Welcome to Episode 24 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. Be aware that none of us are professional philosophers, and everyone here is a self-taught Epicurean. 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.
Before we start, here are three ground rules.
First: Our aim is to bring you an accurate presentation of classical Epicurean philosophy as the ancient Epicureans understood it, which may or may not agree with what you here about Epicurus at other places today.
Second: We aren’t talking about Lucretius with the goal of promoting any modern political perspective. Epicurus must be understood on his own, and not in terms of competitive schools which may seem similar to Epicurus, but are fundamentally different and incompatible, such as Stoicism, Humanism, Buddhism, Taoism, Atheism, and Marxism.
Third: The essential base of Epicurean philosophy is a fundamental view of the nature of the universe. When you read the words of Lucretius you will find that Epicurus did not teach the pursuit of virtue or of luxury or of simple living as ends in themselves, but rather the pursuit of pleasure. From this perspective it is feeling which is the guide to life, and not supernatural gods, idealism, or virtue ethics. And as important as anything else, Epicurus taught that there is no life after death, and that any happiness we will ever have must come in THIS life, which is why it is so important not to waste time in confusion.
Now let’s join the discussion with today’s text:
Daniel Brown 1743 Edition:
But some object to this, fools as they are, and conceive that simple matter cannot of itself, without the assistance of the gods, act so agreeably to the advantage and convenience of mankind, as to change the seasons of the year, to produce the fruits, and do other things which Pleasure, the deity and great guide of life, persuades men to value and esteem. It could not induce us to propagate our race, by the blandishments of tender love, lest the species of mankind should be extinct, for whose sake they pretend the gods made all the beings of the world; but all conceits like these fall greatly from the dictates of true reason. For though I were entirely ignorant of the rise of things, yet from the very nature of the heavens, and the frame of many other bodies, I dare affirm and insist that the nature of the world was by no means created by the gods upon our account, it is so very faulty and imperfect; which, my Memmius, I shall fully explain. But now let us explain what remains to be said of motion.
And here, I think, is the proper place to prove to you that no being can be carried upwards or ascend by any innate virtue of its own, lest by observing the tendency of flame you should be led into a mistake. For flame, you know, is born upwards, as well when it begins to blaze as when it is increased by fuel; so the tender corn and lofty trees grow upwards. Nor when the flames aspire and reach the tops of houses, and catch the rafters and the beams with a fierce blaze, are you to suppose they do this by voluntary motion, and not compelled by force. ‘Tis the same when the blood gushes from a vein, it spouts bounding upwards, and sprinkles all about the purple stream. Don’t you observe likewise with what force the water throws up the beams and posts of wood? The more we plunge them in, and press them down with all our might, the more forcibly the stream spews them upwards, and sends them back; so that they rise and leap up at least half their thickness above the water.
And yet I think, we make no question that all things as they pass through empty void are carried naturally down below. So likewise the flame rises upwards, being forcibly pressed through the air, though its weight, by its natural gravity, endeavors to descend. Don’t you see the nightly meteors of the sky flying aloft, and drawing after them long trains of flame, which way soever Nature yields a passage? Don’t you see also the stars and fiery vapors fall downwards upon the Earth? The Sun too scatters from the tops of heaven his beams all round, and sows the fields with light: Its rays therefore are downward sent to us below. You see the lightning through opposing showers fly all about; the fires burst from clouds, now here now there engage, at length the burning vapor falls down upon the ground.
I desire you would attend closely upon this subject, and observe that bodies when they are carried downward through the void in a straight line, do at some time or other, but at no fixed and determinate time, and in some parts of the void likewise, but not in any one certain and determinate place of it, decline a little from the direct line by their own strength and power; so, nevertheless, that the direct motion can be said to be changed the least that can be imagined.
If the seeds did not decline in their descent, they would all fall downwards through the empty void, like drops of rain; there would be no blow, no stroke given by the seeds overtaking one another, and by consequence Nature could never have produced any thing.
But if any one should suppose that the heavier seeds, as they are carried by a swift motion through the void in a straight line, might overtake and fall from above upon the lighter, and so occasion those strokes which produce a genial motion by which things are formed, he is entirely out of the way, and wanders from the rule of true reason. Indeed, whatever falls downward through the water, or through the air, must necessarily have its speed hastened in proportion to its weight, and for this reason, because the body of water and the thin nature of the air cannot equally delay the progress of every thing that is to pass through it, but must be obliged to give way soonest to heavy bodies. But, on the contrary, mere empty space cannot oppose the passage of any thing in any manner, but must, as its nature requires, continue for ever to give way: Therefore all things must be carried with equal force through a void that cannot resist, though their several weights be unequal, so that the heavier bodies can never fall from above upon the lighter, nor occasion those blows which may change their motions, and by which all things are naturally produced.
It follows then that the seeds do every now and then decline a little from a direct line in their descent, though the least that can be imagined, lest we should think their motion were oblique, which the nature of things refutes. For we see this is plain and obvious, that bodies by their natural gravity do not obliquely descend, when they fall swiftly from above through a void, which you may discovery by your eyes. But that nothing declines in its descent ever so little from a direct line, who is so sharp-sighted as to distinguish?