love we do. For, as the females of the four-foot kind receive the leapings of their males behind, so the good wives, with loins uplifted high, and leaning on their hands, the fruitful stroke may try. For in that posture they will best conceive, not when supinely laid they frisk and heave, for active motions only break the flow, and more of strumpet than of wives they show; when answering stroke with stroke, the mingled liquors flow. Endearment eager, and too brisk a bound, throw off the plow-share from the furrowed ground. But common harlots in conjunction heave, because tis less their business to conceive than to delight and to provoke the deed, a trick which honest wives but little need.
Nor is it from the gods, or the darts of Venus, that a woman of ordinary beauty is sometimes beloved. She often secures the affection by her discreet conduct, by the sweetness of her deportment, and an exactness in the decency of her person, so that a man by use, may spend his life happily with her. To sum it all up: it is custom that reconciles the delights of love, for beat upon anything with constant blows, though ever so lightly, it is overcome at last, and crumbles to pieces. Have not you observed how drops of water falling upon a hard stone, by length of time, wear it away?