Lucretius Today Podcast Episode 069 – The Eventual End of Our World

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Episode 69 of the Lucretius Today podcast is now available. In this episode we are covering the portion of Book Five dedicated to the eventual end of our world (but not the universe as a whole) which is a subset of the issue that everything that comes together from the elemental particles eventually breaks up again into the particles – which applies to our souls as well and is something to think about when we consider how much time we have to do the things we’d like to do! As always please let us know your comments or questions here or at the thread at

Browne 1743

And further, since the body of the earth, the water, and the light breath of the air, and the hot fire, of which this universe of things consists, had all a beginning, and are all formed of mortal seeds, the nature of the world must be the same, and must die likewise. For a body whose parts and members we know were born, and were produced from mortal principles, that being must be the same in nature with its parts; it must have a beginning, and be equally mortal. And therefore when I observe the four elements (the great limbs of the world) are continually changing, are wasted away, and then renewed; I conclude that the whole world, the earth and the heavens, had a time of beginning, and will in time fall and be destroyed.

But my Memmius, that you may not think I rashly supposed what I should have proved upon this subject, when I said that the earth and the fire were mortal, and made no doubt but the air and the water were so too, and that they began to be, and by degrees increased, you are to observe, first, that some part of the earth is burnt up by the continual strokes of the Sun, and much of it, being worn by the continual treading of the feet, rises into flying clouds of dust, which the fierce winds scatter through all the air, and part of the earth, by soaking showers, is turned into water, and the encroaching rivers eat away their banks. Besides, whatever increases another body with any of its parts, must lose so much from itself, and since the Earth is certainly the great parent and common selpulchre of all things, it must sometimes be diminished, and then increase and be renewed again.

And then the Sea, the Rivers, the fountains, abound always with sweet water, and flow with everlasting streams. There is no need of many words; the prodigious currents that flow every way to the sea prove this effectually. But less the mass of waters should flow too great, some of it is continually licked up, and wastes away; the strong winds, brushing over its surface, take off part of its flood, and a part the sun exhales and draws up into the air, and some is divided through the subterraneanous passages of the earth. There the saline particles are strained off, and then the waters flow back, and start up in fountains, and form themselves into rivers, which glide sweetly with their collected strength over the earth, through those channels where the streams first made their liquid way.

And now, to speak of the Air, which is changed with its whole body every moment, in various manners not to be numbered; for whatever is continually flowing off from bodies is carried into the vast ocean of the air; unless the air therefore restored again those particles to the bodies from whence they came, and renewed them as they wasted away, all things had long since been changed into Air, and wholly dissolved. The air therefore is continually produced from bodies, and continually returns into them again, for things never remain the same, but are in a perpetual fluctuation.

The Sun likewise, that large fountain of liquid light, constantly bedews the heavens with a new brightness, and instantly supplies one ray by the succession of another; its first beams of light, as soon as they have shone out, die away. This you may collect from hence, that as soon as a cloud interposes between the sun’s orb and us, and as it were breaks through the rays of light, the lower part of the beams immediately perishes, and the earth, as the clouds pass over it, is made dark. This proves that things require a constant stream of new rays, and that every first emission of light dies; nor could things otherwise be seen in the light unless the Sun (the fountain of brightness) continually sent out fresh supplies. After the same manner our nightly lights that we use here below, our hanging lustres, our lamps shining with a bright flame, and fat with oily smoke, are continually sending out new streams of light by the help of fire. They press on and discharge their trembling rays without intermission; they never cease, nor is the light ever interrupted, or leaves the place dark for a moment, so swiftly is the destruction of the first rays repaired from the constant fire of the lamps (the fountain of light) and a new beam instantly flies off as the old expires. We conclude therefore that the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars are continually throwing off new supplies of light, and that the first rays they emit perish and die away; lest you should believe these beams remained perfect and undissolved, and were eternally the same.

Besides, don’t we observe how stones are worn away by time? That lofty towers fall to ruin, and rocks moulder to dust? That the temples and images of the gods are tired with standing, and are forced to give way? Nor can the gods themselves extend the bounds of fate, or strive against the laws of nature. Don’t you see the monuments of men burst asunder at last, to grow old, and suddenly break in pieces? That the rocks are torn, and tumble from the high mountains, and are unable to bear or resist the mighty force even of a finite time? For they would never have fallen with this sudden ruin had they from all eternity endured the strokes of time secure and unshaken.

And then look up to those surrounding heavens that above and below embrace this body of the earth; those heavens which, some say, produce all things out of themselves, and to which all things are at last resolved. They surely had a beginning, are formed of mortal seeds, and must have an end, for whatever seeds and contributes to the increase of other bodies must lose some of its parts and must again be repaired by those bodies when they are dissolved.