Lucretius Today Podcast Episode 070 – More On The End of the World

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Episode 70 of the Lucretius Today Podcast is now available. In this Episode 70 we will read approximately Latin lines 324 to 415 of Book V, and we will talk more about the end of the world, destruction by fire and water, and take an excursion into what this passage may mean about the immortality of the Epicurean gods. As always, please let us know if you have comments by posting below or in the thread at –

Browne 1743

Further, if the heavens and the earth had no beginning, but were from eternity the same, how comes it that no poets have sung of any great events beyond the Theban War and the destruction of Troy? How came the exploits of so many heroes to be buried in oblivion that none of their great actions are recorded in the eternal monuments of fame, to live forever? For no other reason, I conceive, but that the world is of a late creation, that the substance of the world is new, and began not long ago. And therefore some arts are but lately known, others are polished and refined, many new discoveries are made in navigation, and the masters of music have but now brought sound and harmony to perfection; and, in the last place, this very nature of things which I now write of, and the reasons of them, are but lately found out, and I call myself one of the first who have attempted to convey them to posterity in Latin verse. But if you think that these things were long before the same they are now, but that mankind was destroyed by the rage of fire, or cities were overwhelmed by earthquakes (the great terrors of the world) or that the rapid rivers, by continual showers, overflowed the earth, and covered whole towns, you have still the more reason to be convinced, and to allow, that the earth and the heavens will at last be destroyed. For if things were liable to feel so great convulsions, and suffer so great dangers, it is plain if the cause of these ruins had been more violent, they must have perished and been utterly dissolved. Nor have we any other rule to judge that we ourselves are mortal, and must die, but that we sicken with the same diseases as those endured whom death has removed from this life.

Besides, whatever is eternal must be so either because it consists of solid seeds, or it cannot be broken by blows; nor will it suffer anything to pierce it, to disunite the close contexture of its parts; of this sort are the seeds of matter, whose nature we have shown before; or things would remain forever, because they are out of the power of stroke, as a void is, which is not to be touched nor can be affected by force; or because there is no extent of space about them into which their parts may fall when they are dissolved. For this reason the universe, or all, is eternal – there is no place beyond, where its scattered seeds may retire, nor are there any bodies to beat upon it, and by violent blows break it into pieces. But as I said, the substance of the world is not formed altogether of solid seeds, because a void is mixed with its parts, nor is it wholly void, nor are there wanting bodies, rising to strike and overthrow with mighty force this world, or to bring it into danger of ruin some other way; nor is there any defect of place or space beyond, into which the walls of the world may tumble down, or they may fall to pieces by some other force, and be dissolved. The Gate of death therefore is not barred against the heavens, nor the sun, nor the earth, nor the deep waters of the sea; but stands open, with its wide and gaping jaws, to receive them all. For these reasons it must needs be allowed that these things had a beginning, for whatever is formed of mortal seeds, and must die, could not from eternity resist the strong attacks of infinite past time and the power of age.

Lastly, since the elements (the first principles of the world) are continually fighting, and carrying on an implacable war among themselves; can there be no end, think you, or their long contests? If the sun, suppose, or the fire, by sucking up all the moisture should get the better, which they strive to do, but have not yet effected their design; such a supply of water do the rivers pour in, and the sea from its mighty deeps rather threatens to drown the world. But in vain – the brushing winds are continually licking up and lessening the tide, and the hot sun, with its rays, drinks up a part, and things rather seem in danger of being dried up than of perishing by a flood of waters. With such equal success is the war carried on, and their powers are so disputed with equal force. Yet time was when the rage of fire once prevailed over the world; and the water (as they say) once got the dominion, and drowned the earth. The fire had the victory, and set everything in a flame, when the mad fury of the horses of the sun, flying out of their course, dragged the wretched Phaeton through the whole heavens, and over all the regions of the world; but great Jupiter, in his fierce rage, suddenly struck the daring youth with a thunderbolt, and tumbled him headlong from his horses to the Earth. And Phoebus, meeting him as he fell, gathered up the scattered rays of the sun, the great luminary of the world, brought back the distracted horses, and harnessed them trembling to the chariot again; and driving them in the right course, recovered things to their proper order. This tale the Grecian poets sung of old, which is absurd and against all belief, yet the fire may get the mastery, if the large supplies of fiery seeds are brought from the great mass of matter into the world. The rage of these seeds must by some force be weakened and suppressed, or things by so scorching heats must perish and be burnt up. The Water likewise prevailed once, as they say, when it overthrew many cities, but when the seeds that were supplied from the mass of matter were turned into some other channel, the rain ceased and the rivers flowed again within their banks.