Welcome to Episode Sixty-Four 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 64 we begin our discussion of Book 5. Now let’s join Martin reading today’s text, which is fromLatin Lines 1-90 (Book 5)
Who can, with all his soul inspired, compose fit numbers, worthy the majesty of so great things, of these discoveries? Or who, in words alone, can sing his praise, and equal his deserts, who from the labour of his mind has left such benefits, and bestowed rewards so glorious on mankind? No mortal man alive, as I conceive, for could I raise my verse to reach the dignity of things he knew – he was a god, my noble Memmius, a god he was, who first found out that rule of life which is now called true wisdom; and who this human life, so tossed with storms, and so overwhelmed in darkness, has been rendered by his art so calm, and placed in so clear a light. Compare the benefits long since found out by those who now are gods. Ceres, they say, discovered first the use of corn, and Bacchus gave to me the knowledge of the vine and its sweet juice. Yet men might still have lived without both these, as many nations, we are told, do now. But no true life could be, without the mind easy and free, and therefore with better right is he to us a god, whose gentle rules, received throughout the world, bestowed on men tranquility and peace.
If you should think the great exploits of Hercules exceeded his, you are carried far from truth. For how could the wide, gaping jaws of the Nemaean Lion, or the terrible Arcadian Boar, affright us now? How could the bull of Crete, or Hydra, the Plague of Lerna, encompassed with his poisonous snakes? Or Geryon, with his triple face, and the collected strength of his three bodies? Or what can we now suffer from Diomedes’ horses, from their nostrils breathing fire, dreadful to Thrace, the Bistonian Plains, and all about Mount Ismarus? Or what from the Arcadian birds of Stymphalus, feared for their crooked talons? Or that huge dragon, fierce and terrible in look, that, twining round the tree, guarded the gold fruit of the Hesperides? How could he hurt us here, removed far from us near the Atlantic shore, and the rough seas, where neither Roman nor barbarian dared to visit? And other monsters, which that hero slew, had they not been subdued, how could they hurt us now, were they alive? Not in the least, I think. For now the world abounds with frightful beasts, that fill with dreadful terror the forests, the high mountains and thick woods; yet these places commonly ’tis in our power to avoid.
But unless the mind be purged, what wars within, what dangers wretched mortals must endure? What piercing cares of fierce desire must tear the minds of men? And then, what anxious fears? What ruin flows from pride, from villany, from petulance? What from luxury and sloth? The man therefore that has subdued these monsters, and drove them from the mind by precept, not by force; should not this man be worthy to be numbered with the gods? Especially since of these immortal deities he has spoken nobly and at large, and by his writings has explained to us the laws of universal nature?
His steps I follow, and now pursue his rules, and by my verse I teach that things must needs subsist by the same laws by which they were first formed; nor can they break through the strong bonds that Nature has fixed to their being. Of this sort the soul, in the first place, I have proved to be originally derived from mortal seeds, nor can it remain eternally undissolved; and that images commonly deceive the mind in our dreams, when we fancy we see a person that has been long since dead.